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.

21 February 2019

Starting With Air

The Rider Waite suit of swords and some study materials

The tarot is divided into two sections, the 22 cards of the Major Arcana (macrocosmic archetypal images) and the Minor Arcana (four “suits” that describe more everyday situations and energies). I asked my Rider Waite cards which of the four suits I should tackle first for my tarot deck and the cards told me “swords.” Rather than using the traditional suit names—swords, cups, wands and pentacles—I plan to use the four elements for my deck’s suit names. Swords are associated with the element Air, so I’ll be starting with 14 cards in the suit of Air. The Air cards represent the mind, including thoughts, beliefs, ideas, and communication. That seems like a fitting place to begin.

This will likely be the slowest suit to produce simply because I’m doing it first. Most of the design decisions for the entire deck will be made as I work on this suit.

Something that has bothered me about my Rider Waite deck is that there can be a lack of coherence as one goes through the suits. The Major Arcana tells a story as you go from one card to the next, and there’s no reason why the smaller suits couldn’t do that as well. So my first design decision is to make borderless cards with a background for each suit that travels lengthwise through all 14 cards to help unify them. I only know of one deck that does this— the Prisma Visions tarot. Pictured below is a woodblock print of a wind map that I’ll be using to pull together the Suit of Air. I’m planning to create all of the artwork for this deck by hand and then scan the pieces and assemble each card digitally for production purposes.


14 February 2019

Tarot Mea Culpa

A few randomly chosen depictions of one tarot card, the Ace of Swords

Tarot is an odd mishmash of symbols, numbers, traditions and ideas. As I previously mentioned, the Rider Waite deck (upper left) is the classic standard, but every deck-maker puts their own spin on it, as you can see in the random samples above.

There are a lot of tarot aficionados who know way more than I do about it, so this is my mea culpa post — I’m not a tarot expert, just a tarot admirer and on-and-off user since the 1980s. I don’t do readings for other people and I don’t use the cards to tell fortunes or predict the future. Mainly I use the cards as prompts to help me focus on questions and worries I have about my own life and to help me externalize my own answers. The cards work remarkably well for that purpose.

Why make my own deck? Mostly because I’m an artist and image making is what artists do. I also like the huge challenge of making 78 cards and deepening my understanding of the cards through this project. And of course, I’ll be adjusting some of the traditional imagery, adding my own spin to suit my understandings of the various systems embedded in the tarot. For instance, I’d like my deck to be more gender neutral and universal, with less Camelot-Victorian imagery, approachable and intuitive, and beautiful. Most importantly, though, a deck needs to feel “alive,” and that’s something that can’t be planned, only intended. I want my deck to feel alive. Of course, what feels alive to one tarot reader may not feel alive to another. One of the wonderful things about the explosion of available tarot decks is that almost every reader can find cards that speak to them. I hope that my deck will have a unique voice that will speak to others.

As of now I’m hoping to produce a small run of 500 decks if my design project is successful. I’ll keep you posted on that—it’s early still and my risk of failure is high!

12 February 2019

Conjuring Up a Tarot Deck

It's been five months since I moved to Providence, Rhode Island, after 23 years in Northampton, Massachusetts. I have to admit that I've been a little adrift here in the Ocean State. This is especially true as far as my work as an artist is concerned. I've been having a tough time, both before and after the move, finding a project that I can really connect with and sink into the way I like. It's hard for me to be patient, hard for me to keep coming to the studio without any notion of what I'll do there, hard for me to wait for myself to feel comfortable in my new surroundings.

My work in the past has generally been topic-driven — about money or politics or history, rather than being about place or landscape — so I've been surprised to see how this change in my surroundings is challenging me. Even though it's less than 100 miles away, my new home in tiny little Rhode Island is most definitely not the same as my town in the Connecticut River Valley of western Massachusetts. The weather is different, the air is different, the light is different, the people are different, and the whole feeling is different. It's like how Vermont and New Hampshire feel totally different even though they're right next to each other, separated only by the Connecticut River.

