Update: Someone recently requested I paint something, and I said that I'm short on time.

It was really painless

Thank you guys!

I paint to relax.

During the office lunch break, I paint in my cubicle.

Now, I wish to be more outgoing and was advised to paint in the office mess during lunch break. Lots of people admire my artwork and I feel it is easy to talk to people this way. One person asked if I could paint a portrait of his son, and not knowing what to say, I agreed.

Luckily this person never followed up on his request.

My question is: how do I politely decline to paint things for other people without causing any ripples to inter-office relationships? I only paint certain subjects (relating to the Indian subcontinent), plus I only get a few hours a week to paint, and it is a pressure release for me.


6 Answers 6


If someone ask you to do a painting for them it should be taken as a compliment - they obviously admire your work. So first, take it as a compliment.

However if you don't want to do such a painting, you should be honest with them as to why. To me it sounds like a few reasons:

I only paint certain subjects...I only get few hours a week to paint, and it is a pressure-release for me.

The reason I suggest being honest about it is so that the question won't come up again - hoping they have forgotten about something is going to cause you stress everytime they see you painting - you will wonder if they will bring it up again.

In the future I'd say something like this (of course phrase it how it is comfortable for you):

I'm really honored that you would ask me to do that - thank you. Unfortunately, I don't have a lot of time to paint outside of breaks at work. I do thank you for asking me, but I don't think that is something I could commit to doing.

This shows that you accept the implied compliment, but gives a concrete 'No' with specifics as to why you don't want to do it. If you try to be fuzzy or evasive or say yes and hope they will forget, it will cause you far more conflict than explaining why you don't want to do it.

Hope that helps.

  • 3
    Great answer. I'd personally drop the part about the requirements of the painting-subject, or it may accidentally invite them to try to meet that requirement ("Oh, no problem, you could paint my son in India or wearing Indian clothes!"), or to offer unsolicited advice ("You should broaden out your range of subjects rather than limiting yourself to one continent."). The other part of the answer is excellent, and much better than I would've come up with; I can't see anyone getting offended by ("I don't have alot of time to paint outside of work-breaks, and I do it to release pressure.")
    – Jamin Grey
    Commented Feb 26, 2018 at 18:48
  • @JaminGrey That is true Commented Feb 26, 2018 at 23:17
  • Makes sense - I've edited this in my original answer. Commented Feb 26, 2018 at 23:53

I've seen this response online: "Sorry, but I'm not accepting commissions right now. " you can give reasons if you want, but it has been my experience that reasons only invite debate. You can add a "thanks" to this to show appreciation.


You can focus on why you paint:

Oh, I mainly paint at lunch time as a change from my work; I don't really do this as a major hobby.

Your coworker probably doesn't plan to bring his son to the office, so this should deflect the request on logistical grounds. But if not, here's an approach I've used:

I'm sorry, but I'm not good at portraits. Learning (type of painting you do) keeps me plenty busy already.

It's possible that the person doesn't intend to ask for a favor and wants to pay you. Doing business with coworkers can be a little risky (if anything goes wrong on one front it affects the other), and if you aren't already in business then having the money conversation can be awkward, especially when you're talking about a piece rather than an amount of time. (I'm a musician, so when asked if I could play at parties I could at least talk in terms of what I charged per hour. That's harder for a painting.) If this is your situation, you can say that you prefer not to work for coworkers.

Finally, I have a suggestion that goes beyond what you asked about. You're doing these paintings at the workplace during your off time, and you're intentionally doing them in public for social reasons. There are a couple ways that you can involve other people so that they'll feel like you (at least partially) painted for them, without taking on commissions that you don't want to do.

One approach is: if somebody admires a piece you're working on, offer to let him take it to hang in his cubicle. By specifying in his cubicle you're implicitly saying "I'd like this to stay here at work", but you're still sharing your work. If you don't care about where it ends up -- if you're painting to paint rather than to have paintings, then you could just offer to give it to him. (I'm assuming here paintings that are faster works, not something you work on every day for weeks before finishing it.)

The other approach is to involve people in the decisions you're making as you paint. If people are around and seem interested, you could say "hmm, should I brighten this part up?" or "I was thinking of putting a tree here" or "I'm not sure which color to use for this woman's sari" -- and then ask "what do you think?". Even if you don't need advice, inviting input and acting on it can build that sense of connection that led you to paint in public in the first place.

  • This is good, esp offering to hang in their cubicle. Commented Feb 26, 2018 at 23:19

If you find it too hard saying "no", you could always respond with something like

Sure, let me send you an email with my rates, and we can talk about the price.

That's probably enough to scare most people off, since they're probably looking for something for free, but if they persist, feel free to quote them ridiculously high rates. If they still want it done, at least you'll make a pretty penny doing it!

  • This is good, especially if person likes things for free. Commented Feb 26, 2018 at 23:18
  • 100 times this! I paint Warhammer miniatures and have a ridiculous backlog... I'll certainly paint a miniature for you if the price is right, but you could find someone twice as good who'll do the job for half the price I'd charge. I paint to relax, if I do it as a job it stops being relaxing!
    – aslum
    Commented Apr 6, 2018 at 17:19

I feel like you don't need to over-complicate anything here.

I have a friend who has been in the same boat several times (and even tried doing commissions for a while, but decided she hated it) and has found that the best response is just casually replying with something like the following:

"I appreciate that you like my style that much, but I only paint as a stress reliever and I don't want it to ever feel like another job, so I don't do commissions. Hope you understand, and again, thank you for the consideration."

This approach thanks them for considering your artwork good enough to have a place in their home, but lets them know casually that you just don't do commissions - for anyone, of any subject, for any cost. It's not because you're not close friends, it's not because they didn't ask you to paint something you don't normally paint, and it's not because they won't pay enough - which means that they can't try to negotiate an arrangement to meet any of these criteria to change your mind.


As a person who paints for fun (I paint miniatures for games like Warhammer) I've run into basically the same situation, someone asking to have something painted for them, often implying that free is the price they're looking for. I've found the easiest way to deal with this is to be upfront and honest.

"I paint as a way to relax, and I have quite a few personal projects I'm working on. If you'd really like me to paint something for you I'd be willing to do it, but I'll be honest, I'd charge you quite a bit more than it's worth to bump your commission ahead of all of my stuff. I'm sure you can understand that if I'm painting for you it becomes less a hobby for the sake of the hobby and more like a job, and in some ways that can take a bit of the fun out of it... plus if I'm doing work for someone else I'm more worried about doing a quality job than I might be for my own projects."

If they still want you to do it, figure out a price where it would make it worth your time to do, and then double that price.

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