Monday, March 10, 2008

The Commission Contract - Part I

The Commission Contract: The Most Important Part of a Commission

There have been numerous people asking what I include in my contract for commissions, so I thought I’d write an article on what I put in my contract and why it is necessary. As artists, we don’t like to think our clients are people we can’t trust, or that our clients will ever stiff us or give us a problem. However, those of us who already do commissions know that, unfortunately, you cannot always count on the good side of people when dealing with a lot of money for a portrait. So, for those of us who would far rather avoid headaches with difficult clients, or want to just have a clearly written and concise contract that spells out everything for the client as well as for ourselves, I hope this article helps.

For ease of the reader, I have divided up this article into parts. This particular article covers the following:

1. Why Do You Need a Contract?

2. What Is In a Contract

  • Client Information
  • Portrait Information
This is a very simple beginning. Although ALL sections in a contract are important, some sections are absolutely crucial. The next article will cover those crucial sections, so be sure not to miss it.

Why Do You Need A Contract?

You need a contract between the artist and the client for a variety of reasons.

1. It spells out ALL costs and expenses involved in the commission.

2. It explains any special fees that may occur during the course of the commission.

3. It contains all the information you, the artist, need to get in touch with the client, how & where to deliver the painting, details about the commission and the subjects, and copyright information. In addition, it is a signed contract between the two of you and is legally binding in a court of law if, God forbid, it ever needed to go that far.

As much as we would like to think the best about people, and as often as agreements start out amiable, they do not always end that way. Without a contract, you could end up being left high and dry, or you could end up with a lot of extra work and not get paid for it.

What Is In A Contract?

So, what exactly does a contract consist of? I have broken down the contract I use into sections, and I will cover each section separately.

A. Client Information

This is pretty self-explanatory. I include the client’s name, address, telephone number and alternate number (usually a cell phone number). If the client has a P.O. Box, I also ask for a physical address.

B. Portrait Information

Okay, now we start to get down to the nitty gritty. I begin this section with a little blurb about how the client wishes to commission me to create an artistic portrait and that by entering this contract the client acknowledges that he or she has reviewed my other portraits and is familiar with my style. This blurb is to make sure that the client really understands what he or she is getting and what the portrait is likely to look like in the end. That way, the client cannot say he did not know what your artistic style was from the beginning.

Portrait Size
The sizes I include are a total of six different sizes:

8" x 10"
9" x 12"
11" x 14"
14" x 18"
16" x 20"
18" x 24"

I keep to standard frame sizes to make it easier to mat and frame. Each size has a base price that I have already determined. The base price is the starting point, and it goes up from there depending on the particulars. After checking which size the portrait is to be, I write the base price in the spot provided next to the size.

The portrait to the right, "Gazing Toward Heaven", is a 9" x 12" three-quarter body with a simple background. I didn't make it complex, even with the garden sign included.

Type of Shot
This tells me how much of the subject is included in the portrait. My clients have three choices:

Head & shoulders
three-quarter body, or
full body

I charge 25% more for the full body.

The portrait to the right, "Bentley", is an 11" x 14" full body with a complex background (because it has furniture in it).

Last, I ask what kind of background my client would like. They have two choices:

Simple - a background of gradient color
Complex or detailed - including furniture, nature, specific items, etc.

I charge 25% more for the complex background.

The portrait to the right, "Bird Watching", is a 9" x 12" three-quarter body complex background.

Additional Information

I use a separate piece of paper to record such information as eye color, hair color, height, and any additional distinguishing features or information the client wishes to include. I used to include this info in my contract, but it got too cluttered and confusing, so I took it out. Now the contract is much more understandable!

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One thing I have decided not to do is to provide a copy of my contract. This is because I want you to write your own, one that suits you and your needs. I got the basic information for mine from another artist, then changed it to suit my own needs and preferences. That is what you should do as well. I am providing you with the information that I feel is necessary to include. You may feel that I am missing an item or two that you want to include. Additionally, you may feel that I have included sections you do not feel necessary. Again, this article is simply meant to be a guideline for you to use in the creation of your own contract.

NEXT: Costs, Payment Plans, Copyright Information, and Other tips.

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Other Blog Articles About Commissions:

"The Nuts and Bolts of Commission Work" by Maggie


  1. I always tell other artists that they should have a contract written out that protects both parties. Its good for the client because then they know exactly what they are getting and you now exactly what you need to do. This is a great post giving what should be on a contract, well done :)

  2. You've made a great start here with your blog, a couple of very worthwhile articles. I hope you find you enjoy blogging!

    On your reference photo post, I'm glad that you mentioned that you can learn alot by looking at photos and copying them, at least initially, and just for your own personal benefit. It is a good way to learn at the start.

  3. Thank you Jennifer & Rose! I was hoping that these articles could help some people out. I tried to think what I might be best at writing about that would be of interest to a lot of people. I'll finish up about contracts next week, then I've decided on writing about how I do my photo shoots for commissions. I noticed that Maggie wrote about using other people's ref photos for commissions. Hopefully my article will make a nice pairing with hers.