What happens when one of my favorite cities meets one of my biggest passions as a traveler? Well, I got to experience that recently when, after years of talking about it, my sister and I finally attended Santa Cruz’s Open Studios. What is Open Studios? I’m glad you asked.

Imagine more than 300 incredible artists and artisans displaying their works. From fine artists to furniture makers, using every medium imaginable, these local artists not only have their works available to be seen and purchased, but open their studios and design spaces to show anyone interested just how they go about their creation processes. That is Open Studios, and it is spectacular!

Santa Cruz Open Studios takes place over three weekends in fall. One weekend is specifically for artists in the northern part of the county. One is for those in the southern portion. The third weekend is county-wide, though not every artist participates. A guide is published telling potential customers and generic art aficionados like me which artists are on display on which weekends, and where their studios are located. (It is important to note that distances between the studios you want to visit might be large, so having some time, a car, and a plan is probably important.)

I spoke to furniture maker Andy Orsini, Open Studios artist number 107, in his studio about why he chooses to participate in the festival each year. He told me that the nominal fee to be involved easily paid for itself with a single commissioned project, and that he typically receives multiple commissions on each day of the festival. Touring his studio, it’s easy to see why. I gaze longingly at one of the most stunning coffee tables I’ve ever seen. Crafted from a single piece of beautifully textured wood, it has a large knot in the center. I imagine putting a glass plate through that and using the finished piece as a focal point in my living room.

Just look at this coffee table. I want it!

I can’t afford it, though, so I settle for a beautiful bread board crafted of sycamore, bloodwood, walnut, and maple.

Other artists choose to be involved in Open Studios for the sense of camaraderie it evokes among the Santa Cruz art community. Matthew Werner is a former scientist who now does cut and inlaid wood art in his studio. For the past twenty years, he has labored at his craft, taking days to produce a piece like this bird.

This was one of my favorite pieces on the day.

Werner demonstrates how he cuts the pieces to fit perfectly, using a layered technique so that they are all exact. This is an opportunity I wouldn’t have outside Open Studios: to meet each artist, ask questions, and see them in action.

Over the course of the day, my sister and I went to more than half a dozen studios. Some were a single artist; others were shared spaces featuring the works of several. We saw glasswork, painting, statues, even clothing. Each studio was an insight into art and its creators, a glimpse into an area I love but for which I have little personal talent.

Another of my favorites, this one by Karen Whitaker, coincidentally one of the last artists to enroll in the event.

Santa Cruz is one of my favorite places to begin. It has beautiful beaches, mountains, and an incredible artisan food scene! It is already a place you would love visiting, but if you go in fall, you can add Open Studios to your Santa Cruz itinerary!

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