Podcast: Worth it: Negotiation for Creatives

What to Include in a contract

It is so important that you keep track of all your work, where it is, where it has been shown and what is being agreed to when signing a contract with a buyer or a gallery. Most galleries will have exhibition agreements, condition reports and sales contracts. Read through all of these carefully. Find out who is responsible for what (shipping, exhibition installation, commission % etc) You have the right to take issue with any contract you sign. If for example you are invited to be in an exhibition and suddenly find yourself responsible for shipping in both directions, you may want to raise your prices. Or, you can negotiate this with the venue or buyer.

Some other points to take note of when reading or signing contracts:

Who pays for shipping?

Who is paying for insurance in shipping?

Is the venue insured? If so, what type of insurance? Will you be compensated if your work is lost, stolen or damaged? If so, for how much of the value?

Is the venue secure?

If you have wall work- are the walls plywood backed?

Who supplies the hardware for installation?

What is the commission? What will the gallery do to earn that commission?

Contracts and Invoices:

Contract for sale template

Invoice for sale of artwork


Contract for commission of artwork

receipt of work contract

Gallery Consignment agreement

contract for exhibition

Condition Report

Artists’ checklists – These are great and so helpful. I highly suggest you download these to keep and use!

37 thoughts on “Contracts

  1. Something I would have never thought to ask a client is how many times they have commissioned someone for work. That information definitely can help save future headaches down the road and help you know who you’re getting into business with. Does the client have to sign a commission contract for it to be valid or indisputable?

  2. I learned that filling out condition reports on work is super important which is something I never knew existed. My question is what the difference between and invoice and a contract is when it comes to selling directly to a buyer?

  3. I guess it makes sense to have in writing who is responsible for what because there are so many variables in the sale, shipping, and displaying of artwork that could create conflict if not previously specified. For invoices and contracts for sale of work, how does one go about completing those for online sales? is there a different method for sales that are not done face-to-face?

  4. I learned that there is a contract for commissioned artwork. Does this mean they can keep making more of the same commissioned work in the future or does the contract make it a one time thing?

  5. Contracts are great to help keep everyone on the same page and so both parties know what to expect, but what do u do if you or the other party doesn’t follow the contract, do you get advice and help from lawyers or do you simply stop making the work and move on?

  6. I’ve forgotten all about the contracts ever since I once signed a contract with a local business when I was about 17 years old. My first experience with a contract was difficult, as the long contract I signed wasn’t what we actually discussed. Instead of being paid hourly to paint a whole glass storefront for winter, I was instead 35 whole dollars for two weeks worth of daily work. So I found this all very helpful! All of this was new news to me, and very knowledgeable so i might be less fearful for contracts in the future. I’m curious if a personal can be held liable to any of the agreements done through word of mouth before the initial signing of the contract Or does it simply not exist if it isn’t on the contract?

  7. It makes sense that there are Art Lawyers out there but how often should we contact them for reviewing a contract with us? Where can we see examples of filled out contracts? Or are those confidential?

  8. I learned that as much as I’d like to believe people and businesses will be true to their word, it is always important to have agreements set in stone for legal reasons. I would have never thought to ask about the walls but it makes total sense since that is a huge fall liability for your work. I still want to know how to negotiate contracts with people who may have better lawyers and more experience without getting swindled.

  9. I am always wondering about how artists cooperate with galleries on arranging exhibitions, this is a good answer to this question. And it’s conceivable that some disputes would happen and cost a lot to figure them out. Is there any way to avoid this situation?

  10. I learned a lot about making contracts specifically for commission work. It was helpful to learn specifically what to include. It is wise to summarize what the work being made should be, include payment schedule, progress reports, late payment fees etc. Even if a contract is involved should you be skeptical about a gallery or etc. If they do not have much experience?

  11. I learned that you should be looking into your client’s past artist purchases before accepting a commision. This looks helpful and definitely wasn’t something I ever would think to be necessary. As far as contracts are concerned, I understand their necessity. However, I’m wondering how people go about getting out of contracts they no longer want to comply to.

  12. The flexibility of some contracts versus others was something that I noticed. Having a contract that is open facilitates conversation and negotiation before signing anything, I had no idea how much of a choice I might have with some of these sections.

    How does insurance work? Where can you get it and what is the difference between ensuring a piece yourself or through a gallery?

  13. I remember filling out condition reports for work coming into the Cohen Gallery when I worked there and how important it was for the smaller artists to be insuring their work, especially if it is fragile.

    Should we be writing up our own contracts for commissions if it is not going through a gallery or institution?

    • YES! There are some great contract templates on the GYST website
      It is so important to have agreements in writing- whether in a formal contract or in a simple email, this helps keep the flow of information clean. If you come to a verbal agreement, always follow up with an email saying something like “following up with our conversation; it was my understanding per our agreement that I will do xxx by xxd ate and you will pay me xxx upon delivery. Do you agree, or do you have anything to add?”

    • UPS actually has some guideline about shipping framed work. I also like the wikihow info on this (they have illustrations)
      In addition to their suggestions, I would recommend that you cut a piece of foam, which is the same depth as your frame (no deeper), and cut it to the same size as the exposed glass. rest this inside your frame edge, then wrap the rest of the frame as illustrated. I have also done this with sheets of folded bubble wrap- fill the gap, then wrap the rest.
      As frame is a 3 dimensional object, and the same rules apply- make sure that your frame is really tightly packed in the box. This will prevent it from shifting about too much in transport.

  14. I never really knew how much there was to making a contract for commissioned work. I have had a lot of difficulty with clients commissioning work and this will definitely solve a lot of those issues.

