As artists, there is no greater compliment than having people buy our art, and commission us to do special pieces for them. Sitting down with clients and ironing out details can be very exciting, especially for those who haven’t received many commissions. It means that someone has taken an interest in our art, and is willing to invest in our work.

turn down art commissions But, the artist/ client relationship isn’t always smooth flowing. There may be times when we may have a feeling in our gut that the commission is just not right. Maybe the client expects us to create something that we do not normally do, or we may not have adequate time to complete it without being rushed. It is important to realize that we have to be selective in the commissions we accept, so we do not end up wasting our own time and the client’s time – and even worse, the embarrassment of a failed commission.

How does an artist know when its right to turn down a commission?

How do we say NO to art commissions, without sounding like we are unappreciative of the person’s offer?

If you are looking for advice on how to receive art commissions, you will find it from this article:
How to Get Art Commissions

Here are some reasons why artists might want to consider turning down artwork commissions.

The artist lacks the skills to create the piece

Sometimes, we are asked to create pieces out of our skill range. A client may want a portrait, but that may be difficult to accomplish to the person’s satisfaction if the artist hasn’t had adequate experience with portraiture. The same goes for doing a realistic painting, if the artist only has done abstract. I know -  it can be tempting to accept commissions outside of our skills - especially if we need the money. But, it’s best to turn it down and recommend another artist with better skills in that area.

In saying NO to a commission like this, just be honest with the person. Tell them about the work you normally create, and let them know this is something different – and you probably wouldn’t be able to do the commission to their satisfaction. Only accept the commission if they say they want it anyway, regardless of the outcome. (This is the best type of client!)


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It’s something that we don’t feel comfortable with creating

It’s ok to turn down commissions if they go against our morals or standards. Maybe its because we just don’t feel right about the proposed subject or the person/ business who is asking for the commission.

Believe me, if you accept commissions you don’t feel right about, you will regret it. If you are looking for quick money, when that’s gone – all you are left with is regret!


The artist can’t complete it in time

If the artist does not have the time to complete a project, it’s best to turn it down. The end result almost always is rushed, and the client may not be satisfied. Many people do not understand the time that it takes to create artwork.

Not long ago, I had someone ask me to complete an oil painting within a week, and have it ready for when they finished their vacation. Initially, they did not understand that it sometimes takes months for me to complete a single oil painting. Some of my paintings are made up of several layers, and I wait for paint to dry in between. Of course, I had to educate them on that fact, and politely decline the commission.


The client wants the artwork rushed

Create your own Website!A while back, someone contacted me wanting a portrait drawing delivered to them within a week. Work was scarce at the time, and I needed the money, so I accepted the commission. I realized that the drawing would actually have to be completed within a day, and mailed to them so they would receive it in time.

So I began the drawing, worked on it all day and almost all night. When I felt I had achieved a very good likeness, I snapped a photo of the drawing and emailed them a copy. The person said they loved it, but there was only one tiny thing that needed to be fixed – the nose. I thought I did a perfect rendition of the nose according to the photo they sent me. But, I set out to try to make it look better.

So I sent another photo, and waited. The person replied that the nose was now perfect, but now the mouth didn’t look right. I knew there was something up right then, but I decided to do what I could with the mouth, and sent them another photo.

When the person replied, she told me the mouth was now ok… but now they decided they didn’t want the portrait!

The sad part about this is - in my rush to get the portrait completed, I forgot to ask for a deposit. Therefore, I was stuck with a completed portrait, and a lot of wasted time – and no money! I learned a BIG lesson there. From then on I never take rushed commissions and always require a deposit.

Have you had any similar experience?


In turning down an art commission, try to open a dialogue with the client. Tell them reasons, if it is necessary. Be honest and straight forward. Make it an opportunity to tell someone about your art. They may even be more flexible than you realized, and willing to commission a different artwork.

If you need further help in this area, please visit this post:

How to Work with Clients for Art Commissions

Do you have anything to add?

When do you politely turn down art commissions?
What do you say to these people?


  1. Interesting article, Graham. For awhile I did quite a few portraits. You do learn the questions that send up red flags - such as "can you just turn her head a few inches to the right so she's looking in a different direction?" Yikes!

    1. Hi Cheryl.. always great to hear from you! I've got that one before too... :)

  2. I once asked by someone to paint their house, I agreed as they were a good customer but when she produced some photos it turned out to be brick built rectangular box in the middle of a housing estate. Fair enough i thought I've agreed to do it so I Will even thought it's not very inspiring, so i finished the painting and she was delighted with the result and that was the last i expected to hear of it. About a year later she turned up again with the picture and said "We've now planted an ornamental tree in the garden, could you paint it in." I thought she was a bit crazy but painted it in for her and again thought I wouldn't see it again. Another year passed by and she turned up again with painting, this time they had had a burglar alarm fitted and she wanted the red box painting on the outside of the building. At this point I thought she had really lost the plot but once again did it for her. It's ten years or more passed now and I'm still expecting it to come back again if they have the lawn mowed or something similar. :)

  3. I don't paint dogs or cats portraits. Some people love to do that, and I have painted my own animals, but I leave other people's dogs or cats alone. I do paint horses and buildings portraits.


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