How to Write an Artist Contract: Learn To Protect Your Creative Rights

how to write artist contract

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Worried that you’ll be taken advantage of when negotiating a deal for art services or products?

The article below includes everything you need to know about writing and signing artist contracts! Start learning how to protect your creative rights today:

Write an Artist Contract in 10 Steps!

First, let’s learn how to write artist contracts. This may be a bit difficult for creatives who are not familiar with state laws or general governing laws, but it’s enough to follow the steps in the tutorial below, which breaks down the basic components of artist contracts bit by bit:

Tip: The artist contract template shown in the example is provided by @TheArtMentor on YouTube! Click here to have a reference to follow as you read the tutorial.

Step 1. State the Title and Parties Involved

The first step in writing artist contracts can be broken up into two. To start with, you need to clearly state the title of the artist contract.

state the title

The example above shows that the contract is a “Contract for Creative Services”, but depending on the type of contract, it can also be titled “Artist Agreement”, “Art Commission Contract”, etc.

parties involved

After writing down the title of the artist contract, it’s time to state both the artist and client’s name. The two parties involved in the signing of the artist agreement should be clearly stated in the early part of the artist agreement to ensure maximum protection for both parties.

Step 2. Describe the Scope of Work Project

Next up, let’s talk about the scope of the work — put in another way, the ‘description’ of the artist’s contract.

contract for artist

The purpose of stating this is to clearly delineate the type of work that is included in the scope of the agreement to avoid misunderstandings. For example, the template above is for creative services, if it’s for commissions, then it should be stated that this is a contract for commissions.

Note that in the image above, the description is rather short. That’s because this description is just an introduction — hence the caveat at the end stating that there will be more details to follow. You can do the same and keep the important details for later and be more organized.

scope of work project

As for the details mentioned, if you scroll down the reference contract template, you can see an example of a detailed ‘Scope of Work’ section.

For this part, it’s best to describe in detail what will be included in the scope of the agreement. Be it the type of artwork, the art dimensions, the medium used, the project timeline, etc.

Adding such terms in your artist agreement can prevent any misunderstandings about the services or products that you’re providing the client. It makes it clear what your responsibilities are and also makes it impossible for the other party to refute.

Step 3. State Payment Terms

The third part of the artist contract is the most important for most artists. It’s the part where you talk about the payment conditions!

state payment terms

In the example artist contract template above, you can see how this fits into the artist contract.

First, he stated how payments are made. Then, he emphasized when to make the final payment — AKA that the payments must be 100% fulfilled up-front. And finally, it is made clear how any violations are to be handled.

This encompasses most of the basic payment terms of an artist contract. But you can also adjust your written agreement to include additional terms to remedy issues like:

  • What if there are delays in the creative process?
  • How much notice must be given before the termination clause is put into action?
  • Should you break up the final payment into payment installations (e.g., payment schedules like fifty percent up-front and upon approval)?

Adding such conditions will prevent any disputes over payment issues later and it will give you the right to make claims in front of the client accordingly.


Of course, pricing must also be included in the artist contract agreement.

To give you an example, if what you want to write is a commission agreement, now is the time to state the price for each commission. Maybe it’s $100 for a complete illustration with a full background. Or $75 for a single-character design (no background included).

Whatever the scope of your commission agreement is, now’s the time to state the price for it. This way, the client won’t be able to haggle over the price later. After all, it was all agreed upon from the beginning!

Step 4. State the Copyright and Intellectual Property Rights

Next, it’s time to figure out whether you will give artist’s approval and provide the client with copyright and intellectual property rights.

copyright and intellectual property rights

Does your work still belong to you? Or has the rights been shared with the client? Any written contract involving creative industries should include such terms, otherwise, it’s easy to get things confused and make it impossible for you to make any claims on your work in the future.

You can base your own contract on the example shown above, which states very clearly that no copyright or intellectual property rights are expressly given to the client.

The only thing allowed by the entire agreement is that the client has ownership over the provided image files. But it’s made clear what he can or cannot do with those files. For example, he can’t use it for commercial purposes, credit must be given when posting on social media, and he’s also not allowed to post those works without the artist’s approval.

