Maria Brophy


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business of art / Philosophy

What to do When Your Client Doesn’t Like It

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Drew is painting me a Buddha.  I’ve waited a year, but since I’m not a paying client, it always gets put to the side!

This week, he’s finally drawn up the sketch, which means he’s close to starting the painting.

The Buddha painting is symbolic to the peace that we both needed to cultivate, following up to a very stressful situation that we’ve just survived.

A long-time client had asked for artwork for a program they do each year.  They specifically requested a scene with Neptune, that mythical God of the Sea.

We could have fun with that one“, we thought!  Neptune is a powerful figure, and Drew loves painting ocean scenes.

Drew did the work painting his depiction of Neptune on canvas, and we were both pleased with the outcome.

But then the unthinkable occurred.

A bump in the road that rarely happens.  I mean, I can’t remember the last time it did happen, or if it ever has happened – where a client came to us AFTER the work was done and said “I don’t like it.”

There are safeguards set in place to avoid this heart-break.

We always sit down with the client and Drew sketches out their ideas or what they want, right there in front of them (or over the phone).  Once he’s confident of the concept that they want, he cleans up the sketch and then emails it to them for approval.

Nothing gets painted without prior approval.  That’s how we avoid someone coming back and saying “I don’t like it.”

But this time, things were different.  Turns out the client we have worked with for many, many years, whom we have a great relationship with (still), was told by his boss, “Al” not to use the art, AFTER it was painted.

Al vetoed the artwork because he didn’t like the Neptune.    So he asked us to remove  Neptune from the image.  We were extremely reluctant.

Drew and I both agonized over how we would keep the integrity of the artwork while at the same time, keeping a good relationship with a longtime client.

Relationships are everything to us.  We weighed the pros and cons.  We drank a bottle of wine over it.  We argued amongst ourselves.

Finally, we decided to do as they asked.  Drew pulled Neptune out.  Hours of playing in Photoshop and he somehow figured out how to remove the main focal point of the painting and still keep the composition intact.  It was actually amazing that he was able to pull it off.

Al still didn’t like it.  Could we make the shark look friendlier, the octopus not so…ummm, something?

Four more hours and Drew changed those two things, too.

And still, Al didn’t like it.  So we had to call it quits at that point.  It was devastating and exhausting and stressful.  They still paid for it because we put in the time.

But that roller coaster is something we never want to go through again, ever.

To give myself control over any situation that goes wrong, I always look at myself and ask “what could I have done to avoid this?”  and “What can I do to avoid this from happening in the future?”

And the answer is, sometimes you just can’t please ’em all.  You have to let it go.   And you have to just chalk it all up to a learning experience.

Oh, and learn to feel okay about it.  Sometimes things just don’t work out, and we don’t understand why.  We just have to roll with it.  (And be sure to always get a non-refundable deposit up front.)

Last night Drew brought home my Buddha sketch.

What do you think?”  He asked, looking for approval to move to the painting phase.

I mulled over the sketch, noticing that my Buddha has muscles (I liked that) and  the symbolism included in the drawing.

After three long minutes, I said “I love it!  But….

Drew braced himself for the criticism that usually follows the word “but”;

I continued “What if Al doesn’t like it?”  We both burst out laughing, and a new phrase has been coined.

We had weathered another storm.  The Buddha made us laugh.  And all is well with the world again.

Here’s to living and learning and the awesome roller coaster of life —

Maria xxoo

**In the comments below, please share your experiences and solutions you’ve found when a client didn’t like your work…


PS:  The painting of NEPTUNE is featured in Episode 3 of our new TV show THE PAINT SHOP WITH DREW BROPHY.  You can watch the entire episode now!

PPS:  NEPTUNE original painting sold but you can order your Giclee Print on Canvas in the Drew Brophy STORE!

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23 Comments What to do When Your Client Doesn’t Like It

  1. Mary

    Lol. Nice. I’m glad you two found a way to laugh about it. I don’t have to tell you how heart-wrenching that scenario is. I have had it happen several times. Nothing prepares you for it, as you say, you just have to roll with it. I try to have that wine and move past it. I also try to make sure I get payment up front at least partially. 😉 Definitely helps. Great story and I love the Buddha!

  2. Shannon

    Good reminder of the process and how sometimes things just don’t work out. But, what I really loved was the story of the “new phrase”. In our family (and with friends) we also have new phrases that show up because of circumstance. I’ve never thought to record the story of how they do. I call this part of our verbal “family lore” but I think I”ll try to record them from now on. Thanks, on a couple of counts.

