(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.
Here’s my column for Fine Art Views, on how to move on when people say hateful or rude things about your art. Stay posted, because next Saturday, I’ll share some great responses!
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.
My column at Fine Art Views on how to ease the pain of letting stuff go. Enjoy!
How to relocate without losing your sanity. (Actually, I don’t know how to do that.)
Moving is a
bitch difficult experience.
At first, it’s kinda fun. I pick out a few things I can easily let go of, and donate them to a thrift store. Oh, look! I just helped pick-a-good-cause-that-has-thrift-shops! That works for a few days.
Then I start packing what I call the low-hanging fruit. Extra dishes. Winter clothes. A few pictures from the walls, and some knick-knacks.
Then it gets harder. WHY DO I HAVE SO MANY DISHES?? Didn’t I purge dishes during our BIG MOVE from New Hampshire less than three years ago?? Why do I have not one, not two, not three, but FOUR vintage pitchers? (I donate one–ONE–to the aforementioned thrift shop.) Don’t get me started on the tea pots.
Then it gets really hard. There is now a couch in our living room. One couch. That’s it for sitting. We fight over who gets to lie on it to read every night.
As the deadline draws closer, I get a little more panicky. I pack more boxes. As I unpack them at the new rental, I wonder why I packed THAT and put it in the give-away pile. As I slog yet another box of stuff to the now-overwhelmed thrift store, I guiltily pull out one or two things, and sneak them into the new place.
My attention span is shorter than the time it takes to pack one box.
And now we’re at the point where the new place is more welcoming and home-like than this place. Probably because the stuff that’s left to pack is the important stuff I don’t really want to deal with. And once I pack them, we HAVE to switch home base to the new place.
As I lay awake at night, reviewing all the things I still have to do/pack/unpack/give away, I console myself:
At least we’re not moving across the country again! (We’re just moving across town.)
The new place is smaller (which means downsizing again), but that’s a good thing at this point in our lives, right? (Please reassure me on this.)
have had a whole month to do this! Er…maybe it would have been better to do the oh-God-we-have-to-do-this-in-3-days! thing. More painful, but we’d be done. (Ha! I’d still be looking for the box I packed with the printer toner til the end of days.)
Lest you think I’m getting off easy (in which case you are not my friend), add this to the pile:
I took our 2006 Toyota Scion in to get an oil change.
That was nine days ago.
Every day has added $400 to the bill. Because the worn bushings finally tore. And when they replaced them, they found an oil leak in the transmission. And when they took it to the transmission people, the t-people found a crack in the case. And when they pulled that, they discovered we need a new transmission.
Our oil change people lent us a loaner car, a sedan that didn’t hold many boxes. Like, maybe two. The gas tank is on the opposite side from the Scion, and it unlocks in the opposite direction.
After four days, we got bumped up to an SUV, which holds a LOT of boxes. But the gas tank is on the opposite side of the sedan, and it unlocks in the opposite way of the sedan.
At the same time, the front door lock on the new house jammed. After two different people tried to fix it, the second, a locksmith, said the whole lock and handle set needs to be replaced. (Jon had to climb over the fence to let us in from the back yard.)
So I have two sets of different house keys, which ALSO unlock in the opposite directions; have driven three different cars in the last nine days and three different sets of car keys, with different ways of unlocking and gas tanks all over the place; cats who keep trying to trick us into packing them into boxes so they don’t get left behind; two dogs who are alternately bored out of their minds for lack of long walks, and anxiety over moving again….
And yesterday I set up for a new show at Graton Gallery in Graton, CA, a wonderful gallery I’m so excited to be in. They showed amazing patience when I had to make three trips. One to get the jewelry cases I thought I’d forgotten. And another to bring the cases that a friend found IN THE ALLEY WAY where my studio is. Because I’d set them down to talk to a friend, and forgot to pick them back up again. (Thank you, James!)
Meanwhile, my South A Street studio is full of everything that didn’t fit in my new, smaller home studio (which is also stuffed) and I’m feeling a lit-tul bit overwhelmed with it all.
The bright side?
Friends with trucks! Thank you, James, Cory, and West Coast Greg Thompson!
A nice new neighborhood! We’ll be in the charming (Luther) Burbank Gardens neighborhood. Where almost every single resident there has already stopped by to welcome us to the neighborhood.
We have two hyoooge, beautiful porches! More opportunities for large gatherings of friends and neighbors.
We’re even closer to my SOFA studio, and it’s easier than ever to get outta town.
We have a few more years to figure out our next steps, without worrying about the house being sold out from under us. Good friends own the house, but they won’t be moving up here for a few more years. This works out to everyone’s advantage!
I’ve also discovered that a mixed drink in the evening does wonders for easing my busy, buzzy brain these days. (Don’t worry, I’m not normally much of a drinker. Desperate times call for desperate measures.)
So if you see me, and I seem confused about how to gas up the car, or strangely reluctant to pick up the restaurant tab, or my key ring seems to baffle me, or you here me muttering about “pitchers” or tea pots, or wondering where the paper towels are, please have mercy.
And when the dust settles (from dusting all the knick knacks that never got dusted during our 30 months here on Boyce Street), come on by and see us!
Er…bring bourbon. Jim Beam’s Red Stage will do just fine.
This links to my Fine Art Views column for today, with all the good things about moving.
In case this is news for you, we are moving. Again.
We’re not going cross-country this time, thank heavens! Just a mile or so away. Our rent was raised to where we simply can’t afford to stay here.
This was scary on many levels. We have pets, which is increasingly a total shut-out when it comes to renting here. The new house is much smaller, and I still have a lot of stuff. We don’t have a big circle of friends to lend a hand with the physical end of moving. I don’t have an audience for the stuff I have to let go of, like I did in Keene. And it’s even harder to let go of the stuff I chose to bring with me.
Fortunately, old friends of Jon’s recently bought a house here in Santa Rosa, and offered to rent it to us until they move up here themselves. The critters are okay, too.
But even as we breathe a sigh of relief at our good fortune, we’re still putting in a lot of sleepless nights filled with anxiety and fear.
Will my knee hold up?? (It’s been getting steadily worse.) Will the pets adapt to a smaller space? How are we going to move all this stuff?? We have to sell our washer and dryer, and the fridge we bought less than three years ago for THIS house. (I know…how can a rental not have a refridgerator??)
In the midst of this, I gave up that great display space a fellow artist offered to share with me, and though I am excited to have been in two shows this month, in a few days I have to bring all that artwork and display back home.
No room. No room. No room!! OMG, there is NO ROOM!!!
In the midst of this frenzy, I sat down with my journal this morning, with one intention in mind:
What are the GOOD things about this new house, and this move?
And soon I was able to consider 30+ things that will be better.
I felt better. I showed the list to Jon. He feels better, too. He even had something to add to the list.
I’m not saying there’s a happy side to every hard thing life throws at us. That would be thoughtless and without compassion.
But when we are trying to unwind our brains to cope with the stuff that’s just not as hard as the really hard stuff, we give ourselves more bandwidth, more oxygen, to deal with it.
Do you have a happy side to a tough life moment? Please share–I need all the happy-ness I can get!