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HATERS GONNA HATE: How Long Did It Take You To Make That?

by Luann Udell on 6/17/2017 12:06:26 PM

This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. 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...."  For ten years, Luann also wrote a column ("Craft Matters") for The Crafts Report magazine (a monthly business resource for the crafts professional) where she explored 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.




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 10x8 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.




Editor's Note:

Change can be hard, but it's necessary in order to grow as an artist. So when it's time to take a fresh approach to marketing your art, a professional website can be your most valuable tool. And FASO is the easiest way to build and maintain a gorgeous website. Click here to start your FREE TRIAL today.


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Related Posts:

Haters Gonna Hate


SHAKE IT OFF! Haters gonna hate, but just shake it off!

Making The Bed

Topics: advice for artists | art appreciation | Art Business | art collectors | FineArtViews | inspiration | Luann Udell | pricing artwork 

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MB Warner
I love the question how long did it take? The answer is so simple - it took me about 32 years.
Then if it needs further explanation I explain I received my MFA 32 years ago and have been learning and creating ever since.
It takes a lifetime - really!
Then if the conversation warrants further explanation - if they're interested in pursuing the arts it takes time and dedication.
If they're a part time painter I send them home with an assignment - 100 small paintings in 100 days.
I never take offense at the remarks because after years of teaching I've realized there's so much misinformation out there about artists and the arts. People really don't know what to say or ask but they like to be a part of a conversation.
Roll with it!

Christopher Newell
I like what you have to say in most all of your Bloggettes. But this was pure genius. "It took me.....let me tell you about how I used a ground up a badger roadkill to get this perfect color umber that is the base for all my work....sorry about the aroma." My wife refers to my
jesters as "You talk them out of your tent" I love people!
Hugs for you...they don't take long....only 30 years.

Luann Udell
Thank you for your insights, WB, and for taking the time to share them.

Because of a technical issue in the newsletter, several people have communicated with me privately on this article. And many have shared a similar response to the one you gave.

I addressed this response right up front: "It took me 30 years....!!"

This is NOT the answer I'd advise.

First, if people want to know how LONG you've been painting, they will ask. They will SAY, "How long have you been an artist?" Or "How long have you been painting landscapes?" Then the 30-year response is appropriate. (If you've only been painting 18 months, well, there's another response we can cover at another time.)

Second, it puts the asker in the hot seat, which is what this entire series is about. (To recap: DO NOT put the asker in the hot seat, especially with THIS question.)

I have personally inquired about artists' work, and received this response. I did not consider it to be witty, funny, or anything other than mildly offensive. It was a joke AT MY EXPENSE.

It did not endear me to the artist.
It did not build a bridge, nor enlighten me about the artist's vision or values.
It did not deepen, or lengthen, the conversation.

As always, if you believe this works for you, by all means, please continue. I don't want to argue or force you to change your mind (even if I could!) :^)

But this article is for the people who want to explore another way, one that respects the asker whose intentions are good, and build a bridge to a deeper relationship.

Patricia Stafford
Time. There's how much time, and then there's once upon a time.

As a fine art photographer, once upon a time ...
... I found myself in Narnia, staring at the glowing lamp post as the snow whirled furiously all around.
... I visited the mountains in Middle Earth, and wound up in the Mines of Moria with dim red light flickering off the walls and the trickle of mineral water echoing far down below in the dark.
... I was transported to the blazing hot and majestically dusty planet Vulcan, gazing on the ancient rock formations in a desert called the Forge.
... the winds of change and chance brought me to follow the yellow brick road in the Land of Oz.

As a painter, I approach painting with all I've learned from photography over the years when it comes to things like color, composition, and creativity ... turning now toward new abstract horizons.

As an artist in general, I approach the wide world as Forrest Gump, with a camera or paintbrush in one hand, and a box of chocolates in the other. I wear an Indiana Jones hat, because art is an adventure.

Art is where imagination produces reality, and time aims for eternity.

