Monthly Archives: March 2012

Vernal Equinox/New Moon Special Feature: the making of an Emperor

I finished the Emperor card sitting outside in the sunshine listening to the peepers and birds, on the Vernal Equinox, the defining moment of Spring here in the Northern hemisphere. This is when when the Sun enters 0 degrees of the sign of Aries. I’m posting the Emperor here for the New Moon in Aries, a super potent new Moon where the Moon & Sun are of course conjunct in the early degrees of Aries (along with Uranus and Mercury).

Just mentioning all this as the Emperor is the card of Aries in the tarot so it all feels right somehow. I’ve noticed both in the creation of the Rosetta Tarot and of this new tarot deck, that the times of their creation often seem to synch up with appropriate astrological themes.

It seems like since the Emperor is big into order and structure that it might also be a good time to share some behind the scenes construction of the artwork. It basically starts with a pencil drawing, often incorporating some sacred geometry to aid the composition. (In the Emperor’s case though, the geometric part was added to the background, where the brick wall is built from bricks in the Fibonacci sequence.)

Of course it starts with an idea. Sometimes this is the hardest part, but sometimes it is the easiest. This idea has been kicking around in my head for a while, and some elements appropriately enough came to mind while I was reading a book about the face on Mars. I guess where it gets hard sometimes is finding a way to actually execute that idea that is in my mind so that it retains the brilliance that it has internally. Sometimes outer reality is hard to manipulate to portray the inner vision.

I start with a blank sheet with the dimensions of the picture inked in. The pencil drawing is usually then made from looking at reference photographs when needed (usually for people and posture – wish I had people to model for me!) and also using the imagination, combining and changing the elements until it feels visually balanced and conveys the sense of the original idea. At this stage, I refine and change the drawing multiple times. It gets rather messy with graphite, but the “paper” is actually a type of white plastic so it can take lots of abuse and erases cleanly.

Here is the Emperor when he was at the point where I was satisfied enough with the pencil drawing to feel able to move on into ink:


The Emperor pencil
copyright 2012 M.M. Meleen


The next step takes the most concentration, as I use a permanent marker to go over the lines of the drawing, and since it is immediately permanent upon touching the “paper”, no mistakes can be made, and whiting it out wouldn’t really be a good option as it would be very visible on the smooth plastic, unlike on paper. So, I have to be very, very careful at this stage as no serious mistakes can be made. Please don’t bump the table!!

Once the lines are drawn in permanent ink, I add the shading with the permanent marker with a mixture of stippling, crosshatching and line width. After that the pencil can be erased. I always love doing that, seeing the picture become clean and clear in ink with all the dirty smudgy stuff removed. The ink lines at this point are refined if needed, and if more shading is needed I add that too. I then scan the drawing at this point, as I really like they way they look in black and white and maybe might make a black & white or “color your own” version someday.


Emperor Tabula Mundi Tarot black white
copyright 2012 M.M. Meleen


The last step is to add the color, which really can make or break the image. This takes a lot more thought than one might think. I try to work so that the majority of the image follows the color scales of the Golden Dawn for each tarot card, which limits the palette somewhat. So each color that gets put down is a conscious choice, designed to work within that palette in terms of maximum impact and contrast. Sometimes the last color I add, the last object to be colored, can be the trickiest and I will agonize over it. Unlike acrylics, you can’t just paint over the inks so easily. You can do a darker color over a light color, but if they are transparent they will be a blend, like two sheets of colored glass. You can only do a light over a dark by adding enough white to make it opaque, then you lose the transparency. The inks are kind of like permanent watercolors, like a hybrid between watercolor and acrylic.

Oddly enough I have really aversive reactions to my own work sometimes during the coloring process, thinking how much it sucks and how I might have ruined it due my bad color choices etc. I’ve learned to try to ignore this part of my mind (doesn’t work too well) as when others see the image at this stage they have the opposite reaction, loving the way it has come to life with the color.

