Monday, March 15, 2010

How Long It Takes

"How long does it take to make that one?" the inquisitive viewer asks. It seems that question infuriates some artists and gives others a chance to express themselves even more. The artists that it infuriates perceive the viewer to be questioning their price. I guess I am naive in that I take a question for what it is and try not to read my own prejudices into it. I have found that most people who ask this question genuinely have no idea of what goes into making a piece of art, whether it is a quilt, oil painting, or a novel. I think they are trying to understand what goes on inside a mind that can sit for hours and hours and come out of it with something cohesive. They seem to be wondering if their square thoughts can fit into that round artist hole.
Then they say, "You must be really patient." Patience is definitely a big part of it but so much more goes into making it happen. At first I want to tell them how long I thought about the project before I started it. But there is not really a record of that. I didn't jot down how many mornings I woke up thinking about the best way to compose the piece or how long I thought about what colors I wanted to use to make just the right statement. I realize that part of it can't be contained in a number like two hours in all over three years. What sense would that make to the viewer?
Then I want to say, I searched the fabric stores and online quilts shops for just the right fabric. How much time? Can I say 5 hours online when I really bought fabric for 3 other quilts at the same time? Can I say 8 hours of quilt shop and fabric store shopping even when I bought fabric for other projects at the same time? No don't say that. Maybe this doesn't count.
Finally, colors right, thoughts right, pattern/design right and I get down to cutting. Is this one that I cut all at once or is this one that I cut a little at a time so that I could think about how it is evolving? Sometimes I have thought it through and when I start to work one of the fabrics just doesn't work. I have to re-think. How much time does it take to replace that fabric that didn't work. Eventually, I have something to sew and I dive right in. This is when how long it takes really gets dicey. It gets down to how the artist works.
I work about 8 hours a day. Some people only work on weekends. Others work at night after they get off work, while some early birds get up at the crack of dawn before the family starts to stir and work in the peacefulness of early morning. Then there are the night people who work late into the night.
I started a quilt of row houses in January. I have tried all different kinds of things to get an accurate count on the time I put into this quilt. I decided to do one house a day. First of all it took more than 8 hours to do one house. That got boring after about the second day and I gave myself a break and worked on something else for a while. Then I tried to do 1 1/2 houses a week, which would have given me 6 houses in one month. I got on a roll. I made one house, then it turned into two, then the next day I started on another one and I ended up making 5 in one week. By the end of that week the monotony got the best of me. I found myself thinking about another project. One quilter emailed about the fact that she only works on one project at a time. I thought, how wonderful. I tried that once and it almost drove me crazy.
So now it is March and I have 16 houses done. Three months of actual sewing time and only two more houses to go. I don't know how long it is going to take to make that border or how long the quilting will take. I know it will take me about 4 hours to bind and close it. So I round the time up when someone asks, "how long did that quilt take?" I'm standing there going through all of that in my mind. They are probably wondering why I am hesitating. Don't I know how long it takes. I say about 4 or 5 months. They seem happy at that and I know in my heart that the actual time cannot be measured. It is truly a labor of love.