My year long creative project; designing my tarot deck – where I am now
At the start of this year I embarked upon a somewhat daunting but very exciting creative project; designing my own tarot deck. I wanted a long, stretching goal that would encourage me to complete a big body of work and explore developing my own style.
I've been working on this steadily since the start of the year and we are slowly creeping into Spring (at last!) so I wanted to share my progress with this behemoth! I have now completed all my research – what goddesses I want to depict for every single tarot in the 78-piece deck and particular symbols/ meanings for each card. It was a lot of fun as I really enjoyed looking up goddesses from different cultures and I’m excited about how the deck will look overall!
I had been painting on fairly cheap-o watercolour paint, as I found some that was a really nice size not too big not too small and had gummed edges on all four sides, making it a lot easier to paint with watercolours and inks. However, I was running out of this paper (and also the quality really wasn’t too great) so I went on a hunt for the same size, but better quality. Luckily I found a shop on Amazon and so I switched over to this paper instead. As well as having a much nicer texture and being heavier paper, it was also a relief to know I could order as much as I’d need for 78 paintings as my other paper had already been discontinued by the shop.
So, as for my paintings! I am so proud to say I have now painted just over 10% of my project! I finished up my 8th painting last week and I’m pretty chuffed with myself that I’ve done all this in 2 months, especially as I’ve been working full time, painting other paintings and you know having a life :-P
Here they are, oldest to newest with a brief summary of my research and some of the symbolism behind the paintings – enjoy!
The Moon (Take care for all is not as it seems - use your intuition) depicted as Hecate, Greek triple goddess, associated with the dark moon. As my first card, I was testing out my style for this deck. I initially wanted to incorporate all the symbolic design elements shown in the Rider Waite tarot deck into my paintings, so this one is quite rich in the traditional symbolism. For example, the dog and wolf represent the tamed and wild aspects of our mind and the crayfish (shown in this painting as detailing of her dress) symbolises consciousness unfolding. From this painting however it took a very long time to come to fruition. I actually drew the sketch out in October and then finally painted it in January and I think in part that slow moving was being so focused on getting all the symbols correct and incorporating my style over the top so for the rest of the deck I am taking a looser approach!
The Ace of Cups (Love - the start of love, inspired by creativity, nurtured by fruitfulness and happy times) depicted as Benzaiten, Japanese sea goddess of love, beauty, eloquence and music. I had a lot of fun painting this and also enjoyed the challenge of painting an Asian character, as the vast majority of my paintings are Caucasian and for a while now I’ve been wanting to paint more diversely. I loved creating her dress with some beautiful iridescent watercolours and inks I have. Also, the Cups are often associated with water so I have mostly picked sea/ water goddesses for the suit.
Death (Transformation, change which is a blessing in disguise) depicted as Persephone, Greek goddess of the underworld and spring growth. I liked this association of the changing from winter to spring syncing with the change element of the death card and painted Persephone lying on a pale horse - as often “Death” is shown as riding – leaving the underworld at the edge of winter and slowly making her way back to the living world, shown right at the top with a blossoming spring plant.
The 5 of Cups (Sorrow - loss of a relationship, emotional hurt, a feeling of worthlessness) depicted as Blodeuwedd, Celtic Earth deity and flower goddess who was created from flowers to wed Llew (son of Araianhod) but caused his death and was transformed into an owl. I painted this relatively quickly as the background did not take long (lots of wet work with drips and inks). This piece has a very melancholy feel to it, and I was inspired by Goya for the composition. The reference to the 5 cups is very subtle in this piece – if you look closely (and I may need to touch this up to be clearer) there are 5 cups etched into the tree stump.
The King of Cups (Sociable, loving, sensuous. Intelligence combined with strong intuition. Loves the arts) depicted as Yemoja, African (Yoruba) goddess often depicted as a mermaid She is associated with the moon, water, and feminine mysteries. I love this goddess! She sounds like the epitome of a strong woman! I struggled a lot with the kings of the deck as I really want this deck to be a celebration of goddesses and, no offence to the gods, but I wanted to keep it as a feminine deck. I decided I would select particularly powerful or inspiring goddesses for my King cards and stick to my theme. I researched Yemoja a lot as my knowledge of African deities is extremely limited and discovered that she is often shown as a two tailed siren – amazing!
Justice (Good judgement - laws must be obeyed but shouldn't be harsh) depicted by Guanyin, a beautiful, Chinese goddess of compassion. I’d been watching anime all day when painting this so that’s why she has a very anime-style/ feel! I originally was going to paint her wearing white robes, as I’d read that she is often painted like this but I was really feeling the blues and then decided on an almost galaxy vibe. I completely mucked up her eyes so I added the blindfold as a cover up at first, but then added more detailing and liked the overall aesthetic of it. Also I felt the blindfold worked with the justice theme, even though in the Rider Waite deck justice is not blinded.
The Two of Wands (Partnership, courage and daring. It has the message of striking out on a journey or new path) depicted as Artio, a Bear Goddess whose shrine once stood in what is now Berne, Switzerland. Goddess of fertility, wildlife, strength and courage. I sketched this one out several times and painted it all in one epic session last weekend – I love how the fur turned out and am really looking forward to the other Wand cards as I tried to pick quite earthy, natural goddesses inspired by the leafy branches that are depicted as wands in my book on tarot.
Temperance (Winged angelic figure pouring water from a cup from one hand to the other, representing the flow of the unseen.) depicted as Nephthys, Egyptian Goddess of death and a protector - often portrayed as a woman with falcon wings, usually outstretched as a symbol of protection. I really enjoyed this painting although my goodness those wings took a long time! Each feather has 4 layers of gold ink, and then 2-3 layers of blue in and it was very fiddly tricky work but I love how she turned out. I followed a traditional Ancient Egyptian style and was focused more on decoration and symbolism than realism. One of the resource images I used (a wall tomb decoration) showed Nephthys as having blue skin, and after a bit of digging I discovered the colour blue was associated with fertility, rebirth and the power of creation so I painted my version blue too.