ART lovers are invited to explore exotic locations and intimate spaces at Oxfordshire Artweeks.

The 31st annual festival kicks off today with hundreds of free displays across the county in studios, along city streets, in village venues and sculpture gardens.

It is the UK’s oldest and largest open studios event and aims to offer everyone from seasoned art enthusiasts to interested newcomers the chance to enjoy art in a relaxed atmosphere, while meeting the makers.

Oxfordshire mixed-media artist Emmie van Biervliet, 29, will be inviting people into her attic studio.

She uses materials usually found in the home including coffee grounds, electrical wire and resin to create the outside of houses, showing the unknown lives of the people inside.

She said: “In the western world, most of us have no idea what goes on inside our neighbours’ houses, but Artweeks is a great opportunity to see inside.

“You get a much more personal view on an artist’s life, but it also means the artist can talk to people about their work.

“It was Artweeks that made me realise it was possible to have a career as an artist.”

Oxford Artweek runs until Monday, May 12, and is followed by South Oxfordshire Artweek from May 11-19, and North Oxfordshire from May 18-27.

In 2012, about 100,000 people visited nearly 500 free exhibitions and events across the county.

In an added twist to this year’s festivities, organisers are giving out free pedometers so punters can count their total number of steps while touring the festival.

They can be picked up from outside Ecco on New Inn Hall Street, and the art lover who walks the furthest will win Artweeks and Ecco vouchers worth £100.

Festival director Esther Browning said: “I’m excited that there’s such a wonderful variety of exhibition venues this year, from monastic cloisters in east Oxford, a hidden warehouse space in central Oxford, a ‘butcher’s shop’ of fabric tucked away in Summertown, and the Truck Store on the Cowley Road.

“It’s exciting to see so much new talent, with art pieces inspired by everything from travel, politics and fair-trade to inventions, archaeology and mythical beasts. ”

For full information on Oxfordshire Artweeks pick up a festival guide at information points across the county, or go online to The Oxfordshire Visual Arts Festival is a non profit-making company owned by its members.