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The Importance of Contracts

When doing any kind of illustration work, it’s important to have a contract. Sure, it may seem a bit daunting for a beginner to delve into legalese, but contracts don’t need to be scary. They can be as simple as a plain-language document that outlines the general business between you and the client. In the world of illustration, they’re important for the following reasons:

  1. Contracts provide a written document that outlines the full understanding of the business relationship and scope of the work so that no one can claim any misunderstandings later down the road.
  2. They specify exactly what rights are being purchased and what rights you’re retaining.
  3. They’re binding and legally enforceable.
  4. They protect both you and the client.
  5. They stipulate how and when you get paid, what needs to trigger that payment, and what recourses you have if the client stiffs you.
  6. They minimize risk.

Never feel awkward about insisting a client works with a contract. It’s a mark of professionalism and should actually inspire confidence, knowing that you take your business seriously. Any client who refuses to work with one should be treated suspiciously as that’s a serious red flag. And any illustrator who works without at least having something in writing, whether it be a formal document or just confirming emails, is destined for some serious heartache later down the road.

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Neil Swaab is a freelance illustrator, art director, author, and educator based in Brooklyn, NY. He's an instructor at Parsons the New School for Design and the illustrator of the New York Times bestselling book Middle School: My Brother is a Big, Fat Liar by James Patterson and Lisa Papademetriou. His new authored and illustrated book, The Secrets to Ruling School: Class Election, comes out this September from Amulet Books.

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