Monthly Archives: October 2011

Journey through the Creation of a Tarot Deck – Part III, The Work Starts for Real


Journey through the Creation of a Tarot Deck – Part III, The Work Starts for Real

continued from Part II here

Now I was hooked, for sure…it was on to The Lovers, on regular art paper onto which I drew a rectangle to contain the art. Instead of tracing the size of the card, and figuring out how much was for the border, I could just draw the size of the space where art would go. For the Lovers, I branched out a bit from traditional symbolism. While the card has nude figures as in RWS, and the alchemical beasts of the Thoth card, things started to get different. I was thinking of the concept of anima and animus, and how while under the spell of love, there is often an awful lot of projection going on. I was thinking of dual mirrors, reflecting into each other. And somehow, these mirrors side by side looked exactly like the glyph of Gemini, the sign the card rules. I painted it in the traditional colors as per the color scales of the Golden Dawn, as I am doing with all the cards. At first, I was not happy with it. I wondered if it was too different, if the color scheme was too reminiscent of Dunkin Donuts, if the animals looked right, if the reflections in the mirrors were distinct enough…But everyone I showed the card to loved it, and after a bit it grew on me, too.


It was at this point in time that I was scheduled to take an art class with a friend. It was a class that explored various types of print making. I was looking forward to doing the class, but also had some reservations about the time it was going to take, which would take me away from working on the deck artwork. I was truly obsessed with spending all of my free time on the deck, and wondering if it was a mistake to sign up for the class. But after the first class, it came to me why I was there. One of the things I tried working on at the end of the first class was a technique called dry point etching, where one takes a metal stylus and scratches the art into a metal or plexiglass plate, then rubs ink into the scratches and runs the plate through a printing press. That is when it hit me. The metal stylus was a Sword, and it was time to make the Swords suit, using this technique. The only problem was, it was a four week class, this was class one, and there were only three classes left. It wasn’t something I could do at home, lacking the huge expensive printing presses. And it was a large class, with only two presses we all had to share. One got very little actual time with it. Could I do it? Was it possible to design, draw, make and carve the plates, and get good prints for the entire suit of fourteen cards with only three two-hour classes left, and no chance of getting near a press again?


next up: Journey through the Creation of a Tarot Deck – Part IV – The Swords Suit IS Mental, Manic and Stressful

Read part IV here

Journey through the Creation of a Tarot Deck – Part II, Overcoming blocks



Journey through the Creation of a Tarot Deck – Part II, Overcoming blocks


(Part I can be found here)

The deck then languished in hiding for the better part of a year. But something happened, something internal, and I decided that I did not want to give up. I was going to say that I decided not to give up on the deck, but it was more that I did not want to give up on living my dreams, my creativity, and my passion. For you astrologers, there was a new moon in my 9th house, and Saturn was going to be transiting there. It was time to start working on my vision. I wanted to create something lasting; something that meant something to me and possibly to others, and I told myself that for once I was not going to let life and circumstance be my excuses. My lifelong M.O. was crying about how much life force I was using up at a career I found less-than-stimulating, bemoaning that I can’t be an artist because I have to do the daily grind and stifle my energies to do something boring that supports me for a living and then I was too tired. This time I was going to step up and finish something big for a change.


 I was going to use the knowledge I had about the tarot, which I had assimilated over decades, literally beginning the work before I went to grade school. As a child I was already pondering the images and reading the occult books on the bookshelf at home. I’m told I read everything and anything, but I remember being drawn to those like a moth to a flame. (I was an atypical five year old reading the I-Ching, and books about astrology and tarot and herb lore when most kids are just learning how to read.) For this project I was also going to be able to use my artistic style to work for me, rather than against me, as my normal style has always been described as very symbolic and archetypal, not so much fine art, or so I’ve thought.


