A Conversation With Laura Russell of 23 Sandy Gallery

By Shu-Ju Wang

Below, Laura Russell at 23 Sandy Gallery during The Quiet Fire, an exhibit of Stewart Harvey’s photographs of Burning Man.


After hearing through the grapevine that Laura Russell, artist and gallery owner, had been singing the praises of Portland Open Studios, I talked to Laura to find out more.

LR: Portland Open Studios is one of the best things I ever did for my gallery and for my career.

SJW: In what ways?

LR: I was new to Portland, had been here 6 months, maybe 9 months. I didn’t know anyone, didn’t have any contacts. When I participated in Portland Open Studios, 250 people came through my studio in one weekend. Not only did they purchase my artist’s books and photographs, they also signed up for my mailing list, and they’ve been following my career ever since. When the gallery opened, they were also the first people to come to the gallery, and they’ve been coming every month.”

SJW: That’s very organized, to have created a mailing list from your first Portland Open Studios weekend.

LR: Organized to a fault, but it works and I won’t be here today without it. Artists have to find a way to do the business side.

SJW: When did you decide to open a gallery?

LR: I’ve wanted to do it for 10 years. I was inspired by a couple in Denver who owned side-by-side businesses in a cute commercial duplex — Fred’s Barbershop on one side and Ethel’s Beauty Shop on the other. Steve (Laura’s husband) and I were going to be Fred & Ethel, too, with Steve’s commercial real estate business on one side and my art gallery on the other side. Whenever we saw a cute little space, we talked about it. Over the years, it evolved into a dream of a live and work place. After we had been in Portland for 2 years, we started looking around for a potential space, and within a week we found the right place.

SJW: Did you always know it would be a photography gallery because you’re photographer?

LR: I always knew it’d be a combination of photography & bookarts, the two mediums work together really well and I want to go with what I know. The third thing I show twice a year is graphic arts.

SJW: You were featured in the Oregonian A&E section as one of the movers & shakers (“the power 9”) of the Portland photography scene. How do you feel about that? And since you’re relatively new to Portland and the gallery is new, how do you go from being new to being “the power 9”?

LR: That is all about business. I knew I had to work really hard because I’m in an odd location, so PR is important. I’ve spent a huge amount of time on PR for the gallery which has really paid off. DK Row has written about the gallery
several times. A lot of the success is due to a professional approach to PR — be consistent with press releases, make contact with local publications, find out how they like their press releases, find out what types of information they need, and follow through. I worked really hard to establish an identity and to get press for every show; I target marketing efforts carefully and send them to the people who are interested in that particular medium or subject.

SJW: Do you feel more pressure, now that you’ve been named a mover & shaker?

LR: It did make me think a bit more about what I’d do for 2009.

SJW: Given that in a relatively short time in Portland, you’ve achieved an enviable amount of success, do you have any advice to other artists?

LR: They have to realize that they’re in business and treat it as a business to make a living. I took what came out of Portland Open Studios and used it in a lot of different ways. I have a mission to promote book arts, and events like Portland Open Studios really introduce people to book arts. It’s great to sell my own work, to build a customer base in Portland, and to promote book arts. The better people are educated about it, the better the market place will be.

SJW: Anything else?

LR: I’d tell every artist to do Portland Open Studios — it’s good for business and it’s good for ‘stroking’, and all artists need both. I’d tell them to get involved, the more involved you are, the more you get out of it. You never know when the contacts you make will come back and help you. Portland Open Studios is one of the best things I’ve done, and one of my favorite events to go to; I try to visit as many artists as I can every year.

To learn more about Laura’s gallery, 23 Sandy, please go to http://23sandy.com/. To see Laura’s artwork, visit her website http://www.laurarussell.net/.

To read DK Row’s piece about the key players in the Portland photography scene, please go to Oregonian’s Visual Arts Blog.

To apply to the 2009 Portland Open Studios, please go to https://www.portlandopenstudios.com/apply.html.

Below, 23 Sandy Gallery, located at 623 NE 23rd Avenue, Portland, Oregon.


Sara Swink talks about her Portland Open Studios experience

My expectations were low for Portland Open Studios 2008 as the economy was tanking, and one never knows with art sales anyway. My dear friend Tina was here to help, thankfully, because it was a slow morning and gave us a chance to get some clay work going. Later, Tina was a godsend because she can do numbers when things get busy, while I get excited and scatter-brained.

