How long did it take to make that?

That question is one that most fiber artists who sell their work and interact with potential customers come to dislike intensely. Is it asked as a polite way of saying 'why is this piece so $#@% expensive'? Is time spent the only way they can relate to being an artist? Are they just making conversation because they don't know how to ask about composition or technique? Or do they genuinely care about the answer?

One has to be nice to potential customers (unless they're using sticky fingers to feel the work). So I try to answer the question slowly, sounding out what answer they're really looking for.

The piece I just finished (well, finished except for hanging mechanism) shows some of my problems with a straight forward answer.

Below the Dam

1a. Time between white silk and today? 3-4 years, can't quite remember when I dyed the fabric.
`1b. Actual working time, hands on cloth? Maybe 100 hours.

difference--lots of time spent with it on my design wall, deciding what to do next. In this case, most of the time was spent on deciding the quilting.

2. Time the idea first started itching my brain to today? Maybe up to 20 years--every November I drove almost daily across the Mississippi River from Keokuk, IA to Hamilton, IL, and admired the last traces of fall in the bottoms, reflected in the slow moving part of the river.

3. Time spent learning how to translate my vision into actual art? A lifetime.

I haven't priced this piece yet, but must do that soon as it will debut in a show in March. It will probably be near the top of my price range as it has a lot of hand work (=more time). But whatever the price, someone at some show will see it and tsk, tsk, that it is too much for just a 'wall hanging'. Whatever. Plumbers don't give away their work, neither should artists.


Ann said...

Wonder if a painter has ever been asked that question?

bj parady said...

I think so, especially realistic painters. It goes with the job, I fear.

LDWatkins said...

Everything you said it so true! I'm asked that countless times, and it is difficult to answer. How much do plumbers make an hour? I'd like to apply their formula to creativity. Ah.... Your pieces are so beautiful.

Anonymous said...

When this happens I usually ask them to clarify, much like you did, just what time frame they are asking about. It can lead to an interesting conversation if they are truly interested. Sometimes I think they ask it because they don't know anything about our art & don't know what to say. Reminds me of people who would ask me after a dive trip "how deep did you go?" rather than "what did you see?"

Patty Ashworth said...

I noticed along time ago, that everyone asks 3 questions to a quilter. And you can tell what they know about quilting by these questions. I'll give the answers later that I normally (and sarcastically) give.
When someone doesn't quilt they ask, How long does it take to make that? How much fabric does it take? and How much does it cost?
If they ahve been quilting for a while they ask, where do you get the fabric? How do you find the time to keep quilting? Where do you get your ideas?
If they have been quitling for a while, they ask, Where do you keep all your fabric (or hide it)? What do you do with all the quilts you have made? And do you think you will ever make all the ones you want to?

Just get them hooked and you'll have the last laugh!

Patty Ashworth said...

Oh! I forgot the answers... It takes all my life to make it. If you have to ask, you can't afford it. And it takes 72 yards of fabric... just to make sure you have enough!

I find fabric and ideas everywhere.And I find the time because I gave up cooking and cleaning years ago.

To find places for the fabric, best in your teens closet or drawer, they arent' using them anyway. I have quilts everywhere in the house. You can get rid of alot of stuff in the kitchen since I don't cook now. Put the quilts in there. And I intend on quilting for ever and USE UP ALL THE FABRIC I HAVE! Bury the rest with me.