Tarot art commission as work made for hire?


I've done some digging, but haven't seen this particular topic posted anywhere. Most people talk about doing their own art, which is awesome, but beyond my abilities for the ideas I have.

So, yeah, I'm designing one, possibly two tarot decks, and I'm looking to commission some art for them (the most expensive of all tarot-creation options :p). My question, for anyone else who has done this: I want to have a work made for hire agreement with the artist, so I own the art once it's done (to be used in promotional materials, or to sell it to US Games or whoever if I don't self-publish, etc). Only certain types of work fall under work made for hire, though, and I don't know if a tarot deck falls under the "collaborative project" label or not. If art for this kind of project doesn't fall under WFH, then I'll essentially be licensing the art from the artist--which I'll do if necessary, but I'd prefer just to have the full rights.

Has anyone else commissioned art for their decks, and have you found the answer to this question? Thanks in advance!


A deck of Tarot cards can be WFH, similar to illustrating a book.

I have done commissioned art, and I can tell you this:

Any artist that is good enough to do what you want is going to charge you a bundle for full rights.

Buying the originals might not cost you too much, and negotiating reproduction rights might be pretty simple. But full rights will cost you buckets, from any competent artist.


Here's my problem - I'm a *talented* artist (at least I've done shows, sold a lot of pieces so somebody liked my work! Oh, & the director of the Cleveland Art Institute wanted to purchase one but I said no. I have kicked myself for 20 yrs.) & I have TONS of ideas of my own for a deck. However, it takes me 40+ hours to do just ONE painting. Figure out the math. To get quality work that will actually have a chance at getting published it would cost you enormously. That's if you could even find someone willing to do it, because most artists are usually too busy putting their own current fantasies on canvas. Hmm, why don't you invest in a good art class? It'd be fun!


Thanks for the info! What is the difference between buying the original, and buying the full rights? Do I /need/ to purchase the full rights?

Ideally what I want is to use the images for:
tarot cards
tarot-related products (calendars, t-shirts, whatever people want if they love the artwork enough)
advertising (print and online)

Plus if I decide not to self-publish, I need to be able to sell the whole thing to a publisher without having to make seperate arrangements with the artist(s).

I have no issue with the artist using the art for their portfolio, and they would get full credit in any finished products, of course. I'm just a little confused how the whole commission/independent contractor thing works when it's for a commercial product instead of personal use. Thanks again!


As far as I know from a catastrophe with photographs once at work, buying the work gives you the right to use it once, for the purpose for which it was bought; if you use it again, you pay again. How this would operate for a deck you were selling on I don't know; there are usually very complicated clauses about copyright, for profit and so on.

Were I an artist, there would be no way I would hand over all the rights to you for any money; I'd want to retain some right so that if - for instance - the deck went HUGE, I'd get royalties. Things like that.

You might like to ask Tricia Newell; she has just been shafted over her Mythic.....


Heh, all good points, Canid. I'm teaching myself how to draw (or trying to), but I'm a long way from the level of quality that I want. The idea is to get a couple cards done first using my own money, then show them to a potential publisher (as suggested during an email conversation with them) to see if there's interest. If there is, figure out the cost to get the rest of the cards done, then write up a business plan and get a loan or other funding.

Simple, right? :p

The biggest wild card, as you pointed out, is the cost of the art. Someone established who can crank them out fast is probably too expensive--someone up and coming might do it for less but take longer. And then there's the whole rights issue, which I want to nail down before I get too serious about getting those first couple cards done.

I've been working on this for a couple years now, and am quickly learning that figuring out what to put on the cards is only the beginning of the process. :p


Buying the original does NOT give you ANY reproduction rights!

Unless you have a signed piece of paper saying otherwise, all you are buying is the physical object!


Gregory: the idea is to commission original art, not purchase existing art. But there's the conundrum: without my input, the art doesn't get made, and the artist doesn't get paid. But if the art is too expensive, or there are too many restrictions on how I can use it, then the deck can't be made, and no-one gets paid anything.

I'm totally on board paying artists for their work--I know too many artists to try and convince someone to do it for future royalties or something. But maybe I can find someone who likes the project enough to give me a good rate up front, in exchange for a share of the royalties should the deck do well. But that comes with its own issues (ie, what to do if I sell the deck to a publisher instead of self-publishing).


Hanna: So it would be buying the art to hang on my wall, not for any sort of business use. Understood! So I have to find that happy middle ground where the artist doesn't feel ripped off, while I can afford to get the art I need. It sounds so simple...:p


All those details should be sorted out up front. If your idea is really stellar, and the artist thinks there may be a lot to make from royalties, you may be able to get a good price for the initial work.

But, unless you have some serious money to spend, get comfortable with the idea of having to negotiate who gets to do what with the images.

A possible way of dividing the rights could be that you get the right to publish the set of images as a Tarot deck, while the artist retains all other rights (such as prints, calendars and coffee mugs)