Contract Artwork Guidelines by Eric Kimball

The Basics

Getting  Paid

Always get paid for your work

One of the biggest problems you will have is people asking you for free work.  Never agree to work without a firm commitment to being paid for that work.   Wasting your time on non-paying work will burn you out and negatively affect your productivity.

Don’t be a perfectionist

You will always want to make the page better.  But if you spend too much time on piece of work you will not be able to earn enough commissions to survive.  A good artist is a fast artist.  A fast artist is an artist that knows when to say “good enough” and send the imperfect work to the client.

Get paid for the second redraw

You will be asked to redraw work due to misunderstanding.  The first time you are asked to redraw something you should do that for free.  However if you asked to redraw something for a second time you should get some pay for that work.  Misunderstanding are the responsibilities of both the client and the artist.  If the client can not make themselves clear it is not your responsibility to keep redrawing the art.

The standard agreement that I have with artist is that the first redraw of a page is done for free.  The second redraw is done for half price.  And all redraw after that are full price.  Whatever you choose to do about redraws make sure you let the client know before you start work on the project.

To help circumvent a complete redraw, run an example size of the sketch stage by the commissioner. This will help you correct any potential issues before they are more difficult to fix later.

Know how much you are worth

Your client will always ask you to work for less than your art is actually worth.  This is because the client makes their money on the difference between what they can sell artwork for and what they can get you to work for.  The less they can get to work for the the better it is for them.   When you talk to a client you have to know how much people are paying for artwork similar to yours.  The client will lie to you about how much they have to spend and how much your work is worth.  You can not trust them for honest information on this topic.  You have to know going it what a fair rate is and stick to that rate.

You also have to balance that knowledge against your own financial needs.  It is fine to take a job for less than an optimal rate if you know that you are worth more and are only taking this job because you currently don’t have any other prospects.  In this case you should negotiate with the client what will happen if you find a better job.

The less you are paid the more flexibility you should get.

Some client just don’t have the money to pay you a fair rate.  If you still want to take the job you should get more flexibility.

  • Deadlines can be open more open.

  • You can be allowed to put the work to the side when you get a better job.

  • You can have the right to sell the artwork yourself.

  • You can share trademark on the character and concepts so that you can make your own work to sell.

Never “work on spec”

The phrase “work on spec” mean doing work for a percentage of the profits instead of for a flat fee.  This is essentially working for free.  You will never see any of the profits from most work even if you are promised it.  Comic usually only break even. If there are profits they will be invested back into printing more books or other costs.  You will usually get nothing.

You can work for spec and a flat fee.  That way if there are profits you get a bonus.  But the flat fee must be high enough so that if you don’t get any profits you will still be satisfied with what you were paid.

There is no such thing as “exposure”

Often a client will ask you to take a lower rate because you will get “exposure” on the comic.  The idea being that if you do a good job on the comic you will get better jobs from other people.  This is a lie.  Exposure does not exist.  Or more accurately all projects give you the exact same exposure.  Do a good job on any comic and it will help you get a new job so you might as well pick the ones that pay you real money.

Never send final work before you are paid.

This is the most important rule.  A client will steal your work if you send the final before they pay you.  It is a horrible thing to do but they will do it.  Remember the less a client pays for artwork the more profits they make and there are plenty of artist they can do business with.  They don’t need to keep you happy.    When you have finished an artwork you can send a watermarked version of the art that is very small for review.  But that is it.

Generally 300px by 463px is a size that is large enough for the client to see the comic and judge it’s value. But if it is properly watermarked it will be unusable in any context.  Here is an example:

© Eric Kimball - Art by Mangosta Hertz

© Eric Kimball – Art by Mangosta Hertz

You send something like this to a client for them to review.  Under no circumstances do you send the final version until the money for the artwork is in your bank account.

Never work for long periods without pay

As I mention when budgets get cut art is the first thing to go.  This means that you could put a lot of work into a project and suddenly discover that there is no longer any money for it.  You should alway try to get paid for each page individually or at the very least in small blocks of pages.   Never work for a period of time that is greater than what you are willing to write off as an expense of doing business.

Have a backup job

The unfortunate truth of contract work is that you go through periods of boom and bust.  Some months you will have more job offers than you can ever work and then other months you will have nothing.   Also artwork jobs are very sensitive to economic changes.  Artwork is considered a luxury by most people so when money is tight they will stop spending.  There are times when you will need a second income to support yourself.

Using  Contracts

Always have an actual contract.

When you take a job you should always have a written agreement between you and the client.  The contract should define the following points.

  • The Method of Delivery

    • How you are going to get the images to them?

    • Do they require the original artwork?

  • Production

    • What is the size of the artwork required

    • Color or black and white?

    • Art style requested?

    • Is adult artwork requested?

    • Are rough sketches requested during the production process?

    • How many redraws can the client request before they have to pay more?

  • Deadlines

    • When  you are expected to deliver the artwork by?

    • What happens if you are late?

    • What notification do you need to give the client if you are going to be late?

  • Payment

    • How will the client pay you?

