Deep Thought Thursday: How long did it take you to make that?

Artists love to hate this question they hear from buyers and customers. And, yet, you continue to hear it over and over again. What's your best response to this . . .

How long did it take you to make that?

For the best response today, I'm giving away a CD of the "Best Of" my podcasts for artist motivation. That's right, it's a contest–with a prize and everything! Here are the rules:

  • You may enter as often as you like unless you're being a nuisance and not contributing anything of worth.
  • I have all power over deciding which is the best response. Some responses may be similar, in which case I'll have to look at the nuances and get really picky. If I can't decide, I'll let Tofu, my cat, pick the winner–unless I decide to go a different route or Tofu is otherwise occupied.
  • Responses will be considered until midnight ET on Tuesday, March 24.
  • The winner will be announced in a new post next week whenever I get my act together and get it up here.

The contest is now closed, but you're free to continue to post your thoughts.

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86 comments to Deep Thought Thursday: How long did it take you to make that?

  • Bob

    About the same amount of time as it would take to earn four Phd’s give or take.

    On a side note great promotion on the Lindsay Pollock book ” Girl with the Gallery ” I bought 2 cases for my clients and ended up giving them all to artists. If you want to understand the future of art. You need to understand the past.

  • I usually just tell them approximately how long. It a question that gets old quickly but you just have to think of it as its a new question for them. They’re interested enough to ask about your work and that’s always a good thing.

  • I tell people “I’m not sure to be honest, as I haven’t worn a watch since my late teens. If there’s anything else you would like to ask me, I’ll see if I can be more forth-coming”.

  • I’m politely evasive:

    “It’s difficult to say. I’m usually working on two or three canvases at once. And, I stop on those pieces to work on any commission work I may obtain.”

    Or something similar to that answer. That usually satisfies them enough to go on to the next question.

  • Usually I say something like, “Well, I work on a piece for several hours and then keep coming back to it, with fresh eyes…I put in up in a place that I can see it often, but not continously, so I see something different every time I look. This helps me with the process of knowing when it is done. If things go well, some paintings take several hours/days/weeks depending on the size…but I have gone back to a canvas after several years.

  • Hi Alyson, what a great question. I am so glad you asked this because I am going to type up what I wrote below so I know how to answer those asking this very question. I may even have this information posted in my studio/gallery for folks visiting to read. I am opening up my studio for the very first time this weekend.

    This is a rought draft, I will go back this evening when I have more time, read what everyone else wrote and will revise wha I wrote and may repost, but here’s what I’ve written so far:

    Every piece of ceramic pottery or sculpture I make takes a different amount of time. For many pieces I studied for years and researched and experimented with sculpting, building, glazing, and firing techniques before I was able to perfect the techniques so I could achieve the artist vision I had for the piece. I also attended college for 4 years and took many ceramic workshops from various ceramic artists throughout the country, even some visiting artists from other countries.

    For this particular piece I made several other ones which I rejected, perhaps because they weren’t up to my standards or the glaze wasn’t just right. Some of my ceramic pieces may take several months to complete or some several days. For instance my eucalyptus bark sculpture was inspired when I took a trip to the coast in December where I collected some bark. Then I obtained a special type of clay to use. A month or two later I sketched the sculpture on paper, planning how I would construct the piece. I also sculpted several other sculptures before I came up with this one. In the meantime I also made several smaller bark sculptures and experimented with several different glazes till I got just the one I wanted.

    Each ceramic piece dries for at least a week, during humid weather it dries much longer. Then the piece is bisque fired to 1875 F, then the piece is glazed and is fired again to 2350 F, then the piece may be sanded or may be mounted and is ready for display. The glazes are measured, water is added and then they sit for 24 hours. The next day the glaze is stirred again and is sieved, then the glaze sits overnight again. The following day the amount of liquid in the glaze is adjusted and it is ready to use.

    Perhaps Tofu would like to take a look at my cat, “Betty” choosing the winning name out of a hat for a contest I had on my blog back in November (ha, ha):

    Thanks again.

