30 September 2019

The Characters of Water

Here are the four Water Character Cards as they currently exist. I'm still working to keep them gender neutral and 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 Water
Sensitive, romantic, curious and gentle, the Novice of Water is impressionable and earnest and tends to be attuned to the unseen—the spiritual, mysterious or poetic side of life. Introverted and inexperienced in romance, they sometimes have trouble distinguishing their own feelings from the feelings of others.

Evangel of Water
Passionately romantic and a lover above all else, the Evangel of Water needs to be engaged emotionally rather than intellectually. They are artistic and charming and in love with love. This romantic dreamer sometimes confuses emotions with truth, believing that every passing feeling is a message from the soul.

Mentor of Water
Although the Mentor of Water feels life intensely, they are comfortable with both emotion and intuition and are mature enough to remain calm in the face of strong feelings. Generous and kind, the Mentor offers nurturing attention to those in need and is often a healer, mediator or guide. The Mentor thrives on deep personal relationships and is trustworthy, empathic and perceptive, although people who don’t like being “touchy-feely” can find this personality type too cloying.

Paragon of Water
Confident, warm and in touch with their own needs and feelings, the Paragon of Water leads by inspiring others and fostering connections. A person of style and elegance, the Paragon has learned from relating with others and achieved mastery over their own emotional expression. Moved by the hearts of others, they want to do what is right and work for the greater good.

29 July 2019

Ten of Water

The classic Rider deck’s Ten of Water (Cups) shows a scene of domestic tranquility, a nuclear family group under a shining rainbow of cups. I’ve chosen to depict an image that reflects a more interior-focused kind of happiness, an image of the Japanese art of kintsugi, repair of broken pottery with lacquer and gold. Nobody comes through life emotionally unscathed, but our emotional wounds can become our strengths when treated with care. The Ten of Water indicates a return to a sense of wholeness and emotional well being, along with a powerful maturity and wisdom that can only be gained through experience.

I tried doing the gold fill using gold leaf but I wasn't happy with how it turned out, so I did another version using gold pigment.

The gold leaf is interesting but I didn't like how it scanned for the digitally-collaged tarot card.
This version using gold pigment worked better for my purposes.

04 July 2019

Nine of Water

Emotional stability and maturity are the hallmarks of the Nine of Water. Self-love, contentment, emotional literacy and fulfillment are all represented by this card. Be on the lookout for self-satisfaction, though, and the isolation that can come as a result.

Here are a few progress shots of the woodblock print of the Chinese porcelain pot.

I began with a layer of titanium white in the shape of the pot, over the off-white paper. I was nervous about how subsequent colors would print on top of the white, but I couldn't think of a better way to show porcelain thatn white, so I took the chance. Then I began building up the shadows with tints of gray.

Next I did some carving on the block and printed a few underlayers of light blue. You can see the emboss created by the other carved ares that I hadn't yet inked. Pretty nice just as it is here. Had I made a larger edition I might have reserved a few at this stage, but I only had three prints in the works so I continued on.

Then I went back into the block and did the fine carving.

I printed the final layer in a darker blue. One of the three prints went off register, so I was left with only two. All I needed for the tarot deck was one, though, so it was a success.

12 June 2019

Eight of Water

The Eight of Water brings the scattered desires of the Seven into a focused desire to seek deeper connections and meaning. Even if we don’t know exactly where we’re headed, the motivation to move toward something more emotionally fulfilling in life is deeply felt. We’re not leaving behind the things we’ve known and loved because they’re bad, we’re leaving because of an inner intuition that there’s something more. Just be sure that it’s intuition from your heart and not escapism that is your guide.

This is the woodblock print of the canteen, loosely based on a Hopi canteen. As you can see, I forgot to flip this one before I made it into a print. That's one reason I'm happy that I'm assembling these cards on the computer.

06 June 2019

Seven of Water

The Seven of Water presents us with the discrepancies between our dreams and reality. Under this influence we feel the emotional pull of imagined possibilities, fantasies, temptations, wishful thinking and an influx of confusing feelings and desires. The Seven can be visionary, but focus and a rational assessment of unclear motivations is necessary to move from dream to reality.

