HATERS GONNA HATE: How Long Did It Take You To Make That?

(My column appears at the Fine Art Views art-marketing newsletter.

Hint: This is a question you DON’T have to answer!

 We continue our series on how to respond to difficult questions and comments from our visitors and potential collectors.

 Today’s queasy question (ah! Alliteration!) is, “How long did it take you to make that?”

Let me tell you what NOT to say: “Two hours!”

True story. In a video created for a new open studio tour, the videographer asked this question of an artist who was finishing a large painting in their studio. A VERY large painting, in the neighborhood of 10×8 FEET. As they finished up with freely broad paint strokes, they glibly said, “Oh, about two hours.”

The work was priced at over $5,000. You do the math.

And frankly, most of us hate this question because of just that—we assume the asker wants to find out how much we make an hour. Or even worse, whether the work is worth the hefty price we’re asking for it.

Another true story: Many, many, many artists, when asked this simple question, respond with something along the lines of, “It took me 30 years to learn how to do this!”

So between excruciating naivete’, and exquisite irony, how do we respond?

First, let’s take a step away from our first assumption—that someone wants to know how much we make an hour, and whether the piece is worth that.

Bruce Baker turned the question back onto the asker. With lightness and sincerity, he said, “So many people ask me that question! Why do you want to know?”

And here was the heartbreaking response he got: “All my life I’ve dreamed of being an artist. I’ve always wanted to make something creative like this, and I just wondered how much time it takes….”

So what we might have interpreted as a challenging question (“Is your work really worth what I’d have to pay for it??”) turns out to be the wistful yearning of someone who deeply admires what we’re doing, and wishes they had the skill, the commitment, the chops, to BE LIKE YOU.

If we respond with sarcasm, frustration, anger, pointed humor, we may actually crush the dreams of someone who is so inspired by our work, they’ve actually reached out to connect with us.

And in return, we smacked them down in our defensiveness.

You can also now see the smack of the remark, “It’s taken me 30 years to make this!”

Of course, that may not be the real reason behind EVERYONE’S inquiry. But it’s a good place to start on how to respond!

Here’s what’s worked for me:

First, I say, “That’s a really good question!”

(No matter how many times WE’VE heard it, it IS a good question. It’s new to the person asking it. And this small courtesy sets a lovely path for us to proceed down, with them eagerly joining us on our way.)

In my case, I explain the many, many, many steps it takes for me to actually make the layered block of polymer that is the foundation of the faux ivory technique—over 30 steps in all.

I start with asking, “I always ask people if they are familiar with puff pastry or samurai sword making, and usually everybody says “yes!” to one or the other.” A tiny joke that usually offends no one, and appeals to most.)

The actual process is similar—a simple one that creates hundreds of very fine layers–but time-consuming. (Simple—but not EASY.)

At the end, I say, “And THEN I start to make my animal….” There is almost always a little gasp of amazement here… (From them, not me.)

Then I explain the shaping, the marking, the texturing, (all with special little tools) the baking, the sanding, the sanding, the sanding, the scrimshaw technique, the polishing.

Then there is the story behind the marks, the handprint made with stamp I created of my own handprint, and how it “didn’t look right” so I actually use a needle to prick the clay and fill in the handprint until it looks smudged, like a real handprint….all the dozens, hundreds of tiny details that add up to the artifact looking exactly right to me.

  

Yep, even my handprints have gotten better over the years. I don’t know why, but people gasp when I tell them that each tiny dot is a needle prick I made to get it to look just right. (My special talent: Needle pricking.)

Most people are fascinated by this story, right down to the beads I use to make an artifact into a piece of jewelry (gemstones, antique trade beads, my own handmade beads); the meaning of the markings; how my customers have added to the stories behind my work; encouraging people to touch and pick up the pieces, to feel them for themselves.

Notice I never actually say how long it takes me to make them?

Because that isn’t really what people are asking.

Yes, they are asking for validation for my prices, which aren’t cheap. But in the end, what they learn from my “answer” is…

I have a vision.

I have a story.

I have a process that is time-consuming, and has evolved over time.

I have integrity, and skill, and an exquisite eye for detail.

My work does have value, though it may only be in the eye of the beholder. But that is for THEM to ultimately decide, isn’t it?

The woman who said it took her two hours to paint that canvas mural? I would have said something along the lines of, how she came to create this kind of work. How she decided her subject matter. What her aesthetic was based on. (I actually loved her work, which may seem ‘simplistic’, but is actually playful, exuberant, and intriguing.) The challenges of creating very large work, including the huge canvas, the support structure for it, how she enlarges a design (I know from experience that “going bigger” is more than just “making it bigger”….) The actual painting might only be two hours. But the planning, the design, the execution, the finished presentation, might consume many hours, even days.

After all, she doesn’t make four in one day, does she?

So between two hours, and 30 years, how would YOU frame what it takes to create the work you do?

What are ways YOU can present the time involved in making YOUR work?

What are the things you pay exquisite attention to, that add value to what you do?

What is the story only YOU can tell, to connect your audience to the work you make?

Okay, dish! Share YOUR favorite responses to this question! Or suggest one, now that you have a different lens to view it through.

Remember: Courtesy. Kindness. Furthering your values and vision. No jibes or jokes.

Just the beauty of your authentic, steadfast, creative heart.

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13 thoughts on “HATERS GONNA HATE: How Long Did It Take You To Make That?