  • “It has taken me my entire life and years of practice to get to the point where I can forget everything I have been taught and trust my inner soul to guide me. I work on multiple pieces at one time, so timing from start to finish is not always possible – it is a good question – but one I can not answer with a number of days or hours – only that I believe when the work is finished it will let me know.”


  • Each piece is like raising a child. Your work isn’t done until they leave home

  • Jennifer "jeff" Bowie

    I tell them I puttered wih it for years, but finally quit my day job in corporate America in 1994. I have been working on it ever since!

    SIlversmith & Jewelry Designer
    Salem, MA

  • As long as it needed, in order to get to this state. I don’t like to keep track. The hours fly by when I paint!

  • Mike

    If you would like me to sit down and work it out, I’ll probably end up doubling the price!

  • My response would be something like,” It took me about a week to make this one painting, and my whole life to learn how to make it.”

  • My answer is usually:
    “It takes me as long as it takes for me to be satisfied with it”. “I can’t give you a number in minutes or hours or days because sometimes I think I am finished and then I look at it and decide that I want to add or change something on it.” I also tell them how I think and imagine about things I want to paint before I go to bed and throughout the day so I would have to add that time as well. “So…it’s very hard for me to give you an exact time”

  • Oh, I have an answer for that one. It goes like this… “I really couldn’t say, because when I start to create, I am in a place that has no clock and no schedule. There is no modem and no ringtone. Only me and this painting. That doesn’t necessarily mean I did it all in one sitting, but when I was painting this, there simply was no time.”

    Happily Painting,


  • Just tell them “a Fortnight”

    It sounds cool & it is a fair amount of time to be taken seriously, and justify your price (even though the majority of your work only takes 1-3 days).

    It is just a dumb question. Don’t waste your time getting offended or pissed of – just make up something cool. You are an artist and supposed to be imaginative.

  • My favourite answer so far is the one about Soft Time and Hard Time. When asked how long a piece took, I smile and say (tongue in cheek), well the answer to that should be 15 years, which is how long I’ve been painting and learning and preparing. But I don’t want to put people off by being stand offish, so I follow that by saying that each piece takes anywhere from 10 to 20 hours or more.

    But I am now going to change that to say that if I include ALL the time that is part of the business of making art, which includes the learning, practicing, researching, shopping, planning, marketing, in addition to drawing and painting etc., the the soft time would be months and years, and the hard time would be anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. I’m not going to talk about ‘hours’ anymore, that just makes it seem too easy.

    Thanks for the question. Good to see what everyone is thinking.

  • Shirley A.Thomas aka TAS

    My answer would be “Long enough” with a nice smile.

  • Wow. I have yet to be asked this. Probably because most of my art has yet to be seen by anyone not in my family and trust me, they know how long it takes me πŸ™‚

    As I sit here thinking about what I will say on that day I’m brave enough to show my soul (my art) to strangers, I think about the time I spend lying on my studio floor thinking about color, texture and space. I think about the layers and the drying time between them. I think about the points where I get stuck, because something just isn’t quite right. And I think about the piece of me that is in everything I do, even the simple things. “How long,” you ask, well, really, as long as it takes.

    Which I realize is a flip answer. However sometimes I start something without the end result firmly in my mind. So really, as others have said one piece can take a couple of hours or months, depending on when I think it’s done. (I’ve gone back to add things weeks later).

    So I think what I would say is “this piece? Well, this took a few hours to actually complete, but the entire process was much longer and complex.”

    Sorry for the book I wrote here, but this really got me thinking… (Mostly that someone here has a better idea of what to say than I do!!)

  • I always tell them, that I honestly don’t know–that I work on many paintings at the same time, and switch around from painting to painting.

    I don’t know why it matters though to the buyer…***sigh

  • I just say: I’m 41.

  • Sumrow

    Interviewer: “How do you know when you are done with a painting?”
    Pollack: “How do you know when you are finished making love?”