Here's the vessel I created as a reduction watercolor woodblock print, based on a 1940s vase.

Six of Water

After the upheaval of the Five, the Six of Water brings solace and time to reconnect emotionally with oneself or others. It often signifies a reaching back in time to re-collect memories or the purity of earlier feelings, and to gather emotional courage to reach out again. Perhaps with help from a safe other, the Five invites us to be kind to ourselves and to reconnect with the pure feelings and wisdom of our innermost heart.

Below is the one-block woodblock print of the pots that I invented for this card. When I started to design this "fountain" I had difficulties because I was trying to invent a fountain that would actually work. It took me a while to realize that… duh … it didn't have to function as a fountain, it simply needed to suggest the idea of a fountain. I'm in a constant struggle against literalism.

As with all of these tarot cards, I combined the woodblock-printed elements digitally in Photoshop.

27 May 2019

Five of Water

Fives bring challenges, and the challenges of the Five of Water are feelings of sadness, disappointment, or grief. When this card appears in a reading it doesn’t represent loss per se, but the feelings that accompany loss, whether those feelings are fresh or are relics from old wounds. This card invites deep emotional processing, as grief must be experienced before it can be released. If not processed, grief can grow into feelings of victimhood or self-pity.

Below is the one-block woodblock print of the pot that I created for this card, based on a pot I found on the internet that purports to be a Portuguese pot for roasting chestnuts.

23 May 2019

Four of Water

With the Four of Water, feelings solidify and come into stasis. For a time this may be appropriate—your cup may be full and you may need some time to reevaluate or re-establish a connection to your own emotional truth. But feelings are meant to flow, and shutting down emotionally for too long can lead to isolation, detachment, apathy and stagnation. The Four tells us yes, by all means take some emotional time out, but don’t get stuck there.

Below is the woodblock print that I made for this card. It was created using a single block, with reduction cutting for the cork and multiple applications of color on the body of the jar. I really love printing this way. I made three of these prints, although the red color looks very different on each one. This was my favorite of the three.

17 May 2019

Three of Water

In the Three of Water, the energy continues to expand and community forms. A love relationship that began in the Two card is celebrated by a larger group; creative connections and collaborations begin; people offer support to one another; groups of individuals join together to move forward with feelings of love and trust. I chose an ancient African pot with three spouts to illustrate this movement into wider community.

Here's the woodblock print of the pot, which I scanned and collaged for the card.

I have "keywords" for each card and I've decided to add them. Some tarot readers don't like keywords, but since I'm spinning these cards a little differently than the traditional Rider deck I'm going to try using keywords and see if I like them. Feel free to let me know what you think.

13 May 2019

Two of Water

In the Two of Water, the new emotions or intuitions of the Ace are shared with another person. This is a card of of shared feelings, whether new romantic feelings, a budding friendship, or another kind of tentative collaboration. Feelings are honestly shared, there is affection, and kindred spirits find one another.

These two pitchers are based on shapes found in the pottery of Eva Zeisel, a Hungarian-American industrial designer whose dishes and vases often had a sensual human look to them, and often worked together in a nesting sort of way.

I made the pitchers on a single block of wood using the reduction method and very shallow carving.

This is how the block looked after I had finished making the prints.

Here's the woodblock print on Echizen Kozo. I made two.

10 May 2019

Ace of Water

Ace of Water
Digitally-assembled collage of scanned woodblock prints

For the Ace of Water I chose an ancient Egyptian bowl with human feet as a pedestal. I love the way the round bowl is tilted, seemingly vulnerable, or maybe offering itself. The Ace of Water is traditionally interpreted as the start of a new relationship, but I like to broaden the meaning to include any new emotional experience—new feelings about a person or situation, intuition coming into conscious awareness, or new creative stirrings. The energy may not last, but it’s noticeable and free-flowing and often exciting or joyful.

