Commissions, Copyright & Licencing

Commissions, Copyright & Licencing

You may be reading this because you want to know about commissioning an artwork and what you can do with said artwork. Maybe you’re an artist who wants to know the basics of licencing your work, or a consumer who would like to know what’s involved in licencing an artwork for your products. Well hopefully, this will help shed a little bit of light on it for you. This blog is MY opinion and MY thoughts. It is in no way intended for legal use.

Firstly let me say that creating commissioned artworks, copyright of artworks and licensing of artworks is complex. There is generally not a ‘one size fits all’ scenario. There is also no wrong or right – as an artist you should do what you believe is fair and equitable. But that being said, it’s not always set in stone. I’m a negotiable person, and I want what is best for everyone involved in the process.

Let’s start with the ‘easy’ one. Commissioned artworks for your home, workplace or as a gift for someone special. These are fairly straight forward in my eyes. I’ll ask some questions, we talk about what you want the artwork to say and feel, we work out a price and I start painting. OK it’s a little more involved than that, but that’s about the basis of it.

Let’s break it down a bit further. There are a number of questions I will ask of you to get a better understanding of what you’re after. I will find out what you want the artwork to say and how you want to feel when you look at it. I’ll ask what colours you want to use, how big you would like the artwork to be, whether you want a stretched or unstretched canvas, paper, framed or unframed, portrait or landscape orientation. Do you like texture – well you’ll get texture if you commission me to paint something for you, that’s just how I paint – but do you want extra texture? If so I’ll use a modelling paste to really make some good details. Once all the nitty gritty is figured out, I will give you a quote. Unless of course you choose an A4 or A3 size, then that’s a set price. They’re listed on my website under Original Artworks (shameless plug).

When I receive an email with the details of the artwork or meet with the client, I will start to form an image in my head of what the artwork will look like. If I meet with the client face to face, I’ll take my sketch book with me and draw as we are talking. I like to do this for two reasons. One, so I don’t forget what I have visualised in my head!  And two, so the client can get an indication of what the bones of the artwork will look like. Doing this also makes them really excited to see it come to life. You would be surprised how many people are visual people, those that need to see the visual to register in their brain what it will look like.

When quoting, I take into account things like the canvas or paper I will need to buy. Can I buy a canvas off the shelf or does it need to be custom made. I haven’t seen good quality cotton rag (cold pressed cotton paper) bigger than A2, so I’d have to hunt for that if that’s the case. I’ll also include the cost of paints – I use good quality, mostly high viscosity, opaque acrylic paints. I’ll also take into account how long I think it will take me to paint, whether you want the artwork to be extra busy or not, and my time and experience. I would say I am an emerging artist, therefore not charging huge rates compared to well known, internationally renowned artists. As artists become more well known and their profile increases, so does their fee, generally speaking. I will advise when I think the artwork would be finished, giving consideration to other projects I have on at that time and in the imminent future. The one thing I will say is that art cannot be rushed. It often takes many hours to complete one painting. And then there’s the drying time and then the sealing of the artwork, and then the shipping. The quote will also include shipping, if applicable. As we all know, shipping is damn expensive, especially when it is charged as cubic weight and not what the actual dimensions are! Thanks Aus Post!

Once the quote is accepted, an invoice is sent for 50% deposit, with the remaining 50% due upon completion. Once the deposit is paid, I start painting! 

I will ask you whether you want to see sneak peeks or leave it as a surprise.  Pretty much all of my commissions have wanted a surprise, with the exception of one who couldn’t decide, so went with sneak peeks. But after the first sneak peek decided they wanted to keep it a surprise.

I absolutely love painting your stories, making them come to life. I want you to love the artwork and never get bored of it. I want you to notice something new every time you look at it. I want you to really feel the artwork when you look at it. More often than not, tears are shed when you receive your artwork, and particularly those who receive the artwork as a gift. This is what I want. I want to make you cry! Not sad tears, but happy tears. Tears of joy, of your precious memories, of those you hold close in your heart.