Once I have done the coloring and think the picture is done, I scan it. If it looks fine, as in, the colors scanned well and look very much the same on screen as in real life, then it is done. But sometimes a certain color may look very “off” in the scan. This is where some people would go all Photoshop on the image, but I go old school. I repaint the section of the image in question to correct the problem. What I realized is that in a weird way, the scanner has a good eye, better than a human. It sounds odd, but here is an example. Sometimes a color might scan as darker than it looks to my eye, or a yellow turns to orange when next to a red for example. What I have learned is that this is simply because there is not enough contrast in value between that color and its surroundings. So I correct that, and the image then not only scans more correctly but actually is improved in a subtle way. Often it just takes repainting the area in question with the same color, but with a little titanium white ink mixed in with the color. This addition of the white may not even effect the color except to make it slightly more opaque and better able to reflect the light of the scanner and capture the color accurately.

So, here is the final image of the Emperor. He tells an interesting story when you compare him to his partner the Empress. See her here: Tarot M cards in progress

And here he is complete, Mr Aries himself:


Emperor Tabula Mundi Tarot
copyright 2012 M.M. Meleen


Here the Emperor is seated close to the earth, on a log rather than a throne, as if resting after a battle or perhaps plotting and planning about matters of rulership. Like traditional Emperor cards, his upper arms roughly form a triangle, while his legs cross each other, suggesting the glyph of sulphur.

He ponders the entrance of his bee skep, a microcosm of his kingdom. While the Empress is the swarm of bees, the heart of nature untamed, the Emperor is the hive, the structure. The bees are not in sight here, having been (temporarily) subdued by the smoke from his bee smoker, where the sacred fire is kept.

Perhaps because Mars, ruler of Aries, is now retrograde, he seems thoughtful and pensive, though his sword is at the ready and his horns are that of the headstrong ram. His armored footwear is adorned with a face reminiscent of the face on Mars seen in Voyager photographs. It is a face resembling a man in Egyptian headdress, perhaps the Pharaoh Ramses the Great, known as the Great Ancestor and builder of cities.

The terra cotta stand that the bee skep rests on is inscribed with the word Ozymandias, a warning against hubris and a reminder that empires, like all things, are transient and impermanent. They rise, they fall – they rise again.

“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!”

There is a lot more I could say about this image, but I will leave some a mystery for now. What do you see?

Journey through the Creation of a Tarot Deck – Part XI – Odds and Ends, Bits and Bobs, Flotsam and Jetsam


This is the final post in this series. Number eleven is sometimes called Babalon, and sometimes the macro & microcosm united, and sometimes the phantom sephira Daath. But I digress…


This post is just to wrap up all the odds and ends and bits and bobs that are related to a publishing project when making your own tarot deck, or book, or both.


Copyrighting: Before you start showing your work, you definitely want to register it with the copyright office to protect your rights. In the US, the website is There are separate forms for the artwork (Form VA for the deck) and the text (Form TX for the little white book and/or full size companion book). Each must be filed separately. The easiest way to do this is with their online eCo system, filling out the pretty basic forms and uploading the text or images. At the current time, each filing is a $35 fee. Now, not to panic, you do not have to separately register each card image separately (that would get expensive!) A group of related images can be copyrighted as a body of work for one $35 fee. So to copyright a set of deck images, the text for a little white book, and the text for a full-size book, would cost $105.


Once you pay and upload your data, you get a date-stamped email back as proof of when you submitted your registration. However, it will take several months before your official copyright is received. At that time you will get a certificate in the mail.


For unpublished works, you do not need to send in a hard copy, but you do for published works. So since you are probably unpublished when you first start the process, you won’t need to send the hard copies in. But once you officially offer them for sale, I think you have two months to submit two copies of the “best editions” to the Library of Congress by law. You can choose to re-register the copyright or not, but you must send in the hard copies. All of this is on the copyright office website.


ISBN numbers and Bar Coding: If you plan on selling your product in bookstores or on Amazon, it will need an ISBN number and a bar code, but if you only plan on selling them yourself on your own website, or at fairs or something, you don’t need to bother with this step. I did take the time and extra expense to do this, as I was not sure if I’d be able to sell them all just on my website. So far, I have only needed to sell them on my website. But I am glad that I have the option of selling them at some point on Amazon, so I feel ok with the fact that I went ahead and did this even if so far it has proved unnecessary.


Both the ISBN numbers and the Bar Codes can be obtained at Bowkers and their related site, MyIdentifiers. Note though that Tarot decks are not eligible for ISBN numbers – it is the little white book which you are getting the ISBN number for; the deck is just sold with it! In order to qualify your LWB has to have a minimum of pages; I think the number is 48.


