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.