    When working with a first time client what is a good way to present a contract without it feeling intimidating?

    • Good question. I think just go for it. Let them know that you have a contract so that both of you are comfortable with the terms. A contract just clarifies expectations on both sides. You can say that to the,- “I have a contract so that we can both avoid getting into a place where one of us is unhappy with our arrangement. Having our agreement in writing helps us to stay on the same page” While it might feel weird the first couple times, it sounds like you know how hard it can be with commissions. People appreciate clarity. If they look taken aback, ease their minds that this document is a simple method to clarify your terms.

  15. I never thought about contracts! What happens if I don’t agree to the terms of the contract? Do I walk away from the opportunity or negotiate the terms?

    • If you don’t agree to the terms- negotiate! Try not to compromise the safety of your work- but contracts are meant to be negotiated.
      If you cannot come to an agreement, that might tell you something about the organization or person you are dealing with. If it feels wrong- don’t do it!

  16. There are lots of things in this article that are useful to keep in mind. Particularly about who is paying for things like shipping or damaged items when it comes to giving your work to a gallery. For commission contracts, is one needed for all commissioned work or should this only be done for more formal commissions?

  17. Contract work is all new to me but is so valuable when it comes to work that has to be shipped and handled delicately like glass.

    Do professional shipping companies shoulder the weight of the cost of broken work? If so is it just easier to divey up the cost of a professional packing and shipping company?

  18. Ive never thought about contracts before so this was helpful. And I never considered artists should be looking into potential client’s past artist purchases before accepting a commission. That seems extremely helpful.

  19. I never realized how complex contract negotiation would be. I didn’t know or think about many of the different aspects of it or the details involved. A gallery has recently shown interest in my work through a friend and might reach out, so I will need to be aware of how contracts work if this pans out.

  20. For some reason I’ve never given art contracts much notice. We’re always told to read through every contract’s fine print but when I think contracts I think more corporate business and loans, not really galleries, shipping costs, and condition reports.

  21. When I worked in museums condition reporting was a very important part of the installation process because we needed to know what might change throughout the course of the exhibition. That is a practice very much tied into this structure of contractual obligations that the we consider here.

  22. I’ve had to write up invoices for clients before (mostly facepainting) and it is such a relief to finally have a reliable resource to judge off of… I’ve been trying to figure this all out myself for years and I’m saving every page as a PDF for future references.

    If something isn’t included in a contract, how do you open the conversation to adding something in that you consider crucial?

  23. This reading is a nice reminder of how important contracts are. It is important to keep in mind additional costs (like shipping and installation) and the commission o see if your actually profiting in this endeavor.

  24. These articles definitely highlight some areas of consideration that are very easy to overlook as someone new to exhibiting work. It’s so good to be aware of these expenses so you know the venue is treating you fairly.

  25. I have started to look at ways to keep track of my work, recording who has what piece. I found this very helpful as this was not something that my high school art teacher nor my first two years of college instruction really touched on. Having a way to track and monitor my art pieces will be important in the future. This has been very helpful in knowing more about contracts and knowing what to look for.

  26. I have not yet run into or needed a contract, nor have I thought of one or what it may look like. It’s very well known that contacts are bond and the wording is incredibly important. There are likely many things still that I wouldn’t know to be concerned about when negotiating a contract. What are some of these unforeseen things you may know from experience? Are there different things that become important when showing work at different venue types?

  27. I knew that contracts were important, but I had no idea where to start and hadn’t thought about little things like shipping or creating itemized lists for galleries. Should there be a baseline for all of your contracts or do they change drastically to fit the client? How do you obtain a copyright for your work, and do you have to pay for official rights?

  28. Since we have discussed contracts in class, I have some background knowledge of them. However, it is convenient to have a bulleted list of everything to look for when making one. I didn’t realize the flexibility in finding solutions through a contract – such as the example where you can simply raise your prices if the vendor won’t pay for shipping. That seems like a much less confrontational solution instead of demanding that the venue pays for it instead. I wonder, does the chance for an opportunity ever outweigh a slightly iffy contract? Should you always deny an opportunity if they cannot comply with what you need/want?

  29. my first question is about royalty %. Are there any resources to find average % of say royalties for design work or royalties on writing? And second since it is likely that in if you make and sell art long enough your work will go up for auction at some point are their ways to write in a resale commission into any sales contracts? Lets say in a perfect world your work starts showing up in auctions and selling for $100000 it seems like there must be a way to ensure that you as the original artist receive some of that sale? Is this already a thing?

  30. The whole part on doing a bunch of background research on each client before accepting commissions and asking if they’ve commissioned art before and then talking to the other artists they had commissioned previously before accepting the commission seemed like it was a little bit overkill to me. As long as you have a good contract with penalties for non/late payment and the client has seen your work and discussed what they want with you shouldn’t that be enough? As even if they try to be flakey or something they’re contractually bound?

  31. It is so helpful to have a quick bullet point list to look over or have in mind before signing a contract. It is nice to have this knowledge because I would never really think about insurance, shipping, tools, etc. just automatically.
    Is it common practice for an artist just to understand and look over contracts themselves? It seems like a lawyer would not be someone to bring into play here? Unless I assume you become so big that it comes to that point.

    • Usually an institution will have a lawyer look over the language of a contract before it’s put into use. Lawyers are expensive. As much as we are in the habit of doing so, until you can afford someone to read it for you- read all the fine print. If you have any questions, you can use an online service like legal zoom to help you work it out. Most of these contracts follow a pretty standard format though.

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