Luann, you really get it. It's indeed all about building bridges. I have also been rebuffed with that answer ("it's taken my whole life to paint this," or some such). All it does is slam a door in the face of the asker. Thank you for raising people's awareness that you don't have to give a snarky answer (and yes, it comes across as that), which makes them feel stupid for asking it. It's really all about treating someone else the way you would like to be treated. I will remember this when some day I'm selling my art. Thank you for your generosity with your advice. :)

Gary Byrd
I was taking a workshop from a well known western artist and we were touring a museum in which a large piece of his was prominently displayed. It was magnificent and very complicated. I asked him how long it took to put it all together, expecting to get a general idea of his process (getting photos, composing, painting, etc.) and knowing it must of taken months to complete. He just glared. Maybe I did not phrase my question correctly, but I was trying to learn and he was a prick (who I was paying to learn from). I'm pretty easy going, however, I was really wanting to bury his scrawny head in a trash can.

I have been asked the question and I try to give them an idea of the process, from the idea to signature. Collectors seem to appreciate the answer. We are never too good to interact with interested people and a smart response never draws respect from anyone.

Lisa Manners

I really enjoy your posts. But I hate your Tagline "Haters Gonna Hate". I like all the points you make. But I don't think people are "Haters". They are either woefully ignorant of what it takes, or genuinely trying to understand something which they cannot quite communicate.

Diane Pool
My favorite response to 'How long does it take...' came from a friend who was building a HUGE ferro-cement yacht in a boat yard where after-lunch escapees from Silicon Valley would wander before returning to their cubicle. His answer was, "Oh, well, hard to get more than two a year..."

Kim Grossman
I feel that this article cuts right to the truth about the character and nature of the creative process. No secrets or magic. Just vision, a clear idea, and long hours of sometimes tedious and inglorious hard work. Kudos to you. Your comments offer all aspiring - particularly young - "artists" a compelling and great perspective to ingest, think and ruminate upon.

Thank you.

Kim G.

Luann Udell
Wendy, I am SO GRATEFUL you saw what I was trying so very hard to say in this article. Any response that shuts the door (OR DRIVES THEM OUT THE DOOR,
Christopher Newell!!) :^D may serve us in the moment, but not in the long run.

Seriously, Christopher, it sounds like you are thoroughly enjoying yourself, in which case, do not change anything. BUT if you'd like people to stay in your tent longer, please...listen to your wife! :^)

Luann Udell
Gary, THANK YOU for sharing how it looks on the receiving end. You got shut down for your honest interest in an artist you admire, because he did not see past the surface of your question.

You get it. And because you get it, your potential clients become collectors. Good on you!!!

Luann Udell
Lisa, I chose the title for this series based on humor and on-trend phrase. If you'd like to see the background, here is a quote from

"But what exactly is 'haters gonna hate', and what does it mean?

Answer: 'Haters gonna hate' is an expression of personal pride and individuality. It means 'I'm just going to ignore the cruel and hateful comments of other people'."

If you've read my introduction to this series, you would see that I'm not saying these people are "hateful". I'm saying we artists TEND TO VIEW THEM as hateful or annoying.

The whole point of this series is NOT to respond in kind, but to respond in ways that show our values, our vision, and our intention in the world.

And so, I say to you, with utmost integrity, these essays are for the people who are not as evolved as you. You already understand that people may not actually be bear-baiting us with their awkward questions, but TRYING TO CONNECT WITH US and our work.

This series is for people who want to do better when they feel sideswiped and bashed, who want to believe that people are doing the best they can--and want to respond accordingly.

Luann Udell
Thank you for sharing that, Diane!

I'm still trying to wrap my head around "concrete yacht", though I know even destroyers are made out of steel. :^D

Hi Luann. Thanks for addressing this topic. I have a cousin who always asks me that. I am honest with her. I let her know how long it took me to put paint to canvas. But I also explain about planning a painting, sketching, occasional color studies, and just observing to find subject matter. Once she asked me how long it took to paint a certain still life. I told her until the fruit rotted. True! But she asks because she is really in awe of the creative process. She has no artistic talent and is just curious. But for anyone else I am now adopting James Ritchie's answer. Thanks James.