Step 5. State Terms for Revisions and Approval Process

Next, it’s time to talk about revisions. Art is very subjective, and what you think is perfect may not be what the client wants. And so, when providing such services as commissions and other creative services, it’s important to include terms for revision rounds.

revisions and approval

In the example shown in the artist contract template above, the writer not only stated how many revision rounds are allowed but also the limitations involving alterations. You can also include clauses for approval, project timeline deadlines, and dispute resolution clauses at this stage to make it less likely for any issues to occur later.

Step 6. State Terms of Deadlines and Delivery

Because the artist contract template above is a written contract for regular services, the deadline clauses were directly included in the ‘Scope of Work’ section.

But, if you’re writing a commission agreement or if you’re an emerging artist more suited for temporary work agreements, then you’ll need to state your deadlines separately. That way, no disputes can crop up because of missed deadlines.

You can find sources for other artists’ contract templates with examples of these kinds of terms in the latter sections of this article.

deadlines and delivery

For now, it should also be noted that delivery terms should be stated here. When and in what state should the work be delivered to the client?

An example of how the finished work is delivered is shown above, but you can adjust it based on your own artist contract requirements.

Step 7. State Terms of Breach of Contract

We’re getting close to the end! This step is a little more complicated than others, the artist contract template shown below already simplifies it quite a bit by placing most of the breach of contract clauses in one place:

breach of contract

You can make things easy for yourself and refer to similar contracts in the future. Of course, you can mix and match as needed.

The most important thing is to clarify the legal claims and rights that are provided for both yourself and the client. In this way, if either of the two parties feels that their interests have been harmed, it can be dealt with as reasonably as possible.

Step 8. Governing Law or Jurisdiction

Many artists skip this step, especially when selling private artwork online and it’s inconvenient to decide what jurisdiction the laws fall under. But, if possible, you should still include what state laws or governing laws your contract falls under so that the contract can be more formal.

Step 9. Signatures and Date

signatures and date

Of course, just like with any other type of contract, an area where signatures are collected must be included to make it clear that both parties in the contract are on the same page.

Step 10. (Optional) Relevant Attachments

If there are any relevant documents that need to be included to clarify certain clauses in the agreement, you can include a separate section where relevant attachments are placed. Examples of relevant documents include:

  • Reference Photographs
  • Thumbnail Sketches
  • Art Samples
  • Framing Options

Note! If it’s an electronic contract, you can directly attach the documents to the electronic document. If it’s a printed contract, you can use QR codes or a short link so that viewers of the artist contract can have access to the documents more easily.

What is the Use of Artist Contracts?

Whether you’re thinking of establishing an art business, providing creative services, selling art commissions, exhibiting original works, etc., having an artist contract can help you protect yourself and ensure that your cooperation goes smoothly.

what is the use of artist contracts?

Put in another way, an artist contract ensures that both the artist and client have clear expectations for the following cooperation. With these expectations, you can avoid pitfalls and strengthen your professionalism and credibility in the eyes of clients. In this way, you have a shield for your reputation that will allow you to attract other clients.

When to Use Artist Contracts?

There are many different occasions when an artist contract may be necessary. The following include some of the more common ones that artists encounter:

  • Work-for-Hire Agreements
  • Commission Work
  • Licensing
  • Galleries & Exhibitions
  • Collaborations

If you’re curious about what kind of contracts match up with these occasions, you can read the following to learn more:

Types of Artist Contracts

Type #1: Commission Agreements

Commission agreements are a type of artist contract that outlines the terms and conditions for a specific art commission.

If you want to sell commissions as an artist, signing a commission agreement is crucial for avoiding later disputes with your client. On this end, what is specified in the agreement has to include: the scope of commission, deadline, payment terms, revisions, and ownership rights.

commission agreements
(Image Source)

By the way, if you’re new to this type of art business, you can learn more about it in this article or check out, which is a platform for artists to sell commissions.

