Saturday, October 30, 2010

"How Long did it Take you to Make That?"

Image from, a good site about home-based craft business.

What do you do when someone asks you, "How long did it take you to make this?"

It is said Whistler's answer was, "All my life."

I like that. Because your work changes and grows all your life and what you do today is the sum and culmination of that growth and evolution.


An answer like that will--

1. Probably not be understood.

2. Come off as being flippant.

Besides, the questioner is usually not interested in an account of the hours and minutes you put into making something or the different steps you took to make it.

Some people feel stumped when face to face with art and the artist who created it. They have no experience talking about art. They're a little perplexed and intimidated.

Artists are sometimes seen, in the public mind, to be romanticised, exotic creatures, out of the main, someone slightly mysterious, ethereal, touched by the gods of creativity, owners of a 'gift'.

A little bit of that could be a good thing. But that's not why we are there, standing in a booth in front of shelves of your work, slightly exhausted, keyed up, waiting for customers to come in and buy something.

They are approaching you because your work has drawn them in. They would like to open up a dialog with you, but they don't know how. Picking up one of your pieces might be a bit too forward for some, afraid you'll land on them, make them feel they are obligated to buy something......

Anyway, as I said, they don't REALLY want to know the whole step-by-step story of how you made a piece. That is, unless they want to learn about clay or are truly the curious sort. So recognize it for what it is: A cautious opening, an attempt to talk to you about art.

On the other hand, you may be talking to a bean-counter. That guy who wants to figure out Work x Time x Material = That Price?

Don't go there. It won't work. You can dazzle the daylights out of that guy by peeling off facts about the time it took you to learn the skill, how long you studied or traveled or spent making that very piece with all the steps from pugging the clay to fishing it hot out of the kiln to grinding it's foot down.

He won't understand and by the time you get to about the third fact or so, his eyes begin to glaze over and he starts backing away. Besides, you didn't give him the answer he was looking for anyway.

"When I'm in the creative mode, time just goes away."

"That's a nice piece, isn't it? I'm really happy with the result. Handmade things just have a soul of their own, don't you think?"

"I made that on the wheel/by hand using slabs of clay/etc. The process is so complicated, I couldn't tell you how long it took, but it turned out well, don't you think?"

Always give an answer that will add value and lend uniqueness to the piece. Pick it up and hand it to the customer. (Give them permission to handle it.)

Talk about the color--maybe say, "That's an iron-based glaze." Or "Ceramic glazes are really a very thin coating of glass. That comes from firing it in a kiln at over 2000 degrees." (You can slip in a little education as you go.)

Encourage them to ask questions and start a relaxed, friendly dialogue. Talk about how you can use the piece.

"I really like a big, hefty mug for my coffee in the morning, don't you?" or "Isn't that a comfortable handle?"

"I have a bunch of bowls like this in my home and I use them every day, they are so handy."

"These make great gifts." "I love inventing unique pieces."

"This looks so great near a window where the sunlight can show off the glaze."

Tune into the customer. Try to hear the subtext of their question. See if they have a sense of humor, are wanting to learn, considering the piece for themselves or to give to someone. The quicker you can hone into where they are, the better.

Avoid those who are there for entertainment. Or those who will monopolize your time while other customers come and go!

The minute you are buttonholed by one of those, be nice, but make sure the other people in your booth know you're there to help them buy something. Make a point of saying, "Please ask me if you have any questions or need help." to them. Or disengage yourself from the "clinger" by saying, "Excuse me, I'll be right back." Smile. Leave, keep an eye on them, check back, but telegraph the fact that this is a business, not entertainment.

**Another comment that just kills me is, "Did you make all of this?"


Carol Barclay said...

What nice suggestions for answering a tough question. Thank you!

With so much of ourselves invested in the work, it is sometimes hard to step back from a snippy answer.

Another hard question is when someone asks for a lower price. I like to answer, "Oh, I wish I could do that for you, but I have very carefully decided on the fair price for each item." Usually that person decides that the price is right, and buys the piece!

Patricia Griffin said...

Great post, and very helpful! Thank you!