Artists open their studios

Artist Kathleen Otley finishes a primitive piece, composed of willows and hand-dyed yarn, in her Coupeville studio. - Liz Burlingame/Whidbey News-Times
Artist Kathleen Otley finishes a primitive piece, composed of willows and hand-dyed yarn, in her Coupeville studio.
— image credit: Liz Burlingame/Whidbey News-Times

Forget the polished art museums for a moment, with their exact layouts, stipulations about remaining a certain distance and that “uptight” feeling of tripping an alarm while inspecting brush strokes.

For many of us who aren’t artists, museums can feel like a tribute to the messy life cycle of art; something to be admired but not experienced.

“People love connecting to that gritty world of creation,” woodcarver Gary Leake said.

This weekend, people will have unfiltered access to the paint splatter, piles of “found objects” and raining sawdust when 77 artists forfeit solitude and open their studios to the public.

“The Whidbey Open Studio Tour puts the name to the face to the art,” Leake, a Coupeville artist, said. “The emotions behind meeting the artist and buying from them is what’s being marketed.”

Since its inception 12 years ago, tour organizers have reached out to a broader swath of the population; namely, the island’s northern artists, Leake said. Over 25 artists from Oak Harbor to Greenbank were ushered in this year.

Kathleen Otley, a mixed media artist from Coupeville, has been involved with the tour every year since moving to the island from California three years ago. Her A-frame style studio is located above her garage in a secluded forest area.

Lining the walls and ceiling lofts are delicate willow branches used for “contemporary primitive” sculptures. Her work, often infused with beads and recycled copper tube, is part of corporate art collections at ABC Television, Apple Computer, Pac Bell and Stanford Medical Center.

“I think it becomes more personal for people when they see how we work,” Otley said.

And like Otley, many artists are opting to keep their workspace as natural as possible.

“My studio is a mess,” watercolorist Mary Ellen O’Conner said. “Creativity is not a pretty sight. But people say ‘We like it, we like the way you work. Don’t change it.’”

Leake is one of only four woodworkers joining the artist roster this year and said several of his restoration projects will be displayed. Just as Dale Chihuly showed the world that glass isn’t only used for water pipes, wood is also gaining credit in art circles.

“People connect with the touch and smell. The feel of that raw, gnarly board and then they touch the wood that was chain-sawed. It’s smooth and naturally beautiful,” Gary Leake said. “That’s magic to a lot of people.”

Part of the evolution of the studio tour is that this year, artists are required to do an in-studio demonstration. Both participants and artists will receive comment cards.

Leake said he hopes the tour continues because it keeps starving artists from starving and Whidbey artists gain clientele.

“The studio tour is an adrenaline shot to get close to the artist’s inner sanctum, but you try to steer them to the galleries,” he said.

The tour will take place Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 27 and 28. Admission is $20 for up to two adults (children under 12 are free), and is valid for the entire weekend. For more information visit or call 360-221-4121.

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