Open Studio remains true to its roots

Featured Story: Open Studio

November 2017

A view of the printing studio
A screenprinting class at Open Studio. Photo © Ken Ewen.
In the centre of Open Studio’s giant central room stands a small reminder of the printmaking hub’s modest origins. It’s a Sturges etching press – a metal and glass contraption that, in today’s digitized world, looks almost medieval. But as Associate Director Sara Kelly points out, the meticulous art of printmaking is one of the oldest there is: consequently, the “technology doesn’t change as much as it does in other forms.”

If the technology hasn’t changed, Open Studio sure has. Their story begins in 1970, when part-time printmakers Barbara Hall and Richard Sewell moved that Sturges press into a tiny Queen West studio. At the time, their ambitions were modest. Teaching – not only printing, but dressmaking, drawing and painting – initially paid for the little space, allowing them to concentrate on their two passions: etching and screenprinting.

47 years and three moves later, Open Studio still offers classes. But the space has greatly improved: its 150 member artists now occupy 7,400 bright and airy square feet in a corner of 401 Richmond. Regular exhibitions now fill its gallery, where artwork is sold. Visiting printmakers come from all over the world to spend concentrated time in what Kelly says is the most comprehensive print studio in the city outside of postsecondary institutions, “in terms of the amount of equipment we have.”

Artists look at a print
Artist/Instructor Pudy Tong delivers a demonstration during a lithography class at Open Studio. Photo © Ken Ewen

An artist-run centre, its studio is available to artists around the clock. Most of them have day jobs, and need to fit studio time in where they can. While there, they bustle about in ink-stained aprons, engaging in all forms of printmaking, from etching to lithography to woodcuts to screenprints and more.

In printmaking, an image is initially created on a plate, stone, block or screen, then transferred onto a sheet of paper. The process allows for multiple copies, but each one is a unique work of art. This is an important point, says Kelly. “In the marketplace, people use the term ‘print’ when referring to a reproduction. But that’s not what we do here.” A reproduction, she explains, is a copy of a work executed in another medium; all the artwork at Open Studio is numbered, signed, and issued in original, limited editions.

“When you see the hand of the artist in a work, that’s something special,” says Kelly. “One of the things we’re trying to do here is to make sure original print techniques are not eradicated, while also looking toward the future and what print means.”

Instructor and student glance down at a print
Artist/Instructor Emma Nishimura discusses a photo-etching project with a student at Open Studio. Photo © Ken Ewen

Open Studio is one of the largest tenants of 401 Richmond, where it’s been since 2004. The downtown building is also home to dozens of galleries and other arts organizations. Kelly says the location enables them to make connections with a wide variety of artists and organizations, located elsewhere in the building. It’s a community where tenants are able to work in synergy on projects together, such as exhibitions or festivals, and where the visiting public can enjoy several shows at once.

Recently, 401 Richmond’s existence has been threatened by rising property tax rates. Kelly and her co-tenants are hopeful that its affordability will be preserved: “Because we pay below market rent, we’re able to pass those savings on to artists who use the studios,” she says. “For them, to access a centrally-located space with this kind of equipment would otherwise be impossible.”

Apart from the great space, artists can also sell their work at Open Studio, earn income by teaching classes, be hired by the studio for printing jobs, and have their own exhibitions. As with many artist-run centres, Open Studio’s resources and services are vital to the development and growth of many of the city’s artists. The place has certainly come a long way since its humble Queen Street beginnings. But its little Sturges press serves as a reminder that - like printmaking itself - Open Studio remains true to its roots.


On November 30, Open Studio will be holding its annual Artist Proof Sale, in which hundreds of original prints will be available for sale to the public. The event supports Open Studio’s charitable programming, and 50% of all sales go back to the artists.  Learn more about Open Studio at: and the Artist Proof Sale at:

Open Studio receives Operating funding from Toronto Arts Council through the Visual and Media Arts portfolio.

Public funding for the arts helps to support artist-run centres like Open Studio. Let your political representatives know that you support the arts.