Top Ways Artists Anger Their Customers

Artists have a lot to manage when they offer their services for commissions: it’s not just about creating artwork. In terms of our relationship with our customers, we have to manage the project from concept to completion while working within their specifications. And often, that means communicating so we are all on the same page from before we accept payment and upto and beyond when they receive the final piece. As an artist and commissioner of other artists in the furry fandom, I’ve experienced a range of experiences from spectacularly good to downright awful. It doesn’t take much to turn a perfect experience into one that needs notable improvement. Thankfully many problems we face (from mistakes in the artwork to significant delays) can be prevented with a little customer service, future planning, and consideration for our own sanity.

Communication is a Two-way Street

Failing to communicate

“Well, it’s been a year… Did the artist know what I wanted drawn? Do they even remember that I had commissioned them? Are they still working on commissions? Are they dealing with life problems? I keep messaging them but they aren’t responding on any social media or to emails! I hope they’re okay but I’d like to know what’s going on so I don’t worry about– Wait WHAT?? they posted my completed commission two months ago on FA? How the heck was I supposed to know that!? And do they have my address? Who knows! I mean, if they couldn’t take a few minutes to run a sketch by me or tell me they posted my final piece, they probably have no idea which PayPal payment was mine anymore. Or maybe they don’t even care. Well, I’ll never commission them again and I’ll make sure my friends know what a terrible commission experience this was!”

No matter how long you’ve been working in the fandom, how good your artwork is, how reasonable your prices are, or how high your demand is, no customer should be left in the dark at any point between the time of payment and the time the art is delivered.

This is why it’s important for customers to research artists and for artists to research customers whenever possible. Ask for reviews from people that worked with the customer or artist in the past. You could do a search for bewares but note that bewares written with insufficient proof should be taken with a grain of salt. And also keep in mind that some artists learn from past mistakes to overcome the reputation of old bewares (if you made a mistake, wouldn’t you want to be given a chance at redemption?) Find an artist who cares about creating something that you both are proud of, someone who is relying on your patronage, prices their work in a way that helps meter their supply & demand, and communicates with their customers.

But sometimes, even the best communication can’t save you from getting hurt by scams, fraud, or customers unwilling to talk to you. If possible, artists should Google customers just to make sure they aren’t signing up to work for a person with a devastating chargeback history or reputation for stealing characters. Always leave enough money in your PayPal account in case of charge backs from angry customers or the occasional minor using their parent’s account without permission. It’s good policy to have a safety net so that you aren’t hurt financially.

Time flies by for customers when they entrust an artist with their money in exchange for custom artwork. I take that pledge of trust from all of my customers seriously; I never want anyone to feel worried about whether they’ll get artwork from me. I have a lot on my plate maintaining my business and life in general, so it is impossible for me to complete all my commissions as quickly as I did when I first started taking commissions. It helps me to establish realistic expectations by stating a pessimistic turnaround time when accepting commissions; I multiply my predicted optimistic turnaround time by 2 to 4 times so I have a little buffer room. It’s always better to exceed expectations when given the chance rather than make promises you can’t keep.

Once I have commission orders in hand, I aim to communicate on a weekly basis. I discuss person-to-person with the top 5 earliest customers as I focus my efforts on their commissions. I also manage a Telegram channel that cross-posts to Twitter with both brief and detailed updates to keep later commissioners in the loop on the queue ahead of them. For those without social media, I email or text as needed.

And of course, if it’s been a week or longer without word from your artist (especially when you never agreed to a due date), it’s okay to politely check on the artist. They may have forgotten to add you to their queue from the start, they may be having a hard time at home, or they may have simply forgotten to click send on the latest WIP message to you! It’s ideal for artists to keep customers in the loop but everyone should remember that we are human and humans make honest mistakes. And as an artist, you shouldn’t react negatively to a customer looking for an update after an extended period of silence.

But if you find yourself constantly prodded for updates by a commissioner, it could be one of a few issues that are all linked to communication and expectation:

  1. Either they have a poor concept of patience and delayed gratification (their issue),
  2. You never communicated how long your work takes from the start (your issue),
  3. You don’t have a public queue (your issue),
  4. They don’t look at your public queue when you have given them direct access (their issue),
  5. or you are late for an unrealistic deadline that you and your customer had agreed to (your issue.)

Consistent and realistic due dates posted on a public queue help to remind you (and your customers) who is due now, next, and later. Marking which commissions were paid for at what times can help ensure you serve those who were able to pay first before those who still owe a balance. Trello makes it easy for me to note when a commission is due, where I took the commission, whether it will be expedited for pick up and what con it will be picked up at, how much has been paid towards the balance, and checklists if more steps/components are involved than just completing the artwork (will a digital badge be finished and shipped, do they want a scan of their traditional artwork, did they order something else that they want shipped with it, etc.)

