Artwork by Monica Gunderson

Artist Thoughts

Being a Professional Woman Artist

December 04, 2015 at 6:00 PM

Being a Professional Woman Artist

How to Deal with Pompous People

I admit it, I am weird, beyond weird and have been treated like the black sheep, the weirdo, the outcast, but deep down I am just a creative person with love to give and am very passionate about my business. Yep, I own my own business, and am artist. Being professional women in this world can already be interesting, and sometimes even downright difficult, especially since my business is my art. Is it interesting or difficult because I have to be on top of my business game? Is it difficult because I get artist block or run out of paint? Is it difficult because I struggle to make ends meet? Is it difficult because I have chronic back pain that I have to manage every day? Even though these situations can cause a "bump in the road", what is difficult about being a professional artist and a woman is that some people, especially men, don't take me seriously, or they act like I am some bubble headed girl that just wants to be an artist and cheat "working" and am diving head first into a magical rainbow dream of paint brushes, rainbow paint, and happy trees.  


Well, excuse me sir, let me get this straight. I have been creating art since I was a child and have been very passionate about my artwork since I was young. I did not care what my teachers told me that I should do or could not do. If they tried to convince me that I was going to be a fireman, doctor, or a cook I would stand tall and adamantly tell them, "no, I am going to be an artist when I grow up". I worked hard, I drew, paint, and studied art every day, in fact a lot of the times you would find me in the library reading about the great artists of our time, studying and reading about art history since I was in middle school. I still remember to this day reading books about Michelangelo, and was fascinated about the details of his work, especially that he would dissect human bodies to find out how they worked so he could draw them better. I remember looking at those pictures, and people would look at me strangely (almost horrified) and twitter behind my back, "Oh that girl is looking at naked and dissected bodies, how gory!" Whatever, I did not care I wanted to learn more about the history of art, and artists dissecting bodies was part of that. What am I to do, just study the art of fluffy clouds, rainbows, and unicorns because I am a woman? I think not!


Once I started college, I had decided to focus in majoring in business and speech communications. Not because I was giving up on my art, but because I wanted to be professional when I finally took those steps of treating my art as a business.  However, I did not just take business and speech communication classes; I also took art classes too. Actually, I am one class away from getting my art degree, but just have not had the time to go back and finish.  Oh, you may scoff and say, "Oh you didn't finish...." No I finished, and graduated from college with two, TWO degrees. Count them; one, two. Because of those degrees I have learned how to conduct business, do my own accounting, write contracts, have confidence in public speaking, and to treat my art as a business. So not only am I knowledgeable about art, but I also understand how to run a business. So please sir, with your pompous pompadour waving around while you try and nag and act like I am some dumb girl, know me before you start flapping your lips. Heck, you should treat everyone with the same respect instead of treating women like the only thing she is good for is to fetch your coffee and lunch. It is no longer the 1950's sir, women can vote, go to college, join the military, serve on the jury, apply for a credit card, get health coverage for reproductive health choices, and yes women can also be professionals in the workforce. Sorry sir, but it is the year 2015. If you want coffee, make it your damn self!


So what is a professional woman artist to do when some pompous person starts acting like you're some small child or a bobble headed girl with big dreams. Well first thing, this is YOUR business, and you don't have to put up with any BS, none of it! You have the right to make the choice to walk away from a job when you are treated poorly. What are you afraid of, that you're going to get "fired"? HA! Well honey, this is your business, and if you don't like the way someone is treating you, hold your head high and walk away, there is always going to be another job out there for you to do, and there is always going to be someone out there who is going to love your art and what you do, so forget about those who are big-headed and doubt you. YOU don't doubt you, the people who know and believe in you don't doubt you, so just walk away, and move on to the next project.  In fact, I have quite a funny story about a client that had tried to flirt with me, and it did not end well.... for him. I was painting a mural styled in the ancient art style (commonly seen in ancient Egyptian artwork) of a naked man standing in profile, or side view. I was working on the details of the mural, and my client kept telling me how the man's butt did not look right. It was too round, not round enough, too flat, etcetera. When I turned around and asked him how it looked, he told me to turn around so he could take a look. Nope... I told him that I was not there for his pleasure but to work and that I would be leaving and might come back. I was also totally disgusted because he was a married man with six kids, one being born that day. The mural was unfinished, so he started apologizing profusely, but I would not hear any of it and left. I came back a week later telling him that I would finish the work under the condition that he would not flirt or say anything sexual to me again, otherwise I would leave again and not come back and he would be stuck with an unfinished mural. Sure, I needed the money, but I refuse to be treated like a sex object. Luckily, he had agreed to my terms, he bought me lunch and apologized some more. In fact, I even got paid more than what I thought I was going to receive for the mural, I mean $200 more!


