The annual Cambridge Open Studios event is a chance for local art lovers to meet artists and discover where and how they work.
Siobhan Godwood finds out more
Cambridge may be famous for its contribution to science, technology and academia, but there is a thriving artistic community here too. Cambridge Open Studios is one of the oldest open studio events in the country, and can be traced back to the 1960s, when a small group of Cambridge artists joined forces, opening their studios to the public as part of a movement to demystify arts and make them available to all.
Although Open Studios has grown enormously, the ethos remains the same, and the aim is to make art accessible and to welcome the public in to see how artists produce their work. Artists open their doors to the public over four weekends in July, and a wide variety of media are represented, from jewellery and fine art to ceramics and furniture making. Artists are spread out across the city and in lots of Cambridgeshire’s villages, as well as in Ely. The event is free to the public, and most of the artists offer a range of different items, so if a painting or piece of jewellery isn’t in your budget, you can buy some cards or a mug featuring the artist’s work.
As well as a way for art lovers to discover local talent, COS allows artists and craftspeople to meet each other and have their work included in the event’s promotional materials and social media activity. We talked to some of the artists involved in this year’s event to find out about what being part of Cambridge Open Studios means to them.
Carol’s watercolours take inspiration from her love of flowers and she interprets their shape and colour in a loose and vibrant style
This will be my first time taking part in Cambridge Open Studios. I’ve been painting for a number of years, and am involved in painting groups in Fulbourn – quite a few artists locally take part every year and they encouraged me to get involved. The Open Studios team offers lots of help for new artists, with new members’ evenings that you can attend to get advice. I’ll be exhibiting from my house, in the small room that I paint in, and also in my conservatory.
It’s tricky knowing how much work to exhibit, but it depends a lot on the amount of space that you’ve got. I’ve also got cards ready for visitors who like the paintings but might not have the budget for a full framed work. In previous years I’ve been to see lots of different artists; it will be quite strange to be actually exhibiting myself this year! For me, it’s about saying ‘this is me, this is what I like to paint, and I’d like to share it with you’. If I sell some work, that will really just be an added bonus.
COS 2019 weekends 1 & 2
Anstey Garrick Green
Anstey’s collages and mixed media artworks are vibrant with colour and use a variety of materials including paper, felt, encaustic and thread
I’ve done Open Studios about five times before, and I exhibit out of my studio, which is at the bottom of my garden. There’s a lot of preparation involved, producing new artwork, getting cards printed, thinking about how everything is going to be displayed. I’m in Hemingford Grey; there are five of us in the village exhibiting this year and we have been getting together – it’s nice to be able to support each other.
Most people who come to Open Studios are interested in art and like to talk about it, and it’s a lovely thing for artists to talk about their work. I particularly enjoy getting repeat visitors and showing them how my work has developed. A lot of the time, as an artist, you’re working on your own; you have belief in what you’re doing, but it’s not often you get the opportunity to see how your work affects people and how they respond to it. I get commissions out of it too – people can see things I’ve done, and ask for something similar but with slightly different elements or colours; I like doing pieces for people I’ve met face to face. As well as larger works, I always have cards to sell; some prints of larger works and some little handmade pieces.
COS 2019 weekends 1, 3 & 4
Marina makes intense, decorated paintings and painted furniture, bowls, boxes and fabrics
I’ve been doing Cambridge Open Studios since 1985; I’m one of the most long-standing artists. In the early years, I exhibited in Cambridge itself; I was in Gwydir Street, where there was a cluster of artists, and it was quite rock ‘n’ roll in those days.
I exhibit in Ely now, and it’s getting busier each year. I’ve built up quite a clientele, and send out cards to people to remind them of the dates. It’s nice to see the same visitors year after year, and they tell their friends, so it’s quite a word of mouth thing.
I keep doing it because it’s a very successful way to sell my work, through commissions and selling art on the day – much more so than exhibiting in galleries. Of course it’s nice to meet people and talk about my work, but I don’t think many artists would open their homes and their studios up just to be stared at – we all want to make a living!
I do try to make the place look amazing, so it is a lot of work. I mural my walls and take out the furniture, too, so it’s not just paintings: the whole ground floor of my house is part of the show. It’s quite stressful – you have to be ready all the time, as you never really know when the next visitor will turn up, or 15 at once – but I enjoy it very much. I wouldn’t keep doing it if I didn’t!
COS 2019 weekends 1, 2 & 4
Paul’s oil paintings capture rural and coastal landscapes from around East Anglia in a loose and dynamic style
This is my 11th year taking part in Open Studios. I’m not a full-time artist – it’s a hobby for me, as I have a day job – so taking part in something like this feels like a bit of an escape. It’s nice to get a bit of affirmation that someone likes what I do.
Things get a bit stressful in the lead up to it every year as I have to get plenty of work together, get things framed and presented, and tidy the studio up. This year in Swaffham Prior there’s a group of established artists exhibiting in one of the churches in the village, and another group who have got together to get involved for the first time, so hopefully people will enjoy coming to the village and it will give them a reason to come all the way out here.
I do all four weekends; once I’ve got it set up, I just feel that I might as well do the whole thing. The downside of that, of course, is that I don’t get the opportunity to go and see other artists, so each year I think to myself that I’ll take a year off and just be a visitor for a change. Then every year I find myself signing up again!
COS 2019 weekends 1, 2, 3 & 4
Clare is exhibiting her hand-produced fine art prints inspired by rhythmical and geometric patterns from nature
I have been doing Open Studios for many years – I started in about 1997, although I have missed a few. I exhibited at Wysing Arts Centre for a long time, but for the last few years I’ve done it from my own home. People seem to like having a look at how I work, and seeing all the equipment, finding out about my process. What’s great now is that there are a lot more people doing it in Histon, where I live, so visitors can do a little tour and visit several different artists in the village, and it gives me the chance to get to know the other artists, too.
I get repeat customers coming back year after year; people that I’ve built up relationships with, who don’t necessarily buy something every year, but come back to say hello and see what I’m up to.
I’ve decided to stop doing ceramics, as I’ve been doing it for 25 years and I want to take a break. It’s a big decision for me, as ceramics has been my main income for a long time, but I’m going to carry on with my printmaking and go in a new direction. So this year I’ll be selling the last of my ceramics – it feels like the end of an era!
COS 2019 weekends 1 & 2
Planning your visit
Cambridge Open Studios runs annually over four weekends in July: this year it takes place on 6/7, 13/14, 20/21 and 27/28.
Visit camopenstudios.co.uk to download the free guidebook and find full details of the artists involved, and to check which weekends each artist is exhibiting. You can also download the app to search for artists and plan your visits.
The guidebook is available in galleries, museums, independent cafes, and park and ride sites throughout Cambridgeshire.
Find details of the artists and information about trails or collaborations on Twitter @CamOpenStudios or on Facebook.
Look out for the yellow flags that artists display to show that they are open to visitors.