I met a really nice couple during my very first open studio last year. They seemed really excited about my work and asked if I could do a pretty large painting commission for their home. I quoted them a price of $800 for the painting and they wrote me a check for $200 right there on the spot.
I was really excited because it was my first “real” commission outside of friends and family members, so I got right to work and ended up completing the painting early. But when I sent the couple an email including an image of the finished painting, I never got a reply. I’ve since tried to contact them on at least 10 occasions with no luck. At this point it’s obvious they’re not going to buy the painting. I’ve already gotten over my bruised ego, but now I have this huge painting taking up space in my tiny studio just sitting there collecting dust. What do I do with their down payment? And what do I do with the painting?
– painter, Berlin, GR
Hindsight is 20/20, so I’m sure by now you’ve figured out that you should have had some type of written agreement in place before you got to work on the painting. A contract isn’t just about making it “official”, it’s a way for the artist and the buyer to make sure they’re on the same page in terms of what is expected from each of them and when. And although I’m a hopeless total optimist, a good contract should also outline what will happen if either the buyer or artist doesn’t live up to their end of the bargain–which happens more frequently than you’d think.
As far as I’m concerned, doing business without contracts is about as wise as driving a car without insurance. Why risk it?
A year is pretty long time. I think you’ve been more than generous with giving the buyer time to work out a payment plan for the work or to at least respond to your e-mails. At this stage of the game I would write a very polite, but direct, letter stating that unless they forward a minimum payment of X number of dollars within the space of 30 days, you will assume they are no longer interested in purchasing the work and they will forfeit their down payment. Send it by registered mail which requires a delivery confirmation and signature. If you haven’t heard from them in within the 30 days, I would move on, and consider the situation settled. And by all means go about the task of trying to sell the painting if you can. There’s no reason to keep it hanging around your studio as a reminder. Perhaps selling it to another buyer will take some of the sting out of the situation. And at the very least you walk away with $200 to cover your expenses, not to mention a valuable learning experience.
Send your questions to Kesha:
Subject Line: Fresh Rx