What Would You Do? The Client Who Won’t Finish Paying

I received the following email from an artist:

[Last] year, a collector came to my studio and chose two paintings. The smaller work was priced at approx. $1100, the other $1300. He paid me a deposit of $1200 and took the smaller of the works, telling me that next month he would drop over, pay the second half and pick up painting #2. That didn’t happen. Since that time I’ve emailed and FB messaged him multiple time (probably once every couple weeks) and he either doesn’t respond or says that his schedule is crazy (he does have a high-powered downtown LA job). He always apologizes and is very friendly in his correspondence.

The bottom line is that I’m getting impatient and a little grumpy about this—not that I would ever let him sense this. I’d like the painting on his wall and the money in my bank! Of course, I don’t want to turn him off. But, on the other hand, he doesn’t seem reliable. Should I give him a gentle ultimatum? Ask him if he’s still interested in the other painting and, if not, send him a refund for the difference? I’ve offered to deliver the work to him and never got a response. What would you do?

My response:

I completely understand how frustrating this situation is. While I haven’t had the exact situation, I have had experience waiting patiently for payment. Fortunately it sounds like the way it was set up you were never at risk of not being paid for artwork the client has, which was very smart on your part.

I wouldn’t give up quite yet. Do you happen to use Square payments, or PayPal or similar? I ask, because I might try sending an email where I say something along the lines of, “I know how busy things get, but I just started using a new payment system that should make things easier. I’m sending you an invoice for the second piece using Square (or PayPal) that you can pay right from your computer. Once the payment is taken care of, we can arrange for delivery of the piece at your convenience.” You’ll want to adapt this to fit with the other conversations you’ve had, but this should give you a template to work from. I would hope to have the client see this as you providing additional convenience and service, rather than nagging.

Send a photo of the piece with your email to remind him again of the artwork.

I hope that helps, but let me know if you have further questions or concerns. I would love to hear how this turns out.

The artist responded several weeks later:

To update you on reaching my unresponsive collector, three weeks ago I emailed him exactly as you suggested, rewording the message to suit our previous correspondence. As of today, nothing. No response at all. My instinct is to message/email him more-or-less these words…Unless I hear from him in the next few days I’m going to assume that you are no longer interested in the painting, and I will return it into my collection of works that are currently for sale.

Is this the best next course of action?

My response:

You’ve definitely gone above and beyond in terms of giving him opportunities to follow through. I would word it along these lines:

I know how crazy things can get and we’ve had a hard time connecting. I also understand that sometimes circumstances will change and a piece will no longer fit into previous plans. If you are still interested in the artwork, I would love to make arrangements to deliver it to you. If I haven’t heard from you by the end of the week, I’ll assume that I can make the piece available to my other clients.

In other words, I’m not angry, and I don’t blame the client. By using passive voice, I hope to soften out any harsh edges to the ultimatum. You’ll want to use your own words and make the communication feel natural, but you can see what I’m trying to say by wording it this way. My hope is to keep the door open so that if the client ever does show up again in the future there’s nothing awkward about the situation.

The final email from the artist about the resolution of the situation

So what do you know?!?! Fifteen minutes after I emailed my client he emailed back. He has been in the process of moving and had some “unexpected financial pressures.” But he wants to revisit me in about 6 months because he would “like to continue collecting [my] works.”

Your friendly and passive response had the desired effect. I’ve retained a collector and can put a wonderful painting back up for sale at a busy time of year for me. What a huge relief!

While it remains to be seen if the client will in fact return to make future purchases, it’s always best to maintain professionalism and to try to handle these situations with diplomacy.

Have you Run Into a Similar Situation Where a Client Failed to Pay?

Has this kind of thing ever happened to you? How did you respond? What do you think of the approach I suggested to this artist? Do you have any other ideas that might help in a situation of this sort? Please share your experiences and comments in the comments below.




About the Author: Jason Horejs

Jason Horejs is the Owner of Xanadu Gallery, author of best selling books "Starving" to Successful & How to Sell Art , publisher of reddotblog.com, and founder of the Art Business Academy. Jason has helped thousands of artists prepare themselves to more effectively market their work, build relationships with galleries and collectors, and turn their artistic passion into a viable business.


  1. In the early ’80s and early in my art career, the only client who did not pay was a gallery. I live in Ontario Can. and the gallery was in Alberta Can, halfway across the country At the time it was too far to travel for 4 reproductions and too expensive to send a collection agency. I let it go. I would not be so lenient today as a gentle nudge and reminder is a good way to solve the problem. It has only happened once.

  2. I think what is effectively a $100 (8%) deposit is too low, especially since you held it for a year. A deposit should have a timeframe associated with it (e.g., 3 months), with a written expiration date after which the deposit will be forfeited and the work returned for sale. Or you could return the deposit (although the work has been out of circulation). Having a policy in writing when you take the deposit makes it clear, avoids the back-and-forth, and should motivate a buyer to complete the transaction or offer additional down if he needs to delay. You can send an email 2-weeks before the expiration date as a reminder that it is coming up.

  3. This has happened only once. I had received only a third of the price on layaway, but after a couple of reminder phone calls the client told me she couldn’t continue making payments for financial reasons. I told her I would put the work back on the market and, when she was ready, if it hadn’t sold, she could complete the payments. A year later, it hadn’t sold, and she completed the payments on time and we were both happy.

  4. 😀👍🏾🙁👎🏼 who hasn’t?

