Don’t Let Criticism Get You Down

My heart sank when I read the email:

We’re very disappointed with the painting, it’s nothing like the quality of your other work, and we would like a refund.

This was around eight years ago, when I was still working in acrylics, and didn’t have much experience of portrait commissions.

The lady who sent the email had seen my portrait of Paul McCartney on my website.

Paul McCartney by Dan Johnson
Paul McCartney, Acrylics on canvas board. 2005

She complimented me on the portrait, and sent me an old black and white photo of her parents which she wanted me to paint in a similar style.

Looking back, I should have known that the painting would never turn out as good as my McCartney portrait.

The photo was overexposed, so there was very little contrast between the lights and darks, and I didn’t have enough experience to make adjustments to compensate for that.

So long story short, and all excuses aside, the finished painting wasn’t amazing, so I can’t say I was completely surprised when I received the email saying they wanted a refund.

Of course, I gave them a full refund (in exchange for them returning the painting – those large canvases aren’t cheap, you know!)

I tried to tell myself it didn’t bother me, but the truth is, nobody likes criticism, and that email was a bit of a knock to my confidence.

It took a good few months for me to even attempt another portrait, and it was years before I was confident enough to take commissions again.

What I learnt from that experience is that it’s important not to dwell on negative feedback.

If you do receive criticism, constructive or otherwise, try to be objective about it. Be honest with yourself about whether the criticism is justified, and if it reveals areas you need to work on, take that information and act on it.

Then move on.

Focus on the positive feedback and learn from the negative.

Even now, I can post a painting online, in a forum or social network, and receive dozens of likes and compliments, but as soon as one person has anything slightly critical to say, all those positive comments are briefly wiped out for me.

I’ve learnt not to dwell on them, but it definitely takes time.

I’m sure some of you have probably had similar experiences. Feel free to share your story in the comments, as well as any techniques you use to deal with criticism.






  1. Brett Avatar

    Hi, I just turned 40 this year and have been making digital concept art for decades, but this year I finally started to paint with acrylics, just wondering if digital art sells as well a canvas paintings, or if I be doing one medium over the other. Really enjoy your artwork!? Despite the negative comments, at the end of the day it’s not about a bad painting or two, but how much experience and knowledge you have as an artist that really counts. You mastered fundamentals and perspective, composition, values and color. That’s a good way to let clients know you know your stuff and will create a thousand painting to every one bad one. If you care to check or my site, in trying to earn an income now as an artist as I’m not working off Injured from work. I would really appreciate some feedback. My site is

    1. Dan Johnson Avatar

      Hey Brett. In my experience, it’s harder to sell digital art, as a lot of people still don’t really get what it is. It may just be a case of marketing it better though. Good luck!

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