Advice for artists – what to include in your contract

Written contracts as opposed to informal contracts are really important to have in place with any illustration work you may be commissioned to do, both for the illustrator as well as the client. Even with the best of intentions without a formal contract things can quickly go awry and problems can range from work not been paid for, disputes over who owns the copyright, to a general confusion over what is expected for both the client and illustrator.

Interestingly any agreement which has the following three elements:

  1. An offer
  2. Consideration (something in exchange i.e. money)
  3. Acceptance

written or verbal– automatically creates a contractually binding agreement between two parties and cannot be altered after the event without agreement from the other. It is after this stage that a written contract can be drawn up to further define the terms of trade.

I’ve found that contracts can vary from client to client and sometimes the commissioner will have their own contract (usually larger magazine and book publishers),  whilst other clients look to you to provide the terms or in some cases there is a back and forth dialogue depending on the work being commissioned. Below is what I include in all my contracts and has been largely based on AOI’s recommendation for what to include in a formal contract.

I like to call my contracts a confirmation of engagement which I present in a two sided document- one side lists the basic info of the commission and the other side has the small print.

So here is the list of things I like to include on the front:

  • My name and contact details
  • Job no. – usually the initials of client followed by numbering system
  • Client name and contact details
  • Date of contract – the date in which you are drawing up the agreement
  • Fee and Payment plan – how many days do you expect to be pay in i.e. NET 30
  • Project Title/Description –  to include size of illustration, colour/black &white, features etc.
  • Schedule of work – Rough draft within so many days, preliminary designs with number of edits and final design date
  • Copyright usage – a statement about what rights are granted
  • Use of work – where the work will be used
  • Area covered by license – UK / USA / CANADA / WORLDWIDE
  • Duration – how long will the license last?
  • Exclusivity – a statement saying whether the licensed work is exclusive or non-exclusive to the client
  • Credits – a statement saying that a credit for editorial work is required
  • Your signature and date along with a statement saying that the client accepts the following terms and conditions unless they object or query within a certain time period

The terms and conditions on the back are more in depth and describe the expectations of trade between illustrator and client. Here are the things I include, with a brief explanation and have again been largely based on AOI’s terms and conditions. I try to use jargon-free phrases to make sure its readable and clear.

  1. WORK -what this includes in the final delivery of art and the number of revisions
  2. PAYMENT AND DELIVERY – payment terms, late payment terms
  3. RESERVATION OF RIGHTS – explanation of the use of rights and rights held by illustrator
  4. ILLUSTRATOR’S RIGHT TO AUTHORSHIP CREDIT – illustrator may use the work in their portfolio and work must be identified as belonging to the illustrator by commissioner
  5. COMMISSIONER ACCEPTS ILLUSTRATOR’S CREATIVE VISION- commissioner accepts illustrator’s creative style
  6. CANCELLATION AND EXPIRATION – this includes the percentages that should be paid at each level of work submitted should the project be cancelled
  7. LIMITATION OF LIABILITY- illustrator is not liable for damages
  8. DISPUTE SETTLED BY ARBITRATION AND GOVERNING LAW – should things escalate this will include how and where issues will be settled

If you’re still unsure do make use of AOI’s acceptance of commission form which you can download here and if you become a member they will also give you helpful advice should you have an unusual job to navigate.

I would also recommend getting a copy of AOI’s book The Illustrator’s Guide to Law and business written by an illustrator for illustrators to help give you a thorough overview of the business side of being an illustrator.

Thankfully you should find that the more jobs you take on, the more experience you will get at handling contracts and you’ll find it does becomes easier to negotiate and understand terms.


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