Sharon Coplan Hurowitz on her DIY art book ‘Open Studio’

Sharon Coplan Hurowitz on her DIY art book ‘Open Studio’

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 “Open Studio” turns readers into artists with the help of renowned contemporary artists

Open Studio: Do-It-Yourself Art Projects by Contemporary Artists,” co-authored by Sharon Coplan Hurowitz and Amanda Benchley, spotlights 17 world-renowned contemporary artists. This activity-filled book is not your typical coffee table read. “Open Studio” offers a behind-the-scenes glimpse into each of these artists’ private studios and culminates in a unique project for you to do at home. Additionally, each book comes with nine original artist-designed inserts for you to utilize with the according DIY art project.

Interior shot of "Open Studio: Do-It-Yourself Art Projects by Contemporary Artists" by Shanon Coplan Hurowitz and Amanda Benchley. Photography by Casey Kelbaugh. Phaidon. Art shown is by Rachel Feinstein.
Interior shot of “Open Studio: Do-It-Yourself Art Projects by Contemporary Artists” by Shanon Coplan Hurowitz and Amanda Benchley. Photography by Casey Kelbaugh. Phaidon. Art shown is by Rachel Feinstein.

Launched in October of 2020, “Open Studio” could not have entered the world at a better moment. We here at Ballerina Book Club vow to take more time in 2021 to get our hands dirty and create more art!

We spoke with Hurowitz about the project, visual art’s overlap with ballet and more. Read on for insights into “Open Studio” and for some book recommendations!

Bonus: We’ll be creating Rashid Johnson‘s DIY project “Love in Outer Space,” which is featured in the book, for Ballerina Book Club. Follow along with instructions here and watch out for a video demonstration, arriving soon!

“Open Studio” houses an incredible roster of contributing artists. Were these artists eager to expose their intimate work spaces? What do you think got them so excited about participating in this unique behind-the-scenes project?

When Amanda and I reached out to the artists for “Open Studio,” we had no idea what their responses would be. It was slightly terrifying because the idea for our book was unconventional and we knew that the success rested on the artists and their willingness to be open and participate. Looking back, we were amazed and humbled by these artists who found the time — not to mention the desire — to create and share an art project in their studio.

Similar to a ballet studio, an artist’s studio is a private, off-limits space. It’s a place where preparation, hard work, experimentation and even failure run wild before an artwork reaches the public. Photographing these artists working in their studios was a way to go behind-the scenes and to demystify the art making process. It was an intimate view into their working environment, a self-portrait of each artist. We are grateful for the artist’s participation in the book and their readiness to go on this special journey.

Sharon Coplan Hurowitz holding a copy of “Open Studio” and wearing a crown project by artist Will Cotton, as featured in the book.

As you know firsthand as a ballet dancer, artists tend to be risk-takers and like to take on a challenge. I think “Open Studio” was an opportunity for the artists to try something unexpected (a D.I.Y. project), and to share it with a broader audience, one that was not predicated on the marketplace. Also, the chance encounter for the artist and reader to collaborate on an art project is exciting. I mean, Rashid Johnson x Isabella Boylston and Rashid Johnson x Connor Holloway … those are two irresistible pairings! “Open Studio” is about creativity and play, and artists gravitate towards both.

When designing a book like “Open Studio,” I imagine there are many layers between the initial concept and the finished book-in-hand. What was your favorite part of the process?

I tend to work on projects that fall outside of traditional categories. For “Open Studio,” we brought the concept to our publisher Phaidon, and together we nurtured it from an idea to a finished book — with step-by-step instructions and artists-designed inserts. Because the book was uncharted, it went through many phases and permutations before we found our direction.

Wangechi Mutu: Earth Androids (Step by Step: Drying). Artwork (c) the artist / Photography (c) Casey Kelbaugh (page 221 bottom).
Wangechi Mutu: Earth Androids (Step by Step: Drying). Artwork (c) the artist / Photography (c) Casey Kelbaugh (page 221 bottom).