  3. Sam

    Funny you should write about the very same thing that just happened to me a few months ago. It also taught me a huge lesson. I did a commission piece for a family member. They also kept changing it and never quite seemed satisfied. “Al didn’t like it”. Needless to say I gave it to them as a Christmas present to end the agony. Now it’s just perfect;-)

  4. Maria Brophy

    Sam: There is a great way to avoid FOREVER the problem of a client changing the sketches again and again. Here’s what we do: in all of our contracts / or written proposals (which you should be doing) we state PRICE: $XXX and then: price includes up to two sets of changes to sketch. Additional changes thereafter incur $100 per sketch fee.

    It’s amazing how the changes, 100% of the time, never go past 2!

    Try just this one little change, and you’ll never have a client make multiple changes again.

    1. mike (@artisticdork)

      When working with a client, I offer two situations, hourly fee (which can have as many changes as their little heart desires, im getting paid hourly for it) or flat fee. With that flat fee choice i stipulate that after we approve a sketch, that they get three changes to the design.After that, its $75 a change. Often depending on the change I may or may not count that change, if its a simple change, i let it slide, but major changes or if they become a nit picker, i remind them that its going to cost. when money gets taken out of their pocket, it makes changes not happen as often

  5. Lynette Young

    Hi Maria,

    I love your blog posts, I always look forward to reading them.
    Your writings are always, intelligent and informative and very helpful!
    Thankyou very much,
    Godbless always!

  6. Marnie - The UnBlogger

    I once had a client send me a berating email because I had not specifically told him what his niche should be online. I had narrowed it down for him to 3, after he answered some questions for me, but he wanted me to choose for him. I politely refused because I told him he needed to be passionate about his own business. He asked for a full refund. Oh well!

  7. Jeff Dolan

    It’s so funny. I saw the title of this article in my twitter feed just as I was sending a client a new video for them to approve. I definitely was bracing for them not to like it! They did, but this article was a great reminder to never assume.

    The hardest part of hearing a client’s disapproval is of your art is to separate yourself from your art, swallow your pride, and know what you stated here – you cannot please everyone all the time.

  8. Name (required)

    I do something similar with commercial photography: I shoot tethered (connected to my laptop) and show my client the first few shots. I always ask: “Do you like this?” If there is any hesitation I follow up with: what should we change?
    This helps a lot for the “don’t like it issue”.

  9. Archan Mehta


    I like the image of the Buddha: it works as a metaphor of your life wih Drew.

    Yes, both of you need more peace in your lives because life is full of ups and downs.

    The peace will enable you to transcend obstacles with serenity. Whenever there is an uphill battle, meditate on the Buddha. And, it is likely, you will achieve bliss. It will be your state of mind if you continue with your meditation practice. It will egg you on to a tranquil existence.

    I think we could all do with a little more peace in our lives. Life can be such a frustrating experience. Sometimes, the only thing you can really do is sit down and meditate on the unknown and limitless.

    Cheers to your lives, Spunky. My best wishes to your family, as always.

  10. Indigene

    Thank goodness, Drew had you! It says millions about your relationship! Thanks for sharing this. The universe knew you would need a Buddha in the long run! :) Brilliant piece for everyone’s archives!

  11. Coral May Barclay

    That story reminded of the one incidence of a client not liking a commission she order based on a picture of one of my sold paintings..I painted it exactly as the original, but she decided in the meantime she wanted it like another painting seen in the meantime on another clients wall, after she had ordered hers, and essentially wanted another painting altogeather. I refunded her money, and resold the painting later, as I realized what she was up to, she was just too unreasonable. BUT she was the only difficult one among many commissions. I enjoy your stories of the ups and downs, always a good read!

    1. Maria

      Thanks for all the comments. I just got a phone call from a good artist friend who read this and said “This JUST happened to me last week! For the first time!” She thinks it’s something in the air….

      One great thing about adversity: It teaches us to learn that we can’t control everything all the time. We can only do our best.

  12. aileen

    Well… This JUST happened to me too! It’s crazy because all of my other clients have been happy. There’s always changes but I have never been completely off base before. It’s utterly bizarre. I took it personal too, which I never do… I think it’s because it’s a trade, not for money, that I have more personal involvement. I think money makes it cleaner and less complicated!

  13. Edel ramirez

    …It is very common that some customers do not “like” some designs, in my case that I develop art for the fashion industry I see that kind of situations every season, and here is my answer to all of them, “let your retail customers to take the decision, if they like it or not”…one day i made a design that originally my fried’s boss did not liked and we made the production without authorization and the designs became a “boom” because was worn by the king of pop! how about that?…

  14. chelle Toohey

    Its so true especially in the art world, that you just cant please everyone. I think Art is a very personal thing, so you can only hope that you can see and feel what you customer wants. I also believe we artists also fear rejection secretly with every piece we do, but I love the way you guys see the positive in all your issues. You rock!! keep living the DREAM :)

    1. mariabrophy

      Thanks, Bridget! Checked out your blog – loved the pictures of your daughter growing up, and the post about a beautiful day!


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