Summer Studio Tour invites exploration and inspiration

— Created August 17, 2022 by Kathy Reed

By Kathy Reed

The cover of the Summer Open Studio Tour brochure by Whidbey Working Artists invites visitors to “come curious, leave inspired.”

With more than 50 artists at 43 studios up and down Whidbey Island, inspiration should not be hard to find as part of the 18th annual Summer Open Studio Tour, which takes place Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day. This self-guided tour offers visitors from Whidbey and beyond the opportunity to see artists in their creative spaces, sharing their art and its inspiration for all who care to pay them a visit.

It’s kind of like a smorgasbord for the soul – a huge array of different art forms all gathered on an island that is overflowing with its own natural beauty.

“Whidbey’s pretty and a couple of these towns have a high ‘cute’ factor,” said Kay Parsons, president of the Whidbey Island Arts Council, of which Whidbey Working Artists is a program. “I think people come for the charm. And if you look on one side, you have the Cascades, the other side, the Olympics. It’s where all the gods meet.”

Whidbey is also the place dozens of artists call home. That’s part of the reason for the annual studio tour – to show off some of the talented artists living and working here. The number of different art forms represented on the tour is impressive – there are painters, photographers, sculptors, quilters, printmakers, potters, jewelry makers, fiber artists and so many more. It invites exploration.

“I think people are looking for an experience,” said Parsons. “It’s beautiful and it’s quite a day, following directions to places where you can see how people create their art. They get to see how artists are inspired, they get to see artists whose work they collect or are interested in. I think more and more there is an appreciation for the handcrafted and there always has been, but events like the tour make art accessible to everyone, from all walks of life.”

Parsons said the studio tour takes art appreciation to a whole new level.

“This is a much more intimate experience for visitors and art enthusiasts,” she said. “They can ask questions, they can see the relationship the artist has with their tools, their process and their art.”

Artists, too, benefit from having visitors in their studios.

“It’s a captive audience. They get immediate feedback and it’s straight from the source,” Parsons said. “They can see what people like when they walk in the studio. It’s a creative exchange – but it always is between an artist and a viewer. The artist is right there to see a viewer’s reactions and ask questions, explain themselves and their process. For many, that’s a hugely inspiring thing to take away from the tour.”

Artist Dan Ishler has been involved with the studio tour since it began. A fulltime potter since 1974, he said he enjoys opening his space up to visitors.

“I think people like to see the environment art is created in,” he said. “They always seem to want to look around the shop and our yard. It’s also good to get feedback on their perspective of my work.”

For Britt McKenzie, this will be her first studio tour. She shares her studio space with other participating artists, Bruce Morrow and Buffy Cribbs. While she works in several different mediums, she is focusing on a block print series of stylized landscapes for the tour.

“As for relief printing, many people don’t understand the materials, or how they are applied,” McKenzie said. “It requires a lot of prep work, a lot of planning, and sometimes it doesn’t work out! And that’s okay. I’m looking for a feeling of joy and peace in my compositions, the same feeling I get when I’m out taking a walk and I consider how lucky I am to live in such a beautiful place.”

Cheryl Young is also participating in the tour for the first time, plus it is the first time a quilter has ever been featured. Young said she has always sewed – but she didn’t start quilting until she had retired.

“I decided that I needed to actually do it,” she said. “I started with a bang – several quilts in the first year. It wasn’t long before I realized that I wanted to do the whole process, which included the actual quilting.”

Young said she is most looking forward to showing quilting as an art form and sharing the process with visitors.

“I have a couple of displays set up to explain some of the processes we journey through as the fabric becomes a quilt,” she shared. “[I hope people will discover] an appreciation for the technique and time required to produce a quilt.  I even have a ‘not acceptable’ block to show what a few centimeters of error can cause.”

Attention to detail and the overall process used to create pieces is but one of the things visitors can appreciate when they see artists at work. Tammi Sloan is a metalsmith and enamellist whose work focuses on jewelry. She is a longtime participant in the Summer Open Studio Tour.

“People get a real sense that this work is slow craft,” she said. “We make our work with our hands, from scratch. They get to see the tools, the raw materials and often the design inspirations. I believe it gives customers a better appreciation for all that we do as artists.

“I guess the biggest take away I hope to relay to visitors is that metalsmithing and enameling are two art forms that take a considerable amount of time to learn and to perfect with so many design possibilities,” Sloan continued. “I don’t profess to be an expert, but I do take a considerable amount of pride in my work and I feel like it shows.”

Fiber artist Natalie Olsen, who participates in the tour along with her photographer husband, Earl, has also been doing the tour since it began in 2004.

“We both love the feedback we get during the tour – and of course seeing old friends and customers and meeting new ones,” she said, adding she loves to share the experience and her knowledge with visitors of all ages. “Kids are always welcome. There is lots for them to play with in my studio, from weaving with yarn to building things with empty yarn cones. I love to encourage visitors who’d like to try new techniques.”

For anyone who may think art is something to be enjoyed from afar, many of the artists participating in the tour create wearable, functional, usable art. The women behind Cook on Clay, for example, create “art for the kitchen, to the table.”

“We have built our micro-company around the idea that there is no better way to prepare and present food than in handmade pottery,” said Robbie Lobell, who founded Cook on Clay with Maryon Attwood in 2010. “We believe cooking and serving food in handmade pottery forges connections – with the farms that grow it, the earth that nourishes it, and the people who share it.”

Lobell said she thinks people appreciate using functional art.

“When I drink my morning coffee from a handmade mug, I connect with the maker,” she said. “That’s different from drinking from a mass-produced mug made in China. I think the tour provides visitors the opportunity to meet the makers of functional art and that contact endures through living with the pot or glass-blown drinking vessel. I love introducing people to our clay cookware and greeting return customers and collectors. Selling our pots to those who love to cook is very satisfying. Those relationships endure beyond the moment.”

To find a map of all the studios included in this weekend’s Summer Open Studio Tour and to learn more about participating artists, go to

“Art expands your life, it expands your environment,” said Parsons about why people should check out the tour. “Our taste changes over the years – see what inspires you from year to year. You’re not dealing with something that came out of a machine in China. You’re dealing with something that has been handcrafted by artists who take pride in their work. To me, it seems like the perfect way to spend the day.”