River Arts District

Percolating Creativity

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I love it when this happens. I’m consumed with this new concept for artwork. I’ve now got all my “ingredients” together to fabricate three prototypes and then…if…it…works, I’ll release them into the world. Pardon the drama. I’m excited.

Two blog posts ago, I mentioned that I was thinking about a new concept for artwork…a “sail” shape that would billow out from the wall. I’ve figured out how to make it secure and stay in place and hold the shape I dictate, so that’s good (see my last post “So then” for more info on that). But what’s blowing my brain is that there is so much I could potentially DO with this. I’m thinking of boring holes in the sail shapes, creating voids. I’m thinking of playing with strips with or instead of (in some cases) the sail shapes and bending them around each other (like a bent wood sculpture does). But the surface of all component sheets would be texturized with a flexible agent, covered with my metallic leaf, paint and one layer of resin. These shapes will be luminous and not contained to a single plain.

The next step will happen after the holidays, and that’s the fabrication of the first prototype. If that works (and per my experimentation, I’m pretty sure it will work now), my next post will include photos of all the prototypes.

In my Asheville art studio, I will probably always paint mostly landscape paintings (and that’s because I love painting landscapes!) but I do really enjoy creating abstract art as well. These would in a sense be abstract. The colors will be simple, but because the surface will be reflecting light through my paint, AND because as the surface bends and each inch of the surface catches light differently than the next, I’m thinking the result will be something visually rich, graceful and dynamic.

Well, that’s the plan. :)

We’ll see what happens. Stay tuned!

Planning for a Second Studio Location!

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This winter, I will be doing the preliminary set up for a second art studio…in TEXAS! I love mountains or wild seascapes, so I never, ever thought I’d be excited about being in Texas but here’s the thing…three of my four kids are there and seven of nine grandchildren are there, and Joy and I have the opportunity to set up shop right there with them all. We’ll still be keeping Asheville, North Carolina as our home base, and St.Claire Art studio in the River Arts District will still be open there, but parts of the year (corresponding to slower tourist seasons in Asheville), we’ll be painting in Texas.

I’m excited about two things related to this: first of all, I absolutely love the idea of being close to our family, and second, this opens up new opportunities for galleries in the central U.S. and Rocky Mountain states.

…finding the ear of a gallery owner takes either a personal visit by the artist, or a connection via a third party…

I’ve always wanted to find gallery representation in that part of the country, but being on the east coast, it’s just too far away to realistically explore. And finding the ear of a gallery owner takes either a personal visit by the artist, or a connection via a third party who knows the artist and the gallery owner. This second option happened to me just this summer. There is a gallery Elk River, Michigan (on the north-west coast) that will be carrying my work in the spring and I’m really excited about it! I’ve been to that area and it’s gorgeous — and it’s frequented by tourists. This opportunity came about because a client of mine that lives in that part of Michigan knew a gallery owner and she played matchmaker, and I’m so appreciative whenever that happens because it makes my job so much easier!

So if anyone out there in cyber-land knows of galleries I’d fit into in the central US and Rocky Mountain states, please let me know! This spring, I’ll be ready. :)

On the Brink of a Huge Failure

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It's Sunday, and traditionally a day of rest. And it IS restful today for me, but last Sunday...my head was in a very different place, and that place was not at all pretty. I was basically a basket case. Let me explain...

A couple months ago, my son (who was visiting Maui with his wife at the time) emailed me from Lahaina and says "Dad, there's a gallery owner over here that wants you to contact him!". I was not familiar with the gallery (or Lahaina for that matter) but apparently, because Hawaii does not charge sales tax for artwork purchased, it's become an art destination. And apparently, some the THE top-dollar galleries in the world are on Front Street running through the town of Lahaina. So, I contacted the owner of the gallery and ended up sending him two of my paintings. They are now hanging on his gallery wall there. But he then asked for three more pieces ASAP. Understand, these three paintings (of water lilies) have GOT to be amazing. Awesome. Unrivaled. Because, if this gallery picks me up as one of their artists...that's a total game-changer for me. It makes what I consider now as the artistic "big leagues" look like the pee-wee league. It's absolutely amazing (and humbling) that my paintings are even being considered for representation there.

