Hiring/paying artists



I have a few concepts for decks that I've been working on. However, I have no skills in the visual arts so will be hiring an artist to illustrate the decks. I've met with a few individuals who are interested in the project, and I'd like to begin working with one of them.

My question is this - how do I pay them?

If you've hired artists before, did you pay them for each piece as it was completed? Did you pay based on the time they worked? Did you just agree on a total amount and pay it all at once? Or was some other method used?
**edited to add**
On a related note, did/will you pay the artist a percentage of the money you make from selling the deck? If so, was/is this instead of or on top of commissioning the artwork?

If you are an artist, how would you prefer to be paid?

Want to get a better idea of this part of things before moving forward.
Thanks for any input!


Hi Deanne,

I can't help with actually finding an artist, but I'm from that side of the fence so I hope I can help with some of your other questions.

You will need to work out a plan/contract that works for both you and the artist and offers protections to you both. Some artists may prefer an hourly rate, others may want to work piece-by-piece or even give a quote for the whole project.

There is a LOT that goes into a project like this, and I'm not sure I'm the best one to cover all of it. Here's some advice for hiring a book illustrator that also fits well here. Also, this page has an extensive list of things you'll want to consider and include in your terms with your illustrator. That may sound overwhelming, but an artist with any professional experience will appreciate that you've taken the time to think about these things ahead of time.

From my own experience, I will add two points here:

1. Yes, the artist should get royalties if a profit is made. Unless you are purchasing the work outright, in which case that MUST be stated explicitly in your contract, and your fee paid should be exponential to reflect that (google "work for hire" for more info, there. It is generally not the normal route for anyone other than companies). The corollary to this advice is that the artist should still be paid -- not asked to work for 'exposure' or only to earn anything if the deck makes a profit. It sounds like you already know this, but I like to make sure.

2. Similar to what is said in the first link, once you pick an artist, try not to micromanage! If you think you are going to micromanage, be clear about that up front and find an artist that will work well with YOU. Even then, try your best to request all your changes as early as possible when you see work early in the process (sketches or however the artist in question works). This will save you and your artist a l-o-t of time and trouble.

I hope that helps answer some of your questions!


Thank you ideamutt!
I already have some artists in mind, so no need for help there - but your perspective on the payment side of things is very much appreciated!

I definitely want the artist to get paid, whether this deck is a success or not (heck, it may not even get published - I'm totally new to this!) I can't imagine the amount of work involved in illustrating 78 cards.

Good to know the royalties are an expected thing. I will keep that in mind when discussing the commission price.

The point about requesting changes early is duly noted as well :)

I will look at those links more thoroughly later (short on time right now) - they seem like very good resources.


From my own experience: I had a lawyer draw up a "work made for hire" contract, so that ownership of the completed art would be unambiguous (ie, me)--I need this in case I decide to sell my deck to a publisher or other third party down the road (plus, there are all sorts of issues that can crop up if ownership of assets is in any way unclear).

I've been offering a per-card fee, with no royalties--partially to keep things simple, but also because I didn't want to ask an artist to work for possible future payment (since I have no idea how successful the project will eventually be).

If you have the money (and artist availability), trying to arrange a "bulk rate" would be a great way to proceed (you get a good per-card rate and consistent art style & quality, and the artist gets a bigger chunk of money at once). My funding was more sporadic, so I usually offered contracts for 2-4 cards at a time, with the understanding that I'd come back to them for more work (once I'd established that their work fit my designs, of course).

Terms of payment generally have been half up front, with the other half at the end (unless it was a bigger contract, then I doled out money as cards were completed).

Good luck! If you ever need to find more artists, I found the DeviantArt forums super-helpful--you get lots of responses if you're actually offering to pay even modest rates for the work, I've found. ;)


^^ This is a good explanation of why you might want to go for the "work for hire" route, and what it entails. Again, with this approach you'd pay more upfront but the artist wouldn't have any claim to the final artwork or royalties-it would belong to you according to your contract.

