Updated date:

Why Artists Need to Set Boundaries

Denise has been studying and teaching art and painting for 40+ years. She has won numerous prestigious awards for her art and design.

why-artists-need-to-set-boundaries

Professional Artists

Professional artists have a different working mode than other professions. I would dare say that writers and musicians are also artists in this respect. Because we typically are at home doing our chosen craft, people tend to think we are available for any and all interruptions. Early in my freelancing career, I discovered that boundaries are necessary to my life and my mental health.

I really believe that everyone has a talent, ability, or skill that he can mine to support himself and to succeed in life.

— Dean Koontz

My own kids are grown now.

My own kids are grown now.

Saying No

At first, it was a few friends and even family who thought I would be available to babysit or stay on the phone and chat for long periods of time. Saying no to these dear friends was so very difficult at first, I found myself staying up late at night completing artwork tasks that I should have been able to do during the day. It didn’t take long before I realized that my art is my job and even though I’m at home, I’m at work for a certain number of hours. I had to mute the phone, take it off the ringer, and refuse to answer the door during “business hours.” Sure, those hours I set for myself, but they were still my business hours. I love being a freelance artist because it means I can set my own hours, sleep in if I like, or get up early and finish for the day before noon if I like. This is one of the reasons I have pursued art as a career. But it doesn’t mean I can “be here” for every beck and call.

Me up on scaffolding by the freeway.

Me up on scaffolding by the freeway.

Refusing Clients

Later, I realized that the “say no” boundary could be extended to clients I either didn’t want to work with or who had projects that weren’t suited to my art or technique. It was hard at first, and it went against my grain, but I began to feel freer to just say no. In the beginning, when I was struggling (as if we are not always struggling) I felt compelled to accept any and all projects even if I didn’t feel equal to them. I found myself on 30-foot-high scaffolding painting billboards by the side of a freeway, or on ladders painting murals on people’s walls. Now I have little problems with saying no to projects that would be too taxing physically or those I just don’t want to tackle. The days are gone where I will be comfortable climbing scaffolding and painting a billboard or the side of a building. I will leave that to the younger artists.

I also decided to refuse to work for clients who do not respect my work and time with proper compensation. I’m not a monkey and refuse to work for peanuts. When I was younger, I did a lot of those peanut jobs but not anymore. It is an insult to offer $20 for a job that will take longer than 3 hours. That works out to less than minimum wage. So, when I’m presented with a project that I know will take me several months to complete, I shouldn’t feel embarrassed to ask for $5 to $10 thousand for the project. It is hard to spit out those large numbers, but I now know myself and my time constraints better than the client. Those are things I need to be able to spell out verbally in the contract and if that is beyond their budget, they need to look for a monkey willing to work for peanuts and bananas.

My drawing just for me, for practice.

My drawing just for me, for practice.

You might not make it to the top, but if you are doing what you love, there is much more happiness there than being rich or famous.

— Tony Hawk

Video Call

These days of Covid, video calls are much more common than they used to be. Some random clients want to negotiate an illustration job on a video call. I don’t feel comfortable doing that and will refuse the project if that is a prerequisite. I don’t mind video conferences when there is a group of art directors and others who need to have input into the final illustration process. Those conference calls are understandable, but not with a single party who could just as easily describe the project through email. You see, it is much harder for me to turn down a client on a video call, face to face, if the compensation is too low or they want a rush job. I refuse to put myself into the position of not being able to say no if I need to. And I refuse to be intimidated for feeling that way about it.

Doing My Own Work

Client work is fine and lovely, but all artists should spend time just doing projects that float their own boat. If you never make the time to do art for yourself and your own edification, you will soon burn out and hate what you do. Turning down client work so that you have a little time for your own work is healthy and will pay in the long run. What good would it do if you accept all the work that comes down the road and suffer burnout so that you give up art altogether?

To send light into the darkness of men’s hearts – such is the duty of the artist.

— Robert Schumann

My photo reference for The Neighbor Girl

My photo reference for The Neighbor Girl

Canceling a Project

I find it very hard to cancel a project even when it is going badly. I feel a false sense of duty to complete what I start. I think it goes back to the fact that artists are typically flakes and procrastinators. It has taken many years to fight that urge to put off till tomorrow. Over time, I’ve developed in myself motivation and urgency to be the best and complete what I said I would. Yet, I have come across projects that needed to be scrapped early on. Usually, they are my own projects for fun and wouldn’t hurt anything but my own pride to give up and work on something else. I can’t begin to calculate the number of hours I have wasted finishing some piece of art that will never see the light of day because it turned out badly. From time to time a piece of client work will go wrong too. I have learned to spot major problems and start over if I can, to catch fatal errors. That boundary is one that must be worked on regularly. I now have a number of unfinished pieces of art behind the bedroom door that started fine in concept but lost appeal and so I stopped. Recently I found one piece that I started and stopped because something was “off” only to discover with fresh eyes that I had drawn the little girl’s mouth and nose a little off-center and once I fixed the drawing, I was able to finish the piece. It turned out lovely too. Sometimes putting something away and coming back later will make an error more apparent.

The Neighbor Girl collage looks good once I fixed the nose and mouth.

The Neighbor Girl collage looks good once I fixed the nose and mouth.

Final Thoughts

Do you have boundaries for your craft? Do you let yourself be sucked into something you should have said “NO” to? I’d love to read your thoughts and ideas in the comments below.