The ISBN number must be obtained first. They are very expensive to buy singly ($150-175), but they are also sold in blocks of ten which at around $250 actually are a good deal if you plan on making more than one book. If there is even a remote possibility, get a block of ten.


Once you have the ISBN number, you can purchase a bar code associated with that ISBN. But you have to know the price at which you are going to sell your book as it is attached to the bar code, so be sure. If you change the price, you have to get a new bar code. And since you probably are going to have it printed right on your book, to make a change you would have to do it with a new bar code sticker which would not be good. So think carefully on your price before purchasing your bar code. Once you pay the $25 fee and set the price, you will be emailed the bar code file. It will be a .ps file, which you can embed into the artwork for your box or book. On a book the traditional place is the lower right hand corner, and there are size specifications that you have to follow for it to work, so you must leave a white box of the correct size on the artwork for your book cover (the bar code site has directions). The printing company you choose can then “install” the bar code there for you. I recommend letting them do this rather than doing it yourself, as if you get the resolution wrong, the bar code won’t scan.


After you actually have your printed products, you log back in to the MyIdentifiers site and fill out the details such as number of pages, cover picture, author, publisher, editor, etc…and this actually gets picked up by stores like Barnes and Noble somehow.


Little white book: Not much to say here, except that if you are going to ISBN your LWB, make sure you have the minimum required pages (48? I forget now exactly). These books are usually saddle-stitched (which is the printer term for “center stapled”). I did the layout for mine in Word since it was just a small booklet, making sure to have the text spaced and justified properly for that size was a struggle but eventually I got it. (For the full size book though, I highly recommend hiring a professional designer to lay out your text.)


Also for the little white book, if you are having it professionally printed, you just need to set the page size and send them a pdf of the pages in order. But if you are going to make it yourself, note that with saddle stitching, the first and last pages are one piece of paper, the second and next to last are on one piece of paper, etc. (Take one apart and see!) So if you are printing and stapling your own, you really need to think about the order of your pages and how they will print. I figured all this out and boy was it ever a pain in the rear! Since I had them professionally printed I didn’t need to do this either, and actually had to redo it with the pages just in numerical order, as the printers after I submitted it first that way let me know that they have software that does all that and to resubmit it the regular way! Doh!!


Full size book: I already posted a little in an earlier post about actually writing one, but here I just want to reiterate that it really is in your best interest to hire a book designer to do the book layout of the text and images for you, in a program like InDesign. Unless you have software like this and know how to use it that is. If you try to do this yourself in Word, the end result will very likely look unprofessional. There was an absolute world of difference in how my manuscript looked after the book designer laid the text out. I just had to make a few decisions about placement and spacing and images, and she made it look so good! Your copyright and ISBN info goes on the page after your title page.


You will probably get advice not to design your own book cover, for the same reason. But I did, and I am pleased with how it turned out. I don’t have Photoshop or InDesign, and no experience with graphics software either. So how did I manage to design a book cover that does not scream “self made”? I used the freeware Gimp in place of Photoshop. Then I took a book whose cover design I admired and studied it to see what it was about it I liked, what worked and what didn’t. I based my book design on what I learned just by visually examining text and picture size and spacing, and made color choices based on my own built in sense of such things as an artist. You do want it to be easy to read and eye-catching. The text should be clean and not too fancy, and in a color that stands out against your background.


In order to know what size to do your cover art in, you will first have to have decided what size your finished book will be. There are standard sizes for book styles that you must use if using a print-on-demand site. In my case, I chose 5 x 8, and the only reason in my head at the time was that I wanted the book to be small enough to be easily portable, but a little larger and wider than a paperback. This actually turned out to be a very fortuitous decision, as this size fit EXACTLY into a Priority Mail small flat rate box. So if shipping books yourself, think about size and weight issues. I just got lucky here!


So if your book is 5×8, you need the size of your cover to be twice that plus spine width plus a bleed for the printers. How will you know spine width? Once your book designer (or you) has done your text layout in that size, you will know how many pages the book is. You will need to ask your printer what the spine width will be for that many pages based on the paper you intend to have your book printed on.


