Veteran artists say they keep coming back for Margaret River Region Open Studios because it’s the highlight of their annual calendar — and for art lovers and visitors for the region, too. Stalwart exhibitors gathered last week to celebrate nine consecutive years of opening their studios and sharing their latest work with visitors as part of the annual event which gears up again on September 10. The painters, sculptors, illustrators and printmakers told the Times this year’s Open Studios could be the biggest yet, with organisers also preparing for record crowds as the festival well and truly cements its spot as one of WA’s most loved regional art experiences. Yallingup jeweller John Miller said the festival was an important way to showcase and support artisans making their living in the South West. “Since Open Studios started, there’s been a growing awareness that there’s more than surf, wine and food down here,” he said. “Arts is a critically important part of the landscape and community and the things you can do here.” Other artists celebrating nine years on the run included painter Fi Wilkie, Burnside painter Peter Scott, neighbour and mixed-media practitioner Pascale Abbott, accomplished painter Lauren Wilhelm, veteran glassmaker Gerry Reilly, Cowaramup painter and illustrator Kaye Gibson, arts icon Leon Pericles, West Busso’s Gay Scaddan and Yallingup sculptor Voytek Kozlowksi. Polish-born Kozlowksi said the festival was a “no-brainer” for artists across the region, with the building annual momentum of Open Studios also guaranteeing return clients. “I normally work on commissions outside of Open Studios — screens, and balustrades where I can’t express myself creatively too much if I’m following a brief,” he said. “Open Studios gives me a reason to have a bit of fun and make a few items to make for clients. I’ve made a set of wings for visitors to pose with, which will hopefully bring a few people to visit.” Based in North Jindong, Wilhelm said she never looked back after her first year in Open Studios. “I think it’s the interaction with people who are art lovers which I get the most out of,” she said. “It’s nice to sell a few paintings as well, but mostly it’s the opportunity to interact with lovely people, and I haven’t had one bad experience. It’s all been fantastic.” Like others, Wilhelm said her work continued to evolve, offering fresh perspectives for those returning to the region. “I think there’s many more devoted art lovers coming now and they’re serious about it,” she said. Interacting with patrons, taking on feedback, responding to shared interests — almost all the veterans said the community aspect was one way they stayed inspired. “People just really enjoy it,” Scott said. “They love the journey of it. The arts community is evolving, a lot of people are moving here, particularly in their 30s, and taking up painting.” Pericles also cited that sense of belonging among fellow exhibitors living in the region added impetus to the festival. “Some people bring a busload of friends,” he said. “It’s great to be part of a team.” While artists’ hours varied, most studios were open from 10am to 4pm daily. For more information, visit mrropenstudios.com.au.