Tuesday, November 8, 2011

How Long Does It Take?

How Long Did That Take?

That question just drives me crazy.  Inevitably, each time I show my work, someone asks me how long it takes to make one of my pieces.  I know that some people want to initiate a conversations with me, and that is an easy way to do it.  Others ask because they see the price tag of my work and think either a) it is a bargain (not usually!)  or b) it is overpriced (also not something I hear often) or c) it-must-take-a-long-time-to-ask-that-much-money-for-such-a-small-piece (the usual justification).

Do I tell them?  How can I calculate the amount of time I spend on a piece of artwork?  Let's see if I can really count the hours it takes to pull together a beautiful collage...

From start to finish:
Robin with Mountain Laurel
10 1/4" x 14 1/4", Framed to 16"x20"

Research on Robin Pose: (ahem...  staring out the window, surfing the net, sifting through photos, then staring out the window again)...  1 hour.

Drawing and Designing Said Robin, Making Pattern:  2 hours.

Research on Mountain Laurel: (Walking outside, sketching, surfing the net, sifting through photos, then going back outside)... 1 hour.

Sourcing Map of Connecticut:  LOTS of time on Ebay one night until I found a seller in Canada with a whole stack of great maps whose Copyright had expired.  This map is a 1917 original (the back is actually the state of Florida) from an atlas.  Since I bought about 15 maps from one seller over the course of 3 days, lets say 30 minutes per map.   1/2 hour

Choosing Fabrics for Collage:  Ugh.  That took quite a bit of trial and error, probably 2 hours in the end.

Have you noticed that 6 1/2 hours have been spent so far, and not a bit of cutting, pasting, sewing, framing or "art" has been accomplished?  

Collage of Bird:  2 hours.
Collage of Background:  2 hours
Sewing project together:  2 hours
Framing:  This includes ordering the custom mat board, picking it up from the framer, matting the piece, cleaning the pre-made frame, and getting the piece ready to show.  2 1/2 hours.

Total:  15 hours

What is not included in that time?  Learning and perfecting the technique, for one.  So far, that has taken five years.  How about sourcing fabric (16 different pieces of fabric for this collage), thread (15 different colors in this piece), frames, and matting materials?  Does anyone consider just "thinking" about a project and ruminating for hours and hours in their design time?

How about the phone calls and studio meetings with clients preparing proposals for commissions?  I know that lawyers are paid for these types of activities, but artists rarely even consider them when pricing their work.

The real answer to the question of "How long does it take?" is "It takes a lifetime"*.  A lifetime of experiences, learning, creating, and experimenting.  A lifetime of collecting materials, preparing proposals, and mastering techniques.  A lifetime of errors in judgement, celebrations of success, and moments of inspiration.

I would welcome any advice on helping the public understand just how long it takes...

And by the way, "Robin With Mountain Laurel" will be matted, framed, and ready to purchase at my next Open Studio Nov. 19th and 20th at the Guilford Art Center, in Guilford, CT.   The Price is $400.  And it took a long time to make :-).

*I am not the first person who said, "It takes a lifetime" - I have no idea who coined the phrase!


I'm gonna tell Mom! said...

I like that response- It takes a lifetime....
I always answer that question with a vague "I don't keep track of my time", but I think from now on I'll be offering something that will have the questioner considering the years needed to perfect my skills.
I've often thought about calculating how many stitches were in one square inch of a given hand knitted piece, and then suggesting that the questioner do the math!


YankeeQuilter said...

I find that generally the folks who ask questions like that aren't going to buy a piece of art anyways...

Barbara Strobel Lardon said...

I like saying more time then it took Van Gogh to paint
"Starry Night" which was one day.

I agree with Yankee Quilter, the ones who ask usually do not buy.

Vivika said...

I had to laugh reading Kim's comment. I was once offered $10 for a pair of socks I was knitting. My friend thought she was being quite generous... They took over 20 hours of needle time, and the yarn cost more than $20. Let's just say I offered to teach her how to knit instead.

And I also agree that questions like "how much time" are rarely followed by "do you take credit cards"...

Martha said...

I once heard Caryl Bryer Fallert say she usually answered the question with "two weeks plus 25 years of experience." And this was about 10 years ago, so her answer may be "plus 35 years of experience" now.

Deborah O'Hare said...

I am going to bookmark this post and refer back to it often. Very insightful.

Deb Levy said...

Amen! I think you've hit on the perfect response Vivika.

connie said...

A Lifetime is so accurate!!!

I love your pieces, my thought is if you like a piece of art what does it matter how long it took to create! Time is irrelevant!

Nina Lise Moen said...

I would say forever, but it's the same thing. It is impossible to say where a project starts, isn't it, it is always a string of projects and ideas and shopping and drafting and playing and happy mistakes that leads up to a finished piece.

Diane Doran said...

Vivika, I'm fascinated by the fabrics you chose for the robin - very painterly! Excellent analysis of the time it takes to make a piece - I've never done a good job of estimating the upfront work, all the design and ruminating.

Linda Kittmer said...

I hope you don't mind if I refer people to this page when they ask that question. You've explained it so well and really break it down effectively. Some people also don't seem to value a reasonable "cost per hour" that an artist deserves.


Marjorie said...

Hi Vivika! I too am frustrated by the question of how long it takes. And my answer is always the same as yours... a lifetime!

Quiltrobin said...

Although I understand the myriad reasons why people ask how long it takes to make a piece, I never quite understood how to respond eloquently. That is, until now. "It takes a lifetime" is the perfect answer. Beautiful!

I must say that I don't really think it's an offensive question, perhaps it's ignorant at most. And, when faced with ignorance, I try to educate. "It takes a lifetime" does exactly that by inviting a new perspective. This question can be a useful icebreaker, if not the most eloquent. I have asked fellow quilt artists how long they've been working on a particular project because that usually leads to some very interesting stories about the work and the artist.

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