Every artwork will come with a Certificate of Authenticity. This assures you that what you are buying is real and authentic. It’s a one of a kind and made especially for you. It truly is an honour that you ask me to create these artworks for you. I honestly couldn’t think of a better job.

One thing you must remember when commissioning an artwork for private use is that it cannot be reproduced. This is a breach of copyright. Which brings me to the next topic – Copyright.

What is copyright? Basically, copyright is the right of the person who owns the reproduction rights to the artwork, which is essentially the artist or creator. Even though you may hold an original artwork, you would not have the copyright, this stays with the artist unless it is transferred and stated in writing. Copyright is automatic as soon as an artwork is created and continues for the lifetime of the artist and until 70 years after the artists death.

You may see different makers re-creating elements from movies etc. This is generally a breach of copyright and they could find themselves in hot water.  So, before you ask a creative to make a pair of Grinch or Harry Potter earrings, just do a double check on the world wide web to see if it is copyrighted. Chances are it is.

Next up – licencing. Now this one can get tricky. There are lots of things to consider when licencing artworks.

What is a licence? A licence is one person giving permission to another to do something with an artwork. In terms of visual arts, that is generally the reproduction and/or use on merchandise or products.  A licence will also consider the following:

Does the artwork have to be created or is it part of an artist’s portfolio? Often artists will have a portfolio of artworks ready made for licencing. If you are requesting an artwork be created specifically for you or your business, then this will work out a bit more expensive as the artwork has to be created.

How do you want to use the artwork? Will it be used on a fabric and if so, does it need to be made into a seamless design so that it prints in a repetitive manner? Will it be used on a label or packaging. Or is the artwork for promotional material?

How many times will the artwork be reproduced? If you were to order a certain number of units of stock, this will be taken into account when preparing the licence.  However, if you make the items to order, the artist may want to be paid royalties. This means you pay the artist for the licence plus you pay them a certain percentage of the retail price of each product sold.

For how long do you intend to use the artwork? A licence will have an expiry date, depending on how and what you use it for.  If it is for say a particular time of the year (ie. Christmas or Easter) then you would probably get a 6 month licence. This may vary depending on when the product needed to be printed. If it took 8 months to be manufactured, then you had promotion time, stock in stores etc, you may want a 12 month licence. This is always negotiable and is on a case by case basis.

Do you want exclusive rights to the artwork, or are you ok with non-exclusive? An exclusive licence means you, and only you, can reproduce that artwork according to the licence, for the term of the licence.  Even the artist is not allowed to use it for other purposes. But bear in mind this does NOT give you copyright to the artwork. A non-exclusive licence means anyone who holds a licence for a particular artwork can use it.  Just because you may have a licence doesn’t mean you’re the only one and have exclusive rights to it. The creator can use it any way they wish and even licence it to someone else to use. An exclusive licence will be more expensive than a non-exclusive one.

It can be a bit of a process creating a licence. There will most likely be lots of negotiation and questions. Once the terms are agreeable for both parties, I will draw up the licence and have you look it over to ensure you’re happy with everything included in it. If happy, a signature is required from both parties and then the fun can start.

One thing to remember for both consumers and artists is that artists should be paid fairly for their time and abilities. You wouldn’t organise a plumber to come and do some work then ask him if he would take 50% of his fee. I guarantee you’ll get the finger or a door in your face. Speaking as an artist, we always undervalue our time. We often don’t charge for the many hours spent sourcing products, researching, travelling to collect supplies or the time spent emailing or creating a licence for example. We’re actually doing ourselves a disservice. Everyone’s time is precious. So, when buying or requesting a handmade product or bespoke artwork, have a little think about all the factors that go into the creation of that item. As artists we don’t mass produce items. We’re not factories or production lines. Just normal people who love to paint and create.

For artists wanting to get into licencing their works, I highly suggest getting in contact with Arts Law. They are great to deal with and explain things well. As does their website – spelt out in laymens terms. The website is also an excellent tool for those who want to hold a licence for an artwork. It really helps to explain both parties’ rights and responsibilities and what you can expect when licencing an artwork. (

National Association for the Visual Arts (NAVA is another great tool for both artists and consumers for learning more about all things to do with art.


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