(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.
My column today at Fine Art Views, about landscape painting, connecting the work of our heart with an audience, and…well, making the bed!
Enjoy, and feel free to comment.
DOES STORYTELLING WORK?
Yes. Yes, it does.
For years now, I’ve advocated for creative people telling their stories. I believe the “why” of what we do is far more powerful than just the “how”.
I also know that some artists have fought long and hard for their credentials—their education, the shows they’ve been juried into, the awards they’ve won. Anything else seems, well, unprofessional. Perhaps even fluffy.
I get it. I do. When I first started my art career, I methodically entered all kinds of juried exhibits. I’m proud of the awards I’ve won. I’m especially delighted when my professional peers—other artists, galleries, etc.—sing my praises. After all, they see a lot of work. When they choose mine for their own homes, it’s a major thumbs-up for me.
I also know how extremely uncomfortable some people feel about sharing what’s in their heart and soul. They feel safe sticking to the tried-and-true. What they do is working for them, so I won’t ask them to change that.
I spent a weekend at a state-wide storytelling workshop, a collaboration between our Sonoma County Library, Creative Sonoma (of the Sonoma County Economic Development Board), the California State Library and StoryCenter.org. The project’s goal was to gather 100 stories that represent the ‘voices’ of California.
You can read more at http://www.storycenter.org/.
Ten people from Sonoma County were selected to share their stories, which would be transformed into ‘digital stories’—recorded in our own voices, with images, and music—no more than two or three minutes in length.
As a matter of full disclosure, I was NOT one of the original ten people selected. Someone else dropped out, and I was offered their place.
Also, when we first told our stories to the group, I said I had no trouble telling stories. Keeping it to 300 words? Almost impossible.
Two huge things happened during the class.
First, I was overwhelmed with technical difficulties. My laptop crashed, my internet connection wouldn’t take, I had trouble working with the video production software (WeVideo.com). I was the absolute last person to create a video, and it’s really not even finished yet. (I’ll be putting the last details on it in the upcoming week—I hope!) That was hard. There’s a steep learning curve to any video editing process, my husband reassures me, and at least I’ve discovered SoundCloud and CreativeCommons.com, social sharing sites for images and music. A challenge, but it’s good to challenge ourselves.
The second thing is wonderful. I was astonished and amazed by the stories people brought to share.
Every single person had a story. Each was very different from the other (although most people were involved in the creative arts.) Some were funny, some were hard. Some weren’t resolved yet. Some had no ‘answer’. But each one was intriguing.
And these are only our first stories. I realized there will be many more to come.
Here was another powerful aspect of these stories:
I remembered everyone’s name in the class, something that’s usually problematic for me.
I remembered everyone’s story.
And everyone’s story was powerful beyond words.
Not all the stories sounded like winners during our first ‘sharing’. This was probably due to the fact that some folks hadn’t actually shared them before. They rambled, they had trouble finding the ‘point’. Some stories were so new, people were was still working through them.
But in the composition and editing process (and our teachers’ experience guiding us), we learned to find the ‘hooks’. We were strongly encouraged to not tell several stories at once, something I struggle with. (Hence, my 1,000-word articles!) We found our strong beginnings, and our thoughtful endings.
Images were powerful. Music helped connect.
And our voices? Oh, our voices…..
We each created a ‘script’ of our stories, and read and recorded them.
And every single one of us nailed it on the first reading.
One instructor marveled at this. “Even the people who insisted on a second take? Their first version was better!” she said. “And everyone read it with such power…it’s astonishing!”
At the end of the class, we watched the (mostly) finished videos. Each one was a winner.
You don’t have to rush out and create a video (although I’m definitely going to explore this further.) You don’t have to have a full-media story telling experience to connect with an audience. Although I hope it’s not lost on you that, as artists, we already have our visuals. In fact, I used images of my artwork, as my story was about how I became an artist in mid-life.)
I do hope you’ll consider telling your story to your audience.
A thousand people here in Northern California paint the ocean, the vineyards, the rolling hills. Every artist captures the light, a moment in time, or a glimpse of something hidden. Many are beautiful, and most are at least competent.
And yes, there are people who, unsure of their decision, will be reassured you are as good as you say you are, by reading your list of accomplishments and awards, or checking the well-known galleries that carry your work..
But a good story, a story that connects your experience to those of your customers, will make you stand out from the crowd.