So all that to say, these paintings are potentially VERY important. And last Saturday afternoon when I left the studio, they looked horrible.

The paintings had turned the corner.

I didn't sleep many hours at all that night. So after church on Sunday morning, Joy was okay with us heading over to the studio to look that these paintings with fresh eyes. To be honest, they actually looked a bit better than I'd remembered from the night before. So we prayed, and asked for artistic and creative insight. And we looked at these paintings afresh and figured out what to do next. I spent about an hour that Sunday afternoon a week ago implementing the ideas we came up with and...when I left that afternoon to enjoy the rest of my "day of rest" at home, I left a bit encouraged. The paintings had turned the corner. 

So now a week later, I honestly think these three paintings may well leave my studio as my favorite pieces I've ever done. Imagine that. How ironic it was I was really thinking I'd failed just one week ago.

There's a moral to this story I think. Maybe it's up to you to apply it to your own life and situation right now. Your input at this point would be awesome! I'd love to hear what you think!

Inspration Begets Inspiration

I received a wonderful gift the other day...a poem. This wasn't just any poem though. This poem, entitled "Portal" was written by a client of mine who had recently purchased one of my paintings and apparently, the painting (my creative expression) inspired his own creative expression (the poem). I love that!

As an artist in the River Arts District, I deal with so many really great people. They're perusing Asheville's various art galleries and art studios because they enjoy art and want to meet the artists. Art becomes the common ground between strangers here, and even if we differ in regards to background, race, religion, or politics, we can come together with art. Art is magical that way I think.

I love the idea of one genre of creative expression inspiring another, so that creativity bounces from one head/heart to the next and how far it eventually goes? Who knows, but it's exciting the think about. As far back as our exploration of history goes, creative expression has always been linked to the homo sapien. I really like that!

So without any further written expression on my part, let's get to the written expression that inspired this particular blog post:

 

Portal

By Ray Griffin

29 May 2018, Asheville, North Carolina

 

The day has been quite unsettled

with shifting clouds and continual gentle rains.  

I, too, am restless as I sit on pier’s edge.  

The Sangiovese soothes my senses

as descending clouds begin to encroach

upon lake’s placid domain.  

 

All is quiet

except for the occasional call of the loon.  

I skip-a-stone

across water’s surface

just to create movement and sound

upon its liquid sheet of glass.  

I relish the moment.

My eyes follow the ripples

until they disappear into the misty void.

 

The fog thickens

as the sole cry of a hawk, unseen,

pierces the silence

echoing off of the nearby mountains.

 

I take my bottle, drinking from its neck,

and settle into my red canoe.  

Slowly, I paddle towards the morphing void.  

As I pass through its edge 

the pier disappears.

 

I place the paddle at my feet. 

The eerie quietness of the moment

is disturbed only by the gentle lapping

of the lake upon my craft.  

I am adrift in my thoughts... 

 

Sol briefly

pierces storm’s grey veil

pathway

though opacity

provides for poetic transparency

A Word About Accolades

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Since it's Sunday and my "day of rest" in which I can enjoy some down time to think and relax, I was mulling over this past week at my art studio. There were moments of listening to critique and moments of listening to praise. I've written previous blogs about some of the critique artists can get, and learning how to gracefully listen to that critique (without punching someone) is a useful skill. But there is one skill infinitely more important to master and that is how to deal with praise. Not dealing with praise correctly, I think, can destroy creativity and ruin a life and I'm not being overly dramatic when I say that. I'm speaking from personal experience. 

When I was a kid, art was the only thing I did well. I was teased a lot and easily crumbled emotionally. But I found that if I created something artistically, the same people that teased me earlier would praise me. So...I wanted to be the best at art. And the insidious thing about it was that this determination was unrecognized by me (or anyone else) as being dangerous at all. What's wrong with wanting to be really great at something? We praise people who have grit like that. But I didn't just want to be great. I wanted to be greatest. And because I probably had some natural abilities in art, and because I applied myself to the extreme to creative endeavors, I was consistently the best artist in all my school classes and life was sweet. Until...

