THERE IS no place like an artist's studio for looking at art--especially when the artist is in it. Working methods can be observed, questions asked, conclusions drawn and--sometimes--art purchased. For the artists, such visits offer rare--and often welcome--contact with a public they rarely see.

For the past three years, the WPA (Washington Project for the Arts) has organized several open-studio weekends to offer art lovers here a chance to see real artists--and real artist life styles--in Washington's burgeoning studio scene. "Open Studio '82," which got under way last week, is offering a look at no less than 16 downtown studios tomorrow, Saturday and Sunday. The tour is do-it-yourself and free.

Different interests will prompt different itineraries, but the following is a list of recommended highlights.

The largest new concentration of good artists in Washington is in and around the Hanover Project, located in three recently renovated warehouses on N and O streets NW (not far from New York Avenue). First stop could be at 60 O St. NW, to see the studios of the whimsical Walter Kravitz, painters Patrice Kehoe and W.C. Richardson, and two artists in the Corcoran's current "10+10+10" exhibition--abstract painters Michael Smallwood and Larry Harden. Next door, at 52 O St. NW, are the studios of three sculptors--Nade Haley, Elizabeth Falk and Eric Rudd. Around the corner, at 57 N St. NW, are the studios of painters Steven Cushner, Henry Leo Schoebel and Keith Morrison of the University of Maryland Art Department, also in "10+10+10."

From there, a short hop by car to 111 Quincy Place NE will bring you to one of the most striking new studio spaces in town--the 18,000 square feet of the old Eckington School, recently purchased from a city auction by four artists, including sculptors Charlie Sleichter and Suzanne Codi, who will be welcoming visitors this weekend. Another renovated warehouse at 903 Girard St. NE is both home and studio to sculptor Jim Sanborn, painter Marilyn Mahoney and dancer Tish Carter. Fans of stone sculptor Nizette Brennan can see her work on the way, at 805 Channing Place NE.

Another concentration of artists of varying levels of accomplishment can be found in the oldest group of downtown studio spaces in Washington, located at 9th and F streets NW, in the Le Droit (810-812 F St. NW), Atlas (527 9th St. NW) and Atlantic buildings (930 F St. NW). Several studios are open in each building, but don't miss sculptor Yuriko Yamaguchi (room 401 of the Atlas Building), realist painter Sherry Kasten (room 301, Atlantic Building) and painters Gayil Nalls and Amy Jackson at 923 F St. NW, over Cobbs Shoes.

Abstract painter Yvonne Pickering Carter (1337 10th St. NW), another "10+10+10" selection, and Patricia Molella, the sole video artist on the tour (at 1357 F St. NW) round out the downtown scene. Zenith Square, a beehive of activity housing several artist-craftsmen, notably wood sculptor and furniture designer Margery Goldberg, is a separate stop at 1441 (rear) Rhode Island Ave. NW.

The complete list of names and addresses (published in last Friday's Weekend) can be picked up at WPA, 404 Seventh St. NW; "Making Waves," downstairs from WPA at 402 Seventh St. NW; at d.c. space, corner Seventh and E NW; Herb's Restaurant, 2121 P St. and at individual artists' studios. The studios will all be open noon to 6, tomorrow, Saturday and Sunday. Further information can be obtained by calling WPA at 347-8304, though considerably more information can be gotten by setting out and having a look.