Waiting Room designed by Luis Prado from the Noun Project

Waiting Room designed by Luis Prado from the Noun Project

One of the most uncomfortable questions customers/clients can throw you is, “how long did it take you to make that?” It’s specific and straight forward enough that not answering or changing the subject would be noticed or come off as rude. It also entirely undermines your work down to just the actual labor part: completely removing the prep, materials, process, and finishing which probably take the most time and energy. As Luann Udell explained in a recent post for Fine Art Views:

Now, right or wrong, here’s what your customers will do.  They’ll take the selling price (let’s pick a dollar amount out of thin air – $600) and divide it by the time the artist said it takes to make (three hours).  They’ll come up with an hourly rate of $200 an hour. 

You may tell people that doesn’t include the cost of acquiring your materials, or prepping, or finishing (frames, framing supplies) or the time schlepping your work to and from shows and exhibitions.  It doesn’t include the time and money you spent on educating yourself, nor the time you spent and energy perfecting your craft.  It probably doesn’t include the time and energy you spend on applying to shows, marketing, doing paperwork, or cleaning your studio. And if you have gallery representation, you’re actually only netting half that amount. 

Nope, they won’t hear that.  They may nod their head, but they’re still thinking, “$200 an hour…that’s $400,000 a year!!”

The main solution is to work on a prepared answer for instances like these. And being able to answer this question also helps you define the selling points of your work and your brand. It’s a win-win:

“That’s a great question!”  (You do not have to say you get asked that question 20 times a day.)  “And it’s also hard to answer.” 

Now you can focus on whatever you’d found is a selling point for your work.  If time really is a factor, and that impresses customers, use it.  My artifacts take many production steps to make.  I describe that process, using lots of hand motions to illustrate.  I end up with, “I counted up all the steps once, and it was something like 38 production steps…” (pause) “…and then I start to actually shape the animal.”  At this point, people usually gasp.  I explain why they have the shapes and markings they do; how I fire, sand and polish them; how I use a scrimshaw technique to bring up the detail, etc.  By this time, time is obviously not a big factor in the price.  Most people are astounded at the attention to detail I’ve described. . .

If I were a 2-D artist asked this question, I’d do the same thing.  Acknowledge the question.  Expand on the answer in a way that makes my work more precious and unique.  And share the true and powerful story behind your choice of technique, or presentation, or subject matter.  Share whatever will connect your audience, emotionally and spiritually, with your work.

Read the rest here.

  • metalsgrrl

    very good answer! How wonderful to know the steps of the etiquette of this indelicate question! Thankyou, now I can stop inflating my hours for the sake of simplicity and provide a more theatrical representation of “time spent” being creative!

  • Sarah Sampson

    Thank you for sharing! Great reply! I am asked this all of the time and it is sometimes difficult to answer in loud, busy spaces so I appreciate this.

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