  • Funny, there are several defensive or dismissive answers here, most without realizing it. Some good ones too.

    I’ve eventually eased into this response in describing my collage work:
    “This size usually takes 3-4 solid days or actual ripping and gluing.” (wanting to answer directly with no salesman shtick), and then like others have said, I treat this as a window into the more mysterious and magical part of art for the collector (which is the real attraction.)- I might follow with, ” the preparation- the searching for ideas and purpose in a specific new piece or series, can take months. But once I start actually ripping and gluing, I want it to be direct and as close to instantaneous as I can make it. I’ve been exploring for 16 years- I started very tight, and in every project since I look for quicker, more immediate ways to capture the mood and feeling of the picture.” ( I probably wouldn’t give that whole mouthful at once, but you get the idea. ) Likely I end my first response with a question, either the simple “what do you like about it?”, or maybe “do they look like they take a long time, or not much?” and that leads to the rewarding and universal topic of something complex and heartfelt, that can (possibly) be expressed simply, or in essence.

  • On his great cds, crafts marketing guru, Bruce Baker suggests that the question, “How long did it take you to make that?” is less often an actual question than permission from the customer allowing the artist to begin the sales dialogue.

    With an initial question (whatever it is!), the customer is essentially letting you know that they like your work and want to learn more about it, about you, about your process.

    I try to give an average hours-per-hat answer, then explain that a fancy embroidered hat like THIS one (handing hat to customer) can take many more hours… Notice the intricacy of the stitching, which is all done freehand… (etc, etc).

    The trick is to view the question as a green light to selling, and not as someone (negatively) questioning the value of your work!

  • clair

    i always say 30 years and 6 hours πŸ˜‰ it usually gets a laugh and most people get it.

  • Jennifer Bellinger

    When a person is looking at my work I like to acknowledge them, then leave them alone. When they ask ANY question that is a signal that it is now ok to talk to them. Often it is the “how long does it take you” question that is spoken first. They have been looking and now they want to engage you. I think the pat answers like “all my life” is not what they want to hear. Instead, I might say “I’ve wanted to be an artist since I was a little kid. Then I will talk about the painting they are looking at and tell a story about it, ask them what it is about the painting they like, engage them in the process, maybe there is a funny story about how this painting came about, etc. Facts tell, stories sell. If they buy the painting they now have a story about how the artist created it that they can tell their friends who see it in their home. We’ve formed a “connection” through our conversation. I haven’t put them down by dismissing their question.

  • I always answer this question “I’d be horrified if I actually kept track”. (to say my paintings are highly detailed is an understatement). But more important is the fact that any time a person asks me a question means they’ve given me permission to talk to and sell to them! I’d rather be asked any question than for people to walk by my work with out a glance!

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  • When I hear this question it always reminds me of Hamada. He was a master potter and one of Japan’s living national treasures. He did a quick demo one day and a person from the audience commented, “You charge that much fore something that took you only 10 minutes”? Hamada looked up and answered, “Forty years and 10 minutes”. No one is a master in a year!

  • This is an interesting question! With my portrait work, it can be whittled down to a number of hours, but I don’t often keep track of it. Then there’s also the prepration.

    With my abstract work, it’s more difficut. These can take weeks or months to be complete, but that doesn’t mean I’m working on them solidly during that time. I once video-taped the entire process of one of these paintings and was surprised at how few hours of actual work it involved!

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  • My response would be:
    I worked on it until I felt my creative energy weakening!

  • 53 years plus however long that particular project took. Art is the culmination of a lifetime of experience.

  • Fabrizio Van Marciano

    Often I sell artwork who requires it as soon as possible for a wedding or birthday in which case I tell them that it will be ready when I feel 100% satisfied with the final result which can be anything from a week to a month.

  • Well, I see Gaye already submitted my answer. Anyway I heard a great quote, went like this ” Great Art is priceless even if it took only seconds to create, bad art is worthless even if it took a lifetime.”