To go back to the cover design, if your book is 5×8” and your spine width is half an inch, and your printer requires a quarter inch bleed all around, then your artwork should be 11×8.5” (5+5+.5+.25+.25 for the length and 8+.25+.25 for the height). Note that the “bleed” will be trimmed off, so make sure your text and images are well away from it.


The front cover design will be on the right half of this rectangle, the back cover blurb on the left half, and the spine exactly centered. The spine text should be oriented on the vertical as compared to the covers, and usually has the title, author, and publisher on it. It should be bold and easy to read from across the room while sitting in the bookshelf. The back design will have your summary and don’t forget to add a white box of the correct size in the lower right corner for your bar code.


Your artwork for the book cover should be no less than 300 dpi, an uncompressed tiff, them made into a pdf for the printer.


Tarot Card Box Design: Same info goes for the artwork for your tarot card box. It should be 300 dpi, easy to read, and with the appropriate bleed. Your printer if they have done card decks before may have a box template they can send you to fill in with the artwork and text. In my case, all they had done were tuck boxes, and I wanted a box that opened on the horizontal. So I had to “design” the box; but really all I did is find one similar to what I wanted and copy ALL of the dimensions and take it apart and scan it and fill in all the dimensions I wanted and sent it to them. They actually took that design I sent and made it much better and simplified it greatly, and then sent me a pdf of the template to fill in. For your design, look at a few other boxes and decide what works for spacing and color and text. I did mine with Gimp, which worked fine. You will need to save your file as an uncompressed tiff, and probably make it into a pdf to send to the printers.


Miscellany regarding actually selling your deck and book: You need a website but I probably am not the best person to give advice about that. I made my own, using software from my domain and hosting provider, but it involved a lot of swearing! There is a lot to figure out, from page design to keywords to setting up the storefront and your shipping options. I’ll leave you to do that!


You probably want to check in about tax stuff. Even if selling on the internet, you might be liable for collecting sales tax on stuff sold in your home state. If so, you will need to register as a sales tax vendor. Not going to give you tax advice, just saying, look into the laws that apply to you.


Once you sell something, you have to pack it and ship it. For packing supplies I just have clear packing tape and bubble wrap. I have also taken the precaution of shrink wrapping all of my books and deck boxes, for two reasons. First is that you spend all of that money on printing, you don’t want the box and book cover to arrive scuffed or scratched. Second is to protect from moisture – deathly for books and decks, and these boxes will be traveling all over the globe. You should invest in shrink wrap bags, a combination cutter/sealer and a heat gun. I also put the custom cards in baggies and tape them down so they can’t get wet or wrinkled.


To ship I chose to use USPS Priority Mail flat rate. They provide the boxes free of charge, and whatever fits in the box ships for one flat rate. You can buy the postage and print the labels online. It really is the easiest option and they get it to your customer in 2-3 days in the US. I was extremely lucky in that the combo of a deck and book just barely fits into a small flat rate box. That was luck, not planning, but I will definitely know to consider that in the future. And it fits so snugly that very little packing is needed, just a layer of bubble wrap around the deck box, and the shipping box itself is the protection. It actually needs a little encouragement and tape to fit, but those boxes are great, they flex just enough. I recommend not relying on the sticky stuff they use to seal the box but reinforcing it with packing tape.


Priority flat rate applies to international too, though it takes longer (they say 10 business days but if it ends up in customs and some do, it takes longer) and costs more. Still a good option though, and has proved very reliable. The small flat rate boxes have the customs info built right into the label, but any larger sizes need a separate customs form.


Deals and giveaways and review copies: Be prepared to have a few extra copies printed. You will need two for the Library of Congress for copyrighting, plus any copies you intend to send to reviewers.


It is also nice to have some incentive for people to purchase directly from you rather than somewhere else if you are selling them in places other than just on your website. I am only selling them on my website at this point, but I still decided to offer a break on the combination purchase of a deck and a book for a limited time. I also offer the customized significator cards for now, with the customer’s name or name of their choice in hieroglyphs. It does make for a bit of extra work and expense making them, so not sure how long I will continue that, but I actually really enjoy it so I don’t want to stop yet! I have learned how to write the glyphs pretty good now from all the practice, and I like the feeling of connection it gives me.


Good luck with your mission to create your own deck or book, should you choose to accept it!


The transmission of the journey of the creation of a tarot deck is at an end.