December 18, 2020

Annadidathing’s Three Rules for Setting Professional Boundaries as An Artist

by joeyphoenix

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By Anna Dugan of Annadidathing
All images courtesy of the artist

Setting boundaries and learning when to say no is such a difficult thing to do. I’m still practicing it, but I’ve found a few things very helpful in this process:

1. Expectation Setting

Getting on the same page before starting a project is huge. Being up front about your expectations (for scale, payment, timeline, etc.) and asking for clear expectations from clients/collaborators allows everyone involved to step comfortably into a project without having to fill in blanks or misinterpret things.

It helps minimize the potential for disappointment or resentment on either end. So if a client asks for more, I can comfortably say no because it’s not what we discussed and it’s not the expectations that we agreed upon.

2. Honest Self Check-ins.

I try to really check in with myself regularly to gauge how much work I can take on in coming weeks. Is my mental health in a good place? What does my workload look like? When was the last time I took a break? Am I enjoying the work I am doing?

Asking these questions helps me set boundaries with clients or say no, because I know WHY I need to say no. I’ve told clients before “thank you for reaching out about this, but I am taking a short mental health break so I can recharge. I would not be able to fulfill this project within the proposed deadline and don’t want to take on a project I know I cannot achieve. Here are some other great artists I can refer you to…”

When I know why I need to say no, it helps me clearly and honestly set the boundary I need.

3. Reminding myself that not every project/client is the right fit.

As much as I’d love to do every single job that comes my way, it’s not sustainable. Whether it’s budgetary reasons, deadlines, vision, or just overall vibes – it is better for everyone to say no if things aren’t the right fit.

There’s such a large circle of artists on the north shore that I can refer people to who might be a better fit. I see it as a disservice if I try to fit myself (a square peg) into a round hole (the wrong client/project) because in the end it’s unlikely that both sides will leave happy.

Editor’s Note: Professional boundary setting is such a fundamental part of being an artist. If you have tips or stories you’d like to share about your process in setting professional boundaries, we’d love to hear about them in the comments!

Anna Dugan of Annadidathing is a first generation Filipinx American artist based in Salem, MA with a BFA from the University of Massachusetts, Lowell. Anna paints murals, create chalk art, and design digital work that often incorporates her illustrations. Her favorite kind of work to create is public art that engages communities & creates healthy dialogue that challenges the viewer to learn, reflect, or act. Learn more at or follow on FB or IG @annadidathing