When I entered high school, I met a guy that toppled me from my throne: John Howarth. John was a nice guy and popular. But I kept my distance. I did not like John Howarth, because he ruined life for me. He was the first person I met that was a much better artist than I was, and for the next three years, I was forced to deal with being "second best" (which to me, felt like utter failure).

Thankfully, I can honestly say I learned something from that whole experience. I learned that praise is addictive. It's nice but the more you get, the more you need. It's never enough. I learned that I was USING my art and my abilities to create and bolster a sometimes sagging self image. But I came to believe that creative ability was not given to me as a means to an end. I firmly believe that art is a joy in and of itself. It is the gift, not the means to the gift. And interestingly enough, I can look back at my high school years and the emotional-spiritual processing going on in me and can see that that was a real turning point for me, and my creativity radically increased. When I stopped using art to get attention and "be someone" and simply enjoyed art, creativity opened almost unbidden, like a flower in my hand.

So, I feel sorry for people who are criticized. Unasked for critique especially is difficult to hear and not become instantly defensive. But I'm terrified of people who can't bear to not be "the best". I've been nearly destroyed by people like that. But I'm probably scared of them because I was just like that, so it's like looking in a mirror if I can be honest (and it's my blog, so that's my prerogative). They say that the things that bug you the most about someone else are probably your own weakest areas. I have found that to be true.

So for what it's worth, here's some advice:

If you're criticized for something you do, don't let criticism crush you. Listen to it. I mean, there may be some helpful nuggets of truth mixed in with all the garbage, so sort out the critique like someone sifting through a latrine for a wedding ring dropped into it.

If you're praised for something you do, just enjoy the praise for what it is in the moment it's given. Don't live off it or for it, and don't make adulation and attention that thing you need to base your life on. Personally, I need something much more stable and eternal for something that important. That's just my opinion. Happy Sunday!

Where it Began

"Autumn Reflections", April 2012

"Autumn Reflections", April 2012

When I was a kid, I used love to look through my grandparent's old photo album. In it, were scary photos of dead ancestors -- dressed very smart, unsmiling, staring into the camera. Something about the thought that "I am related to these people -- this is where I came from" kept drawing me back to that old book of ancient photos.

I thought of that memory just the other day, as I looked back at the first first photos I posted on my (then brand new) Facebook page. Wow. I cringed and laughed out loud. I found myself staring at the very first painting I had shared back in 2012, "Autumn Reflections". This was one of the very early "landscape" pieces I had done using my new technique I called "Dialuminism" ("Light Passing Through"). See, when I started working with painting atop aluminum leaf and finishing with resin, I was doing all abstracts. Separately, I was painting small quasi-impressionistic landscape scenes, but I really wanted to figure out how to paint landscapes using the tools of dialuminism but I had no idea how to coax the materials and ingredients to create what I wanted to create. The painting I'm showing here was my first attempt at a landscape. I had so much fun with it (and these new reflective landscapes were SELLING!), that I quit doing my more typical oil painted landscapes and jumped head long into my technique, using dialuminism for every piece I did. It became my trademark.

I enjoy seeing where I come from. I was all about ancestors long before ancestor.com. I like seeing progression. It's fun. And I thought it would be entertaining to share that progression with other people. I hope you're enjoying the ride as much as I am!

"Until Tomorrow", July 2018

"Until Tomorrow", July 2018

Funny Things People Say in an Art Studio

River Arts District, Asheville

Most of the time, being artist in the River Arts District in Asheville is a blast. I mean really -- all of us down here are living out our passion, and making a living doing it! Who could ask for a better job than that? And honestly, about 98% of the people who visit us are super nice people. Some of become regular clients and dear friends of mine. The fact that we artists don't create in a vacuum is one of the huge benefits of our "open studio" business model here in the Arts District. This keeps us socialized (which honestly, is really emotionally healthy) and ithe fact that I can see and hear what I do that resonates with visitors helps me make a living as a painter. 

"How Ready are you to Sell These?"

So honestly, all 220 of us artists in the Arts District love our jobs and we very warmly welcome any visitor who comes in to feel free to chat with us and take a look at our artwork. That said, there is a really funny 2% of studio visitors that either make us laugh or cry. A few weeks ago, one of the artists posted an entry on our River Arts District Facebook page asking for artist contributions to a growing list of "funny things people say when visiting an art studio". I cracked up reading this list and thought others might crack a smile as well. This is what keeps life as an artist entertaining...