    . . . And it always seems like it’s the people with money who stiff me. An (ex)friend of mine wanted one of my riverboat on a coffee-painted Mississippi River pieces so I said I’d trade her one for a home-made cherry pie. The painting hangs on her wall. I never got the pie . . . 🤷‍♂️

  5. Jason, you helped this artist tremendously with the examples of how to communicate objectively. We can all take away a good lesson here.

    I have only had one incident of a young couple wanting a faith-based painting and not paying for it. When I gently inquired as to not hearing from them and found out what they were going through, I gifted them the painting as a way of providing hope in a very dark time in their lives. They told their entire church what had transpired (unbeknownst to me) and suddenly I had more clients.

    It’s not always about the money, which is what your advice shows. It’s about retaining the relationship. Thank you for leading by example.

  6. These are standard situations. our policy was 2 phone calls and a written note. after that we sold the piece. Begging turns clients off, just set the conditions.
    Another approach to non payers was performed by a mother/daughter team. they would drive right across the country if need be to repossess a piece of art personally. they took no guff from clients. most returned to buy more but knew the rules of the game. this was usually in amounts over 5000 however. smaller amounts clients payed in full, no holds, no layaways and you take the piece now.

  7. This happened to me with a fine craft gallery, back in the 70s. At that time the gallery was several hours away from me. I ended up driving to the gallery, removing my remaining pieces, and taking payment in merchandise. Unfortunately, that was a time in my life I really needed the money. Still, I felt somewhat glad I hadn’t been totally out of pocket.

  8. Yes, I had a situation where the clent said she wanted a particular painting (she had already purchased 3 prior) band i had made arrangements to have her pick it up during the time I wasn’t at my Cape studio. She didn’t show up for over 6 months so I finally emailed her to see if she still wanted it. She was absolutely shure she wanted it. However another 3 moths went by and I gathered she had changed her mind. But lo and behold, she turned up and she not only purchased this painting but one more. She thanked me profusely for not “giving up” on her, as she had had several major problems she had had to contend with during that time. Your advice, Jason, was excellent to this artist. I’m happy it all worked out for him.

  9. A dentist came to one of my shows and told me he loved my work. Over visits the next three years My dentist loved my work, came to my shows. He asked me to paint a picture of him and his wife playing tennis at their favorite resort. I painted two 11” x 8”1/2” samples (In two color schemes.)
    He picks one, signed the contract I had with me and said he forgot his check book. He forgot his check book for two years as I kept working on the 40” x 60” (2 40” x 36” canvases) and sending him updates. Had a couple of check-up. .then started calling.. .the work was finished.
    The last time I went in, I said I had called and left him four messages.. He said “I thought it was only 3!
    I never went back but took the work to my gallery where it sits in prime space! The owner loves it,
    P.S. The unna,Ed doc is one of our “Top Docs”.

  10. At an art show a number of years ago, I sold a print to a woman who paid with a credit card. That evening when I called in my credit slips, hers was declined. I called her immediately, and she said she was sorry, but that she had given me the “wrong” credit card, and said she would send me a check.

    The check bounced.

    So I called her again, but she wasn’t answering her phone. I then sent her a letter giving her the option of paying over 3 months. Then I heard nothing from her and my phone calls were unanswered. So I finally gave up and took the loss.

    Several months later I received the picture back with a note of apology explaining she had no way to pay for it. Since she didn’t know how to properly wrap it, the mat was damaged. But it wasn’t hard to change the mat and I was grateful that I got the picture back. I also felt so sorry for her and would probably have given her the print had she told me the truth about her problems.

  11. My idea below stems from something I’m sure Jason has talked about either here or in one of his books.

    If the client is certain he wants both paintings, instead of him taking only one painting home, let him have BOTH!

    “How about you take both paintings home and just pay for the first painting now. After 30 days, I’ll charge the remaining balance* on your card, saving you an extra trip. That way you can live with both paintings and find just the right place to display them in your home.”

    *An alternative would be to offer payment terms. For example, two equal payments on the balance, one after 30 days, and the final payment 30 days after that. You have reduced potential financial pressure on the buyer and shown unexpected generosity and trust while still ensuring you will be paid your negotiated price.

  12. I’ve created two paintings on commission without any prepayment as the order came via an acquaintance. Honestly, before confirming taking the order I had my doubts as the paintings were for an erotic massage studio. I was not sure I want my art to be at that place – it’s like giving your energy to the specific place. The paintings were of a larger size than I create normally, so it was a good experience for me for practice.
    When the work was ready we agreed twice that the paintings will be picked up – the first time the guy called me 10min before the time agreed saying he is stuck in traffic and would not manage; the 2nd time he just has not reacted on my messages.
    I didn’t contact him again to check whether he needs my paintings. I’ve talked to the acquaintance who brought me that order – the acquaintance was not in contact with the buyer any more.
    I’ve decided that as I felt uneasy creating the paintings for that specific place, they are not meant to be there. I liked my work and although I don’t have an immediate buyer, fortunately as I don’t depend on sale of my art, I can just wait for the right moment and right buyer coming.
    I do believe that especially in respect of art where your work is an expression of your inner, the seller-buyer relationship should be with gratitude and satisfaction from both sides. Then the energy exchange goes the right way.

  13. This happened to me twice just in the past year. Two small paintings were seen at a show, several emails went around about the purchase. After a month or so and no check arrived, I sent a Square invoice, received payment within hours, shipped the work and received a complimentary email back. Everyone was happy. I simply concluded that people are busy.

    In the other incident, all the above happened, except I just never heard back from the customer. After a month or so, I just assumed they had changed their mind and were uncomfortable telling me. I put the painting back into active inventory so I could just move on. Things happen, I was ok with it all.

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