Friday, March 19, 2010

An Art Commission Horror Story

MANY years ago, when I was much younger and completely naive, I met a guy at a mutual friend's house-warming party who wanted to commission me for a painting. Our mutual friend had just received one of my pieces as a gift so this guy was somewhat familiar with my work. I talked to him a bit about what he liked about my work during the night and gave him my email address so that we could solidify an agreement at a later date. A few days he emailed me and said that he wanted a 40" x 60" painting and would be mailing me a 50% deposit soon.

Everything seemed to be going well. I bought the canvas before I got his check (mistake number 1) and started working out what I was going to paint. I was pretty excited about working on my first commissioned painting! Then I started getting emails from him asking me to come to his condo so that I could see where he wanted to put the painting. He thought this would give me a better sense of what to paint. He lived about a hour away from me so I really didn't want to make the trip and didn't feel like I needed to see what his couch looked like in order to complete the painting. I graciously declined his invitation and thought that would be the end of it.

I started getting more emails, each one getting more and more creepy, each one always ending in an invitation to his place. He started talking about how wouldn't it be great to have dinner at his condo and be able to look at my painting in the living room. At this point the check had still not arrived. I, being completely naive (and really needing the money), still thought that this was a legitimate commission. So I sent him an email saying that I felt like the arrival of the deposit was contigent on my coming over for dinner at his place and that I didn't feel this was appropriate, so please mail me a check or I would not do the painting. Suddenly, I had a check in my hand with an apology for the delay. I thought I was back on track, but boy was I wrong.

What followed were a series of emails from him talking about how wouldn't it be great if we got married and could tell our grandkids about the painting I made for US or how it would be great for us to host cocktail parties and show our friends OUR painting. I finally sent him an email saying that I no longer wanted to paint the piece, that his behavior was inappropriate, and I was ripping up his check. I was very blunt and to the point. Next followed a barrage of harassing and insulting emails that took about a week to finally stop. When it was finally over, I was exhausted and shaken by the whole ordeal.

I'd like to think that ten years later I have learned from this experience and now that I am actively seeking commissions, I won't fall prey to psychos like this anymore. Now, when I meet with a potential client, the second I feel uncomfortable for whatever reason, whether it's suspicious motives or they are too demanding in their needs, I decline the work. I tell the person that I don't think that it's a good fit because, really, if I don't feel comfortable, how can I do my best work or make them happy? I also now have a contract for clients to sign with a non-refundable, must pay first before I buy any materials, deposit. It's easier now, too, to meet with clients since I have a shared studio space in a wharehouse with about 50 other artist. I am no longer meeting with them in my home studio or at their home which makes me feel safer and more comfortable. I'm sure this may sound silly for some people, but as an artist, and especially as a female artist, personal safety and comfort has to come first.

Images: Detail of a current commissioned painting in progress and a full body image of the same piece. 20" x 24", oil on birch panel. The final painting will be covered in encaustic wax. This client has so far been a dream!


  1. Yikes!! I have a friend who had a similar stalker-like encounter. He always wanted her to go to his house, he paid for the painting $50 at a time to have more chances to see her. It finally came out that he was trying to ask her out, despite the fact that she had a boyfriend, which he said made her seem like she was playing "hard to get." Good for you for setting boundaries and making policies about this sort of thing. You'll probably not have another situation since you are so clear about how you want to do things!

  2. i was commisioned to do some prints of a painting to help raise money for someone who was sick, blogged about it etc...and found out it was a scam. the deep feeling of ickiness and mis-trust stuck with me a long time. i love your new series and found you via robin luciano beaty (i was at the 09 conference but don't believe we met...)


  3. There are some sick people out there. It's sad that so many of us have experiences like these.