Terms Of Service For Artists & Illustrators. Tips For Freelancers.
Updated: Nov 9
How to write your Terms Of Service (artist contract) that will protect you from being exploited by clients and will guarantee that you'll be paid for all the extra work.
Today I want to write about something useful for all my artist friends and followers. The thing that many, many freelance artists and illustrators, not only beginners but even experienced ones, have probably never fully understood. It's called "Terms Of Service".
Being a professional freelance artist for almost 12 years I only recently learned what it is and how useful it can be. It's not exactly a contract, but it's your terms and everyone who wants to work with you has to agree to them. As a self-employed artist, you really should have even the basic terms that will protect you from being overused by some clients that never stop asking for that one more change…
Here are my terms of service that can be used in a standard freelance contract - https://www.tanyariarey.com/commissions
Feel free to copy and reuse them for your website, contracts etc. :)
So what exactly are the terms of service for an artist or an illustrator, and how can we use them?
Let me tell you a Russian joke first. It’s a bit funnier in Russian language, but I’ll do my best to translate it -
A girl found a magic goldfish that asked her to let it out. In return, the goldfish promised to fulfil 3 of the girl's wishes. For the first wish, the girl asked for a huge nose, so the goldfish fulfilled it. For the next wish, the girl asked for very short legs, and the goldfish was like: "hmm, ok then, here it is..." And for the last wish, the girl asked for very fat arms, so the goldfish also made it true. The girl let the goldfish out, and before swimming away, the goldfish asked the girl: "Why did you wish all that strange things? Everyone wishes money, health, perfect body...". The girl looked at the goldfish and said - "Wait, was I allowed to?"
I think this is why you always hear that Ukrainian / Russian freelancers are really good, because we haven't accepted the idea that we’re allowed to ask for more money if the work takes more time, or if the brief isn’t clear and we have to draw a hundred sketches before even starting work on the actual illustration.
Did you know that as a self-employed artist all the work you do for any paid commissions by default belongs to you? You can even sell or reuse it for another commission. Because you’re not hired by a company, even if you get paid for the piece of art that you're commissioning for a client, in fact, it’s still your property. You have to sign an NDA or a similar contract to specify that you give all the rights to your client.
So you’re allowed to ask for more money if you’re commissioning an exclusive piece of art that you won’t resell or reuse. And this is something you need to mention to your client. I have it written down on the same page with my artist's terms of service. It's the license agreement that I currently use. If you want to go further you can also set a specific period of time and change your prices, depends on different territories, or for different purposes for your work to be used in etc. But for myself I found that two main types of license: exclusive and non-exclusive is enough as most of my clients are indie game developers and I don't want to give them any restrictions in usage of my work. Making games is hard :)
Next, you need to specify your payment and refund policy, so if you have any problems you can always refer to those specific terms. Then you also need to specify what is included in the price and how many changes you’re willing to do before you’ll have to charge for any extra work. Also, it’s really important to mention that changing something in the drawing that your client has previously approved will take extra time and cost extra money.
And, the most important part - a very, very important part - you have to actually send your terms in the conversation with your client and ask them to agree to them, before hiring you. After that you can always refer to your terms and politely ask the client for extra payment if there is some additional work.
And the last thing, despite everything I've said, I still sometimes do the extra changes that my clients ask for. I make exceptions for my long term clients when I don’t want to ask for extra payment for every small thing that I do. If you have a very good relationship with your client you might never need those terms and conditions. But a lot of the time it’s really useful to get your client to agree to your terms of service - you can’t even imagine how many ridiculous little changes your future unknown client might ask you to do.
You don’t go to a dentist and ask for an extra filling for free because it'll only take 30 minutes, right? Being an artist it’s the same job as being a dentist - you need to pay your bills, and you need to make sure that the time you spend working for someone is fully paid.