It was a challenge to balance all of the moving parts — especially because we were dealing with 17 artists, who all work differently, and who all suffer from overscheduled calendars. The payoff came when we got to the studios and watched each artist make the project in real time. It was a privilege to witness their creative process and to be the proverbial fly on the wall. We hope that “Open Studio” captures these special, magical moments.

The other payoff came later, when I worked with the artists to produce the inserts. As my profession, I make art editions with artists, so the inserts felt like an extension of what I normally do. Working on the inserts allowed me to collaborate with the artists, which was priceless.

I can’t remember the last time I painted with watercolors — or painted at all. Doing the George Condo paint-by-numbers project was incredibly therapeutic and made me entirely nostalgic. I hear you have an art studio of your own at home. How often do you create? What is your favorite medium to express your creativity? (Side note: One of my favorite things you create is mail and packaging. I have never met someone who does this like you. PURE ART!)

“Open Studio” is an opportunity for you to be the artist. (And by the way, your George Condo watercolor is quite impressive!) I love making things, and I am fortunate to have an art studio in my home. It is my favorite place, but I regret that I am not there as much as I would like. I dreamt about being an artist as a kid, so this book comes from a personal place. I wonder why I stopped believing I could be an artist, and I hope that “Open Studio” gives license to anyone who doubts themself.

Connor Holloway's George Condo paint-by-number creation.
Connor Holloway’s George Condo paint-by-number creation.


As for medium, I like working with collage and found materials — so it was a particular thrill to watch Mickalene Thomas create two collages for the book. She is inspiring and unapologetic about having fun in her studio, and everything that she touched looked effortless and free flowing. She reminded me that the more you use materials, the more you know yourself. I plan to spend more time in my studio, especially now that we are all staying at home.

Something that Bella and I both can relate to is growing up in rural America and moving to NYC to immerse ourselves in our craft. What drove you to the big city?

I have a hard time sitting still. As a kid growing up in Richmond, Va. (a suburban, conservative area), I felt restless and knew that I wanted something different. My family took frequent trips to New York, so I had exposure at a young age to seeing theater and performing arts. My bat mitzvah theme was set to the song “New York, New York,” so I guess it is not a surprise that I now call New York home.

As much as I love theater, I love being in museums and wanted to be connected to the art world. In college, I was lucky to intern for a curator, Trevor Fairbrother, who pushed me to New York for the Sotheby’s graduate program — and I am grateful for his mentorship. I am a transplant to New York, but it has always felt like home. I love living in this city!

William Wegman: Altered Photos (Step by Step). Artwork (c) the artist / Photography © Nicholas Calcott (page 132, top).
William Wegman: Altered Photos (Step by Step). Artwork (c) the artist / Photography © Nicholas Calcott (page 132, top).

In the spirit of collaborations and being the lover of ballet that you are, do you have any visions for how contemporary art and ballet could intersect?

I think that the worlds of contemporary art and ballet should intersect with a greater commitment to collaboration of dancers, artists, choreographers, musicians and designers. There is so much to gain from each other. There needs to be a network established to encourage a constant flow of information between disciplines.

It is hard not to think of the Ballet Russes, when all of these disciplines converged on the highest level. My dream project is to connect dancers and artists and to create a meaningful exchange of ideas. I predict that we are going to see a wave of cross pollination between the disciplines, where boundaries blur and artists defy categories.

Lastly: Book Recs!

What was the last thing you read?

Beginners” by Tom Vanderbilt (Recommended by the New Yorker)

What are you looking forward to reading?

Mathematician’s Lament” by Paul Lockhart (Recommended by my brilliant son)

What book have you read over and over again?

Miss Piggy’s Guide to Life” (My childhood book that I hold dear)

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Top Image: Open Studio: Do-It-Yourself Art Projects by Contemporary Artists, by Sharon Coplan Hurowitz & Amanda Benchley, photography by Casey Kelbaugh, Phaidon.