A county-wide art exhibition which has doubled in size since it first appeared will be returning to Dorset bigger and better than ever before. Laura Hanton reports.

ART lovers will be enraptured by this year's Open For Art event, which runs for two weeks from May 18 to June 2.

The work of more than 200 artists is set to be exhibited in 71 venues across south Dorset, from historic buildings and local galleries to quaint cafes and personal studios. The biennial event fills a gap in the area’s artistic calendar and gives the county town of Dorchester its very own Open Studios exhibition.

Artists of all abilities and from all disciplines have been invited to showcase their very best creations, meaning visitors will be treated to an endless variety of styles and skills. Whether you’re a fan of sculpture or pottery, painting or illustration, there’s bound to be something that will take your breath away.

The journey begins with an official launch day at the mesmerising Sculpture by the Lakes near Dorchester. Simon and Monique Gudgeon, sponsors of the event, have agreed to open their gardens to visitors today (11) for the special price of £7.50. Some of the artists exhibiting their work throughout the fortnight will be present, demonstrating and showcasing some of their most eye-catching pieces.

The trail continues at the Strangways Hall in Abbotsbury, where audiences will be able to view some of the finest driftwood sculpture, photography and textiles in the county. Follow the path and you’ll find the work of stained glass artist John Callan in Poundbury’s Duchess of Cornwall Inn, before seeing the felt art of Di Pattinson at Cackleberry Farm in Weymouth. The final steps of the journey sees visitors meander across the Isle of Portland, taking in artistic creations at the Chesil Beach Centre and Athay Studio & Gallery, among others.

Some venues are large enough to exhibit the work of 12 to 15 artists’ works, while others will provide a more intimate experience for visitors.

All venues will provide the opportunity to meet the artists and view their creative processes and latest works, as well as giving visitors the exclusive chance to purchase original artworks, prints and gifts.

In the name of inclusivity and to recognise budding artists in Dorset, the organisers of Open For Art have invited the area’s primary and secondary schools to take part in the event. The winners and runners up, who range from 4 to 14 years old, will receive their much-acclaimed prizes at Weymouth Old Town Hall on Friday, May 17, with their work subsequently being displayed at the venue.

Pupils at Damers School in Poundbury are so excited to be involved in the event that they have spent their spring term working on a special project inspired by Prince Charles’ book Harmony: A New Way of Looking at the World. Their creation will be exhibited at the Dorset Centre for Creative Arts.

For those who want a more interactive experience, there’s more to Open For Art than just viewing the exhibits. A whole host of accompanying events will be taking place, including a charity art auction at Heights Hotel on Portland and several ‘meet the artist days’ being at White Stones Art Café, also on the island.

To get really stuck in, various workshops and demonstrations will be happening throughout the fortnight. Artist Olivia Nurrish will be hosting several sessions at the Art with a View gallery in Weymouth, including giving visitors the chance to make metal spiral jewellery with Andrea Frankham-Hughes. Debbie Clarke will be holding a family ammonite workshop on May 18, while John Davey will run six stone carving sessions during the exhibition.

To participate, pick up a free brochure, available from tourist information centres, libraries, galleries and cafes throughout the county. Use the maps and accompanying web links to gather more information on the artists you wish to visit and to plot your route. A visitor will also win £100 to spend on an artwork of their choice; to be in with a chance of success, ask for your brochure to be signed at six different venues featured in the exhibition.

n The full programme for the event can also be accessed online. To find out more about the exhibition and to plan your immersive journey through art, visit www.openforart.co.uk