So as a woman artist, what do you do when your treated poorly by someone whose head is stuck in the past and don't treat you with the respect and dignity as a business professional should? Here are some tips that I have learned through my own experience and education:

  1. Don't lose control, keep level headed. If someone treats you like you are clueless, undereducated, incompetent, or stupid stay positive and don't let their attitude get to you. Be the professional that you know YOU ARE and CAN BE. Stand up for yourself and inform them that you are taking your business seriously. If he can't take you and your business seriously, then the job is not worth it.
  2. Be assertive. If the person talking to you is being condescending, speak up for yourself and don't give in, don't allow them to play mind games on you. You are professional, you know what you are doing, SAY SO! If they start spouting words to you to belittle you, be sure to stand up for yourself. Now this does not mean to yell or stop your feet, just hold your head high, and talk positively. Tell him what you are about, correct him where he is wrong, and be CONFIDENT. This is YOUR business, not theirs. You know and understand the pricing of your work; you know how much time and effort that you put into your work and how many years you have been working in order to improve yourself. If they can't see your worth and want to pay you pennies, thank them for their time, hand them your business card, and move on to the next job.
  3. Walk away. Sometimes the best thing you can do is walk away. That is the beauty of being a self-employed artist; you don't have to deal with negative people. If a prospective client or even if you're in mid-job and your client is treating you rudely, you can tell them "No, I am not taking this job". Sure, money is nice, but there is not enough money in the world to be treated like a lesser human being because you're a woman. There are other people out there who love your work and will pay you what your worth. It is not like you're going to fail entirely if you don't take the job from someone who treats you poorly. Just shake their hand firmly, and thank them for their time and give them you business card just in case they change their mind. You never know, your confidence may change their mind, but if they still want to hire you, be sure they understand your terms and that you refuse to be treated poorly. You have the control here.
  4. Shake hands firmly and don't give them the "dead fish". What I mean is, don't let them shake your hand, you shake their hand, don't give the "limp" or "lifeless" handshake, be firm! When people give me a limp handshake, or a "dead fish", I feel like they are not confident in themselves, and maybe a bit slimy? Another handshake to ignore is the "monarch" this is one that I see a lot of women do, they lightly put their fingers in someone's hand and just let it lightly float while the other person tries to decide whether he should shake your hand, or kiss the ring? So be sure to give a nice firm handshake to show them that you're serious and confident about what you do. You don't have to squeeze so tight that their fingers whiten or that there may be an arm wrestling match later, but just firm enough to convey "I am professional, and am confident with what I am doing".
  5. If asked a stupid question, try and respond with a witty smart answer. I am not saying to be a smart ass (ok, maybe a little....), but if they ask something stupid that is totally illogical, answer the question to the best of your ability. For example, one day when I went to paint windows for the holidays, the CEO of the company asked if I "walked around neighborhoods with my back pack full of paint and in my "paint getup" (I think he was referring to my work/paint cloths that I was wearing) and ask people for money and paint their windows". First off, don't get upset, or at least bury it until later, and act as professional as you can. With a straight face and confidence, tell the person what you do and that you don't go around painting windows (or whatever other art you do) and beg for change. You run a REAL business and you are a REAL professional. Don't let people treat you like that, no matter what job position they have or how much money they have in their pocket. Again, there is not enough money in the world to be treated like a lesser human being because you're a woman.
  6. Don't wear your best outfit or dress when you're painting on the job, even if the client insists that he will pay you more. Excuse me, but when contractors go to work, they don't wear their best suit and tie or fancy dress, they work in their work cloths. Don't ever let someone treat you like your insignificant because you're wearing clothes that have paint splattered on them, save your best cloths for open reception at the art gallery, meeting and greeting a potential client, or other fancy events. If they expect you to wear your best dress when your painting a mural, holiday windows, or on the spot painting, they are not interested in your art, clearly they are looking for a "dinner and a show". Your better than that, don't allow yourself to be treated like a glamour girl. Your there to work, not to be eye candy.
