How to Build a Contract for Commissioned Artworks

Many artists, ranging from emerging or amateur artists all the way to fully established professionals, create commissioned works for clients. The idea of a commission is that the purchaser has some input into the finished work that they are buying. This can range from vague direction or discussion all the way to specific agreed upon terms for colours, subject matter, materials used, size, etc. It is up to each artist to decide how much input or direction they will accept from a client and how much they prefer to decide for themselves.

Whatever your artistic boundaries are for commissioned works, you should always create a written contract or commission agreement outlining your own stipulations. I have listed some common examples below. Having a written contract signed by both parties is meant to:

  • eliminate any surprises for both the client and artist (everything is agreed upon in advance) and
  • protect your interests and the interests of the client

POINTS TO INCLUDE ON YOUR COMMISSION AGREEMENT CONTRACT:

  1. A loose description of the project. Use this description to list what aspects of the work are agreed upon in advance, such as size, colours, materials, etc. It could be specific, for example, “the artist ____ agrees to complete a 30 x 30 inch oil painting on canvas for the client _____, depicting a sheep and using mostly blue hues.” It could be loose: “The artist _____ agrees to create an abstract painting for the client ______.” If anything is verbally agreed upon, it should also be in writing.
  2. Payment terms. It is quite reasonable for an artist to collect 25% to 50% of the full cost of the artwork upfront before beginning the work. This is to protect the artist’s investment in materials and time. It will also eliminate potential clients who aren’t that serious. You should list the total cost of the work, the deposit necessary to begin the commission, and when final payment is due. Final payment could be due upon delivery of the work, or it could be due upon final approval of the client. Be careful if you indicate that final payment is due upon approval of the work by the client—you could find yourself editing the work over and over until the client is satisfied.
  3. Deadlines. You should agree upon a completion date for the work, making sure that you give yourself enough time for revisions and drying, if necessary. Many artists also set up a viewing and meeting date for when the work is partially completed.
  4. Framing. If applicable, indicate whether the work will be framed or unframed, or if framing will cost extra.
  5. Delivery of the work. Indicate whether you will deliver the work to the client or whether they need to arrange their own delivery.
  6. Installation of the work. Indicate whether you will install the work for the client, or whether they need to arrange this separately. If you are not installing the artwork for them, you should make sure that it has proper hanging hardware already attached to the work to make it as straightforward as possible to hang.
  7. Copyright. Many clients will assume that since they are paying for the work, they own the rights to it. Unless you are signing over the rights to you work (there should not be any reason for this sort of agreement, normally), you should stipulate that you retain the copyright of the work. This means you can put an image of the work on your website, and use it for portfolios, etc.

You can view a sample contract for an art commission here, here or here. I searched “artist commission agreement” to find just these few examples—there are many more available to view online.

Have you had good or bad experiences commissioning artworks? What points have you included in your commission agreements to protect yourself as an artist?

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4 comments

  1. TPAW…great source for art info!

  2. Reblogged this on Apache Photog and commented:
    Good to know

  3. This is exactly what I was looking for today! Many thanks for the advice!

  4. All my work, as i live abroad has been approved by photo and then the client pays and for the postage and i send . I have never had a problem or a return. I was asked by a retired gallery owner to do two pictures very cheaply as she had ‘ loads of clients ‘ . She then asked me to pay the insured postage and has given me a third of the price the pictures. She says she will not pay the rest till i have sent the work.I have no idea whether she will actually pay or say the pictures are not what she thought etc . I do not want to work with her as i can see she is very difficult . Should i refund,?
    should I send ?.
    should I keep the money and tell her to pay and I will send ?
    should i giver her a weeks deadline to pay and if she doesn t keep the pictures and the deposit

    . The pictures were completed in August and it is now October

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