Use an artist contract to protect your time, money, and ideas on your next freelance project.
Having an artist contract is essential every time you are hired for your creativity.
As a freelance artist, you may work in a variety of contexts. Such as an editorial illustrator, storyboard artist, concept artist, animator, or simply making graphics for an advertising campaign.
There is always an element of uncertainty when it comes to working with a new illustration client.
- Will they pay?
- Are they going to ask for a million revisions?
- What are they going to do with your ideas?
Lack of communication or “assume” (‘ass' out of ‘u' and ‘me') some things is usually at the root of most problems between clients and artists.
To avoid headaches and miscommunications often synonymous with any artist and client relationship, you need to use an artist contract. No matter how well you get along with someone, always use an artist contract.
But what should an artist contract include?
Below I’ve put together a comprehensive list of the essential elements you should include in your artist contract.
Initially, in my art business, I started with a relaxed contract. Covering the basics. However, after working on 200+ projects, each of the following terms and clauses are things I've gone back to add. Each one based on unfortunate experiences I went through.
It's by no means extensive.
However, it should give you a solid foundation to build your own freelance artist contract.
Begin your contract with each parties' name, company name, address, email, and phone number to make it clear who is involved on this project.
Next, explain exactly what the project deliverable is. Describe the deliverable, time frame, and the general purpose of its use for the company hiring you. Think of this as a general overview. You'll get into the details later in some other clauses.
“I just need one more change… and another… and another… and another…”
We call this kind of client a scope creep.
Scope management is where you’ll clearly identify your exact deliverables for the final projects. Explaining exactly what the client will receive at the end of this project.
Think about the exact dimensions, medium, delivery details, and format.
Single point of contact
Often overlooked, if you are ever working for a client and there are multiple people on their team, you want to clearly identify a single point of contact.
Let’s say one person told you to make a revision and the rest of their team approve. You shouldn’t have to spend more time on revisions because of their lack of communication on their end. So clearly identify ONE person you’ll be communicating with. This way you’ll avoid communication assumptions
Sometimes you’ll need certain assets from a client in order to complete the project. Do you need a photo in order to finish the portrait? Do you need a script so you can start the storyboards?
You’ll want to prevent your client from giving you the required assets two days before the project deadline. Eliminating the initial 30 days you had to work on the project. Preventing a 48 hour, caffeine-fueled all-nighters.
Budget and payment
Getting paid your fee on your schedule and not your clients. This is where you clarify your deposit needed to start the project. When the final balance is due. What expenses are included or not included in your fee? (delivery fees, additional assets needed, travel, etc.)
Deposit and payment
How much of a deposit do you require to get started on the project and reserve your valuable time? Illustration pricing can be a flat fee or a percentage. Is it nonrefundable? It’s up to you.
This is also where you clarify a late fee if the final balance isn’t paid within a certain amount of time.
You can word it like this:
…an additional late fee of 5% (anything you want) of the remaining balance will be added for every 7 days the final balance is not paid…
This is where you clarify your ownership of all of your preliminary sketches.
Clearly let the client know that you won’t talk about their project if secrecy is an issue. Maybe they want to keep the project a secret from their competition or they’re planning a strategic launch. Let them know your lips are sealed.
Explain and clarify that you’ll own the copyright and the reproduction rights of the work. You’ll also clarify how your client is to use the final work. You’ll want to acknowledge the rights the client will have over the creative work.
Including how they can use your work, in what geographic area, for how long, and number of uses.
It’s so important to get credit for the creative work you do. Credit means others will see your work and hire you, credit is your business card out in the world.
In this section, you’ll want to include that you’ll be able to use the work in your portfolio, (sometimes you’ll have to wait for the project to be released by your client).
Ultimately, your client must properly identify you as the creator of work. They may not seek to mislead others that your work was created by anyone other than you.
Every artist hates to hear, “Can you make it look like ________?”
Try working this section of your contract –
The Client agrees that the artist will complete work in the artist’s creative style at the artist’s sole discretion.
This brings up a whole other issue, of ways to prevent this scenario from happening, but remember, you get hired to do the same type of work you show in your portfolio.
What if your client gets sued over a product that you had a hand in helping them create. This section is so important as it clearly states you’ll not be held liable for any claims and/or damages as a result of any accusations or cases of infringement. You will be held harmless against any claims brought against you based upon allegations brought against your client.
Revisions and milestones
Clearly state how many revisions you’ll allow during each stage of the project. Revisions not due to the fault of the artist shall be billed separately.
Acknowledge and plan for each step of the process for the project. Eliminate assumptions and show your process to give value to your time.
By doing this you are preventing headache scenarios like:
“I thought you were going to have them facing to the right in the portrait and not the left.”
Scope of work changes
When your client requests, additions, alterations, changes in content, layout, and process, you’ll have to alter the timeline and cost of the project. If there are any changes in the requirements of this project, you reserve the right to adjust your deadline and invoicing accordingly.
If the project you’re working on is canceled or postponed any time prior to completion, do you get paid for the services you’ve rendered? You bet.
Here’s how I word I use in my contracts as a determining factor of what is owed to me if a project is canceled:
If this contract is terminated prior to acceptance of the work, the following percentages of the compensation will be payable:
- 25% before delivery of roughs
- 33% after delivery of roughs
- 50% after delivery of color visual
- 75% after delivery of any subsequent revised illustration rough
- 100% upon delivery of the finished artwork
This cancellation clause really depends on the size of your project. For projects that take less than a week for you to finish. I would just require 50% to start and 50% of your balance upon finishing.
For larger projects that take you a long time to complete. Such as animations, children's books, etc. The above payment schedule works.
When you take on a creative commission you are setting aside your valuable time. If you turn down work because you’ve allotted your time for a particular client and this client goes away, you’re out a lot of money! This clause protects you from this scenario.
Force majeure event/”Act of God” Clause
Things out of your control happen. Sometimes these causes beyond your control will prevent you from meeting a deadline. These events may include but are not limited to acts of God, war, strikes or labor disputes, embargoes, government orders or any other force majeure events. All of which may cause you from not delivering work by the agreed-upon deadline.
Having a clause in your contract talking about Force Majeure Events protects you from having to work while your house is being consumed by a tornado.
If worse comes to worst and someone ends up taking the other to court, what will be the governing area? What if you’re on one side of a country and your client is on the other? Do you have to take any legal matters to a court near them? Or a court near you? Clarify this in this section of your contract.
Independent contractor relationship
Your copyright to your ideas automatically transfers over to your client is you agree to a “work-for-hire” arrangement. (Employee status). By taking on an “independent contractor” arrangement your copyright can only be used as you define in the contract.
Acceptance of terms
The signature of both parties shall be evidence acceptance of these terms. Probably the most important part of an artist contract is where you and your client sign the contract. This means you both agree to the terms.
Final thoughts on having an artist contract
Remember, this is not an exhaustive list of what can or should go in your contract. No matter what kind of illustration jobs you get hired for.
Give consideration to these clauses.
*Legal Disclaimer: Please note that this article should not be considered as legal advice, Chris Wilson will not be held responsible for any legal activity resulting from reading this article. To develop a complete contract for your specific needs, please consult an attorney.