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.

14 March 2019

Eight of Air

The eights bring the energy that was born in the aces closer to its conclusion, and the momentum is now unstoppable. The eights are a burst of pure energy, and the challenge of these cards is to find the right way to handle so much power. The eights call for introspection and self awareness in motion. The stakes are high because so much has already been invested, but an application of will and perseverance in just the right places can get us through to our goal. An eight turned on its side is an infinity symbol, and the danger inherent in this card is the possibility of getting trapped in a repeating energy loop rather than moving forward.

The Eight of Air could best be summed up as "overthinking." The influx of mental energy that the Eight of Air brings can be very hard to control. It’s easy to become trapped by one’s own circular thought patterns, overwhelmed by rumination and overthinking, or enthralled with illusory ideas. A certain amount of holding back is required in order to discern what is true and move forward.

11 March 2019

Seven of Air

With the sevens, the restive state of the sixes ends and life changes gear again. New challenges and obstacles arise now but, unlike the external challenges of the fives, the challenges of the sevens are inner-driven. There can even be a feeling of playfulness as we understand that we’re challenging ourselves, testing our own strengths and weaknesses.

The Seven of Air is tricky and playful. Its tag line could be "mind games." It denotes mental agility and a unique way of thinking which is countercultural and outside the status quo. Just be careful that your feeling of uniqueness doesn’t become a sense of superiority, and that your mental agility doesn’t become devious.

04 March 2019

Six of Air

By now you’ve probably noticed the trend of odd numbers being more active or disruptive and even numbers more passive and harmonious. The sixes are the clearing after the storm, a place to rest and receive some help from the universe or from people around us. Sixes are also the departure for the second half of the journey from one to ten, a new beginning that can look daunting after the shakeup of the five. The sixes are a time to regroup, refuel, and recover.

The Six of Air offers a time for reflection, collecting the wisdom gained from past experiences, reframing beliefs and world views after the confusion of the Five, and reaping insights for what lies ahead. The movement in this reflective card is mental expansion, but for now the currents are gentle and supportive.

02 March 2019

Five of Air

*A tarot deck in progress, made from a collage of digitally assembled woodblock-printed elements*

The fives shake up the stable resting energy of the fours and bring change, whether wanted or unwanted. With the fives come struggles, challenge, loss, or even chaos but, as the halfway point on the way to the number ten, more often than not the shakeup of the fives is necessary for the second stage of the journey.

The challenge of the Five of Air is a mental challenge—ideas get shot down, the ego receives a shock, outmoded beliefs and thought patterns are challenged. Confusion, uncertainty and doubt are hallmarks of the Five of Air.

01 March 2019

Four of Air

When I think of the number four, I think of a rectangle or a box—a solid container. Stability and structure are the key words for the fours, bringing the creativity and dynamism of the threes into a more reliable state. The container of the Four brings security and safety, but stagnation can occur if things are held in this stasis for too long.

The Four of Air indicates that thoughts and ideas have coalesced into beliefs, conclusions, doctrines, or other mental constructs. It’s a time of mental rest and comfort, so enjoy this moment of clarity, but bear in mind that a rigid adherence to your ideas can make you blind to the bigger picture.

24 February 2019

Three of Air

In general, odd numbers in the tarot are more active than even numbers and so the number three steps beyond the balance and decision making of the two and sets things in motion. In the Three of Air, the inspiration, belief, or idea that was chosen or not chosen in the Two now flies out into its first manifestation in the real world. As we all know from experience, once an idea is made manifest there is often some loss and disappointment that occurs as the idea encounters reality. In the Three of Air, our idea encounters the barriers and constrictions of reality as it moves from our minds out into the world.

23 February 2019

Two of Air

The twos in the tarot are a kind of mirror. Twos take the fresh pure singular energy of the aces and begin to test it. Twos generally refer to a choice being made, comparing and weighing possibilities and pros and cons. From the individuality of the aces, the twos represent the necessity of taking the needs of others into account. The twos can be harmonious and balanced or more contentious, but things are coming to a decision point. Sometimes the choice is clear, but often the harmony and balance of the opposing forces can cause a kind of paralysis, making it difficult to move forward.

The Two of Air takes the tender new inspiration of the Ace and begins to clarify and sharpen the idea or belief, to test its validity. It is still mostly an interior process, and quite possibly represents a decision or choice that you don't want to make, since an untested idea can remain more perfect in its early or unconscious state. A choice must eventually be made, however, and if you don't make it yourself, life will make it for you.

Like the Ace in the previous post, this card is created from scanned and digitally assembled woodblock monoprints—a wind map in the background and a hummingbird created white-line style with some reduction carving.

21 February 2019

The Ace of Air

Aces in the tarot represent stirrings and new beginnings, so in the suit of Air we’re talking about a fresh new idea, a tender new belief, an inspiration. You're being given a moment of clarity or a glimpse of truth to work with. The energy of the Aces tends to be a little sparky—kind of sudden and fairly strong, but not necessarily an energy that will last. I thought of a hummingbird to represent this kind of delicate and sparky thought-energy.

I made the bird as a watercolor woodblock monoprint, using some of the methods of white line woodblock and adding some reduction carving. I could do this because I’m not making multiples. All I needed was one good bird to scan. I also did a “rainbow roll” (3-color bokashi) to use for the hand shape and made some swirly shapes with a brush for the cloud. I scanned the various elements and combined them digitally along with the wind map from the previous post to make the card. Working digitally will allow me to make changes easily and will simplify the process of getting the cards produced commercially as actual playing cards.

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


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.