Making Assumptions

In an artist-customer relationship that lacks clear and concise communication, assumptions could be the downfall to either party. A customer may assume the best or the worst with the artist’s commission process. Likewise, an artist may make assumptions about elements of the art itself.

As an artist, making assumptions can ruin a 100% perfect commission and turn a happy customer into an upset one. If a reference sheet isn’t clear (in terms of colors, species, gender, etc), if you don’t know what the character’s preferences or interests are, if you are inspired to try something new that could be considered out of character for your customer (glitter, extreme expressions [“why does my 100% happy character look so angry??”], etc), consult with them first so you don’t offend your customer or make a mistake. You may feel uncomfortable to ask what might be a silly question but it’s better to know for sure than assume only to start the commission over from scratch!

And of course, I get some commissions where the information is clear but I lack knowledge or experience. I’m not well versed in a lot of fandoms that some of my customers are a part of (anime, video games, MLP, Steven Universe – don’t judge me! I’m busy! :P) so if I have a themed badge to draw, I’m hitting up google to locate similar typefaces, reference characters, and find props that would be relevant. If I’m drawing a new creature or species, I do the research so I can best represent my ability to try new things and draw them accurately on the first attempt.

Treat your customers [& yourself!] fairly

Working out-of-order

You go get fast food, you park your car, go inside and place your order inside since you see how busy the drive-thru looks tonight. You order, you pay, and you wait. Tens of cars zip by the window with their food in tow. Your time and money has been spent and all you have to show for it is a receipt and a grumbly tummy. Would you come back to this restaurant? Unless they comped your meal before you marched out the door, probably not. Communication could help if there’s a technical reason why this happened (maybe they needed to get supplies, a piece of technology is broken, etc.) But if negligence is to blame, all they can do is try to make it up to you long after you’ve started to feel forgotten and frustrated.

As an artist I know that taking more than 10 commissions at a time can be daunting if you let it. It can be easy to lose focus and chip away at more recently added commissions because you’re dreading some of the older ones. If focus on the task at hand is impossible beyond a certain amount of commissions, there’s nothing wrong with limiting your commission slots. Another way to help meter your queue is by never taking on more work than you are willing to refund in the case of sudden inability to complete the work on your queue. It would be best never to get to that point but it’s great to have a financial cushion in place to soften our fall if anything should happen.

Golden Rule Fail

Ideally, everyone should play nice. Treat others kindly and they’ll treat you kindly in return. It’s a basic premise and good policy. Try to maintain polite conversation as you gather details and get approvals on different stages of the commission process. If someone chooses to be rude or overstep their boundaries in this business relationship, be sure to politely remind them that you are operating a business and wish to keep communication professional.

If a customer is making it difficult for you to do your work, artists are well within their right to reject their commission. Be sure to establish in a terms of service document how you prefer to work with your customers. Make sure your customers read and agree to it. Then if they break it, they’re out.


Cheaper isn’t always better. In fact, it’s often worse for everyone (directly and indirectly.) For a lesser-known artist that has the ability to complete their work quickly, this can be the perfect situation for the artist and the customer. But as their demand increases, so should their prices. The less that an artist charges when their demand is high, the more overwhelmed the artist can get. When an artist is overwhelmed, they can’t possibly keep up with the work, can’t afford to pay bills or eat, and end up opening commissions to continue the vicious cycle. More often than not, a cost-vs-demand ratio that’s out of whack leads to upset customers and unhealthy artists. It has happened to friends of mine, artists I’ve commissioned, and I’ve done my best to fight this scenario in my business with regular price increases as my demand increases. As mentioned in some of my earlier blogs, price increases generally lead to better customer service (like quicker turnaround times, higher quality work, bonus perks, etc.) and proper customer service is the key to repeat customers and growing your business.

Know your limits & Quit while you’re ahead

Full-time art is not without its stressors; especially toward the start of building a business around your art. Some successful artists that manage an art business in the fandom also live with depression. But if you’re battling depression and it’s getting the best of you, a full-time art gig may not be what your mind needs. It can also be unfair to your clients, which could result in complaints to your face and bewares behind your back.

Angry customers are something everyone should try to avoid at all costs and most times can be avoided with simple, civil communication. Be honest and up front with your customers. No excuses. Just be apologetic and try to make it up to your customers. You lost their trust and it’s in your best interest to earn it back. Try to think how you’d feel in their situation: give your money to a stranger in exchange for goods/services, hear nothing for months, and only get excuses why the work hasn’t been done… wouldn’t you be angry at the artist too?

If the stress of a few customers is already too much to handle (to the point where turnaround time is slow and your customers are poking for updates), PLEASE — for the love of yourself and your customers — don’t add more to your queue! Adding more commissioners will only stress you out more, make you less interested in working, and hurt even more people than the ones who already straining their patience. It is like digging a hole deeper and deeper in an attempt to get out of it.