One of the first things I bought for myself when I first moved to Providence was a book from Tashen Publishing called The Book of Symbols. I saw it in the window of a neighborhood store while I was walking my dog Zuzu, and I kept walking but the book haunted me. For three or four weeks I couldn't stop thinking about it, so I finally just walked up the street and bought it. I wasn’t quite sure what it meant to me, but the book has been moving around the house with me, on my desk or next to my bed or in the living room by the fireplace. And now I think I finally know where it’s leading me. There seems to be a tarot deck inside me, waiting to be born.

20 January 2019

Meat

MEAT
Watercolor woodblock print (moku hanga)
17 x 11 inches (43 x 28 cm)
Made from 1 block, 5 hand-rubbed applications of color
Edition of 8 on Yukimi paper
___________________


A recent study of 40,000 farms in over 100 countries concludes that of all the individual acts a person can do to try to reduce their impact on the environment, giving up meat in one's diet is the biggest way to help the planet. In addition to deforestation, extinction of wild animal species, and greenhouse gas emissions, meat farming, especially farming of beef and pork, is lousy for water. Animal wastes pollute streams, rivers, and ultimately oceans, and large amounts of water are required to make a pound of beef, although there seems to be wide disagreement over exactly how much water — claims range from 450 gallons to 250 gallons of water per pound of beef depending on the farming methods used.

“A vegan diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth, not just greenhouse gases, but global acidification, eutrophication, land use and water use,” said Joseph Poore, at the University of Oxford, UK, who led the research. “It is far bigger than cutting down on your flights or buying an electric car,” he said, as these only cut greenhouse gas emissions.

To be clear, I myself am not a vegan eater. I rarely eat red meat, but I do eat fish and sometimes poultry. I also eat dairy, cheese, and eggs.  I could picture myself giving up meat altogether, but I'm very attached to cheese and eggs. I'm not sure what, if anything, would convince me to stop eating those things.

This print is a reduction print (carve, print a color, carve some more, print another color…). I'm trying to loosen up my process a bit by utilizing only one block, a limited palette, working in small editions, and not doing so much pre-planning. It's fun.

30 December 2018

Living Coral



LIVING CORAL
Watercolor woodblock print (moku hanga)
17 x 11 inches (43 x 28 cm)
Made from 1 block, 4 hand-rubbed applications of color
Edition of 8 on Yukimi paper
___________________

I could barely believe my good fortune when, just as I began researching images of coral for my next print, Pantone Inc. announced their new color for 2019: "Living Coral." The Pantone web site describes Living Coral as "sociable and spirited," encouraging "lighthearted activity, symbolizing our innate need for optimism and joyful pursuits" and a "source of emotional nourishment." Oy. Maybe it's just me, but the name Living Coral instantly conjures up the opposite in my mind—dead and bleached coral. In the Great Barrier Reef alone, one 2016 bleaching event killed almost 30 percent of shallow-water corals such as the brush coral I've depicted here. How could Pantone think that invoking the living variety of a thing that could be entirely dead within this century due to our own greed and stubbornness would be a good thing? Well, anyway, I obviously had to add a little Pantone chip to my picture of a sample of (dead) brush coral.

This all is sad, and it makes me sad at a personal level, too, because most of my adult money-earning career has been in graphic design, so I've been in a relationship with Pantone Inc. for many years. My career has also ridden the waves of several boom and bust cycles. In the late 90s and early 00s I was drawing diagrams for tech startups, then just as the tech bubble burst I started making infographics for the financial industry and when the bottom fell out of that one in 2008 I began making maps for high-end tour companies, which visit many fragile and threatened places across this beautiful planet. So as much as I want to make fun of Pantone for being out of touch, I know that I can't stand outside of their milieu. None of us can, really. We're all complicit in the lifestyle that now threatens our very existence.

May this new year, 2019, bring out the best in us. May our relationships to each other, to all the beings we share this world with, and to the planet itself come into some kind of balance and alignment. Happy new year.