4 Reasons Why you Should Walk Away from an Art Commission

By Steff Metal in Art Business Advice > General Art Advice

As an artist, getting a request for a commission and working out the details with that potential client is one of life’s biggest thrills. It’s a justification that your work is worth something, and that you’re skilled enough and professional enough to take on your own clients.

But sometimes a commission isn’t what you think it is. Sometimes what seems like an opportunity can be heartache in disguise. So how do you know when it’s time to walk away?

Here are 4 reasons you might want to say “no” to a commission:

1. It’s too far outside your comfort zone

Often when commissioning an artist, a client will have in mind what they want, but will—for whatever reason—choose an artist that can’t necessarily deliver.

For example, your client may be asking you to create a huge abstract piece when you are a landscape painter. Of course you could produce such a work, but would it really be as good as the piece an abstract artist would create?

Honesty is the best policy. . . just be upfront about what you can and can’t do. Many collectors don’t fully understand the artistic process, so use the opportunity to educate them and point them toward a friend who might be better suited to their tastes.

2. It’s ethically wobbly

By “ethically wobbly” I mean work that doesn’t sit well with your conscience. This could be for a number of reasons—perhaps you have been asked to create a work glorifying a bloody war hero whose motives you disagree with, perhaps you’ve been asked to create a sculpture for the office lobby of a company you know tests products on animals, or maybe you’ve been asked to blatantly copy the work of another artist.

The best thing to do is to step aside with dignity. It’s OK to turn down a project without giving a lengthy reason (the company or individual will easily find another artist willing to take on the piece) but for your own peace of mind, it’s best to keep your art business away from ethically wobbly work.

3. The client is haggling over price and details

While there is always an initial stage of hammering out the details of a project where the scope and size of the work might change, a client who constantly tries to get you to do more work for less money is not the kind of client you want to keep.

It can be tempting to take the work because “any money is better than no money,” but working harder for less reward will leave you stressed out and resentful. If you work for less than you’re worth once, you’ll never be able to command that higher price. Better to sever ties now before you’re over-committed.

4. You’ve just got a bad feeling about it

Recently, I was talking to two potential clients via Skype. They had a project they wanted me to do, and I was invited to conference call with the interested parties. Most of the call involved the two of them talking over one another. I got the vibe that one of them really liked me, but the other one did not. The project was a really exciting one, and the money was very, very good, but I had such a bad feeling about working with these two that I turned it down.

It’s important to listen to your instincts. If something seems off, or if you feel as though the client will be difficult, then don’t take the job.

Just drop the client before you even start—you’ll save yourself time and stress, and you can use that time to work on (or find) commissions that are a good fit for you.


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