The Artists in Portland Open Studios Find Community


“Quiet Destination” by Laurene Howell, featured in Portland Open Studios

Local artists open their studios for the annual Portland Open Studios tour for a variety of reasons.

Some love to teach and demonstrate their process. Certainly the chance to sell work is appealing. One of the prevailing reasons artists enjoy the tour and one of the main reasons people come to tour their studios is the opportunity for community.

For two artists in the Southeast, Alec Zemper and Becky Busi, community is essential to their work and inspires and drives them.


Sick of watching the friends he sailed with move across the country after a few weeks or months of hard work, Alec Zemper listened to one who suggested they rendezvous in Oregon.

Zemper hadn’t drawn in five years. He opened a space on the west side of town and hosted open drawing studios, five dollars for three hours.

The drawing studios were a class without instruction. While someone modeled for the artists, they talked about styles and choices.

“I wanted to create a good space for those people to network, and to come and stay sharp.”

That network evolved into The Stables, a working studio on SE Taylor St., which Zemper runs with his business partner, painter Joe Schlaud. The building they rent was originally home to the neighborhood’s mounted police.

Inflation has the Open Drawing & Painting Sessions up to eight dollars a session and the studio hosts workshops with guest teachers, gallery shows and the occasional concert.

Zemper’s dual roles with the studio, as teacher and resident artist, have kept him working hard on his medium.

He has challenged himself with oil painting in the last two years for which he won Portland Open Studios’ Kimberly Gales Emerging Artists Scholarship.

Despite the award, he is still unsatisfied with the work. For him, it doesn’t have the vitality, the kinetic energy, his charcoal portraits do. “A finished painting, a licked painting, is like magic. You can’t quite see how they did it.” Zemper is more drawn to process and he continues to work to inject his oil paintings with the raw energy of his drawings.

Becky Busi moved to Portland last year also in search of artistic community. Despite having a studio area in her home, she rented space in the historic Troy Laundry Building and helped start the Left Coast Artists Collective, an organization committed to nurturing and enriching the artistic growth of its members.

Busi was in search of people pursuing art as doggedly as she does. She needed to be challenged. Now she meets regularly with members of the Artists Collective in a critique group. They meet whether or not they feel like it, share work each month and give each other honest criticism.

“We’re not here just to be nice to each other,” she said. Like any good workshop, the artist must sit and listen for a bit. They must hear what is being said about their work before they can defend it.

The motivation, the drive to create, comes from more than just the group’s specific critiques of a shape’s proportion or a painting’s horizon line. “There’s a creative spark that comes from community. And when you hit a nerve in someone, there is that connection. You’ve found something you share.”

Busi’s work is about connection but it is in the discarded and thrown out she finds a new context. “Good art puts disparate objects or images next to each other.” Using old scientific transparencies, shredded photographs, out-of- date books, Becky muses, “All of it was precious to someone at some point.”

She has one series of old astrological charts and constellations sandwiched and drawn upon with graphite and ink. In another series, she connects shredded photographs into new images, new memories.

What: Portland Open Studios. An annual self-directed tour of over 100 artists’ studios located throughout the Portland metro area.

Dates: Oct 13, 14, 20, 21

Time: 10 am -5 pm.

Cost: $15 for a Full-Color Tour Guide, $9.99 for the iPhone App or $5 for a Map-Only Ticket. Each includes a ticket for two adults, children under 18 free and valid for both weekends.

The Artists in Portland Open Studios Find Community

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