Comments

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on July 08, 2021:

Abby Slutsky,

You really know what I mean then. I'm glad people are beginning to get the concept, although I wish it hadn't taken a pandemic to do it. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on July 08, 2021:

From Abby Slutsky,

This was a good article. I remember when I was copywriting regularly when my children were in school. My mother did not understand the word deadline, but when my brother could not help her, she would always say, "Well, he works." I think Covid has helped make people realize that your work is not less important if you do it from the house.

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on July 06, 2021:

Readmikenow,

I like being different and unusual, but you are right, many people just don't understand that it is a job I'm doing even if it is at home. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Readmikenow on July 06, 2021:

Excellent article. I had similar experiences when I started freelancing. My neighbors still think since I'm home my place is a good place to have packages delivered. It can get a bit annoying during the Christmas season. I remember at first taking any job that came my way no matter what, now I'm able to choose my projects. Thanks for writing this article. I think many people don't realize what it is like to work from home.

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on July 05, 2021:

Mary Norton,

It's good to know yourself. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on July 05, 2021:

I'm glad for you, Denise. It is important to be clear about your own boundaries. Most of my art are for friends not for sale because I know myself. I can't say NO.

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on July 04, 2021:

Peggy Woods,

It is a trial and error type of learning or the very wide School of Experience. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on July 04, 2021:

Devika Primić,

I think writing and music are arts too and many people in those fields have the same problem with people wanting them to be available just because they are home. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on July 04, 2021:

BRENDA ARLEDGE,

I'm glad to be of service. I learned this the hard way and I needed to put it out there. I wish you luck in setting your own boundaries. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on July 04, 2021:

John Hansen,

I'm so glad to find you agree with my video call aversion. I know I'm a bit shy and reserved but it's more than that on the video calls. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on July 04, 2021:

Chitrangada Sharan,

I'm glad you agree but the people I want to convey this message to will probably never read this. Some people just don't want to get the concept of respect. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on July 02, 2021:

Thanks for sharing what you have learned over the years with regard to setting boundaries. It is a hard thing to learn, but very useful.

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on July 02, 2021:

Denise you shared most of what I have no idea of about art. An art project works well if you focus on what you want to do. Your experience is endless and sharing such information provides us with a better knowledge of the subject.

BRENDA ARLEDGE from Washington Court House on July 01, 2021:

Denise

You've hit the nail on the head!

For some reason people do this to me all the time.

It's like my writing isn't that important..after all, I'm home.

I try to be nice about it, but it gets nerve wracking.

There are times I have no choice because it is a necessity, but more often than not it's someone who thinks that just because I'm home...I'm available.

I end up doing alot of work during hours I really want to be doing something else.

Thanks for this article. It's time I start saying a clear No.

John Hansen from Gondwana Land on July 01, 2021:

You share some great insights here, Denise, and I think most artists (of all types) can relate.

I totally agree with the need to take time to do projects just for yourself, as opposed to always for clients. I also had trouble saying "no" to clients and often accepted jobs that just didn't feel right. I am much better now, but like you, I won't agree to a video call with any client. If they can't tell me via a message or email they can find someone else,

Thanks for writing this. Blessings.

Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on July 01, 2021:

Well made points about setting boundaries, for any kind of work, related to art! People have the misconception, that it's easy! But, any kind of creative work needs focus, and should be respected, as any other profession!

I am in agreement with your thoughts!

Thank you for sharing this valuable article!

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on July 01, 2021:

Rosina S Khan,

I go off to my "other world" whenever the muse hits me and it could be anytime day or night, but gratefully my husband lets me have my privacy for that. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on July 01, 2021:

Alyssa,

Thank you for the compliment. I'm glad you agree with my reasons for being job-like with my art time. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on July 01, 2021:

Bill Holland,

Perfectly understandable. I wish I had taken this stand many years ago instead of allowing myself to be distracted and misdirected by some sense of family or friendly devotion. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on July 01, 2021:

Pamela Oglesby,

Very true. You need to focus just like any other job. I'm sorry you aren't doing your stained glass anymore. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Rosina S Khan on July 01, 2021:

When I am into writing drafts of articles, I absolutely don't let my family bother me. I also switch off my phone and don't attend to the calling bell of our home. I let my family know I am busy and will be over with it in 2-3 hours or so. My family has taken it for granted by now and don't disturb me when I am deep into thinking and plotting my characters and finding good, satisfying images to go with my writing.

So that's it. I do believe saying no to people during my busy hours really helps. Thank you, Denise, for this wonderfully advice-rich article.

Alyssa from Ohio on July 01, 2021:

This is such an important topic and you've provided a lot of wisdom! It can be hard to say no and set boundaries, but once you do, there's a sense of freedom and it certainly allows you to be more productive. On a side note, your art is beautiful!

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on July 01, 2021:

I've written about this before...same take as you...I set my writing hours. I'm not to be disrupted or bothered during those hours. If someone calls, I don't answer. If someone comes to the door, it better be someone I want to see badly. That's just the real of it, and it's too bad if people don't understand. Writing is my part-time job and my passion, and my time writing is precious to me. Period, end of rant.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on July 01, 2021:

I don't really have a craft anymore. I use to make stained glass art, but I can't do that any more due to the fumes and lung disease were absolutely appropriate.

You have to focus when creating art, and you cam't answer the phone every few minutes or you get nothing done. This is a good article about your issues and your art, Denise.

Related Articles