So I made some rules for myself, pretty strict ones. The first was: do art every day, at least two hours a day, at least four out of five weekdays. No reading, computer time, no compulsive consumption of food or drink before starting – in other words, no habitual escape hatches. No excuses. On the weekends, work on art for at least six unbroken hours. From now on, I decided, art comes first in my life, the daily job and household chore stuff second. I resolved that for just once in my life the better part of my energy should go towards MY work and my vision, instead of expending every bit of life force I had between my day job and doing errands and cleaning and all that daily grind stuff. I’d take time off whenever possible, using my allowed vacation days to work on art.  Complete one card a week. The goal I set was to have a completed deck within two years.


So it was back to the drawing board, and the Hierophant. I didn’t want him to be the Pope, but more like a High Priest type. The description of the Golden Dawn’s original design reads: “Between the pillars sits an ancient. He is crowned, sceptered, and blessing all in a threefold manner. Four living creatures adore him, the whole suggesting a pentagram by its shape.” I came up with a design with the Hierophant as an Osiris figure carrying the hook and flail like crossed keys of traditional portrayals, in a tall red crown like a Pope, but with the bull horns of Taurus, the sign associated with the cards. And indeed he ispoised between the pillars and the four creatures of the fixed signs adore him, and the pentagram is in evidence in more than one configuration. So I was happy and ready to continue.


But it was at this point that I realized that painting these in this grass leaf book was a mistake. The paper was porous, probably not very archival even though I was using a layer of gesso on it, and what is worse, the images would be in a bound book. If this was really going to be a deck someday, the images should be flat so I could scan them. So I cut the completed pages out of the book and resolved to do the rest on archival paper. At least I wouldn’t have to gesso it first.


up next: Journey through the Creation of a Tarot Deck – Part III, The Work Starts for Real

A unique take on the Lovers takes form, yet the old monster Doubt rears its ugly head.

Now I was hooked, for sure…

read Part III here

Journey through the Creation of a Tarot Deck – Part I, Genesis


I thought that I’d write out the story of the entire saga of the creation of the project, in the idea that maybe others will enjoy reading it and learning from my mistakes! It will be a several part story, as it has been a long journey! I probably won’t get it exactly linear.

But first a quick status update on the decks:

The decks and books are supposed to ship out to me soon. Printers said the end of the week, and TGIF! But I still haven’t heard from them, so maybe it will be Monday if not by the end of the day. Once they are here I’ll still need to assemble the boxes and the signature cards and the extras, and put up the store front. I’m shooting for the first week of November. Subscribers: I will be sending you an email with the exact date and time as soon as I have the decks in hand! (To sign up to get notified, there is a link at on the Major and Minor Arcana pages)

Journey through the Creation of a Tarot Deck – Part I, Genesis




First it started with the idea. A little over two years ago, I got the idea that I wanted to paint a tarot deck. I’m pretty sure I was inspired by reading a pre-release article about Jung’s Red Book, and seeing some of his artwork. I’d found a blank book made of homemade grass paper, and thought I’d fill the pages with small paintings of tarot cards, and try to complete the whole deck, thus filling all the pages of the book. There was something about the idea of laboring over something for a long time, and that something continuing on after you were gone to inspire others. I wanted something deep; something that could be considered a legacy of sorts. I didn’t have a concept or theme for the deck, but I knew I wanted it to combine what I loved best from the decks I have used most during this lifetime – the Rider Waite Smith and the Thoth. I wanted to start by reading the traditional written descriptions the Golden Dawn had in Book T, and develop my own images based on the description as a starting point. At first, I decided on the size of the Thoth deck (though ultimately it became the size of RWS), and so I traced the size of a card from my Thoth deck into the book. I began with The Fool of course, drawing a pencil sketch until I was happy with the composition. The paper in the book was rather porous, so after applying gesso to a card-size area of the page, I transferred the sketch and began to paint the image in acrylics. That first card image took me probably a month to finish. Not sure how many hours I spent, but it was at least ten and probably 20, working on it here and there nights and weekends. The Fool was stepping through the portal, not knowing where it leads.