I took advantage of the two-weekend option and was curious to see what kind of attendance we’d have. Day one we ended up having 62 people through, and 17 the second day. I am grateful to neighbor Portland Open Studios artist Ann Munson, who directed many people my way. People did tell me they saw publicity for Portland Open Studios everywhere; one of my images was once again featured in Portland Monthly magazine due to the efforts of Bonnie Meltzer, who does an outstanding job with the PR every year.

Meeting and greeting visitors is always a blast, and people were just lovely. Sales were beyond expectations. Weekend one sales were not that far from the previous year’s. Weekend two brought in another 57 people and a few more sales, bringing my total to about the same as 2007. As a result of Portland Open Studios, I received a commission from one of my patrons. I’ve decided having minimal expectations is a good strategy for me, as is working in clay the whole time, emphasizing connecting with visitors as much as possible, and talking about my classes and workshops. Several people who came through ended up in my January workshop and one person has been in my Saturday classes since October. What a delight to form relationships through art and artmaking!

I tried to price things to sell, especially pieces that had been around for a while, and that which did sell represented a range of sizes and prices that seemed to follow no pattern. The studio felt significantly emptier by the end of the weekend. I love that feeling. This year I also offered cards and prints as an experiment. I sold a few cards and no prints. POS is the perfect laboratory to try new things. I also offered some thrown bowls and hand-built vases and sold a number of each. All in all, the experience was heartwarming and rewarding, and I will certainly apply again next year, trying to let go of any expectations, experimenting with new offerings, and staying open to whatever happens.

Jennifer Mercede's Amazing Weekend

Please allow me a moment to share with you what it was like to have you in my home, in my artist studio.

It was like all the energy I have put into my paintings was radiating from the art, into the air, into your viewing eyes.

You then, in turn, were absorbing the essence of my artistic expression—my love, my soul, my feelings, good and bad…humanity, you know?

You absorbed it…and you emitted it! 

So then it was all bouncing around the room…energetically…from painting to painting, painting to person, person to person.

And hopefully you walked out of my home with a smile on.

I know I concluded the weekend as such. I feel that through being a part of this event, I gained inspiration and a deep confidence in my value as an artist. Through sharing, and through conversations with viewers and other artists about art and process, I feel supported and propelled to continue creating.


I was pleased to hear that many of you were inspired by my art and that my art makes you HAPPY 🙂

I dig that, that’s good.

Thank you for taking time to come by my studio…sharing with me your positivity, your smiles and your radiance.

In addition, I feel honored to have been a part of Portland Open Studios, the organization responsible for not only accepting me into the event, but acknowledging my art with a scholarship. I appreciate all the time and energy the board members, as well as all the other participating artists put in to making this event a success—the promotion, the organization, tour guide sales…etc. 

Thank you, sincerely, for helping me create one of my greatest days. Hope that you are all following your truest true and that I see you again real soon!


–Jennifer Mercede

Debbie Marble on her 8th Portland Open Studios experience

I always enjoy this weekend very much—my eighth year! What’s to not like? Nice people come and tell you how great your work is; some leave money and take something away. I find demonstrating easier every year and actually enjoy it. Seems like having the left brain otherwise occupied makes some of the painted scribbles better than those that are done with undivided attention!

Understand the importance of talking up the tour and *selling the Tour Guides*. It is the basic thing that gets people into your studio, as well as everyone else’s. *Get organized* and have your space ready in advance. For me, it has become part of the rhythm of the year to prepare the paintings and the inventory and clean the studio in late summer. Remember to “enjoy the Party”, bring in flowers and trays of snacks.

*Get to know the other artists who are near you*. Six of us managed to find time to look at each others’ spaces and work late this summer. In so doing, we realized the Guide did not show some short cuts between us so we made a little map to help visitors in our area get around. Seeing the work made it fun to talk with our own visitors too: “Where have you been?” could start a little conversation about the great stuff they had seen.

More visitors than ever this year! Thank goodness for friends who helped out; I could never have done demos plus greeting and the occasional sale. Have yourself covered with good helpers! I give mine a pack of cards or a tour guide or movie tickets or something, whatever I think they like best. My studio is over the garage so I don’t have to deal with turning my house around for tourers.