Visitor walking out the door:  "But how much can a painting really cost? Paint and boards aren't that expensive"...

Visitor to friend: "We should buy some of these and make these and make them ourselves!”

"How ready to sell this are you?"

"I have a group in China that copies oil paintings like this for a quarter of these prices."

“Does the city pay your rent?"

"Is this your 'real job'? Can you really make a living doing this?"

“My cousin is an artist. You should see his work! He sells his.”

"I've paid less for a car!"

"This piece has been on your website for  over three months...so...I'm going to offer to pay you 50% of the prices..."

"What exactly is this material?" (as they are sticking their finger into wet oil paint)

"Does your job give you insurance? I couldn't take a job without insurance."

Man to girlfriend: “Babe, you could TOTALLY do this!” Man to me: “so HOW do you do this??”

Woman entering and looking around the studio: "Are all the pretty paintings gone?"

Man looking around at the walls: "this must be the stuff that doesn't sell right?"

“So how does it feel to be selling out?”

"It's so sensitively done! I thought for sure the artist was a woman!".

Visitor whispering...“Heck, honey I’ll make you one of those”

"Can you give me a break on sales tax?"

"Do you have any 95% off prices?"

"Did your real job not work out, so now you're here?"

"How long does it take ya to paint one a them things?" (I think they're trying to figure out your hourly wages.)

Visitor showing the artist photos on his phone: "I wouldn't charge you much if you wanted to use any of these photos. Just pay me a commission if your painting sells."

"Oh, the kids make those."

A few weeks ago, a woman came in the studio with her little high strung, fashionably dressed miniature curly haired dog and after a few minutes of browsing she walked quickly up to me and asked where her dog could pee.

"It's a nice little hobby you have here."

"I would love to just play like this all day but... I have a job."

A man came in to our studios, looked around quickly and then asked me where she could find "fine art".

From a woman at a local museum..."I love your work and we're committed to promoting local artists. We'd like to have you paint a 10 ft x 20 ft mural." (Then she explained that the museum would pay for the paint but needed me to donate my time to design and paint it.)

"I absolutely love your work! I always go to the ***** art auction and I always look to see if I can get one of your paintings at a good price."

 

 

World View #4: Nihilism

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In our basic survey of world views, we have looked at three so far: Theism, Deism and Naturalism. We have considered the basic assumptions espoused by these world views and their affect on culture and specifically upon art. By way of reminder, the basic assumption of theism is that "God is here". This world view asserts that the Creator is present and wants relationship with us. Deism asserts that God is "out there somewhere" (not here). He, she or it exists (order we see in the universe would suggest that) but that God is distant and a personal "relationship" with him/her/it is not possible. Naturalism states that to debate whether or not God exists is pointless, because the only way to determine the truth of something is to be able to prove it scientifically (hypothesize, predict, test, repeat). Since the existence of a deity is impossible to prove scientifically, the notion of God is therefore dismissed. Nihilism is the natural and obvious next step in the evolution of western thought. Nihilism is a philosophical position which argues that if naturalism is indeed correct, then it stands to reason that human existence is without objective meaning, purpose, comprehensible truth, or essential value.

So Nihilism simply looks at naturalism and draws the natural conclusions. For instance, if there is no deity, no "judge", no absolute standard of right and wrong, then there is no point in us judging anyone or anything because the notions of right and wrong are purely human constructs. A strict nihilist therefore could not say "racism is wrong" or "sex slavery is wrong" or "mass murder is wrong". They may say it's painful, but they could not say it's "wrong" if the concept of "wrong" is in actuality non-existent.  

Nihilism has profoundly affected western civilization, and its effect can be very clearly seen in the arts.

Personally, I find Nihilism fascinating, but fascinating like studying the Ebola virus would be fascinating (deadly but fascinating). This is a really powerful (and incredibly influential) world view, and when it was propagated by philosophers like Friedrich Nietzsche, it was unique as a world view in that it offered no future hope of things made right. We are left with the "rule of the jungle" -- the strongest tyrant  rules -- and what he or she does or does not do matters nothing, because nothing has ultimate value.

