On a brisk, sunny Sunday afternoon, Maylene Rasmussen’s garage bustled with visitors. Rich, textured lacquer paintings — mostly of women — glimmered from every available surface. Rasmussen stood to the side, chatting with attendees and fielding questions.

The paintings weren’t the only attraction. In the back left corner of the garage, buried in brushes, pencils, and pieces of creative refuse, sat the table where Rasmussen has made art for the past two years. Across the room lay an unfinished work: shards of eggshell scattered on a steel canvas, some of which began to coalesce into the white base of a lighthouse.

Learning the rules… just to break them – Rassmusen was classically trained in Florence for 3 years before learning lacquer painting in Vietnam. She combines these styles along with many years of experience to create uniquely captivating pieces.

It was the second day of Santa Cruz Open Studios, a free three-day weekend event that allows attendees to see both an artist’s work and the place where they create it. 

“For people to come through, see my work in person, and then learn about the process […] it’s huge,” Rasmussen said. “I don’t think my work is well-understood until you get that chance. And it’s much easier to explain my process if I can just show them my materials. “

The process – All of the boards Rasmussen paints on are from Vietnam. They are made by covering plywood with coats of a mixture of lacquer, clay, and cotton. Then, the artist will cut into the coats, fill it with various materials, and smooth the surface with water and sand paper.

300+ artists are participating from all over Santa Cruz County. Studios in South County, like Rasmussen’s, opened first on Oct. 6-7. North County artists will follow on Oct. 14-15, and the entire county will reopen for a final weekend on Oct. 21-22.

Some artists work out of their home. Others have property designated as a studio space. In any case, Santa Cruz Open Studios’s goal is to celebrate not only art, but the spaces in which it’s produced.

“We don’t have any requirement for what their studio looks like,” said Ann Ostermann, event director for the Santa Cruz County Arts Council. “It could be their kitchen table, it could be their garage. You don’t have to meet some requirement of having a fancy, accessible space to be part of the tour.”

Organizing Santa Cruz Open Studios is a year-long process. Applications open on March 1 and are then reviewed by a jury who, according to Ostermann, look for “technical proficiency in their medium” and “a cohesive creative voice.” Artists working in any medium can apply.

On that same Sunday afternoon, award-winning wildlife photographer Gero Heine hosted an open studio out of his Capitola home. Heine couldn’t recall whether it was his 16th or 17th year participating in Open Studios; nevertheless, he’s well-acquainted with the event.

Home is where the heart is – Heine credits the people of Santa Cruz, a town which he has called home for 30 years, as a creative motivator as well as a place where he can always find people who support his work. Their encouragement keeps his finger steady on the shutter, always looking for that perfect moment.

“I get fewer people coming through than I would at other shows,” Heine said. “But you get to have these in-depth conversations. You have more time — that’s one thing. There’s intimacy of place. They’re literally in my home.”

Some visitors wandered in after seeing the lime green “Santa Cruz Open Studios” sign outside his house, or because they’d spotted his work in the program. Many are friends of his. Others are locals who come every year.

The Santa Cruz County Art Council designed it this way intentionally: there is no barrier to entry.

“You don’t need to have money to go out and enjoy and meet people in your community who are making cool art,” Ostermann said. “Go see these creative, wonderful folks that are sharing their art with you.”

Twenty minutes away from Rasmussen and Heine, in Watsonville, Josefina Rocha worked on a painting. Her collection of brightly-colored, dreamlike apparitions on a diverse array of canvases filled the better part of a room in the Pajaro Valley Arts Center. Nearby, her mother, father, and three sisters sat behind a table filled with art pieces, murmuring to each other in Spanish.

10,000 horas – Josaphina Rocha’s lifelong dedication to her craft has given her the opportunity to draw both in and out of the lines of the modern painting landscape. Rocha’s willingness to paint on different materials separates her from her peers, making her pieces truly one of a kind.

One piece, depicting a person with long, flowing orange hair and a yellow heart at their center, was painted onto a mirror.

“The mirror is a family mirror,” Rocha said. “I’ve had it for over twenty years. My mom had it when she just came here from Mexico and she was going to throw it out. I was like, ‘wait, don’t throw it out! Let me use it.’”

Rocha, like Heine, felt that Open Studios spurred deeper conversations. What’s more, painting in front of people forced her to make split-second decisions about her work — a pressure that she found oddly freeing. 

“It is more personal, more intimate, inviting someone into your personal workspace,” Rocha said. “This is who I am.”