Working with unhappy clients

October 26th, 2013

Let's say you find yourself in this situation. You're employed, and you like to draw and paint, you just like art in general. A person you don't really know asks you to make a portrait based on one of their photographs. You think about what you'll draw, and how you'll draw. You get your supplies ready, take the time. Give all you've got, and make a drawing you're pretty happy about. You add a few details to give it that last touch, and to make the portrait breathe. Happy and proud, you show the portrait to your client. Not expecting much, but you hope they'll like it.

It turns out your client is unhappy and finds that the person on your drawing doesn't really look like them.

What do you do?

Recently, I found myself in a similar situation. From my own perspective, I did all I could, and gave my best. I took the time, energy and supplies. But, my own impression of my work was completely different than my client's. The client thought the person on the portrait wasn't good, and the person on the drawing didn't look like them.

Besides my broken pride, and the need to have the client like at least something on the drawing, I was left surprised and confused. What do I do? I got various advice, from different sides. One of them was to thank the client, and say how sorry I was that they didn't get the expected result, but there's nothing more I could do. The other advice was to try again, with another portrait.

If you ever made anything for other people, be it a drawing, photo, design, clothes, jewelry, or something else, you know people can react in different ways. Some of them like everything you make, and couldn't be happier. Others like what you did, but have their complaints. Rarely, but it does happen, the client's completely disappointed.

I realized I could handle various types of complaints. Professionally, and in my spare time, I work as a designer. And if I make a design that the client doesn't like, that's ok. No problem, we'll try again. Sometimes the budget needs to be reviewed, sometimes not, it depends on the client and the initial agreement.
If the client is just indifferent, and the final product doesn't get a reaction, I have to decide to either try again, or to give up. The problem occurs when I believe I gave my best at that moment, and I just can't give more. That's when the client should find another designer.

Paintings and drawings are another story. Every time I take a pen or a brush in my hands, I feel I'm leaving a part of me on canvas or paper. A part of me breathes through the colors and shapes, a part of me is left on that paper, and never comes back. The rest of me is permanently changed with every painting or drawing experience. That's why every next painting will be a step forward, or a step back. But it will be different, it will be new, because I am different and new.
That's why, even though I know I shouldn't, I take reactions on my "art" personally, because it's a part of who I am. That's me on the paper, even if I paint still life, or another person. I speak through the medium. That's why the critique of my work is actually a critique of me.

And that's where things get really simple. Not everyone can like you. As a person, as an artist. Simply, because people are too different, tastes are different, and even though mistakes are completely normal, and can be corrected, not everyone will like you as a person.

That's why your art, whatever it is, won't be everyone's cup of tea.
And that's something you just can't control.

Of course, the answer could be to try again. But the result might be disappointing again.
This is the part where you yourself have to choose. You have to decide if it's worth it. Worth the trouble, the energy, the surrendering?

Every client is different. Some deserve a lot, they show that they understand and see that the final result depends on various factors.

But some just aren't worth it. They don't appreciate the effort, because all they want is a photographic projection of their own minds, even if the picture in their heads is blurry and unclear. You'll never be able to make those people happy.

The answer is, like I said, very simple.

In my own case, I still have to find it.