Here's some background about how I built the card:

The hand and clouds were created previously for the suit of Air, so I re-used those images for this Ace. The background is a printed texture that's about 35 inches long in real life to span the whole suit of 14 cards. Since my scanner bed is just 8.5 x 14 inches, it was kind of a bear to scan it. Had to do it in pieces and then carefully reassemble the pieces in Photoshop, but it's worth it to me to have the continuous background through the suit.

The bowl is a woodblock print of a bowl from the Metropolitan Museum. I created it from a single carved block using a blend of regular mokuhanga techniques and techniques from reduction and white line woodblock. There were a lot of bokashi (blends) involved and a slow buildup of color. I didn't count, but I probably took about 15 impressions of color in all and I made an "edition" of two. This method of printing works best when the colors are all in one family like this bowl.

This is the block after all the printing was done. It's not much to look at, but you can see the wood grain on the raised surface, some of which showed up on the final print.
This is one of the two bowl prints. They're remarkably similar given that the process I used is essentially a monoprinting process. I lean towards making smaller and smaller editions, so I like when I can use just one or two blocks for a print. This image is about 6.5 inches (16.5 cm) across in real life.

09 May 2019

The Suit of Water

Random Google search of ceramic vessels

It’s taken me a while to work out the ideas for the next suit, but I’m ready now to tackle the Suit of Water, traditionally known as “cups.” I’ve chosen a clay vessels motif, both to honor the tradition of cups and also because the Suit of Water deals with human emotion and relationships, and I often think of us as being “vessels” for our emotions. Emotions are energies that move through us and we often use language that describes water and vessels when we talk about feelings—we are “filled” with anger, sadness “spills out” or “washes over” us, sensations “stir” us, rage “boils over”… you get the idea. We hold, or don’t hold, our feelings.

Made by the hands of a potter and most often used for everyday activities, there’s an intimate and one-of-a-kind quality that hand made ceramics bear. And many clay vessels communicate a visual personality in their stature, size, and curves. I’m looking forward to finding a vessel for each of the ten Water cards.

I’m also looking forward to making woodblock prints of ceramic vessels as a challenge to my woodblock printing skills. I took a couple of hand built clay classes with a great teacher in Northampton MA, Tiffany Hilton, and although I never got good at it I enjoyed it immensely and developed a lot of respect for the art form. I’m excited about making 2-dimensional printed pots!

30 April 2019

0 The Fool

Watercolor woodblock print (moku hanga) plus digitally-mainipulated rubber stamp text
10 x 6 inch print (254 x 152 mm)
Print made from 2 blocks, 10 hand-rubbed applications of color
Variable edition of 4 on Echizen Kozo

The Fool is the beginning, the Origin, the “big bang” of creation. Possessor of unlimited potential, the Fool is both empty and full, everything and nothing, foolish yet wise. The Fool takes the ultimate risk and leaps into the unknown with joy, with dynamism, with faith, and perhaps with foolishness. Many tarot readers think of the entire Major Arcana as the Fool’s journey through life, but the Fool isn’t thinking about the future. Unconventional, free-spirited, childlike and naive, the Fool is immersed in the now.

Here are some process shots of the woodblock print.

I'm experimenting with creating all 22 of the Major Arcana cards with just three colors: pthalo blue, magenta, and yellow oxide. I started this print with one layer of each color, with a circular bokashi, just to see how the colors would interact.
Once I had a sense of how the colors interacted, I went back and overprinted them again, emphasizing the blue in the lower portion and th yellow and magenta in the upper portion. For the tarot cards, all I need is one print that I like, so four seemed like a good number of prints to make. You can see that I tried throwing some paper dots on the plate before printing in the one at the upper left. Interesting effect, but I decided not to use it for his print.
Next I carved another block in the shape of the striped suit to add a shadow to the body area.
I carved stripes from the same block I had used for the shadow and added the red stripes.
On another block I carved the arms and legs and printed that. Four similar but not quite the same prints. I selected one and scanned it, then reduced it to card size and added the rubber stamp text on the computer.

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.