Also a very valid route to take, though I know some artists will balk at doing work for hire. Just reiterates the need to find an artist that works well with both your concepts and whatever terms you decide you want to pursue.


One other reason for "work for hire" arrangement--you can then use the art however you want, and not just for your deck (in case you come up with any other uses for it). Plus if you need to make any changes to the art you're free to do so.

Royalties, IMO, imply that you're publishing someone else's work, whereas a WFH contract makes it more clear that the artists are illustrating your ideas/designs (like the illustrations in a novel). But that's up to individual interpretation, of course!

My contract does allow artists to use the pieces in their portfolio with no issue, and I offer an addendum that gives them a no-fee license to sell the art in certain ways (intended for shows or their own online shops)--and I make it clear that they'll be credited for the art (so they get exposure as well as money!).

Just be upfront and treat the artists professionally, and you shouldn't have much trouble!


Thank you both very much!

I was unfamiliar with the term 'work for hire' previously, but that's exactly what I had imagined/intended originally (just wasn't sure about the timing of payment). I figured, I pay them to create the art, I then get the rights to use the images as I see fit (though I'd absolutely credit them as the artist).
However, a lower commission fee plus paying royalties does appeal - less risk to me at the start (though more complicated once/if the deck starts selling).

I think I may offer a choice to the artist and see which route she'd prefer. I'm honestly quite open to either.


The thing about offering less money up front is that you're shifting some of the risk onto the artist--you're asking them, essentially, to be your partner in the venture. Some artists will go for that (especially if you're already acquainted, or they're just starting out)--it doesn't hurt to offer the option, so long as you're prepared if an artist you like wants the upfront fee instead!


Work for hire is certainly simpler, and it's the way a *lot* of artwork is done. Most of my commissions have been WFH, and all of my writing.

I'd recommend going WFH if you're using multiple artists, otherwise, you'll find yourself tracking them down in years to come and paying small amounts that will be eaten up by bank and transfer fees. I get occasional $100 overseas cheques from a previous client that take 6 weeks to clear with a $10 fee!

If you intend on working with just a few artists, given the scale of a tarot deck project, partnership may be worth considering. WFH can feel like 'signing your life away' when it's a major work. I'd only take on such a role if I had a reasonable amount of creative latitude and was very much a contributor rather than following a really strict design brief.

Some artists, especially experienced illustrators and designers, work well to defined specifications, and prefer having a clear picture of the client's expectations. However, you do need to respect their expertise and trust their creative vision. Other artists need to respond in their own way to a concept and find it more difficult to work to a brief. This can be problematic with a design project - you want to look across their work and be sure that you'll be happy.

You mention that you already have artists in mind; do check that you've looked at a broad cross-section- I once subcontracted to an inexperienced illustrator and found that their samples were the best work they'd ever done in the genre, and the job was simply not up to scratch.

As both an artist and as a buyer, I like it when transactions are very clear - no hedging about responsibilities or money: this is what I want (size, medium, example showing level of realism/detail expected), this is how much I will pay for it, this is the deadline. This is doubly important if the client is a friend or colleague - I don't like 'mates rates' or favours.

good luck with your project!


Thank you euripdes - this kind of stuff is exactly what I want to know!

Regarding the artists, I'm only hiring one for now - which is one reason I want to do the payment side of things 'right'. I understand that agreeing to 78 images is a huge commitment!

The design instructions were something else I've been wondering about - wasn't sure how much detail I should or shouldn't give. I've started things moving with one artist, and he has requested some ideas so that he can sketch a bit (not fully illustrating anything, he just wants to see how we work together and demonstrate his skills before we agree to anything). I figure I'll give a moderate amount of detail, and let him know that if he wants more direction I can give that, or if he wants more artistic freedom that's okay too (though then I'd need to be *very* confident his style and abilities are right for this deck)