When the customer does not want your commission

When the customer does not want your commission

An honest account of what it feels like when your commission is not liked or wanted by the customer. As artists we tend to share our successes but not our failures......

This is not the first time a customer has not liked a commission I have done for them and I would be naive to think it will be the last. It must be a hang up of having orders over the internet where you don't really get a true sense of what the customer wants. This particular time I was completely taken aback. Artists as a rule are generally highly self critical so we tend to know if a drawing has not turned out as we wanted. I am usually quite good at pitting things for the client and meeting them roughly half way but much more often than not the finished piece far excels everyone's desires as original art does tend to do in the end. For me it has come on the back of the usual slump in sales that January and February tend to bring and I was relieved to have this particular commission. Has it upset me? Yes, which is why I wrote this blog post as I was actually quite chuffed with the drawing and was only thinking how much my art had progressed from last year, when I probably thought I had reached my pinnacle. All the self doubts that artists also have now start creeping in. I remembered that I had not sold my last two cricket drawings which normally fly off the shelf. Despite my attempts to self promote my pet art it has remained stubbornly quiet. My first drawing on Daily Paintworks flew out but nothing has sold since. All the money I have spent on equipment and my studio now seems a huge mountain that I will never match in sales, and the art fair that I had planned to attend in March now seems a waste of time because nothing will sell - I feel sure of that! However, there is a niggle that remains. A little pin prick of an alarm that keeps pulsing in my negative brain - I've been here before and I got better afterwards. Much better! Failure leaves scars, I drew a portrait for a neighbour across the road of his wife about 5 years ago when I had only just begun to take on clients. He didn't like it, I didn't take any money for it, destroyed it and moved on. I was embarrassed and avoided him (I probably still do actually) and even though I certainly did move on, getting better and better I have never accepted a portrait commission for a human again. So possibly when faced with failure perhaps I haven't really used it as a strength but simply skirted round it and gone off down another path and perhaps that's what creative people do. Thoughts?
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Hi Paulette, I am so sorry to read this as I really feel for you. It is the middle of the night & I'm wide awake after having my latest work rejected, I’m so grateful to have found this page. I create pencil portraits of humans & animals, I work from photographs. I’ve loved reading the other comments too, such a lovely community!

Hello Paulette, I too have had failures and commissions that weren't liked. Push on and just remember that not every client has the sense or good taste to buy your work!!

Hi Jessica. I am determined to take a deposit now. I heard a story yesterday about a successful artist in Northumberland whose beautiful watercolours go for £5000 but who doesn't take deposits. He was commissioned by a multi millionaire to paint scenes of his hunting lodge. To cut a long story short the clients wife didn't want them so he lost out on 10k and months of work. Needless to say he completed one and it's been accepted by the watercolour society's annual exhibition.

This is very familiar to me, Paulette! I have had a couple of similar experiences with commissions, including a very bad reaction from a friend who "hated" a picture she commissioned me to do of her children. I've never taken on a human portrait commission since then (it is my weakest area away but I will keep persisting with it). One change I have made after these bad experiences is I now make customers sign a form describing the commission they want. I also take a 50% deposit to cover my time and materials. If they don't like the finished painting they don't have to pay the other 50%. This has really helped my confidence and I would recommend it to every artist - we often have to pay deposits to people in other trades and it's not unreasonable for us to ask our customers to do this as well.

Never fear! I had a disappointing situation with a commissioned painting of a dog some years ago, and also one prior to that where the commissioner asked, "Why have you painted the grass GREEN??". People who commission paintings cannot always convey what they want, nor realise that you will paint how you paint. Both these experiences taught me to refine my methods of dealing with commissions by referring to my style of work and asking for half of the money up front. The dog picture was fine (although I felt some doubt, which others reassured me was ill-founded) but for some reason the recipient felt she could change her mind after asking me to paint it, and said she didn't want to spend the money any more. I asked her for cost of materials, and made a mental note to get better agreements at the beginning. I think mishaps always lead to better things! Don't despair!