  1. It is true that after difficult conversations and sometimes outright abuse our defenses go up and cement themselves. It never hurts to be reminded that not everyone is out to ‘get’ us, so thank you most sincerely for your insights.
    When I get this question, I try to stay away from a time frame, unless pushed hard. I came to your viewpoints early on, and so kept looking for a happy medium.
    I usually give an estimate of time, which is usually a long time, as I create pretty detailed work. But I follow that by saying that I don’t usually keep super accurate track of the time, due to my process, and the fact that I kind of go into a fugue state to create.
    Which I realize means to some folks that time has no meaning or value, so I end up detailing my process and why it means something to me – which is why I get lost in it.
    People usually find something that is familiar to them in the process, so I guess it serves the same purpose as your response.
    Thanks for the discussion!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • The biggest takeaway here, Perri, is that you are not responding defensively, but with honesty about your process as an artist. And if, in the process of answering, people find a “hook” they can relate to, then U R doing it right! One tiny note: Fugue state may suggest something scary for some people (loss of identity, amnesia, etc.) In which case, you might consider describing that mental state as a “working meditation”. It’s a way of disconnecting from our literal, lizard brain, and into a state of intense concentration, freedom, and joy, something that returns us to our true focus. The “making” takes us to a state of enlightenment. There’s actually a theory with some psychologists that this is why many artists, craftspeople, makers, handle stress so well. Because when they are “in the zone”, they are actually restoring themselves emotionally, mentally, spiritually. You’re on to something here!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I am a weaver, run a handweaving production studio. When i am asked this question, I start with: it takes 6 hours to warp/dress one of the 7 50″wide looms with 500 threads, 45 yards long. Then there are 10 throws of the shuttle per inch, 360 per yard. Then, the fabric is cut off the loom, washed, dried, pressed and cut. Each part of each piece has to be ovelocked/run through the serger to bind the edges, Then, it is sewn together, pressed a second time and tagged. This has them looking at all the different pieces in my booth with a whole new understanding. I aslo do not specify a time. [website: http://www.jesamiehandwovens.com\

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you Luann, a most helpful post about a question we all get! I like the idea of gently exploring why the person asked and specifically what they want to know! I love the way you make reference to something they might already know about, and especially the way you draw attention to details they likely didn’t even notice but will come to appreciate through your explanation.

    For what it’s worth, may I give you my feedback about one thing? I may be alone in having this reaction to the various forms of “That’s a good question,” but whenever I hear it (and it seems to be used constantly by pundits) it feels like it’s either putting the questioner down, or the respondent is wasting time while they try to figure out an answer. OBVIOUSLY you intend it to be complimentary and as a way to initiate discussion, and I’m sure your sincerity in saying it makes the person feel respected. However when I hear it, I never feel that way. I listen carefully to words and it makes me think, “why would s/he assume that my question would NOT be a good one?” In the olden days 🙂 the phrase was an ironical reply to a question that had no obvious answer with the implication that somebody should have already figured it out. Today I hear the speaker uttering their surprise upon discovering that perhaps the questioner is NOT an intellectual midget … So the question is: is it really necessary to pass judgment about the adequacy of the person’s question before one makes a response?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mary, thank you for your thoughtful comment! IMHO, people love being told they’ve asked a good question. And I DO like it when they do, because they’ve given permission for me to talk with them! And because I’m usually prepared with an answer that moves the conversation forward, any opening is a good opening.

      BUT…if it feels phoney to you, then DON’T USE IT~! Think up a response that feels authentic to you. And use it, with authenticity, and integrity.

      Again, this series is for people who feel caught off-guard, vaguely insulted, or who tend to respond with a humor that feels disrespectful. In your case, since you are already OPEN to what they are asking, you do not need to use this “bridge” sentence.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. You are still the absolute empress of creativity communication, and it still is so not fair that one person should be good at so many things. Ah, the despair we peasants feel as we bask in your presence…

    Keep up the great work! Been a fan for decades, and you never cease to surprise and inspire. I know it ain’t easy.

    No pressure…

    Like

    • Oh, gosh, Lizzie, the list of people who would disagree with you is about two miles long!! But I love that YOU see the person I WANT to be, and I am so grateful. My lizard brain is just as sad as anyone’s. I just hope people see, through my writing about how to I get around the LB, theyget inspired. And then they can choose differently, too.
      Keep on keepin’ on, girlfriend! <<<<>>>>

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Excellent article Luann. I really appreciate your wisdom. Usually, the first question I get is, “What is polymer clay?” I always take a couple of unopened packs of clay with me and that’s where I start. I show the clay and then briefly explain my process. That usually leads to new questions about how I create and seldom leads to the “how long” question. I think most people just want to understand how we do what we do. I don’t answer the time question because I don’t bother to track my time on an individual piece. That wouldn’t be any fun. Especially if there is all than sanding involved…

    Like

  6. Excellent post – I have been asked this question several times. The creation of a piece isnt just about how long it took to physically “make” it but all the thinking, looking for source material and preparation before the paint brush even hits the canvas. Never mind the photography, social media and blogging it takes to get any one to look at it! Thanks for this.

    Like

    • That’s why we have to look past the question, and respond to the curiosity behind it. A bona fide query means our work has captivated the viewer, and they simply want to know more–about the work, about our process, about US. So glad you enjoyed the article, let me know it it helps.

      Liked by 1 person

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