21 April 2019

XVIII The Moon


The tarot's  Moon card represents intuition, dreams, and the unconscious. Under the influence of the Moon, creativity and imagination intensify; symbols, impressions, and instincts rule over facts and linear thinking; and powerful dreams and visions can occur. Familiar things looks different in moonlight and we realize that things are not always as they seem. This can cause disorientation and anxiety, especially for people who are usually more intellectually oriented. The more negative aspects of the Moon are delusion, deception, and secrets. The Moon can symbolize self-deception and escapism, especially through drugs or alcohol. When the Moon appears in a reading, use your intuition and listen to your dreams to find your way in its dim reflected light.

The Moon is a card of the Major Arcana. While the Minor Arcana (four suits) mainly reflect daily activities and events, the Major Arcana represent major events and/or large complex concepts.

Some tarot readers conceive of the 22 Major Arcana cards as a “hero’s journey” taken by the first card, The Fool. In this scenario, the Major cards represent experiences that every person must assimilate into their psyche before they can be completely whole. Others consider the Majors to be archetypes of the collective unconscious; universal aspects of the human experience. I think of the Major Arcana as long-term universal influences or important society-level concepts in contrast to the personal everyday dealings of the four suits. Whatever interpretation a reader gravitates toward, a Major Arcana card is always given extra weight in a reading.

Building up layers of color for the underlying woodblock monoprint

I created this card as a woodblock print which I then scanned and further manipulated in Photoshop. I thought often about my woodblock students who will often say "that's cheating!" when I suggest that they fix mistakes in their prints by painting or using colored pencils on their final copies. I always try to reassure them that they're the artists and thus they can't actually 'cheat.' I had that same fear at the beginning of my woodblock printing career, though, and I think it's par for the course when working with a traditional Japanese craft method. There's a lot of cultural weight that comes with the traditional Japanese arts, and many rules about the correct way of doing it.

So let me state clearly, this is a collage. It's a digitally-assembled collage of one watercolor woodblock monoprint (below), rubber stamp lettering, and a photograph of the moon's surface.

This is the "final" woodblock print, which I then scanned and imported into Photoshop for further manipulation.

14 April 2019

Asking Again

There's something that every card reader does from time to time, which is to try to get a better card when you don't like the one you just pulled. I did that today. Having just completed all 14 cards in the Suit of Air, I was thinking that I would do the Suit of Water next, but I decided to ask the cards first.

I sat down and shuffled the deck and asked the question "Which suit should I do next?" I pulled The Moon card. It's a perfectly nice card, but it's not one of the suits, it's one of the 22 Major Arcana cards. "No no," I said to the deck, "which suit?" and I picked another card. The Emperor. Not a suit, but a Major Arcana card. This is funny, I thought. So I pulled another: The Hierophant, also a Major Arcana card. I practically yelled at the cards, "I said what SUIT!" Pulled another. Haha, it was the 9 of Swords, which is Air, which is the suit I just finished.

I got the message. It's time to turn my attention to the Majors. So I'm going to work on making a card for Major Arcana #18: The Moon.

13 April 2019

The Characters of Air


Here are the Air Character Cards as they currently exist. For the moment I'm happy with them, although as I work on the other suits in the weeks to come I may find myself making adjustments. I tried to make the figures fairly androgynous but not just "stick people," and I wanted to show the same figure through the series, since all of us have all of these qualities at various times in our lives.

Novice of Air
The Novice of Air is newly embarked on a course of study, or exploring a new way of thinking. They are curious, thirsty for knowledge, natural communicators, full of enthusiasm and bursting with new ideas. They’re highly rational, they ask a lot of questions, and sometimes, just as children speak unpleasant truths, the Novice of Air may speak youthful truths that can come across as rude.

Evangel of Air
The Evangel of Air holds rationality over all else, and is enchanted with their own mind. They are ambitious, assertive, quick thinkers, and driven to use the power of intellect to achieve their goals, although they sometimes act impulsively. A good communicator, the Evangel is often sure that their truths are right for everyone and will use their formidable logic to convince the world.

Mentor of Air
The Mentor of Air possesses all the clarity and intellectual power of the Evangel, but tempered with receptiveness to others. Although they care deeply about the world, the Mentor’s connections with others are through the intellect rather than through emotion, which can be intimidating to some. They are quick-thinking truth seekers who speak honestly, get straight to the point, and are capable of distilling complicated subjects into concise arguments.

Paragon of Air
The Paragon of Air stands in their own intellectual power and truth, and they want to take the lead using logic and reason to navigate the path ahead. They can seem detached and judgmental, preferring the clarity of the abstract over the messiness of everyday life, but their discernment and advice are invaluable.