A strict Nihilist would say that finding "meaning to life" is an opiate to get you through this existence with at least some semblance psychological health, but that's all it is (an opiate) because real "meaning" is non-existent.  Nihilism asserts that we are all here by chance and in a few billion years when the sun explodes there will be no trace we ever existed and so nothing anyone does ultimately matters at all.

What kind of art would you expect to be generated by an artist with this world view?

You might assume that such a pessimistic world view  would have not really caught on, but  you would be wrong.  Nihilism has profoundly affected western civilization, and its effect can be very clearly seen in the arts. So many people coming into my studio in Asheville's River Arts Distrct have said things like "I really don't 'get' most art" or "I look at some artwork that's supposed to be great and think 'this makes no sense at all! A four year old could have thrown the paint onto this canvas! And this is supposed to be 'art'? It's pointless!" See, this is where you must consider the world view of the artist in order to understand what he or she was trying to communicate with the art. I mean, what kind of art (painting, sculpture, prose, poetry) would you expect to be generated by an artist with this world view?

The Madman

by Friedrich Nietzsche

"Have you not heard of that madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning hours, ran to the market place, and cried incessantly: "I seek God! I seek God!"---As many of those who did not believe in God were standing around just then, he provoked much laughter. Has he got lost? asked one. Did he lose his way like a child? asked another. Or is he hiding? Is he afraid of us? Has he gone on a voyage? emigrated?---Thus they yelled and laughed

"The madman jumped into their midst and pierced them with his eyes. "Whither is God?" he cried; "I will tell you. We have killed him---you and I. All of us are his murderers. But how did we do this? How could we drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What were we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there still any up or down? Are we not straying, as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is not night continually closing in on us? Do we not need to light lanterns in the morning? Do we hear nothing as yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? Do we smell nothing as yet of the divine decomposition? Gods, too, decompose. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.

 

A Time to be Disturbed

Beginning of one of the most disturbing paintings I've ever started

Beginning of one of the most disturbing paintings I've ever started

If you know me at all, or are familiar with the work I do, you know I love painting landscapes. That's my thing. But now and then, something just really hits me and changes to course of what I'm doing completely. The last time this happened was when Joy and I visited what is left of the concentration camp at Dachau (just north of Munich) last September. Seeing what I saw -- I was shaken to my core. That doesn't happen very often. I'm pretty "even-keel" but when I left, I had to express myself in my language (art). If you're interested, just click here for a link to that blog. 

Well, it's happened again. I wish this wouldn't happen in my head. I'd sleep a lot better if I could just paint trees and mountains all the time, but I think I'd explode if I didn't say something right now about an issue that's really hot in today's news. If you have a minute, please go to this link and if you have the stomach for it, please, please watch the video and then me know what YOU think. 

When I watched this, I couldn't help but respond. And I'm (thankfully) not alone. A group of artists in my building (the Pink Dog Creative Building in Asheville's River Arts District) met and dreamed together. We are in the beginning phases of putting together an exhibition of art from artists (painters, poets and musicians) all over Asheville that encapsulates our response to police brutality against black men and gun violence in general.

So right now, this painting I'm starting looks pretty innocuous and no different than anything else I do, right? Well, I'm going to be taking you through the steps to the very end, so you can see it evolve. I know what it'll look like in the end and some of those I've explained it to have teared up. For now, I'm keeping a tight lip until it's done. 

I'm honored to be working with these other artists. It's so nice not to have to do this alone, because I really don't know what I'm doing. I just have one voice, but a multi-thousand member choir is made of individual voices. I want one of those voices to be mine. Sing with me?

 

How to Make a Living as an Artist (Part 2)

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As I stated in an earlier blog, I was recently asked “How do you make a living as a full-time artist?” And honestly,  I wake up every morning absolutely baffled that I CAN make a living doing what I love doing.

