Contractual obligations..

March 8, 2007

I got this email from reader Ken (who often comments with useful information, thanks Ken!), asking a question about the business side of illustration:

“Do most illustrators try to get a contract signed with their client before starting
work, provide an estimate only or just start working on faith?

I have adopted the estimate, quote and invoice forms from “Business and Legal
FOrms for Illustrators” by Tad Crawford for the past several years.  The forms
are on an included CD and can be edited to tailor to your needs.  Having been
burned by an unscrupulous client who used my rough drawing and decided not to
pay me on one of my early jobs, I have always sent a PDF of an estimate, which
includes a description of the job, my fee and a list of boiler plate legalites
that are repeated in the quote and invoice forms.  Some of these include what
rights are being purchased, revision rights, cancellation fees and ownership of
any original art and sketches. “

What Ken does is really smart, and in all likelihood what I ought to do. In my experiences so far, I always ask if the client has a contract/paperwork to sign– usually they do, at least to sign once. A few have not, and depending on the situation (for example, I knew the art director for Yale Alumni Magazine before I did work for them, as he taught at the college I went to. Or if it’s a very rush deadline, sometimes I don’t bother) , sometimes I will do work without a contract (though I do discuss at detail the rights/ownership/other details). This probably is like riding a bike without a helmet though, and it’s something I need to improve on my business end, just to make sure that I don’t get burned and to be tip-top professional.  It’s hard to say who will and who won’t have a contract readymade for you to sign– I’ve had small local weeklies with contracts, and I’ve worked for big corporate magazines who don’t. You should always get this stuff taken care of, though– it’s part of the business. I’ve been lucky that every client I’ve had so far has been reputable and paid me– though occasionally due to some mixup they misplace my invoices.

Sometimes though, I don’t sign the contract right away– for example, if they send me a contract in the mail, I work on the sketches while I’m waiting. So I guess I work more on good faith, but I suspect I ought to be more by the book, eh?

What about you, have you done work without a contract? Or is it a major faux-pas?

Gotta keep this entry short, today I have to hang a lighting system to expose screens so I can screenprint again. Have a great weekend and happy illustrating!


10 Responses to “Contractual obligations..”

  1. Does anyone have an example of what a contract should look like, and what it should include? A web-site, or book I guess?

  2. Blake, I recommend the book, “Business and Legal
    Forms for Illustrators” by Tad Crawford. I picked it up at Border’s about 5 years ago. It’s available on It’s worth the money.

    The legal stuff looks intimidating but he explains each portion clearly. And because he provides the electronic forms on the included CD you can edit it to your needs. I eliminated a few items and cleaned up the formatting.

    He also has forms for other creative fields like fine art and photography.

  3. Emma said

    Hmmm… I’ve only had contracts done on continuing work, like a series of illustrations.

    On less regular work, I usually handle the correspondence on email, so at least I got it all in writing. I make sure the price and everything gets mentioned in the emails. If the job is agreed on the phone, I try to do some kind of confirmation email.

    I haven’t had much trouble with getting payment etc. but there have been some cases where I have done work for a project that got shot down and never saw a penny. I should take more action to protect myself from this kind of thing.

  4. A good book for sample forms and good business practice is the GAG
    or Graphic Artists Guild Handbook. It is subtitled the Pricing and Ethical Guidelines book. It is expensive but covers all areas of illustration and gives pricing advice accordingly. It is updated yearly and is a must for graphic artists and clients alike.

  5. Gerren said

    I’m just starting out, so I haven’t actually had a lot of opportunities to do this (yet), but I’ve also used the same book with great success.

    I took a couple of the forms that I use and brought them into Photoshop. I changed the font and added a header with my business logo. My clients seemed to respond well to it. I think it make you seem more professional and experienced, even if your not. It seems like a good trick to use until you gain that experience.

    What do you think?

  6. Gerren said

    Oh, yeah FYI… the GAG Pricing and Ethical Guidelines book costs $25, but if you join GAG they’ll send you a free copy of it. I bought the book first and then joined, and now I have an extra copy that I don’t need.

  7. It´s very concerning how underinformed most illustrators are – on our school in Germany, detailed knowledge of how illustrators work is often earned the hard way. A friend of mine did illustrations for a very well-know newspaper once in a while (DIE ZEIT), and still doesn´t how much he is supposed to take from certain jobs.

    It´s a very close-mouthed work field, and I bet that some companies abuse the lack of information by exploiting illustrators. Your blog is a very valuable source, as well as forums like It´s a shame that so many talented people are left in the dark about the paperwork that every freelancer should do. I myself don´t know jack about many problems illustrators or artists are confronted with… Again, let me say that a blog like yours is very helpful!

  8. Thanks for the recommendations! I have the GAG, but found it a little intimadating, I’ll check out the Tad Crawford book next.

  9. Astrid said

    Hello everyone. Tough topic. I’ve only been in business for a year. (1.5 if you count the preparation time). I’m based in Switzerland so this might not apply to everyone reading this. At first I went thorough and wanted to put a contract on the back of my offer, but I haven’t really done it. Back then I asked one experienced illustrator if he does it, and he didn’t.

    What I do however is definitely, before starting the job, at least talk to the person in charge and get a verbal agreement (If deadlines are tight). If there’s more time, I make an offer via email, and put some basic things in there like which rights are covered, and which services exactly I’ll do. Listing the services in detail has proven to be a good tool to validate a good price 😉 Clients seem to understand better that an image doesn’t just appear with a “click of the mouse”, but that several work steps are involved.

    So far, I haven’t had any bad experience not using full-blown contracts. Knock on wood 😉

    Good luck you all!

  10. Astrid said

    oh, but I forgot to add: I try to stay flexible for my customers. They seem to appreciate that I “go with the flow” and don’t insist on certain procedures that I have. I adapt to procedures (or lack thereof) the magazine art directors have. For people who generally don’t have any experience in illustration (like friends, or other businesses), I always make a written offer with details. Hope that helps.

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