5 basic policies artists should think about...now

We have the best art chats! No, seriously! We have artists of all levels. The one thing they all have in common is a desire to learn from each other. No one knows it all. We hold these on Zoom every Monday and Friday and pick a topic and just hone in on that topic and work it out. And last Monday the topic was those business policies every artist is supposed to have but generally hasn't actually written down until... something unpleasant happens. Even as most of us are aware of cases where friends or colleagues have had a negative incident. Myself included!


At our Monday morning art chat, we discussed the different types of policies that an artist might need, and in no way is this exhaustive:

  1. Refund/return policy (even if the policy is "no returns")

  2. Commissions policy

  3. "No harm" policy for teaching students to use specific art supplies/tools

  4. Privacy policy

  5. Shipping policy (to be honest, we didn't get to the last two before time was up)

The group's return policies range from "none" to "depends on who it is" to an informal "I'll take anything back". Although, for the most part, those in our group did not have to deal with many returns (that's a great sign, right?). In fact, those who had the largest problem and who already had policies in place were the jewelry artists. Maybe because the nature of their art lends itself to being given as gifts more easily?


The Abundant Artist has an article on writing a good return policy. Among the things I took away from it were that you have to think carefully about what you cover. Return shipping? And how long after the purchase? And what are the local laws?


Do you add your return policy to your website or print it on the sales slip? So many decisions to make!


Heidi Huston of Awen Alchemy shared with us her simplified return policy that she customizes for each sale:



In our discussion, many artists said they do not take returns or only for certain situations. For example, if something is damaged in shipping, the buyer needs to contact the seller in a reasonable amount of time to make a claim on the shipping insurance.


A member mentioned that she had heard of a policy where the artist gives credit back but only good for pieces of a higher value. That is an interesting angle! Another option is to give a percentage back, or the purchase price minus any taxes or fees and the original shipping.


But (predictably) some of the liveliest parts of the conversations were the stories! Like the one where a customer bought something from a gallery and tried to return it months later when the artist was no longer represented by that gallery.


Commissions policies were another hot item of discussion. Like many, I don't like the idea of commissions and will rarely take them for my abstract work, however I am considering taking commissions for a very particular type of art, so I was eager to hear the stories and advice.


Naturally a lot of the advice centered on taking half the money up front as a non-refundable fee to start the commission in order to avoid having a finished piece with no guaranteed buyer. While this advice is pretty common all over the web, many admitted they didn't always follow it, although no one in the group had, as yet, been burned by a non-payment.


If the commission is something the artist likes and would have painted anyway, there is little danger because the artist can sell it through other means, but often the commission is tailored to the customer making it harder to sell to the general public.


Judith Rothenstein-Putzer actually breaks the commission payments into thirds and was kind enough to share her contract with us - download it here. And please go to her website and see her unique art. She also has a killer newsletter!


When working on a commission, do you send progress photos? Some of the artists do so that they can make sure they are on the right track, however in some cases, the progress of the art may not be apparent to the buyer in the way it is to the artist. If your artwork goes through a stage where the average person cannot tell what it will look like when finished, it may be wise to hold back.


We had the benefit to actually have a case where one of our artists had recently commissioned another for a piece. It was great to hear from both sides how they felt the process went. In their case, they used zoom consultations to get the concepts and colors right and in the end, while the customer is still waiting for the finished piece to arrive, she is more than happy with the photos.


Marlene Sabatina, of Featherheart Studio, gives classes on metal-working and she impressed on everyone the need to have a "hold harmless" policy for those who teach classes using supplies that may cause injury if used incorrectly. She shared it with us and you can download it here.


Keep in mind that just because you have a policy, does not mean someone cannot sue, but you will be better off at least addressing possibilities in advance.


More examples:


Return Policies:


Commissions Policies:

  • Ask Harriete (wow, this site has a lot of policy resources!)


Hold Harmless Policies:


Privacy Policies: (we didn't get to these in discussion, but in a world where everyone sells your data, this can be a clutch subject!)


Shipping Policies:

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