Over the next few months, I finished three more cards, working on the Majors in order, and each one probably taking roughly a month to complete. I realized that it was going to take a long time. I’m a detailed meticulous painter, and painting detailed paintings that small using my smallest brush took enormous concentration. I often had to hold my breath to keep my hand from shaking while doing the small important stuff, like details on faces.


After I finished the Emperor, and was moving on the Hierophant, I got stuck. I’m not sure what happened. It may have been the melancholic depression that overtakes me at times, that hopeless feeling.  It may have been overwork, overindulgences and escapism, exhaustion or just being tired of life’s relentlessly unsatisfactory nature. It certainly was a nihilistic feeling. Nihilism sure was an appropriate word for where I was at, poised in a bad way between the Emperor and the Hierophant. Check out the dictionary’s definition:

1. Philosophy
a An extreme form of skepticism that denies all existence.
b A doctrine holding that all values are baseless and that nothing can be known or communicated.
2. Rejection of all distinctions in moral or religious value and a willingness to repudiate all previous theories of morality or religious belief.
3. The belief that destruction of existing political or social institutions is necessary for future improvement.


The problem was also probably was due to struggles with the symbolism of the Hierophant and wanting to get it right. It is one of my personal cards, one of those cards you get when you add up your birthday or something. I really wanted it to be a card I personally resonated with, but I just didn’t like most of the Hierophant cards out there, and couldn’t relate to a traditional papal figure. I was caught between a rock and a hard place (the Emperor and the Hierophant, or vice-versa) and just put the tarot project away and forgot about it.




next up: Journey through the Creation of a Tarot Deck – Part II, Overcoming blocks

Will our heroine conquer the Hierophant? Will artist block be forever vanquished? Will the Emperor lose his puzzled expression? Stay tuned for the next episode!

A preview of Part II:

The deck then languished in hiding for the better part of a year. But something happened…
(read Part II here)


Apparently I am really bad at keeping up with blogging. Or I have been, so far. 70 days have passed since I’ve posted here! I’ve been way too busy with all the final production details for this deck. What a wild obsessive ride this has been! But soon maybe I’ll have more time for blogging here. The last file has been sent to the printer yesterday. The loan has been closed on this morning and the funds are ready to go.

This deck WILL be available! My best guess now is that by the end of October I should have the finished product in hand and ready to ship.

This will be a numbered edition of 777 decks, with a signed and numbered title card, in a clamshell box, professionally printed and with a 56 page little white book. The boxes are in the style of the Robin Wood deck; they open on the horizontal. The decks will be $39.95. The picture on the box is Death.

I’ll also have 500 full size companion books available for purchase. These are also professionally printed, 240 pages, perfect binding, color cover, with black and white text and scans of each card, plus several pages of color glossy inserts with card pictures. The full size book has lots more detail about the symbolism of each card, the associated mythological, alchemical and occult references and the workings of the mind of the artist. Plus it has sections on Astrology and Qabalah and how they influence the card meanings. These chapters are geared towards the basics in each of these fields, so no worries if you are not an expert. It often is confusing, even to astrologers, how the planet-in-sign combinations manifest in the small cards, because of the way the meanings are affected by the intersection with the appropriate sephiroth on the Tree of Life. Hopefully this book will shed some light on that. The books will be $24.95. The picture on the cover is Adjustment.

Once I have the exact release date, I’ll inform subscribers via email well ahead of time so you can be ready.

I also hope to get watermarking done so I can post more card pictures on the site.

When all of this is up and running, my intention is to post some stories here about the deck creation process. And some pictures of some of my other art that influenced some of the cards in this deck.

Then I’ll start another deck. *lunatic grin* You’d think I would have learned by now that this is crazy! But I figure, I’ve had to learn so much in order to get this far, it would be crazy NOT to do it again. OCD maybe? I guess I may just have more decks inside wanting to be born.