I think it was the greyhound Gudrun, and yes it was a good pastel. I have a print of it in my studio. And I also agree that such variations make great discussions in creative circles, it is certainly true that we do consider style changes when we meet failure. I was reading an article yesterday where the artist decided to stick to one aspect of her art and abandon other areas she'd been trying she described it as a relief when she made the decision. I can understand that, I have felt sometimes when doing pet drawings that I've lost my identity a bit because it's the sports art most people know me for. Interesting.

I agree with all the comments so far. I was just thinking how wonderful it's that artistic endeavour can produce such huge variations on the same subject. It's good advice about getting a commitment up front. This will ask the client if they are serious about it. They must ask themselves if they like what you do. Compromising your style to suit it not, in my opinion, the way to do it. You carry on. I remember noting that when you got a decent reference it shone through your work. I think it was a lovely dog. Enjoy!

Thanks so much for the replies. I've already gone back in my studio and begun a pencil sketch, there's nothing like new pencils arriving to get the juices flowing. I agree totally Robert as I've just today put a note on my website asking for a non refundable £25 deposit before commencement of commissions. I just wanted to share my thoughts as us artists (well this artist certainly) shove our failures into a bottom drawer and show our successes off. It's interesting to share how we deal with the excuses customers come out with. For example I always ask customers to let me know when their artwork has arrived safely, I even have a beautifully printed postcard that I slip in with the artwork that thanks them for their commission and asks them to let me know that it's arrived safely. Roughly 4 out of 5 customers never contact me again once they've received their artwork. So I don't really know if they've got it or not or even what they think of it. I just assume they've got it otherwise I'm sure I'd hear otherwise and interestingly most customers do come back for a second commission, which they don't acknowledge receipt of. Such a consumerist society whereby we buy it and forget it.

Paulette having seen your work over several years you have made huge progress. Dont take this to heart, just move on , shove it behind you, and as Robert suggested get a 50 % payment up front. I think you are very brave to take commissions on, I cant do it as I cant produce stuff to order. Though I am happy to dodead doggy pics for friends, then I give them away. A whole different ball game. Two fingers up to that last commision .

Customers may cancel for all sorts of reasons, including realizing that they don't have the money to pay for the work and should never have commissioned it in the first place: then they find excuses. Real failure teaches us lessons, but you haven't had a failure - you've just had a deal fall through. I doubt you'll ever know why it did, but at this point you just need to write it down to experience. I know that's not easy, but it's what you need to do, and move on. Certainly, your expenditure on materials and studio shouldn't be called into question because of one awkward customer who probably didn't know his or her own mind and failed anyway to communicate it. I know your work has progressed enormously since you first showed it here, since I encouraged you to go on with it when I saw the potential - so I've every confidence that your drawing WAS good; and you need to put this behind you and keep going. Sales fluctuate for all of us - don't know why, can't be bothered to analyse it, and it probably wouldn't help anyway. It's a pity that this rejection coincided with a sticky patch, causing you to doubt yourself - but I don't think you need to or should; you have the ability, you've worked hard to acquire it, the only thing I'd suggest is that you have a standard contract for future commissions which at least compensates you to a degree for the work, materials and time you've put into the drawing. And get that paid upfront. It doesn't have to be much, but it preserves self-respect on both sides. This was a much longer reply, but unfortunately I seem to have hit the wrong key and lost the lot. But I suspect this is more to the point anyway. Write this one off and move on - it's no reflection on you, and you mustn't let it drag you down.

Hi Paulette tricky isn't it doing commissions and you have my sympathy .Certainly creative people do move on after a failure ,we press on after failure because we are committed to our craft did Van Gogh give up after many failures?Did Edison give up after the 1000th attempt until the light switched on.If you don't succeed don't try the same thing again I say.Our art evolves and hopefully improves after many attempts so Stick with it Paulette I have had many failures. David Harrison