Recently, I was fortunate enough to attend a training session on how to hold better studio visits, particularly, how to do this now that we are all virtual. For an artist, the studio visit can be a daunting process and this new virtual world can make it even more complex. Because of this, I thought it a good idea to seek out this training, take good notes, and now, I guess, share them with you. Here goes.
For starters, you have to think about why people visit an artist studio and what they might expect to find there. A lot of times people will visit for a specific project and curiosity is a driving factor. They want to learn about your practice, works in progress, learn about your work…it’s all about creating a human connection here. The largest reason people say they come to the East Austin Studio Tour (EAST) for example is for reasons of curiosity. The people coming include gallerists, collectors, patrons, just people off the street, even bored folks seeking entertainment are all coming along for the ride. The common thread here though is that they have all expressed curiosity to visit.
In these virtual times, being nimble is the key. We have to adjust and embrace the idea that, well, we have to adjust. There is no one size fits all. There is no right way, no wrong way, no magic bullets here. The new virtual world is one in which we all share the motto: “Wing it!” Embrace that.
Some of the questions our curious visitors might want answer to include the following:
- What materials do you work with?
- What processes do you engage?
- What questions or ideas do you explore in your work?
- What is your artist trajectory?
- What has led you to this current moment?
- What motivates you as an artist?
- What’s on your horizon?
- Do you have an recent or in-progress work?
- Are you working in any new mediums?
Generally speaking here, the more you share, the better. Another question that has popped up recently is the one of, “How are you affected by recent events?” Our visitors will be curious as to your thoughts on the recent current events and the path forward for you. When it comes to this question, artists have to speak openly. What’s impacting you?
Are you reaching out to other artists with connections? There has always been a strong sense of community in the art world – there is community and support, ask for it.
An important consideration is that viewing art online is not the same as viewing it in person. As an artist doing a virtual tour, put some thought into presentation strategy. Give your work a sense of scale, material, texture, as these things can get lost online. In the online world, everything is flat and digital. A good way around this is to hold stuff up and talk about it, address things. Talk about your materials and hold a piece close up for them to see, for example.
Straighten up your home a little! This is a good time to tidy up. Craft work for presentations.
Be selfish! In a good way!
What that means is do the work it takes to get the result or feedback that is most useful to you. Think about what you hoping to learn from the visits. What do you want to get out of an artist studio visit?
As folks visit, think about the kinds of questions they are asking. Are these your questions or not? Reshape and reframe continually in this new digital era. The virtual connections empower you to shape or reframe yourself more easily.
There is a great expectation out there in these days of Zoom and roses. We are expected to be eloquent, to provide critical insight into our practice at the drop of a hat. We are expected to be perfect like some of the online realm. Don’t be compelled to over explain. Think about the “Why not?” as much as the “Why?” The virtual connections are still human interactions. Be yourself!
Show up with curiosity and generosity.
This is an import one so I am putting it bold. Studio visits are human interactions. The best studio visits have mutual generosity on both sides. Support a sense of wonder and don’t be afraid to ask questions as well as answer them.
Some Technical Advice
Be authentic! No formula. Keep it simple. Use tools you’re comfortable with and make it feel like it comes from the heart. Use a camera you are comfortable with. An iPhone is fine. An iPhone in selfie mode is fine. Use a tripod or stabilize the camera in some way. A microphone is important. It does not have to break the bank, but get one. You can use air pods with a mic, that’s fine.
Audio is more important than video.
Another bold statement, but people are way more tolerant of video freezing. The same people will drop off a call with one second of poor audio.
Light on face, light on work.
Try to keep a light on your face and a light on any work you are showing.
Don’t try to learn to edit, instead make self contained video script or bullet points.
3-5 minute videos – do a series!
This is another bold point. You will get better results with a series of shorter videos than one longer one. Do a series of small 3-5 minute videos to keep interest and really connect. Connect with people as much as you can. Think about the questions people ask. Think about the positive interactions. This will be useful for you.
Tell relevant stories and inspiration.
Prepare some relevant stories and be ready to talk about what inspires you.
Pick a corner, not a kitchen or bedroom.
Find a nice corner of your home you can use for this. You can overlay images and show them on a desk. Some budget lighting hacks include ring lights and lights you can put a phone inside. You can get a tripod for your phone, they are not that expensive and come in handy. Use a microphone that clips to a shirt or air pods with a microphone built in for better audio results.
Talking over video works, so use it.
You can make what amounts to a narrated power point presentation as an artist talk.
Take Questions and Give Answers.
Another thing you can do is take questions on social media, like Instagram. Once you get a bunch of questions, record a video where you answer them.
Zoom might not get everybody. Try to stick to five minutes for presentations as it’s easier to follow for people. There is a show called Art21 on PBS which is a good guide here. It’s a nice model, in that it shows short segments, short videos of artists at work.
Televise Your Work!
Think of this new digital world as having your own television channel. Show short videos in a series, almost like a TV show with commercials. Make spontaneous video on Instagram. What does the “you” channel look like? Embrace that and bring it to life.
Use Time Lapse
This is really not used enough and it’s a powerful technique. Most of us have time lapse options on our phones and we can also string together stills taken over time to make one. Show the beginning, middle, and end of something for powerful impact. You can edit on your phone and do voice overs on your phone too. You can use Adobe Rush if it works for you.
Talk about artists that inspire you.
A lot of folks will ask if they can take pictures. Be ready with an answer. Tell if you want to be photographed and be prepared if they don’t ask and just start taking pictures of you. It’s part of the process. If you really want them not to, ask nicely.
Submit questions or have people follow you.
Don’t walk around when you record. Don’t make presentations aimlessly long.
Some don’ts here. Stay on topic, make it simple. Don’t meander. Whether you do it recorded or live try to stay on topic and don’t walk around your house with the camera. Don’t make your content super long. Don’t make your content aimless. Hone in on what to say. Don’t brag. Avoid generally bad human characteristics. Share things about yourself.
Encourage people to follow you, sign up for your newsletter, etc. by putting information in the chat box.
You can customize things for specific audiences here. You can make a special short (5 minute) video for kids, for example (just for kids.) It would be a fun thing to do and a great connection.
Don’t forget playfulness. The human connection is as important as the work. People remember the interactions. Engage on a human level. Let your personality come through. Content is more important than looking flashy here.
If you make a spontaneous connection, don’t be afraid to make a follow up. Maybe send an email, “thank you for visiting, it was great connecting with you.”
Ask a friend to interview you. Improv. Ask questions ahead of time. Don’t take for granted online medium, even if you are a photographer. Prints don’t always look best on the little laptop screen.
These days, now more than ever, especially in this time of COVID, people want to share stories. Who is the artist behind the work?
To really get at the heart of the matter, think about why do we do this? Why would somebody want to come and speak with you instead of going to your website? They want to see behind the scenes. They want to see your studio working space. They want to see works in progress. They want to see new ideas. They want to speak to an artist directly. They want to find out about your materials, about your process. All of this information is relevant, share freely.
It can be difficult doing this and it’s a crazy time right now but it’s also good to keep in mind that video is very “sticky.” This means the work we are doing now could potentially stick around for years to come. If you make a series of small videos now, you will be able to use them on your website a few years down the road. After lock down is over, you’ll still have them. It’s a much more sticky medium than even still photography, so embrace that fact.
Curiosity and generosity. I’m going to stay it again so it sticks. These are good things in life and, yes, even too in the virtual studio visit.
I wish everybody participating in the Austin Studio Tour this year wonderful success and happy virtual studio visits.
Until next time…