Luann Udell
Okay, Linda, first, I love that you choose to be so kind and patient with your cousin, and recognize where she's coming from with her questions.

Second, I Googled "James Ritchie" and came up with a dozen possibilities, including a writer, a serial killer, and a teacher.

Then I Googled "James Ritchie artist quotes" and came up with Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce.

So help me out and tell what YOUR James Ritchie says! :^D

Katherine Brown
I found your column really necessary and informative! "Courtesy, kindness. Furthering my values and vision." It gives the viewer your respect to answer with sincerity. Also answering a customer's question with a question back was excellent! Who KNOWS why a person wants to know how long a piece took? And every piece is different. Thank you for the well given advice!
I actually was JUST asked the question! I think I bored the person! I'll work on this.

Ernie Kleven
Thanks Luann for another thought provoking post. I have made all of the mistakes previously listed and now simply give my honest answer, "I really don't know because I don't keep track of the time spent on a painting especially since it may be completed over a lengthy period." For me the truth works best.

Luann Udell
First, I owe Linda and James Ritchie an apology, because James commented on my previous post--and I forgot his name!!! Apologies to both of you, and thank you for clearing that up, Linda.

Linda said, "I mean the James Ritchie who commented on this article by telling us his answer to "that's not how it really looks" was:

"That's because it's art, not journalism. This is my interpretation of how it should look. You'd be surprised at how ordinary and lifeless the actual scene was before I worked my magic on it."

Thank you both for bouncing that back into the conversation!

Luann Udell
Katherine, YES, love what you said, that a respectful answer respects the asker. And regarding their intention, giving them the benefit of the doubt creates a little space for BOTH of us to meet in the middle.

Re: long answers, oh yeah, watch out for that glazed look on their face! That's my main problem, too. But the more I practice, the better I get. (And yes, I'm STILL practicing!) :^)

Luann Udell
Ernie, that's a good, honest, practical answer. Because though you don't come out and say it, it's obvious that you get caught up in the painting--and time passes unnoticed....

Which is a blessing and a prayer in today's modern times.

Elizabeth Fontaine-Barr
Hi Luann,
It is always a question that I struggle with mainly because of my painting style and habits. I explain that I cannot keep track of my time since I never paint on one painting until its finished. I have about 15 paintings in the making at a time. If I get stuck on one, I go to another. I would be spending a lot of time logging in to time sheets if I tried to keep track of it all. Since I'm painting mostly from my imagination, I'm not always sure which direction the painting will take. Sometimes I may put something aside for 3-4 weeks before I look at it again. I guess its painting ADD! HAHA!

Luann Udell
I received a comment from Elizabeth Fontaine-Barr, which for some reason is not showing up here. Apologies, Elizabeth, I'll reprint it here:

"Hi Luann,
It is always a question that I struggle with mainly because of my painting style and habits. I explain that I cannot keep track of my time since I never paint on one painting until its finished. I have about 15 paintings in the making at a time. If I get stuck on one, I go to another. I would be spending a lot of time logging in to time sheets if I tried to keep track of it all. Since I'm painting mostly from my imagination, I'm not always sure which direction the painting will take. Sometimes I may put something aside for 3-4 weeks before I look at it again. I guess its painting ADD! HAHA!"

And my reply would be:
Elizabeth, that makes perfect sense to me! That's how I work, too.

The way to test if this is the best response to your visitors is, what is their reaction? Do they lean in, take a closer look? Or shrug their shoulders and disengage?

We want to fine-tune OUR response til we get the best response from our visitors.

Just like the best artist statement gets people to take another look at our work, experiment to see what gets that same response, when we answer their questions.

Yours might work. Let me know, okay?


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