05 April 2019

Court Cards Part Two


I’ve settled on names for the four character cards in each of the suits:
The Page becomes The Novice
The Knight becomes The Evangel
The Queen becomes The Mentor
The King becomes The Paragon
Although gender in the tarot is symbolic rather than literal, I’ve always wanted words for the People Cards that don’t immediately conjure a gender. I feel like the words I've selected are pretty neutral and they’re mostly words that don’t carry a lot of other baggage (for instance, I considered calling the Knight the Zealot, but the word zealot felt too loaded). Here is a brief description of each of the People Cards.

The Novices in each suit are young or inexperienced. They’re usually enthusiastic, childlike, excited about learning. They see the world with fresh eyes.

The Evangels are full of energy and are hands-on and headstrong. They have some experience under their belt, which they will promote and defend, but they can be wild and impetuous and prone to extremism.

Mentors are people who have developed a mature understanding of themselves, of others, and of the energies of their suits. They express these energies from the inside out, influencing others without imposing on them.

The Paragons are experts and leaders, having mastered their suits after years of study, dedication and practice. Paragons want to control the energies of their suits and make a mark in the world.

Now I have to figure out how to design these cards. Do I show people? Silhouettes? Not sure. I'd like to depict these people without depicting race, gender, or even personality, but take those things away and the depiction rapidly becomes cartoon-y. I have work to do!

30 March 2019

The Court Cards

The traditional Rider-Waite Deck court cards

Traditional tarot decks, like the playing cards to which they are related, have four court cards: Page, Knight, Queen and King. The court cards usually stand for people in readings, whether the person asking the question or people in the querent’s life. These court designations feel archaic and hierarchical to me, though, and the way they’re gendered leaves only one female, the Queen. I don’t want to follow suit (a little joke there) but what to do instead? I just purchased the small deck pictured below, called the Mesquite Tarot, that shows an alternate approach to the court cards. The Mesquite Tarot calls the court cards “character cards” and the designations they’ve chosen are Novice, Student, Knower, and Leader. Those don’t quite work for me (I especially don’t think that “student” captures the force and action of the knight card), but I like the idea of a progression, from less to more experience and accomplishment.


I’ve been working closely with a thesaurus and consulting with a friend who knows the cards quite well and he’s helped me get clear about what I’m looking for in naming these four characters. I want words that are evocative and poetic, that work with the traditional meanings of the cards, that hang together as four related words, that aren’t gendered, and that don’t carry a lot of baggage. Tall order, but we’re getting there.

16 March 2019

Ten of Air



The ten is both an ending and a beginning. A cycle, event, or undertaking has reached its full expression and has concluded and now a new cycle begins, which will be informed by the wisdom and experience gained in the previous cycle. There’s an emptiness and perfection in the ten. Nothing is wanting. There’s no going backwards, but there’s also no way forward until a new impulse (Ace) arises.

The Ten of Air (swords in the traditional deck) is often depicted as a man who is apparently dead, with ten swords in his back. I don’t see the ten that way. If anything, I see the Ten of Air as “empty mind” — the interval between one thought and the next, a space which is both empty and full, a space of pure awareness. Some people find this emptiness intolerable, so maybe that’s why it’s been depicted as a death. But if we truly observe our minds, this empty space is quite natural. It’s the field in which all of our thinking and believing and scheming take place. And new thoughts will come, as surely as dawn follows night.

I'm about to leave for a week-long mokuhanga teaching adventure in Maryland at Pyramid Atlantic Art Center, so I'll be taking a short break from my tarot cards, which is good because I have some thinking to do about how I'm going to handle the "court cards" of each suit—the Page, Knight, King and Queen found in the Rider and many other decks.

15 March 2019

Nine of Air


With the nine comes the final stage of action. Things have run their course, everything that can be done in this situation has been done, and the goal is in sight. The nines tie up loose ends and begin to wind things down. Whether wanted or unwanted, endings must be honored. The task of the nines is to synthesize and integrate what has been learned and gained, to look at the big picture and find the larger meanings of what has been experienced.

The Nine of Air brings a mental reckoning. Ideas have come to fruition, beliefs have hardened and perhaps begun to crack, and familiar ways of thinking are ending. Even if one’s beliefs and ideas have served well over time, self-judgement and regrets often arise as one takes stock. The new insights and clarity that come from self-evaluation can feel like waking up from a dream, not always a pleasant one. Along with heightened awareness can come a feeling of isolation.