  7. Do not take lower pay. This is YOUR business, and you know how much your work and time is worth. Don't let someone talk your price down unless it is totally reasonable and you're still making a profit. In addition, be sure to get a non-refundable percentage of the quoted price as a down payment before you begin any work. This is so that if something occurs to where the job unexpectedly ends early, or if you have to walk away, that you still receive some payment for your services. Be sure you have a contract written up for commissioned artwork, have it detailed step-by-step so that there is no confusion on what is expected from you and the client. Don't let him run your business, it is YOUR business, and YOU are running it. If the person asks you why it costs so much, explain why, confidently.  Tell him that you have to account for your time, education, cost of materials and other expenses. Just because art may not be work to some, does not mean that it is not work. Art is work, period; don't let anyone tell you otherwise. If he still thinks your work is too expensive, and wants to lower it to dollars or pennies an hour, thank him for his time, and walk away. Always be sure they have your business card before you walk out that door. You never know, they may change their mind later.
  8. When working in group projects, don't let the guys make all the decisions. Let them know you are confident and intelligent, you have great ideas too and contribute to a beautiful collaborative artwork! Besides, to collaborate is working together, cooperating on a project for the same purpose or benefit, meaning that everyone on the group should have the same agenda in creating a magnificent piece of art together, it is not a competition. Everyone has a job to do in a collaborative artwork, and everyone should be encouraged to do so and not treat someone as being better or lesser than someone else. In addition, don't let your ideas fall on deaf ears. I have been there before, where I voiced an idea or an opinion, and it gets lost in the air, only to be reannounced by one of the men in the group and is applauded for their "great idea". It does not happen often, but when it does, let them know. Say something like, "Yeah, I had mentioned that earlier when...." or if one of the guys tries to take full credit, remind him there were others equally  involved too. Remember, if you feel that there is any confrontation in a group, or feel like it is not the "right fit" you don't have to put up with it. Be confident and stand up for yourself. You can always leave. True, the money may be good, but as I mentioned earlier, there is always another client out there, and there is not enough money in the world for you to be treated badly. That, and sometimes when you say "hey I am done and refuse to be treated this way", there is respect, and things may all work out so that everyone completes the artwork together.
  9. Don't let someone ask if you have time to do such and such commissioned artwork because you are a mother. One, this is highly unprofessional for him to ask about your personal life, and two, whether you have children, are married, in a relationship or whatever is going on in your personal life does not affect your work or any potential commissioned job. This is your business, so when discussing about a commissioned artwork, you will be the one who discerns how much time it will take to finish the piece and since you're a professional, you will be calculating in the time that you will not be working such as when you are taking care of the family and other personal things. If they start asking personal questions like that, refer back to the contract and show them how much time that it will take for you to complete the work. Explain your game plan so they know you're confident about your work and that you fully understand what you are explaining to them.  
  10. Lastly be confident and in charge. When you meet with someone to discuss about a commissioned artwork, let him know this is your business and that you're in control of whether or not taking the job. Don't let him make you feel belittled or ignorant. I am not saying you should be a bitch, but just refuse to work with someone that treats you poorly. There are so many other people out there who you know love your artwork already, and there are more to come! Don't let one pompous man get you down. Besides, if you're being treated poorly, your artwork will show it.


Artist Monica Gunderson *~

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Monica Gunderson Fine Artist

Modesto CA