Top 10 contract writing tips for artists

Artists – you know how to draw! But do you know how to write a basic contract and close a deal? Arturo Gutiérrez shows you how with these 10 tips!

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So you’re in a great spot. You feel confident enough with your work to show it around, and people are starting to contact you for business. Art school or web tutorials taught you how to draw an arm and a house, but not to write down a contract! This article doesn’t represent legal advice whatsoever, it’s a guide on how to set down the basic elements of a deal, regarding art! It will hopefully help you close deals to get started with your career as a freelance artist.

Respect your local laws!

Every country has its own rules and laws and common practices. Make sure you look for information about your local regulations and stay up to date with your obligations! What I will show you in this article is a very general rule of thumb of what has worked for me to close international deals and contracts. Respect your local laws and regulating bodies. Please.

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How I’ve missed Pixie Fun...Pixie fun ahead! You’ve been warned. (I hope this is not too retro!)

Image credit supplied by Fairly Oddparents by Nickelodeon

Have these sections in mind

So a contract can be celebrated just by agreeing to something with someone, but spoken words are tough to keep track of. I try always to WRITE IT DOWN. It’s better for you as an artist to keep track of what you are agreeing to, and it’s great for clients to have a place they can come back to if they are unclear about something.

Sometimes, an agreement occurs on a conversation, zoom or Skype or whatever… I need to have an email address to contact the client. After the meeting, I send them an email with all the agreed points and ask them to reply with a confirmation of the agreement. When they reply with an “agreed”, most of the time, that’s good enough. But, what points should I keep in mind?

●     Cost

●     Scope and limits

●     Dates

●     Payment method

●     Transfer info

How much to charge: Costs.

Basically, what are you selling and how much it costs, and how much it costs for how many the client needs. This takes us to the very commonplace of not knowing how much to charge. I completely get it, you are not alone. This is probably the main issue with closing a deal. “Am I getting ripped off?” “Am I taking advantage of my client?” It can be a nightmare, but it doesn’t have to be this complicated.

Think of how much money you need in a month (taking into account old expenses, like that PC you bought last year, it all has to get paid somehow, so try doing this for yearly expenses if you have the time), and divide that on the number of workable hours you have in a month. Then you have your basic hourly rate. If you are unsure, you can compare here. I recommend using this hourly rate as your own private indicator, not to directly charge clients.

Once you have your money per hour, think of how many hours would this project take. Depending on your personality, you might shoot low or high. Try to be as objective as possible, and give yourself some flexibility. If you can finish the illustration in 4 days, try shooting for 5.

Once you have that down, there’s this nifty webpage where you can add it in, and get a pretty good indicator of how much you should charge. The NuSchool is meant for design, but it works for artists to begin with. I like that it takes into account your personal gain in these projects, and the final advice is usually spot on.

Be specific: Scope

So let’s say you promised an Illustration. And that’s the only thing you promised “illustrations.” So when you get there a month later, you give the client an illustration, and they say that’s not what you promised. They needed a larger illustration, with more characters and three size variations, with blasting colors, and that it was a series of illustrations in one... and so on.

The issue here was not setting a SCOPE. Saying “illustrations” is completely different from saying “5 JPG RGB letter-sized full-color images at 300dpi. Containing one character and background in action scene involving apples.” See the difference?

Scopes limit works and client’s expectations to some measurable characteristic: Amount, Format, Size, and Resolution are usually good things to add. The Colors and Description of the image are a great nice-to-have.

Make them succinct: Limits

Try limiting your client’s revisions. I usually give my clients 3 chances to correct the work. If they need 4, we would need to create a new contract. This makes them take better, braver decisions earlier on, helping both parties be more efficient.

religious symbolism d illustration digital artwork

This was the first image I did limiting corrections and it worked like a charm. Done it like that ever since. Still loving it. Image credits © Arturo Gutierrez

Be clear on times: Dates

Time scopes are great for both parties, you both know when the work ought to be finished, so you can plan ahead and not get overbooked.

When calculating times, it’s great to add in dates for your client’s revisions. This usually dilates time. I usually try to talk with ONE representative of the company I’m working with. Having too many people on the revisions might lead to the client company’s internal issues arising and everybody wasting valuable time.

When sending a deal proposal it’s essential to state a validity limit to your costs. I usually state in contracts that “These costs have a 30-day validity.” If a client contacts me in five years, they cannot demand I keep the rates I used to have back in the day (although some have tried).

You can say for example that your images “will be sent 5 weeks after the initial payment is received.” But... what do I mean by initial payment?

Sometimes working illustrations in parallel helps to finish a commission earlier

Video credit supplied by Process: Three Legends - art.uro

Cover your back: Payment Methods

A friend of mine bought a water heater from a sketchy place. He paid for it and went back home expecting to get it the next day. The heater company stole the money, never showed up with the heater, and closed shop. He lost his whole investment and had to take a cold bath for months, and technically he did nothing wrong, right?

Right. There is no shame in trusting people and expecting their best. But this is not always the case, and being an artist is a business and we have to take care of ourselves. That’s where payment methods should come into play.

Depending on the project, asking for part of the money upfront and the rest when you finish the job is a very usual and recognized way of doing things. I try to ask for half at the beginning and half at the end (50-50%). But this may vary if you need extra materials to start, you might need to go 60-40% or even 70-30%. These payment methods make both parties invested in the work you are doing: the client wants the product because they already paid some money, and you want to finish the product because you want the entire payment.

I usually only start working when I receive the initial payment. That way I know the client is serious and not just promising stuff, and that way I ensure that my hours are efficient, so I can live off of being an artist.

asian environment 2d illustration lion silhouette

Some working partners don’t use alternate payment methods. It can be done, but just be wary of the dangers. Image credits © Arturo Gutierrez

Information to have: Transfer Info

A lot can be solved with PayPal or similar services nowadays, but if your client needs banking information, you better have it ready. The banking info is usually composed out of these:

●     Name: Your full legal name.

●     ID: Depending on your country, you must have your identification digits.

●     Account Type: Is your account savings? Is it Credit?

●     Bank: What’s the full name of your bank?

●     SWIFT Code: Unique to every bank, a usually 8 letter-long code, for international transfers.

●     Country and City: Where do you live? Or where is your bank located?

●     Amount: How much is owed and is it USD? Is it CAD? What currency?

Try other deals: Trades

If you are just starting as an artist, your clients are probably going to be people you know. Some of those people are prone to be artists as well, and they are probably as broke as you are. A good way to start moving your local market is to trade services. It’s still good to write it down, and even if not monetary, there are things you might need that they have. I traded a cover illustration a band needed, for a serenade for my wife. It worked out just fine!

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This is the image of their album cover. I had a blast doing it. Image credits © Arturo Gutierrez

Ask for help!

I think this an almost unbearably long article as it is, and even if it covers the basics, there are lots of other elements to take into account when making a deal. I’ve worked as a photographer, graphic designer, artist, illustrator, concept artist, animator, you name it. I have my share of experience, and I want to help others! So I opened my Patreon, and by supporting the last tier, I’d become your mentor. We'd meet twice a month for half an hour to catch up and get your projects to the place you're looking for! You'd also have access to my Discord Server so we can stay in touch 1-on-1. Get your seat before they're taken! Only 20 seats are available.

Get legal advice if needed

Even if I truly believe this covers the most basic needs on a contract when starting out, this is in no way representing legal advice. If you are in need of legal advice, contact local professionals, whose main purpose in life is knowing about contracts. I hope this article helps. Thanks for reading.

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Pixies can also be fun! Inform yourself: look for professionals.

Image credit supplied by Fairly Odd Parents by Nickelodeon

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