Monthly Archives: November 2011

Journey through the Creation of a Tarot Deck – Part VI – Lust and Fire, what’s not to like?



(I don’t actually finish Lust until the next round, as I pause before her to complete the Wands suit. But she insisted on being here, and cannot be denied!)

To review Part V, click here

After the Swords suit, I next went briefly back to the tarot Trumps. And now I outlined a plan: I’d power through The Chariot, make an Adjustment, consult with The Hermit, move on to Fortune, and get ready to fulfill Lust before tackling the Wands Suit. I figured that Lust, as the trump of Leo, the middle sign of Fire and thus most fiery, was a good place to stop and move on to the fire suit. There I’d be poised between Fortune (Jupiter) and Lust (Leo); perfect place to start a fire! At this point I actually plotted out my plan onto a calendar. I set an overly ambitious series of goals; especially considering I have a day job. I plotted out a card a week (hah!) though it didn’t turn out that way.  I was always behind the eight ball, always behind schedule, everything always and for certain took longer. But I’d just move them up on the calendar as needed – so that is why they call it “penciling” it in! Luckily, I was wise enough to use pencil.


It was here around the start of the Chariot that I really hit my stride. After painting all of the Swords cards, having a period of doing nothing but painting since they were all designed first as etchings and printed on a press, I was seemingly getting much better at painting. I was pleased with the Chariot, and loved doing the crab armor for the zodiacal trump of Cancer! (Though my Mom, who is a Cancer, said he was “scary”. Oh well, too bad, he is cardinal water and he is on a mission! Tidal waves are scary, too!)


After the Chariot, I must have been on a roll (no pun intended) because the next cards turned out to be some of my favorites. Adjustment, who Crowley calls the Fool’s girlfriend and the Woman Satisfied (guess he is not always androgynous!), is based on Maat. She dances the sword edge of Truth; the balance between Venus and Saturn through a vesica piscis portal with Harlequin patterning. Her many arms hold the Scales containing the Alpha and the Omega, her hands in positions of mudras and gestures of surrender.


The Hermit card looks like a cross between Hermes, Gandalf, and a Yod, as he carries his solar lamp and caduceus egg staff through a moonlit walk on the labyrinth (that almost looks like circuits on a computer board). I am very fond of the color scheme of that card!


Fortune is one of my favorite cards in any tarot deck. It is the Jupiter card, so as a Sagittarius it is one of my rulers. Fortune’s Hebrew letter is Kaph, which means palm of hand, or fist. Fortune is karmic and a hand can be open-handed or closed like a fist, punishing and withholding. I see the card as very positive, so I went with the open-handed motif – the background of the card is my own palm print. The card also has wheels within wheels, an earthly gear mirroring a heavenly gear which is a one and a zero, and axle and a wheel, a phi symbol.


Next up after the Wands would be my lady Babalon, Lust personified, the “joy of Strength exercised.” She rides the beast, her kundalini rising and exploding outward in honeycomb nascent sephira. She carries the Grail – the same one as seen in The Chariot, containing a galaxy of white gluten in a sea of blood. So here we are full circle, as this next phase of the work began with driving The Chariot and here before satisfying Lust, trump of the royal fire sign, I figured it was a good place to stop working on the trumps and switch gears to the Wands.


I really enjoyed doing the Wands Suit. Maybe because I’m a fire sign myself. Now it was time to switch to a new medium. While the Swords were done as dry point etchings (so right for Swords and Wind), the Wands special medium was to be colored pencils, wooden sticks also quite appropriate for Wands and Fire. I’d not done much work with colored pencils before, though fortunately I owned a lovely set of Prismacolors. I really fell in love with them and how they handle while doing this suit; I’d never realized what beautiful effects one can get with them, how smoothly they blend, and what rich colors!


My obsession while doing the Wands suit revolved around finding the perfect pencil sharpener! My one complaint with the Prismacolors is that while their softness is why they work so well, it makes them difficult to sharpen. Nothing was more frustrating that carefully sharpening the pencil and immediately having the lead crumble, and having to do it again, watching an inch of precious and costly pencil disappear in the process! I purchased a couple of different handheld pencil sharpeners during this time, never finding the perfect one. Also true to my OCD nature, got a few colors I didn’t already possess, a few extra blenders, and a holder for when the pencils got too short. Always thinking ahead when it comes to spending money on art supplies! Ultimately I used a combination of one of the better though not ideal handheld sharpeners and a standard electric pencil sharpener like you see in offices. I just resigned myself to the fact that this was a sacrifice to the fire gods. There was no way around the fact that by the time this suit was done, all of the reds, oranges and yellows in the set would be considerably shorter! And honestly, the pencils are meant to be used! Hoarded art supplies do not make anything!