I work here in the mountains of western North Carolina in the town of Asheville,  and largely because of that, I do not do art shows or art festivals. I really don’t go anywhere, because I can't afford to leave my studio.  Basically, I walk to work in Asheville’s River Arts District, unlock the door, turn the lights on, stick the “OPEN” flag out on the side of the building and then I start painting, and people (some locals but mostly tourists) come through my door and look at my artwork and by far, most of my sales come from people who walk in off the street. They are visiting Asheville, heard about the River Arts District and they want to make sure they check that off their “to do when visiting Asheville” list. If I lived practically anywhere else, this business model would not work at all. But because there are now about 220 artists within about one square mile who do this, and who go together on advertising to get the word out, people know about us and they visit (and purchase art!)

 If I didn't have this business model available to me as a real option, I'd probably be in trouble.

So the fact that I can make this business model work is largely due to where I live. But the details as to how the situation in Asheville makes my life as a full-time artist possible -- I don't see why that can't be replicated anywhere else. I really hope it can. There's nothing magical about Asheville (although some locals explain that Asheville is special because of giant crystals under the city. Ground penetrating radar has never detected said crystals, but I digress...

If I didn't have this business model available to me as a real option, I'd probably be in trouble.  Most other full-time artists around the country that I know get their work into as many galleries and art festivals as possible. I truly have all the respect in the world for artists who travel from art festival to art festival and have their work in select and profitable galleries and who make a living that way. I cannot compete with them. I mean, I have found a few galleries that now carry and sell my work but honestly, I make most of my own sales from my Asheville studio. I would love to find more galleries around the country that would represent me, but I honestly don't know how to find them, so I unfortunately cannot be much of a help with any of that.

But because I live where I live, I am literally "piggybacking" off the momentum every other artist here has created. It's symbiotic. Visiting artists have asked "is there even ROOM for another artist here?" and my answer is always "YES!" because it's like gravity -- the more the mass, the more the gravitational pull (i.e. more visitors recognize us as an arts destination) and that's a really good thing for all of us artists.

The other thing the artists do is to have "regular open hours" 

Why is Asheville so special? Well, for one thing, it is a tourist destination in and of itself, and that REALLY helps bring people into the area.  And here, the artists are working together and they are operating their business like a business. Let me explain.

First of all, most artists all rent studio space in the same part of town (not all scattered through the city). The artists have an organization they pay dues to and they (the River Arts District Artists) advertise and promote what's going on here. We have a printed studio guide with a map of where all the studios are, to make it easy for people. 

The other thing the artists do (well, enough of them anyway) is to have "regular open hours". I have my hours posted in our studio guide we pass out and on my studio door...10:00 - 5:00 every day but Sunday. So my studio is not just where I paint. I do paint here, but the public walks through my door every day, watch me paint, and they look at my finished artwork hanging on the wall. So it's kind of a cross between a messy studio and a classy art gallery that's open to the public. THAT is what I (and lots of other artists here) do.  And honestly, the only people I hear around me in the arts district that complain about not making sales are those who can only be here now and then. I totally get it that not everyone can or wants to do this full-time, but if you want to make a living with this more "retail" type art business model, you have to be open.  In other words: You cannot sell your artwork if your studio is locked up and dark.

Let me illustrate this point with a true story.  I was driving through an un-named state a couple years ago and saw a sign "historic arts district" and I thought "Oh COOL! Let's take a few minutes and explore!" So we did. My wife and I found the arts district and were really impressed with the concept. Turns out that the downtown area of this town was dwindling and the city wanted to re-vamp the area. So they sold studio space to several artists for SUPER cheap and even gave $10K per studio for upgrades and interior design.  And artists moved in! But when my wife and I were there (on a Friday), we spent an hour walking around the arts district and only one studio was actually open. If someone opens a hardware store or lighting store or barber shop or coffee shop on Main Street, they would have been there. They would be open. There is probably something I'm missing, but as a visitor, I didn't see how having closed art studios was helping to create a vibrant new downtown. I'll never go back. Not because the town wasn't cool (it was), but because it was a ghost town.

So my suggestion would be that you move to Asheville (I know artists who have done just that for all the above reasons I've mentioned).  But more realistically, I really think that wherever you live, you could try to get artists around you working together (in as close a proximity as possible). You could pool monetary resourses and advertise. Get the word out that you're there. Let the chamber of commerce and tourism office know you're there.  And BE IN THE STUDIO with lights on and door open and OPEN flag out front so people are invited in. That's what we do here and I know it works.