— Jackie Genis

When are you going to start experimenting?

This is the loving question artist Janet Ellis’ husband asked her when she was nearly 70 years old (still looking like a youthful 50 something) about not playing it safe with her fused glass art. “It was like a wakeup call,” says Ellis, “I mean how long will I be able to do this – I should experiment because you never know.”

That day was a turning point for Ellis. She gave herself permission to create outside of self-imposed creative boundaries and has since taken her glass art to entirely new and rewarding levels. “I just knew I wanted to do it, and it was worth the risk to know I could fail,” says Ellis.

Early in her evolution as an artist after spending 45 years in the business world, Ellis says she was conservative with fused glass and timid to avoid making any mistakes. Not anymore. Today, Ellis boldly creates pieces that continually evolve and emerge while she works. She now also works with melts and enjoys coaxing a fluid design process to simply unfold. The results are stunning.

After discovering a freedom and creative success through experimenting, Ellis stretched her artistic comfort zone even more. She decided to apply for the 2013 Clark County Open Studios Tour and was elated when she was juried in as a participating artist. “I had huge numbers go through (my studio),” says Ellis, “and it was very validating.” Fast forward two years, and she applied again for the 2015 Open Studios Tour and says this is when her real growth began.

“I had gotten more skilled at my melts,” says Ellis. “And I had a good turnout and a little more confidence too.” That artistic confidence and 2015 Open Studios Tour experience led to commissioned work, a large sale of her art and jewelry to Hulda Klager Lilac Gardens in Woodland, and a feature story in Felida Fine Living.

New Open Studios call abundant with benefits

Now in its fourth year, Open Studios runs again November 12-13, 2016 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and features 50 local artists. The call is out for local visual artists and artisans, and the deadline is May 31. The free self-guided tour allows artists to share how, why, and where their art is created. Artists can’t miss stepping forward into this unique opportunity to shine, gain recognition, open studios to the public, and to show and sell work.

Artistic exposure, creating meaningful connections, networking, learning about what other artists are doing, arts education, cultural enrichment, creating more accessibility to art, and supporting growth of the local arts economy are among many other benefits of applying to Open Studios.

“We have new jurors each year because we want every year to be new and different, and we want it to stay fresh and exciting,” says Jennifer Williams, director of Clark County Open Studios and Board Member of the Arts of Clark County. Williams is also a successful painter and mixed media artist. “We want new artists to apply, and if they don’t get in the first year, we encourage them to reapply.”

Expanding  community connections

Artist Don Gray, a successful local painter also versed in printmaking and mixed media, remembers finding a scrap of wallpaper at his grandparents’ Northeast Oregon home when he was nearly 12. “I turned it over,” says Gray, “and saw that it was textured.” Gray had discovered a passion for drawing when he was 5 years old. But that day he clutched the interesting textured wallpaper and found his way up on a hillside behind his grandparents’ house where he then created a watercolor of the surrounding landscape. “It was the first time I had done an original painting like that,” says Gray. “I thought, wow, this is really cool, and I want to do more of this.”

He did do more too. Carving out a successful painting career in his twenties and showing in galleries all over the country, Gray is no stranger to what it takes to persevere and stay focused on the heart of why he enjoys painting. Growing up in Eastern Oregon, Gray says he moved around a bit with his wife and children in order to explore different areas to live in Oregon and Southern California before settling in Vancouver in the fall of 2013. His first experience with Open Studios was as a tour visitor. “I thought it was a great idea, and I entered the following year.”

“From my experience on the tour, it was a way to get myself introduced to the community, and that has paid dividends,” says Gray. “If you want to be an artist and be recognized to some degree for your work, you have to put a foot forward, and Open Studios is an excellent way to put a foot forward and get out there.”

A touring gallery owner in Astoria, familiar with Gray’s work from shows in Eastern Oregon, recognized his work during a tour. This led to new ongoing gallery representation.

Gray attributes these new opportunities as a direct result of participating in Open Studios. “They structure this really well,” says Gray. “There is an opening show kicking off the studio tour, and all the artists can mix together and connect.”

Gaining ground as an arts destination

Clark County Open Studios has attracted collectors, artists looking for inspiration, students, families, and curious neighbors. Visitors have mostly been from our area, but a growing number are coming from locations across the country. This is one step toward Clark County becoming an arts destination. Open Studios is a way to attract larger audiences while widening the connections among talented artists.

“I believe we all have something to say through art,” says Ellis. “Explain the process of your work during the tour – it is important as an artist that you share what your work means to you and why you are driven to do it because that is what people are going to want to know.”

Useful tip

“Provide a good and clear photograph when you apply,” says Williams. “Everything is online, and it’s not always about submitting the best piece, but think about submitting the piece that looks best in a photograph.”

To apply and learn more details, please visit ccopenstudios.org.