I am designing a new deck which – though still under wraps – has occupied me for 18 months The Majors are now complete and look really good, though I say it myself; now I’ve started on the Minors.
A friend recently asked whether, when designing a deck, do I work with a particular type of person in mind? Or turning the question round: when designing, say, my latest deck, do I bear in mind what sort of people would buy it/ not buy it / love it/ not want to work with it?
The answer is that when I start designing a new deck I do it because it calls to me, and then somehow uses me to design it. I began my first deck, The Intuitive Tarot, one evening when the Fool drew himself onto my pad (don’t ask me how that happened, I just know it did: I was doodling; I looked down at the drawing pad and found the Fool there … I’m sure I’ve told the full story in another part of the blog, so won’t repeat it). In the new deck it was the Hermit who called me in. I work in an esoteric bookshop in the centre of London and one day I noticed a post card with an image that stopped me in my tracks. It was actually an icon of Elijah:
but to me it was clearly The Hermit. I borrowed the postcard and placed it in a ‘would like to do’ folder in my mind, and there it would have stayed, except that one night I was invited by an American friend to the launch of a new tarot – the Nostradamus Tarot by John Matthews and Wil Kinghan. I wouldn’t have gone to the launch normally, but I hadn’t seen the friend for a long while, so I went. Chatting to John Matthews after the presentation, I mentioned my interest in this icon, only to find that he had wanted to do a deck based on these sorts of images for a long time. ‘But if you’re going to do it, I guess I had better give up the idea’, he said slightly wistfully. But John is a writer and I’m an artist – it wasn’t a problem in my book. We could work together on it. He wrote a proposal and I started researching the imagery, and found that it all fell into place, like magic. Those synchronicities – those meaningful coincidences that keep on coming until you take notice! – are usually a green light from the universe, so I began to paint.
So … back to the questions. Do I paint a deck with any particular type of person in mind? Yes, someone who’ll appreciate the work. Someone who wants a bog-standard empty deck to play with isn’t going to like my tarot – I don’t use Rider Waite imagery, I often change the elemental correspondences, and it has a few extra (historical /cultural) dimensions I discovered while painting it. Those will of course be included in the book when it’s published (2015).
When I design, do I bear in mind who will buy it? Yes, obviously, when it’s published we want lots of people to buy it – they will probably be collectors, people who have been working with tarot for a while, professional readers (I hope), and anyone interested in an iconic style of art and culture, as stated above. But in actuality, I paint the deck I want to use.
Do I bear in mind who will not like it? Yes, I bear it in mind – though I don’t worry about it. As an artist, I know that some folks really get my work and love it, and others probably think it’s a load of baloney. The Intuitive Tarot has passionate fans, but there are a lot of people who don’t like it at all. It doesn’t bother me – I still love reading with it, and still get fan mail. And the people who love it are impressive – they look deeply into life, are knowledgeable and insightful, and have usually done quite a bit of self-awareness work. What else can I say?
And the latest deck – I think it’s the best thing I’ve ever done, bar none, and a few detractors or critical words are hardly going to worry me. The only criticisms have come from people who know little about tarot or the culture that birthed this particular deck, and they have been interested enough to research what I told them about it. So the deck is already doing its job, and I am really looking forward to being able to post images of it! (Watch this space…)