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Open Studio - my experience of bi-annual studio events.

Signage from the corridor into my space, me working and the display side of the studio.

Somehow, this is my 24th year at Wimbledon Art Studios and over those years I have seen it grow in size and strength.  From the top floor of a paper warehouse with a handful of studios, we have grown with buildings being built and converted into work spaces for around 250 artists.  We continue a rich tradition of artists and makers in the area, near the banks of the Wandle river in an area of osiers for basket makers and close to William Morris’s Liberty fabric printing mills at Merton Abbey.    

This hive of creative industry opens its doors every year for two open studio events over four days in May and November.   This used to be a relatively homespun event but always busy, buzzy and a great opportunity to welcome people into our work spaces and a great excuse to give the studio a good wash and brush up too.  We’re a mixed discipline complex and whilst some people are full time in the studio, others at evenings or weekends, so not everyone is there all of the time. However, a couple of weeks before the show the car park and bike racks overflow, the energy and noise level ratchet up as activity to finish, fire or frame work takes over.  The usually anonymous white corridors fill up with paintings hung outside studios to give a snapshot of what guests will find in each studio. 


Arts trails can be a little daunting, having to walk into someone’s house or down their garden path  before encountering the work.  Here though you can stroll the network of corridors and simply  glance inside a door to see whether you want to go in for a closer look or keep on walking and you are welcome to talk to the artists but you don’t have to chat if you don’t want to!  To make finding your way around this maze easier, we have been divided into different coloured zones.  My studio, 204 is in the top floor of the paper warehouse.  There are blue, yellow and green too but obviously you would want to visit the original and best red studios first!  You don’t need to trail a ball of thread to find your way around the labyrinth, we give you a map with everyone’s contact details.

2005 Over the years I have tried out a variety of colours and shelving for display.

When I first joined the studios, I was in a large L shaped room with two other ceramicists and a jeweller.  I worked on one table and we had some shared space for plaster work and a kiln.  My first show was a simple job of clearing the table and having a stab in the dark about how to display and price my work. Cheques were still the way to pay for things along with cash and the idea of having a little handheld card machine for people  to pay using their phones or even a watch to pay was science fiction! Having finished my Ceramics degree at Camberwell College of Arts in 1996, I worked and temped in offices for a few years. I was working full time and only at the studio in evenings and weekends and although I had already had a studio under the railway arches in Battersea, I was very new to this.  I moved into my own studio a few doors down about six months later, briefly went part time at work and then decided to give myself over to this completely and became a full time ceramicist.    A year after being alone in my studio, I moved within the building again to share a larger space with a wonderful figurative ceramicist, who is still one of my closest friends and one of the most creative people you could meet.  She has moved on and away and after another few years of sharing the space I have had the studio to myself and quickly spread out to fill it! 


My studio companion for 16 years!

Open Studios were such an important part of getting established at the start of my career.  It took a while to feel comfortable in what is generally a very private space of thought, contemplation and manufacture.  To have the door open and have people walking in, scutinising the work, having to talk about it and, strange though it may seem, part with work as it sold, was all surprisingly nerve wracking and difficult at first. The change in energy from preparing for a show and then the doors opening took some getting used to.  It proved invaluable though for doing retail and trade fairs; having to learn about how to talk about the work.  How much of your process are you willing to give away?  How much will enlighten and how much will confuse?  Do you display with no distractions like a gallery or leave areas clean but still functional?   


Over the years my displays have evolved. I have tried out different coloured backgrounds to offset the white of the porcelain and to try and enhance the detail, shadows and textures and lighting is important too. I use lighting above, directed towards work and on one of my units I have added lighting to the underneath of shelves to light the work below. This can also work to shine into the work which displays the translucence of the porcelain. I have built plinths in the past with glass tops so that they can be lit from inside, throwing dramatic light from below the work. Glass and perspex are really effective for creating a lightness and delicacy within a display. I use small perspex risers to lift work and create space and have replaced wooden shelves for glass on a pair of units that over the years have been painted a variety of colours but now remain an inky black. In the past I have tried green and deep red as backgrounds and in 2007 found black was wonderful with the white porcelain. Having worked through rich greys and tried blue tones from a deep sky blue, to cobalt, my current preferred display is a rich navy blue which beautifully offsets both the white work and the work with cobalt.


But what will you find in my studio?  Well a bit of everything!   I have so much more than I could ever have on a stand in a show, or supply a gallery with.  I have my birds, biscuits, bees and everything else you might have seen.  You’ll see my kiln, my tools, materials and all the elements of my process from the fabrics to the plaster casts.  See if you can spot my kiln!  It looks like a large blue, metal cupboard opposite you as you walk into my door but people still don’t notice it and ask where it is!  Whilst I have work from all of my ranges, I also have pieces that I am trying out, maybe a new texture or pieces that don’t fit into a collection, shapes or textures that I am not pursuing at the moment and  I always have a couple of sale shelves with slight seconds for bargain hunters.

 

Using shelving units (right) to divide the space and store materials and clutter behind.

The first of the four days is a Thursday and we have always opened until late for a private view which galleries and press could attend as well as the interested and buying public.  Our open studios are an event that welcomes everyone and we have collectors, galleries, locals, families with pets.  We usually have a trail for children to keep them engaged and occupied.  You’re probably thinking that getting around that number of studios must be tiring?  Don’t worry, we have a big cafe area with lots of seating and on the Thursday and Friday evenings, when we open until late, we have a bar as you enter through the marquee.  

 

So how do you find us at Wimbledon Art Studios?  If you ever went to the Wimbledon Greyhound Stadium or know where Wimbledon AFC football ground is, we are right behind them, off Garratt Lane between Earlsfield and Tooting.  London  SW17 0BB


For more images of my studio in work and display mode, do check out my

Instagram feed: s_groveceramics


Panorama of the display side of my studio from 2021. Studio 204, Wimbledon Art Studios, London



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