Create that powerful connection. Make your mark.
Lessons From the Gym: Trust Me
by Luann Udell on 3/26/2015 7:37:41 AM
This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. Luann also writes a column (“Craft Matters”) for The Crafts Report magazine (a monthly business resource for the crafts professional) where she explores the funnier side of her life in craft. She’s a double-juried member of the prestigious League of New Hampshire Craftsmen (fiber & art jewelry). Her work has appeared in books, magazines and newspapers across the country and she is a published writer. She’s blogged since 2002 about the business side–and the spiritual inside–of art. She says, “I share my experiences so you won’t have to make ALL the same mistakes I did….”
I continue to eavesdrop at the physical therapy practice where I recuperated from surgery. I use their gym facilities several times a week, to get stronger in a safe, low-stress environment. And I continue to learn from my fellow patients every day.
Most of us who need physical therapy are at a scary point in our life. We’ve been injured, often during a favorite sport or physical activity. Or we’ve just had surgery. Or we’re recovering from a stroke, or a fall.
In every case, we are in pain. And we are afraid.
Afraid we’ll never be able to run/ride/bike/play soccer again. Afraid the pain will never go away. Afraid this is the beginning of the long decline that foreshadows a life ending in frailty, isolation and confinement.
The first few visits can actually be difficult not only for the client, but for the therapist! I hadn’t realized this before, nor had I recognized it in myself—until I saw many other clients acting the same way—crabby, resentful, defensive.
There is resentment when we are asked to do things that are too hard. (“I can’t do that yet!”) Conversely, there’s also resentment when we’re asked to do things that appear too easy. (“I know how to do this already! Why do I have to do it here?!”)
There is defensiveness when we realize our exercise routines are not serving our needs any longer. (“But I walk every day when I golf!”) There’s defensiveness when we have to admit we didn’t do our ‘homework’, the exercises we were supposed to do at home. One gentleman (who looked to be in his 90’s) swore he was just ‘too busy’ to spend 20 minutes a day to do his balance work. I winced when he used almost exactly the same excuse I’d used months earlier!
The conversations are terse and awkward. I feel sorry for the therapists, especially the one who had three back-to-back crabby clients one morning, all ‘dug in’ with their protests and barely cooperative.
But today, a few weeks later, I realize something has changed.
Those same crabby clients are now more relaxed, more open. They’re cooperative and good-humored, joking and laughing.
I wondered–What changed?
Their level of trust.
Over the weeks, the therapists responded calmly to each defensive, snippy remark. Each question was answered fully and appropriately. (More on this one next time!)
Information was given out freely to each client—but only as much as they could ‘handle’ at each visit. And as they made progress, as the pain began to abate, and as their balance/strength/flexibility improved, their milestones were acknowledged and celebrated.
The clients all recognized they were in good hands, with competent people, who had their well-being at heart. They could trust these people.
By consistently responding with respect, with compassion, but also with the confidence of competency and experience, each therapist won over every single crabby client in their care.
How does this apply to marketing and selling our art?
As artists, we show competency to our audience by the quality of our work and our reputation.
We gain their trust by treating them as more than just a bag o’ money.
We recognize them as individuals with unique tastes, preferences and desires.
We respond to ALL their questions—even the snippy ones, the rude ones, the ‘stupid’ ones—with patience and respect. Never taking someone else’s doubts or fears or ignorance, personally.
If they are worried your work won’t ‘go’ in their living room, we reassure them they can exchange the piece in 10 days for a different piece. If they worry about it breaking or tarnishing, we back up our product with a guarantee.
If they don’t understand what makes it unique or desirable, we share that information, too.
Once we can look into the eyes of another person and see another human being who’s every bit as complex, lovable, contradictory, and confusing as we are, even those who are as yet undecided about our work, then we can make better decisions on how to handle their complaints, their doubts, their questions.
We learn how to stay open and balanced, competent and confident.
By showing our trust in them, they learn to trust us.
I see this firsthand in my booth and studio. When I tell people they can pick something up and hold it, or open a drawer and look inside, or even simply give them a postcard, their astonishment is palpable. I’m treating them like I would a guest in my home. It’s sad how many folks just aren’t used to that!
Think about how you establish trust with first-time customers in your studio, at art shows, in your booth, at receptions. See it for the gift others will see it as.
Turn those former strangers into passionate collectors!