It’s important to remember that quitters can win; they just have to change the game. In a dire situation, it may be too late to raise your prices on future commissions. Instead, it could be time to try different sources of income (merchandise, a part-time job, or character adopts.) Whichever you choose, don’t forget to chip away at your current queue! Whether you refund everyone or do the work at a steady pace, you need to close open accounts as soon as possible to prevent more harassment, bewares, and a career-ruining bad reputation.

In closing

When it comes down to it, if you correlate your commission order input to match your output, adjust prices to meet demand, communicate with your customers, and plan for the unexpected you can ensure a strong business, happy life, and plenty of supportive customers for years to come!

If you found this post informative, feel free to share on social media!
If you have experience or suggestions to share, I would appreciate your comments below!

Much LORF!

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3 Responses to “Top Ways Artists Anger Their Customers

  • Ralston Parker
    3 months ago

    Hi. I need your advice. My wife and I commissioned an artist in Oct to do an oil painting of a photo we took of Positano, Italy. She said it would take 90 days. It’s been 5 months, and she says she still does not know when she’ll finish. The weekly updates show very little progress, and it would appear she is not spending much time on our painting each week. She demanded full payment of $2600 upfront. What can we do to make sure she is actually working at a fair pace?

    • I’m sorry to hear about the tedious process on this commission – I’m far too familiar with the stressful situation of eagerly awaiting an overdue piece and in a few cases I have waited multiple years for before receiving a refund. And I have even had to forfeit a commission (no refund) since pestering a creator (who was simultaneously apologetic but constantly leading me along with their executive dysfunction) was far more stressful than the concept of potential refund or completed work was worth for me. Truthfully, the past few years have taken a toll on artists managing mental-health and their time; each professional artist is different and handles these challenges differently… many fail to handle them well.

      Without knowing more details (size of the piece, level of detail, if the artist has other obligations, etc.), I can’t say for sure if the issue is based on an inexperienced artist undercharging for an overwhelming (large/complicated) piece and losing steam or some other conflicts with time, materials, or headspace. The best I can assess from what you’ve shared is that the artist has put themselves in a crunch by promising a completion date that outpaces their abilities; whether that means the time was far less than they needed [like if they have other obligations that take time away from working on your piece (other employment, medical/family issues, etc.)] or they are otherwise failing to be transparent about speed-bumps in the process [for instance, if they undercharged, they might not have sufficient funds for the oil paints and that’s holding back process or if they are working through a repetitive motion related injury that is getting worse from pushing themselves rather than resting.]

      The best that I can suggest at this point is to reach out to her and try to work together on setting a reasonably workable deadline. I don’t mean just tacking on a few more months – it’s not a matter of a cake needing a few more minutes in the oven to set. This artist is obviously struggling with the time given so far so now it’s time to actually work out what they actually need to get the job done and you will need to work with them to determine if they can realistically complete the piece at all. If you have worked out a reasonable agreement to move forward and the deadline is still not met and no progress has been made, you can pose an ultimatum for a partial refund based on the amount of completion thus far. (I personally never feel comfortable requesting a full refund on a partially completed commission, especially when time, effort, and materials have been committed to it. Also I have never commissioned an artist enough money to have it be a matter of my food/shelter/bills being compromised if I don’t get my money back. Regardless, it is well within your rights to demand it, if you so choose and if it is within the bounds of their Terms of Service. And on that note: if they didn’t have a terms of service for you to agree to before payment, that’s unfortunate for both you and the artist since that’s where an artist should help set the expectations for their clients in situations like this.)

      I assume the best in creatives and I assume that your artist means well. I especially take sympathy on artists who are dealing with ADHD causing executive dysfunction, Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.), or repetitive motion injuries (things I have dealt with and still do my best to manage currently) but at a certain point, they are supposed to be operating a goods/services business and need to manage their time, their efforts, and customers’ expectations. If you have been accommodating and worked with them to make a deadline but they’re showing that they are unable/unwilling to progress with the work or issue a refund, your situation could be reduced to squeezing blood from a stone; you can poke and inquire with an artist all you want but if they’re experiencing financial strain or mental limitations, pushing may not ever result in a refund or completed painting. If you’ve done everything in your power to be patient and communicative with them and even if you send more funds for materials, you may be able to take action on your end. If you paid with credit or PayPal, you may be able to conduct a chargeback or involve the bank in forcing a refund. [I am always torn by the idea of a forced refund. Many inexperienced artists mean well but don’t have the financial security and end up being hurt more by this sort of forced refund. However it’s not fair for a commissioner’s payment to be used as income without that artist completing the work to earn that income; it’s a business, not a charity.] However if you paid in cash, you are going to have to work patiently with them to come to an agreement.

      Again, I am sorry that you are having to deal with this. I am hoping that all is well with you and your artist. I hope that by reaching out to her and calmly working together on a new mutually acceptable deadline (and if necessary, determining what else might be necessary for her to complete the work), hopefully the commission can finally be completed! Best of luck to you and hopefully you will be able to share a positive update on this situation in the spring!

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