Making a contract for a client – The basics
A contract is an agreement between private parties creating mutual obligations enforceable by law. There are some basic things that need to be included in any contract. These are:
- Your name
- Your clients name
- Signature of both you and your client
- Date of agreement
- A clear description of the deal that’s being made
Making a contract for a client – The details
The above is fairly straightforward. ‘A clear description of the deal that’s being made’ however is a bit vaguer, and that’s exactly what we’re going to dive into here, because, what exactly do you put in a contract? This differs from person to person and from situation to situation. However, there are some things you should really consider.
Clarify what you will be doing
Don’t assume that your client knows what it means to be an artist. You should clearly state what you will be doing. This can be ‘Drawing a digital hand-made illustration from scratch in a realistic style’ or ‘Using non-exclusive clipart/game assets to assemble a book cover’. Be specific. Even when your client knows what you will be doing it serves to be clear. This way they can never lash back at you over the nature of your artwork, nor can there be any misunderstandings.
Set a timeline (workflow)
When you set a timeline I don’t mean that you should give exact dates. The gig may require this, but if it doesn’t: Refrain from doing so. Rough estimates are usually enough, that way you can take on a well-paying rush job, or have a day for yourself. It is important though that your client knows what to expect. Your timeline should be something like this:
- When you start the artwork. – This might not always be right away.
- State that the payment should be up-front, partially or fully. You will not start otherwise.
- When your client can expect the first drafts and whether or not revisions can be done and how many. This can be a sketch or multiple concepts.
- Some artists ask for the rest of the payment at this stage. State it if that’s the case for you too.
- Clarify when you will continue with the coloring and whether or not revisions can be done and how many.
- Depending on your style, there might be a rendering phase after the coloring. You can ask for the rest of the payment here or wait until you’re done with the rendering. If your art is very realistic you might want to notify your client that, as soon as you start rendering, there is no room anymore for revisions.
Set the deadline
More often than not, the deadline is a set date. This is because your client needs your artwork at a specific time or you know you can’t continue working on that artwork after the given date. But again: If there is no date, just give a rough estimate. This can be a specific week or something like ‘the first half of month X’. That’s accurate enough.
Terms and conditions
The terms and conditions are the most important part of the contract. It established what the rights are of both parties and what potential consequences are if the terms are not met. I recommend that you check with an agent when you finalize your contract, because sometimes things may seem clearcut, but they are not. And it’s even easier to miss out on things when you are not aware of things. Things that should be described in the terms and conditions are:
- Client Info
- Project Info and Terms
- Project Timeline
- Costs and Payment Terms
- Artist’s Rights
- Cancellation Terms
- Acceptance of Agreement
Most of the time you can work from one and the same contract. Personally, I would recommend setting one up for exclusive artwork (the client buys additional rights for sale purposes (but not the copyright!), like a writer that needs a book cover or illustrated pages) and a non-exclusive contract (a default contract for anyone that doesn’t want to monetize or modify the artwork, this is a much cheaper and usually standard option for personal D&D characters, pet portraits, etc.). Below is a summary of things I consider when setting up a contract.
Clarify what the client can or cannot do with the art
When it’s non-exclusive art this list usually is longer than that of exclusive art. In the last case, you sell the rights and you have little to no say on what will be done with the artwork. You also cannot monetize that artwork yourself and your client can sell your art to 3rd parties who can monetize it as well (think of a book cover that is offered in a book store for sale. This book store is a 3rd party). You can deviate from this standard though simply by discussing it with your client and including that in your contract. These can be things like: You can use the art in your portfolio or can monetize it yourself too. They won’t always agree, but it’s always worth trying if you deem it necessary.
Things you should consider including in your contract
- Who owns the rights. With non-exclusive art you do, with exclusive art the client does.
- What the client can do with the art. Think of sharing it on social media and using it for educational purposes. These things usually go with non-exclusive art. And whether or not the client can monetize and edit it (which should only be allowed with exclusive art).
- What you can do with the art. Think of things like: Using it on social media, specific websites, monetizing the art, and artbooks.
- Referring to the artist. Your client is paying you and shouldn’t be forced to refer to you when they post the art online. You should state this to avoid confusion. However, you can always ask your client to do so. Most won’t mind. You can make it easier on them by also including a .jpg version of your art on a low resolution which includes your signature.
- State clearly what the art cannot be used for. There may be some things you don’t want to be associated with, like politics, bullying, and racism. You can have a contract declared void when someone uses it for things you excluded. It might be a bit more tricky when you sell the rights, (exclusive art) but you still make a good chance.
- Clarify what will happen with the art when your client doesn’t pay the final part. Sometimes clients don’t pay up and you end up with a partially or totally finished artwork that is not claimed. Add in your contract that you can monetize this artwork otherwise (like selling it to someone else or selling prints).
- State that you will never claim ownership of the IP. The term ‘intellectual property’ or ‘IP’ refers to the property rights that arise in the outcomes of creative and intellectual processes, such as artworks, designs, and inventions. This is basically an idea of your client. You will comfort your client by stating that you won’t take their IP from them even when they don’t pay up. Consider changing the artwork thoroughly when you decide to sell it through a different channel.
Costs and payment terms
Just like the items above, this should be part of your terms and conditions as well. However, these agreements may vary from client to client, as will the price. Save some extra space in your contract near the end of it to clear when what payment is due, and also refer to the consequences when your client doesn’t pay up.
Who pays what when can differ from field to field. Some artists will ask for 20% upfront from companies or people that are well-established in the field commission art for. (A published writer for example). Others ask 100% upfront, especially when this artist is well-established and has a big waiting list. But most of the time you split the risk and ask 50% upfront and 50% either when you finished the artwork right before you send it, or before you start rendering. The last thing usually is only done when you’re an artist that spends a lot of time creating realistic renders.
This is just a little clause you may want to add in an effort to clarify what your client will receive from you. Your client will be clear on what he or she receives. And you can’t forget what you should be adding. This is usually a standard list containing the following:
- One .jpg + signature for easy web use. Much appreciated if you use this version, but not required.
- One .jpg without signature for easy web use.
- A full-size HQ printable .png file. (Just because it can turn out handy).
- A full-size HQ printable .pdf file. (This is the one that’s usually required by print service
The above may vary depending on what your client needs, and there may be items added.
Cancellation and refund policy
Here you can describe what will happen when someone decides to cancel the order. This includes things like:
- That the client is not allowed a fund back when you started working on the commission.
- That the client is allowed a (full) fund back when you didn’t start working on the commission yet.
- And any specifications of how the fund back will be sent to the client.
Signing the contract
When it’s time to sign the contract, you want to include the following:
- A checkbox with the text ‘Yes, I agree to the terms and conditions.
- The signature of your client.
- Your signature.
- The dates you and your client signed the contract.
- The place where you and your client signed the contract.
Making contracts is one of the least fun parts of running any business. It is however an important part of your business. Having someone sign the contract will help to filter out fraudulent clients. Paying at least a part upfront too. You’d be surprised how many artists are scammed in the process. There are also many ‘scam artists’ out there. People that claim to be artists and then scam clients from their money. Having a contract doesn’t only protect you, but also your client. Any well-meaning professional artist should have one, and any well-meaning client should be fine or even be comforted by the presence of a contract.