The Wands suit was fun to do; its salamander fire elementals had much more personality than the dendrite and neuron explosions that were the theme in the Swords suit. And the decans really started to make themselves known, progressing through the three decan cards of Aries with their Rams, the three decan cards of Leo with Sekhmet the Lion goddess, and the cards of Sagittarius, that had horse-like elements (with the exception of the eight, unless you count that Swiftness is an attribute of horses!)


The one exception to the fun of the Wands was just at the beginning of the Five. Interestingly, just as I began the Five, I was surrounded by strife, as two of the other people living here at the time had a big row, which then triggered me into acting out. How appropriate!


I really liked doing the Wand Court cards too. They contain my personal birth card (Lord of the Flames and Lightning, perfect for a Sagittarius with strong Aquarius elements) and I think the Fire Queen and Princess are hot tamales! The Prince reminds me strongly of a Leo from my past – I see him every time I look at the card!


It was sad when the Wands Suit was done and the pencils got put away! Someday I hope to do more with them; it is a great medium.


So next up I’ll discuss the series around the Cups, which were done in watercolors for the Water element. After the remaining trumps and the Disks get a turn, there will still be lots of posts to write. I think the posts after the cards will actually be the most useful for those of you who hope to create a tarot deck, or publish a book someday, as I will share a lot of information that I had to learn the hard way!


Next up: Journey through the Creation of a Tarot Deck – Part VII – Waterlogged!

Journey through the Creation of a Tarot Deck – Part V – Meanwhile behind the scenes…how to write a book in your “spare” time.


to read part IV, click here

Sometime during this time of painting the Swords cards, I realized that my deck was going to need a companion book at most, and at least a “little white book” to go with the cards. At the same time I also realized that if I didn’t start writing my insights and ideas about the images down, I might lose them. Sometimes while painting I go into a sort of trance, and never know what is going to come up, and where the in the heavens does it come from?


A few people have already asked me, “How in the world did you not only finish the art and publishing of the deck, but also a book, in such a short time, while working full time?” Well friends, you have no idea how obsessively I pushed myself. Not only was I making myself paint for several hours every night after work, and for 12-24 hours on the weekends, but when I absolutely could not paint another stroke, afterwards every night I would take a hot bath brimming with essential oils. In the bath, I’d bring a pad of paper, and (another) glass of mead, and write down the text for the chapter on the card I was working on. I was a little behind when I started, as I had to do the first six or seven trumps plus all of the swords, but after that, I did the write up for each card as I finished them.  The write-ups were all done in the tub, while drinking copious amounts of high-test mead, so sometimes I’ve forgotten writing them, as they were channeled by the mead-muse. The original note books are badly water spotted and wrinkled, as you might imagine.


When I was not ready or could not write, and was not painting, I would read tarot books for inspiration. You have to prime the pump to get water from the well, so whenever I was too exhausted to do any “actual” work on the deck or the book, I would read, and read, and read on the subject. Even after the bath, before and in bed, I’d read until my eyelids crashed. Tarot books are pretty much all I read the entire time. I was constantly reading the Book of Thoth, of course, and also other writings by and about Crowley too, but also ALL sorts of Tarot non-fiction, Golden Dawn stuff, and even a little fiction (Castle of Crossed Destinies; Andromeda Klein). Needless to say I spent a lot of money on both art supplies and tarot books during this period.


I also started keeping a notebook, which I would highly recommend to anyone attempting to create a tarot deck and/or a book. At first, I just kept it around to jot down ideas for the images when I got them, notes and inspirations for the artwork. I’d keep it by the bed, as often I’d be in that half asleep state and get an idea that I just had to write down so I wouldn’t forget it come daylight. I chose a beautiful book that I made myself for this, with hand sewn Coptic stitch binding and a beautiful mysterious looking cover (if I do say so myself.) Since this book will be with you constantly, make it a nice one.


This notebook also became very valuable during future phases of the project, such as when researching printers, calculating costs, writing down marketing ideas, and storing passwords. (By the way, if you self publish a tarot deck and a book, by the time you are done I guarantee you will have at least a dozen new log-in names and passwords, and probably more. You probably don’t believe me, but when we get there, I will list all of the sites you will need if you are going to do this.)