Type #2: Licensing Agreement

Licensing agreements are a type of artist contract that outlines the terms and conditions for providing permanent or temporary licensing rights for the artist’s work to another party.

In the tutorial, we mentioned that all creative works should have terms involving copyright and intellectual property rights. Licensing agreements are contracts that focus on this aspect because what is being ‘agreed’ upon are these rights.

With a licensing agreement, you can give another party permission to use your work for specific purposes. Whether it be for merchandise, advertising, publication, etc.

For this type of written agreement, the following terms should be included: duration of use, royalties/fees, limitations or restrictions of use, etc.

Type #3: Exhibition or Gallery Representation Agreement

Exhibition or Gallery Representation Agreements are a type of artist contract that outlines the terms and conditions for participating in an exhibition or gallery.

gallery representation agreement

If you want to send your work to a gallery or participate in an exhibition, you can sign an artist agreement that specifies how long the work will be presented, when it will be returned, how it will be marketed, the responsibilities (e.g., shipping, insurance, framing, etc.) of both parties and so on.

Doing so will allow you to hand over your art to the other party with ease of mind.

Type #4. Work-for-Hire Agreement

Work-for-Hire Agreements are a type of artist contract that outlines the terms and conditions for commercial art projects or other creative work services.

We’ve already shown an example of this type of artist contract in the tutorial, although it was called a “Contract for Creative Services” at the time. The two are basically the same thing.

It’s a type of contract used when providing services for a client — whether it be creating character designs based on descriptions from the client, creating full illustrations for provided sketches, etc. Basically, it’s any type of service where the scope of work is decided by the client and you work either at an hourly or at a per-piece rate.

Usually, this type of agreement involves terms for the scope of work, pricing, payment installations, set time frame, delivery, and so on.

work-for-hire agreement

Type #5. Collaboration Agreement

Collaboration Agreements are a type of artist contract that outlines the terms and conditions for collaborations.

If you want to collaborate with other artists, you can sign a collaboration agreement so that the contributions, rights, responsibilities, and ownership of the project are made clear before the project begins. It’s also crucial for avoiding fights over rights and claims with collaborators later.

6 MUST-Know Tips When Signing an Artist Contract

To wrap things up, let’s talk about some tips and tricks to remember when signing an artist contract. This includes general advice and recommendations for useful resources to ease the process when writing contract details:

  • Sign Contract BEFORE Starting the Project: In order to prevent yourself from wasting any time on a project that will never be paid, it’s best to have both parties sign the artist contract before you start working on your artwork.
  • Include Kill Fee Clause: One of the most troublesome things artists encounter when working with clients is cancellation. Either the client suddenly finds the artwork unnecessary or has found someone else to create the artwork. Whatever the case, it’s very frustrating to suddenly be cut off. So, it’s important to establish a kill (cancellation) fee — so that you can receive appropriate compensation when this occurs.
  • Use Online Artist Contract Templates: If you’re just starting out, it’s best to use or refer to existing artist templates online to avoid mishaps. You can find these on sites like or UpCounsel.
  • Seek Professional Legal Advice: If you encounter any legal issues when working, it’s best to seek legal advice as soon as possible. For this, you can look for platforms like ArtsLaw — which is a community set-up for artists looking for professional advice.
  • Sign-Up for Professional Courses or Workshops: If you want to do a bigger business, it’s best that you consider signing up for professional courses or workshops where you can get in touch with people who have experience and certifications in the subject of law. One resource to check out is ‘TheArtistOffice’ — they provide regular workshops on creative law for residents in Los Angeles.
  • Brainstorm With Other Artists: In the end, the ones who know the most about the type of legal issues that you may encounter are your fellow artists. So, don’t hesitate to grab a few for a chat so that you can share your experiences accordingly and see if you can figure out any solutions to the problem.

Final Thoughts:

Now that you’ve learned all that you need to know about signing contracts in the art industry, it’s time to get back to creating art.

BTW! If you’re looking for a way to make your art business more profitable, then you’ve got to check out these online painting classes! They’re great for leveling up your skills.

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