Is there ever a time when it’s okay to turn work away? Or is it professional suicide? Am I crazy for even suggesting it?
Actually, sometimes it’s the smart thing to do. It can also be one of the toughest things to do if you’re just starting out.
However, as a brand new artist or an artist who is struggling to make ends meet, turning work away may sound like the absolute worst thing you can do. And of course, sometimes you do what you have to in order to survive. As a brand new artist, you do what you can in order to establish a name for yourself and to gain valuable experience. As a starving artist, sometimes you do what you must in order to put food on the table and keep the lights on.
There comes a point in time it’s beneficial to be more choosy about the work you accept.
For example, if you are trying to establish yourself as an artist who does portraits in oil paint, but you continue to accept work doing animation just because you can, you’re essentially drawing attention away from portrait painting jobs. Do you want to be known as a painter or an animator?
Case in point, it’s an extremely rare occasion that I draw anything other than animal portraits. I am known as an animal portrait artist. People know me for that and that alone. They don’t know me for the rare human portrait. They don’t know me for painting or working in color. And even with all of the things I’m not known for, I still have all the requests for animal portraits that I can handle.
Just because you specialize doesn’t mean you’ll get less work. You will in fact get more of what you specialize in. And one thing I know for certain is that doing the work I specialize in, the work I’m passionate about, never feels like work. Taking on jobs that I don’t specialize in absolutely feels like work every single minute that it takes me to complete.
One of my favorite quotes (by Confucius or Winston Churchill depending on who you ask) is, “Choose a job you love and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.”