Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Is there such a thing as Question Etiquette? What to ask and not to ask the Handmade Artist and Crafter about Techniques, Supplies, and Business Practices

This is a subject that I have been pondering for a while now.  What is the etiquette for asking an artist or crafter about their handmade items, techniques, suppliers, and business in general.  I actually get quite a few questions on a weekly basis on a wide range of subjects.  I don't mind the questions.  I love to communicate with fellow fiber artists and the public in general.  But...(of course there is a "but" here!) Some of the questions that I get asked can be a little, um, forward and even strange at times.

So my question is... What is okay to ask a professional artist or crafter and what is just taboo?

Here's my take on the subject...
I usually answer questions pertaining to my felting techniques.  It is all on a question-by-question basis of course.  And, unfortunately, no, I don't have time to type out detailed written instructions for you on how to make something.  I get this question once in a while - "Could you give me detailed instructions on how you make (fill in the blank here)?"  I'm happy to give you some pointers, but I feel like there are enough online resources and books out there to adequately teach you about in-depth felting techniques.  If I get this kind of question, I usually point the individual to free online felting resources and tutorials.

I usually don't answer questions about where I buy my supplies or get my materials.  Ordinarily, it is a competitor asking the question.  I personally do not feel obligated to share my well researched sources with the competition.  Call me crazy, but I feel that is just bad business practice - no matter how nicely you might ask or if we've crossed paths before.  I try to be gracious about my knowledge and not stupid.  I've decided that you have to draw the line somewhere.

It is a toss up whether or not I answer questions pertaining specifically to my business and business practices.  I usually share this kind of information and resources on my blog in posts like this one if I feel it is something that will help the arts and crafts community as a whole.  If I feel a business oriented question is too prying into the personal realm, then I politely decline the question and usually give some online resources for the person to research on their own.

Well, that is the sum of how I currently handle questions.  How do you dish out answers to questions pertaining to your art/craft, technique, suppliers, and business in general?  Do you have an established etiquette or do you take it as it comes?  I'd love to know!  (Oh, there I go asking you questions... Ha!)


  1. Great post! It sounds like you are very tactful and helpful with the questions you recieve. I believe everyone should have to do their own legwork :) It is character building!

  2. What is appropriate I think a lot of the time it depends on where you are asked and by whom. I am on a fibre biz list. So suppliers and biz practises are what we are there for. At a show, another fibre person that uses the same supplies but does different work maybe, depends on how I feel about the person and how they ask. Some one wanting free lessons, that's different. General knowledge, a quick 2 min how to sure, but a free detailed lesson, no.

  3. LOL! I was once contacted by a woman who wanted to know how I made my Single Rose Scarves. She felt that they were too expensive and wanted to make one as a gift!
    I gave her what I call my 'Martha' answer. I went around and around with the history of felt an how much work they piece was to make and how important it was to support the craft community.Then gave her a long explication of the felting process......

    I'll never know if she tried.

  4. Thanks for the comment Kenleigh! And, Ann, most of the time, it depends on how a person asks as much as what they ask in my opinion :)

    That is too funny Liz! LOL! It is just unreal sometimes what people will ask. I've had a few crazy questions along the way too...

  5. Very interesting post. I know that there is someone on the ArtFire forums who is having a problem finding a new scent supplier now that hers has gone under. Her former supplier won't reveal *their* source from where they get a few of her popular scents. I think that's a little sad, but I get why direct competitors would keep their information private. It's smart business, and I suppose that doesn't mean giving away 100% of your information!

    I do sometimes blog about my suppliers but many of the things I pick up from them are either one of a kind or specifically local to my city. I think that makes a difference. What do you think? Am I talking too much on my blog?

  6. Elle, I really think it is entirely up to you what you feel comfortable sharing and what you don't. I have shared things on my blog occasionally too about where to buy supplies, but usually not anything that I consider extremely important. There are just some things that I like to keep to myself. If for no other reason, that I have researched for a long, long time to find a supply source and feel that others should put in their own effort in doing the same.

    All-in-all, I feel that as professional artists and crafters, we should respect what others choose to share and not to share. And, in turn, we should be polite about answering or even not answering questions.

    I personally have found that if you look hard enough on the internet and "google" enough keywords, you can usually find what you need all by yourself. Although, if you feel the need to ask a fellow artisan, then do so. It is up to them how they want to answer :)

  7. Another point of view might be that your supplier does not want to be kept a secret. They want you to spread the word about their product and how great they are to deal with. Sometimes when you don't they go out of business.
    Given long enough I can usually see many sides to every issue. Sometimes that’s an asset sometimes its not.

  8. Of course any public retail/wholesale business doesn't want to be kept a secret. I totally agree with that. Word of mouth makes for wonderful advertising for anything really.

    Although in the day of the world wide web with cheap to free advertising, most medium to large size businesses can not and do not rely solely on word of mouth. I can see smaller businesses being more reliant on this method of advertising though.

    I personally have had suppliers disappear or change their stock and rid themselves of what I need. It is just how it goes sometimes. Unfortunate? Absolutely! Yet as a small business owner and artist/crafter, you have to roll with the punches so to speak and be adaptable to survive.

    My bottom line on the subject of questions is...
    If you want to share, then do. If you don't want to share, then don't. Do what makes you feel comfortable with all the factors involved. Also, show respect towards one another whether you are asking the question or being asked the question.

    Thanks Ann for your thought provoking comments!


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