    • Who will absorb the cost of transfer fees?

    • When will the pay you?

    • What is the price they will pay for the work?

    • Is their any payment penalties or bonuses that can occur?

    • Who retains ownership of the work if the client fails to pay?

    • Do you get a percentage if the comic sell well?

      • If so what happens if the client fires you mid project?

  • Use

    • Will the client be selling the artwork or is it for personal use?

    • Do they have the right to print it?  Put it online?  Use it in games?

    • Does the client have to pay you more if they reprint the work?  If the publish it in a different way than was originally agree upon?

    • Do you have the right to use the artwork?  Put it in a portfolio?  Sell it yourself?

    • Who owns the characters in the comic (trademark)?

  • Disclosure

    • Can you tell people about the project as you work on it?  If not what are the restrictions?

    • Will you be credited in the project?  How?

Most contract artwork jobs are for such small amounts that you will never be able to sue anyone.  But, even if they are not enforceable they provide two important protections.  First the make sure you and the client are on the same page with everything and neither of you will be surprised by what the other one wants.  Second if the comic becomes very successful you will have something to enforce your rights to the property.

You can and should change contracts

When a client gives you a contract, it is not set in stone.  You are allowed to edit the contract. In fact it is a very good idea to change a contract to suit your needs. The first contract a client send is usually a bad one.  It usually does not give you many rights.  The first contract should be changed to give yourself a more reasonable deal.  Remember it’s not in the clients best interest to protect your rights or give you more money.  Even if they are nice people they will usually send you a first contract that is not the best deal they can give you.

If a client refuses to allow a contract to be changed in any way this is a major warning sign that you should not work with this client.

Contracts should be understandable.

Ok, so being honest here.  Since most contracts are just to define what people are expected to do, there is no reason for complicated legal speech in a contract.  Never sign a contract that you do not understand. Do not believe the clients explanation of what something means.  If there is something that is unclear in a contract rewrite it so it is clear and send it back to the client.  Clear understandable text IS legal.

If a client refused to rewrite confusing text in a contract then in no circumstances should you sign that contract or work with that client.

Client Relations

 What clients want

All clients have a set budget, a certain pool of that they can spend.  They want to get the most artwork for that budget.  While they understand and respect

They are willing to negotiate and support you if it helps them achieve this goal.  They are not your adversary, they are willing to work with you on any topic that is not money related, but when it comes to money they are not trustworthy.  These are the good clients.

The bad clients are the ones who actively want to trick you to do work for nothing.  They will promise you the world in an attempt to get work out of you that they have no intention of paying for.  There is a lot of these type of clients out there.

One of the tricks of success is to tell the difference between the good clients who are just untrustworthy and the bad clients who are liars.  This is not an easy task and you will be tricked from time to time. Don’t take it personally.

One more thing to remember is a good client can become a bad client if they have financial problems. When the budget needs to be cut, art is the first thing to go.  Again, this will happen to you, don’t take it personally.

Deadlines are essential

 The worst thing you can do to your client is miss a deadline.  The moment you miss a deadline you start costing the client money.  Once the deadline has passed your artwork has essentially become worthless. One of your primary jobs as an artist is keeping track of your deadlines and not over extending yourself. Fail to do this and you will lose clients very quickly.

When it all goes wrong, communicate.

The second worst thing you can do to a client is not tell them when something is going wrong.  Most clients can compensate for a missed deadline if they have advance notice.  But if you don’t talk to them then the missed deadline will take them by surprise and then will not be able to react in time.  A client will appreciate if you tell them early on that you having a problem.  There is no shame in being in over your head and often your clients will help you out if you let them know what is going on.  After all they want you to continue producing work so it is in their best interest that you don’t get burned out.

Work to keep your good clients.

A client that pays on time and gives you consistent work is something that you should hold on to.  Do things to let them know they are your first priority.

Managing Your Career

What you do will build your reputation.

As you work you will start to build a reputation.  This reputation will get you more jobs.  Meet deadlines and work fast and the clients will recommend you to other people.  Let people down and you will quickly become blacklisted.

Beyond your work ethic the type of jobs you take will build a reputation for you.  Some artist have careers only drawing a certain type of artwork.  So pick job that excite you and are things that you want to be doing.

Adult artwork is also something that will build your reputation.  Adult art gets paid better than normal work but once you start drawing it for clients you will quickly build a reputation as an adult artist. From that point on you will get mostly adult requests.  This is not bad if you like drawing this kind of stuff but if you are just taking an adult job because it pays well you should reconsider.  You don’t want to get locked into doing something you don’t enjoy.

Watch the attitude.

Here is the way clients work.  When they look for an artist they are looking not just for someone who can just produce art, there are lot of people who produce art, they are looking for someone who is easy to work with.  Making life difficult for the client by being unpleasant is something that they are not looking for.

You also have to be careful of what you say about clients online.  New clients will google you and if they find that you are getting in fight and complaining about past clients they will find someone else to work with.  It doesn’t matter if you are in the right, clients want things to be easy and will avoid someone who looks like a firebrand.

This article was written by Eric Kimball.
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