So, to sum up, to write a book in your spare time, you need seven things:


1)      Discipline


2)      Lots of books on your chosen subject and the will to make yourself read them constantly


3)      A nice blank book for keeping track of things


4)      Several cheap spiral notebooks and a pen


5)      A bathtub


6)      A cellar full of mead (trust me, it helps)


7)      Someone to feed you occasionally, or a love of cheese and toast




Next up: Journey through the Creation of a Tarot Deck – Part VI – Lust and Fire, what’s not to like? click here

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


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


To reread Part III, click here


So, I had three weeks, three classes in which I had to get the idea, compose, draw the design, carve the printing plates, and obtain good dry-point etching prints for an entire suit of fourteen cards. I could paint the colors in after, but had this one shot period to get the prints. It was intimidating, but I was determined to make it work. I really, seriously buckled down, forcing myself to get to work each night, after the day job that is. I went to the local hardware store & bought some metal flashing tiles. Copper would have been too expensive. I bought an engraving tool. The first week, I got the designs drawn and the metal plates carved for the Ace, Two, Three and Four of Swords. It was really hard going carving them. It was nearly impossible to transfer a sketch on to the slippery metal, and very hard to get a good clean line into the metal, and extremely hard to carve curves and details. I brought the carved plates to class that week, inked them, and made some prints. They came out ok, but I wasn’t happy with them as the metal flashing had a sort of very subtle texture to it, that meant that the part of the print that was meant to be blank or unprinted looked a little grey or dirty, and the lines were not distinct enough. Also, I made the horrifying discovery that everything I printed was backwards, as when making a print, you have to draw everything in reverse! Arrrgg! Stress! Defeat! (Appropriately, Defeat was the next card. One interesting phenomenon that played out continually was experiencing the energy of the NEXT card yet to be done, and seeing it play out.)  One class wasted, back to the drawing board.


Now only two shots left to use the printing press, and ten cards of the suit still needed to be sketched and drawn, and all fourteen plates needed to be carved as I had to redo Ace through Four! I had to ramp it up. I switched to making the plates from Plexiglass, as it didn’t leave that dirty-looking ink residue behind. And, I discovered that the Mini-Mite Dremel I had worked great for carving the plates. Except, the rechargeable battery ran out too fast, and I was using it a LOT. So I went online and ordered a second battery, expedited shipping overnight, so I could alternate between the two, using one while the other charged. I would draw the card sketch, perfect it – and then reverse it to carve it into the Plexiglass.


By the next class, I had the Ace through Ten done (and redone) and ready to print. But getting them inked and getting good prints of all of them in the short class time, while sharing the press with a full class, was a challenge. I was manic in that class. I think everyone thought I was a freak or at least unfriendly; and with a bunch of drawings of knives and dripping swords. (I could just hear them thinking, “Phallus fetish? Psychopath?”) While everyone else was having a great time, chatting away, admiring each others’ work, playing with color and trying experimental techniques; I was grim, focused, silent, determined, anxiety-ridden and moving as fast as I could, mentally churning the whole while and stressing out. Working in black ink. Head down, nose to the grindstone. Probably doing that thing I do where I bite my lip. How appropriate for the Swords.


I got some prints I could use at that class I think, so then only had one week left to go and only four more cards to do. But they were the Court cards of the Knight, Queen, Prince and Princess. Much harder to plan, sketch, draw – and carve scenes with people into the Plexiglass plates than it was with the pips. It was very very difficult to carve those tiny faces and bodies and all the details. Remember, I did the art nearly the actual size of the cards. Making an eyeball the size of a pinhead with a vibrating Dremel was not at all easy! Needless to say, I got them done in time for the last class, staying up late and burning the candle at both ends to do so. I had no choice.


The last class came. Not only did I absolutely have to get perfect prints of the Courts, but I also hoped to get one perfect print of all of the cards of the Suit, poster style. Just to have! Again I was teeth-grindingly focused, and moving as fast as I could, not stopping to chat, take a bathroom break or even a sip of water. It was that close to the wire. I was working up to the last possible second of the class. I’m afraid I was not a very good companion to my friend. But, I got the prints. Now all I had left to do for the Swords suit was to paint them.


Over the next several weeks (or months) I proceeded to paint all of the Swords prints. I had to paint very carefully, as I wanted to preserve the jagged rough lines characteristic of dry-point etching, and be careful not to paint over them, and resist my urge to perfect them. I left them in all their imperfect, rough, etched, mentally obsessed glory.


While painting them, I also discovered to my dismay that in my haste, I made the plates the exact size that I wanted for the cards, forgetting to add the eighth inch bleed all around. No problem, I thought, I could just extend that when I painted them. Wrong! Though that is what I did, it came back to haunt me, as the deep indent of the edge of the plates ultimately left a shadow on the edge of my card scans, and had to be cropped out before I could add my borders. It all worked out, but that added a lot of work to that stage of the process.


All in all, I can see why Harris told Crowley she had a superstitious fear of “bringing the Swords all unbalanced to London.” I brought them all unbalanced to Worcester, and became rather unbalanced myself!


next up: Journey through the Creation of a Tarot Deck – Part V – Meanwhile, behind the scenes…how to write a book in your “spare” time click here