How to Write an Artist Contract

artist contract tips

It’s fine to seal the deal with a handshake, but make sure you have a contract!

So you’ve finally landed a gallery or a dream illustration job—what next? A contract. I know, it’s not as exciting as thinking about your exhibit layout or the perfect illustration, but a good artist contract will save all involved parties a lot of grief by clarifying every aspect of your agreement. Keep reading below for the third part of our “How to Stay on Track & Get Paid” series, covering tips for writing an artist contract. You can also find negotiation strategies and contract examples in this article by Ilise Benun.

Keep creating and good luck!

What Goes in a Contract?

Contracts are simply business tools used to make sure everyone agrees on the terms of a project. Ask for one any time you enter into a business agreement. Be sure to arrange for the specifics in writing or provide your own. A letter stating the terms of agreement signed by both parties can serve as an informal contract. Several excellent books, such as Legal Guide for the Visual Artist and Business and Legal Forms for Illustrators, both by Tad Crawford (Allworth Press), contain negotiation checklists and tear-out forms, and provide sample contracts you can copy. The sample contracts in these books cover practically any situation you might encounter.

The items specified in your contract will vary according to the market you’re dealing with and the complexity of the project. Nevertheless, here are some basic points you’ll want to cover:

Commercial Contracts

•    A description of the service(s) you’re providing.
•    Deadlines for finished work.
•    Rights sold. Your fee. Hourly rate, flat fee, or royalty.
•    Kill fee. Compensatory payment received by you if the project is canceled.
•    Changes fees. Penalty fees to be paid by the client for last-minute changes.
•    Advances. Any funds paid to you before you begin working on the project.
•    Payment schedule. When and how often you will be paid for the assignment.
•    Statement regarding return of original art. Unless you’re doing work for hire, your artwork should always be returned to you.

Gallery Contracts

•    Terms of acquisition or representation. Will the work be handled on consignment? What is the gallery’s commission?
•     Nature of the show(s). Will the work be exhibited in group or solo shows or both?
•    Timeframes. If a work is sold, when will you be paid? At what point will the gallery return unsold works to you? When will the contract cease to be in effect?
•    Promotion. Who will coordinate and pay for promotion? What does promotion entail? Who pays for printing and mailing of invitations? If costs are shared, what is the breakdown?
•    Insurance. Will the gallery insure the work while it is being exhibited and/or while it is being shipped to or from the gallery?
•    Shipping. Who will pay for shipping costs to and from the gallery?
•    Geographic restrictions. If you sign with this gallery, will you relinquish the rights to show your work elsewhere in a specified area? If so, what are the boundaries of this area?


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