Austin Studio Tour Continues to Honor Local Artists’ Work

Sarah Garrett, Staff Writer

For two weekends a year, one can enter a West Austin room covered in paintings. Acrylic, watercolor, and mixed media of various sizes, colors, and textures are shown floor to ceiling. Walk further, and a sign titled “More Art” points one in the direction of even more paintings. One small room has a painting still on the easel, a piece of notebook paper folded and taped to the stand, warning a viewer of wet paint.

This display is part of the The Austin Studio Tour, an art show displayed in different locations across Austin. This year marks the tour’s 20th anniversary. The tour is spread out through three weekends. The weekend of Nov. 6 and 7 is a showcase for studios in West Austin, Nov. 13 to Nov. 14 is for studios in both West and East Austin, and Nov. 20 to Nov. 21 reveals studios in only East Austin. The tour, which is hosted by Big Medium, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting artists, showcased 530 artists’ work this year. 

John Swanger, an artist showing his work in the Austin Studio Tour, has been doing the tour for 14 years, the entirety of the time he has lived in Austin. In order to prepare for this year’s tour, Swanger picked out the art he wanted to showcase.
“My decision-making in paintingsit’s, of course, some kind of internal, kind of intuitive,” Swanger said. “It often has to do with how they relate or may have to do with what my experience had to do within the process of making the painting. At this point, my work has a pretty strong consistency, so most of my work looks pretty good together. In some ways, it’s not that tricky.”

Swanger has been working on some collections of art for over a decade. His inspiration for a series that he started around 15 years ago was a crumpled piece of paper. 

“One day, I was in my studio, and I was doing some work, and I crumpled up a piece of paper that I’d been writing on or drawing on or doing some very common action, and I just crumpled up the piece of paper and threw it on the floor,” Swanger said. “And then a minute later, I just thought, ‘Oh, wait, let me take a look at that.’ And I picked it back up, and I kind of unfolded it, and I got pretty fascinated by what I saw, what I discovered in all the folds and creases and shapes and so forth. And so I [created a] whole body of work based on that random action, and then using that, eventually, as a ground for the paintings.” 

Jan Knox, a surrealist and abstract artist, finds inspiration in other places. Over the pandemic, Knox painted to relieve anxiety. 

“For quite a while, I had trouble getting any inspiration and ideas to work on,” Knox said.  “I felt depressed and anxious. I did some simple, small 12 by 12 collages interpreting my feelings on the virus. This helped to relieve some of my anxiousness.” Knox said.

Knox’s preparation process for the Austin Studio Tour involves hanging her art. She also makes sure to have things like flyers and her iPad, which she uses for credit card transactions, at hand. 

“I try to get all my paintings priced and hung in my studio or gallery space, prepare greeting cards, and place them in the basket for the public,” Knox said. “Then I get our West Austin Studio Tour signs mounted on easels, for placement out front of our location in the Northcross Center.”

Other artists’ processes for preparing for the studio tour are different. Amy Toth, a full-time veterinarian and self-taught artist, prepares for the studio tour by creating more art and deciding how to present it in a studio. 

“In the last month, I’ve been trying to crank out a little bit more art to try to have a little bit more to show,” Toth said. “Preparing for this is totally new for me. I don’t really know how I’m preparing for this.  I’m just trying to inventory everything that I have and come up with prices, which is also difficult, and also come up with little synopses, descriptions of my paintings.”

This year is Toth’s first year at the Austin Studio Tour, and her first time presenting her artwork in public. Even though she is nervous for the tour, she looks forward to showing her art. 

I’m so excited to have people see my artwork, even if they hate it,” Toth said. “It’s one of those things where I get to be really vulnerable and put it out there, something I’ve never done before. I’m nervous, but I’m just as excited.” 

Along with Toth, the Austin Studio Tour is meaningful to many artists, including Nia Olabesi. An abstract and mixed-media artist, Olabesi is excited to present her art. 

“The Austin Studio Tour is important to me because it is such an incredible opportunity for Austin artists to share their work with the public, not just for one day, but for three consecutive weekends on various platforms, like in-person, virtually, and outside around town, I mean, wow! Is that not phenomenal?” Olabesi said. “I just love it. I am so blessed to be part of this wonderful community of artists, lovers of art, awesome volunteers, supporters, and members.”

Olabesi comes from a family of artists, and knew from a young age that she wanted to be one, too. She gets inspiration from many places, including her mother. 

“My first inspiration was from my mother, who is a gospel singer,” Olabesi said. “My dad and my brothers were always doodling, drawing, or painting, and I also have a few cousins that are wonderful painters. So, at a young age, I embraced that dream of becoming a painter, a singer, a dancer, a musician, and an actor. My heart would have it no other way.”

The Austin Studio Tour is becoming an important part of many artists’ lives. From being an anticipated tradition, to making connections, to making sales, the Austin Studio Tour is a meaningful art tour to all of Austin.