Meet the Maker: Open Studios’ Vanessa and Mandi

By Tianna Edwards

When I arrive at Open Studios, I am welcomed into a big space filled top to bottom with local artwork, Canadian-made fabrics and the big smiles of co-owners and creatives, Vanessa Jane Martin and Mandi Coulter. This new space, dedicated to gathering Kingston’s most creative and crafty citizens through diverse sets of classes and workshops, is both open and warm — just like its owners.

Vanessa and Mandi bring different skills to the craft table but their collaborative efforts work beautifully for Open Studios’ concept. Inspired by her time spent in Whitehorse, Yukon, Vanessa started painting ten years ago. When she returned to Kingston, she started displaying her artwork in local coffee shops.

Mandi has been sewing off and on for years but felt inspired to pick up teaching after showing a friend’s daughter how to sew. She watched her fall in love with making her own clothes. After that, Mandi started teaching private classes and workshops around town.

The two met at the Kingston Women’s Art Festival when their booths were stationed beside each other the summer of 2017. After that, they stayed connected with future plans of potentially sharing a space.

“We were just sort of looking at anything without a plan,” says Vanessa. “We were both doing classes around town. So, we were like, ‘Why are we going around? Why don’t we get a space together?’” adds Mandi.

Once they got serious about finding a space, they were quick to commit. “We started looking at places and within two months, we were in,” says Mandi.

While they both use the space north of Princess Street, on Montreal Street, as their working studio, Vanessa provides workshops and classes to groups of all ages, including children’s birthday parties. Mandi teaches mainly private sewing classes.

Both self-taught makers, the special ingredient behind the concept of Open Studios is Vanessa and Mandi’s mission to be as inclusive and informal as possible. They welcome anyone who wants to share their talent with the community.

“I love the idea, as an artist, when you get included in something or get to hang a painting on a wall or in a coffee shop. You are high from that and that keeps you painting. Same if you teach a class and people love it. It makes you feel good,” says Vanessa. “I just love that we get to do that for ourselves and other people.”

Mandi adds, “Yeah, like, for people who have never sold their art in a store. I don’t consider us an art gallery necessarily, we really want it to be approachable and fun.”

And Kingston is on board. In my short visit, many customers dropped in to take a look at the work of local artists including jewellery by Sherry Jeffrey and prints by Anthony Buttazoni and Keleigh Korteweg (among many others) and a few inquired about hosting future workshops.

To stay up-to-date on future events and workshops hosted by Open Studios follow them on Facebook and Instagram. Or, you can check out their website.

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