Debbie Marble

Below, Waiting Tables II, watercolor by Debbie Marble.

waiting tables II

Doesn't Get Better Than That!

Portland Open Studios artist Ann Munson had this to say about her experience:

“Thanks to the creativity and persistence of our publicity chairperson, Bonnie Meltzer, and the talent of special writer to the Oregonian, Sarah Smith, the THREE PAGE COLOR FEATURE article in the thursday homes and gardens worked its magic. A bazillion people came to my studio despite the weather. The majority volunteered that they came because of the article and that it was worth the trip. Doesn’t get better than that!” — Ann Munson

Below, collage by Ann Munson.

ann munson

To see more of Ann’s work, please visit her web site at http://web.mac.com/annmunson/iWeb/Site/Welcome.html.

Nikki Dilbeck on her first Portland Open Studios experience

“The weekend was a success…exhilarating and exhausting! I had a great time meeting people and talking about my art—never have I stood and talked continuously for so many hours at once. Lots of good feedback and validation for the work I’ve been doing and direction my art is taking.

I was initially concerned about ‘so many strangers’ coming through the house, but logistically it worked just fine. Because my buddies and family were helping at the front of the house, I could concentrate on talking with people back in my studio. Otherwise, I couldn’t have done it.

The main advice I’d give new applicants is that if their studio is in their house, to give some thought to traffic flow, security issues, etc., before making the Portland Open Studios commitment.”

beneath the surface #3

Above, Beneath the Surface #3, by Nikki Dilbeck.

Underwater photographer Connie Whelan

Portland Open Studios artist Connie Whelan left us a few words of her take on the Portland Open Studios tour before she jetted off to Indonesia for her next underwater photography trip.

While many artists found it hard to sell the Portland Open Studios tour guides, Connie wrote:

The calendar/tour guide is so well done that I found people were impressed that I was part of such an event. I actually had sales before the events due to these promotional pieces.

And although Connie was exhausted after a weekend of 230+ visitors, she found the experience energizing, and was thrilled that there were many children among her visitors. Two of the children had chosen Connie as an artist to visit with their families during the event.

To see more of Connie’s work, visit her web site at http://www.coralperspectives.com/.

Below, Gold Tunicates – Solomon Islands, 2005, by Connie Whelan.

connie whelan

Gretchin Lair on Portland Open Studios tours

Gretchin Lair, a repeat Portland Open Studios visitor and a creative advocate, has this to say about Portland Open Studios:

“I look forward to the Portland Open Studios tour all year long. It’s hugely inspiring to be exposed to such a wide range of arts while driving exuberantly around Portland trying to fit them all in! And as a fellow creative, I love discovering how other artists have arranged their homes, their studios & their lives around making art.”

Gretchin Lair
Creative Advocate at Scarlet Star Studios

Debra Carus on Portland Open Studios tours

Debra Carus, a jewelry designer and a 2nd year Portland Open Studios artist, had this to say about her experience this year:

A Gratifying, Humbling, and Touching Experience
by Debra Carus

This is my 2nd year as a Portland Open Studios artist. I absolutely loved this opportunity to show people the “life and process” of being an artist. People were so amazingly interested in how you do your work—what inspires you to create your work and to just soak up the experience—so it’s incredibly gratifying as the artist.

I highly recommend to anyone who is considering applying to be very clear about your goals. What do you want to share, what can you show people about your work and how you create it, and what are you giving people when they take the time to come visit you? My goals are to share and educate, so I have display boards with the process I use in clear evidence. I also have sample pieces in varying stages from design to completion. I also demonstrate what I’m creating. If I just sat and expected people to ask me lots of questions, it wouldn’t happen. People need to have a focal point of your studio. Displays give them a comfortable place to start a conversation with you. Also, I try not to make my goal about gaining customers…They are not just customers to me, they are potential artists and students, and they are also people who are hungry for art in their lives. They often tell me they “aren’t creative, but wish they were,” and they are so happy to meet artists whom they admire. I never thought I’d be one of those…it’s humbling and very touching to be told how your work is appreciated. WOWWEE.


Above, Pearl Romance, by Debra Carus. Fine silver hollow pendant with recessed center pink pearl. Design features celtic knot pattern. Wireworked handmade chain with freshwater button pearls.

See more of Debra’s work on her web site at http://www.elentari-handverk.com