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