Making a Tarot Deck: The Process and Outcome

I always wanted to illustrate my own deck of tarot cards, but the task of creating 78 individual pieces of art, each with its own hidden meanings and thoughtful details, seemed insurmountable. But a couple of months ago, I decided I was going to see the project through.

I started with research. I looked at other tarot decks, both historical and contemporary. I noted what I liked and disliked. While I do enjoy themed decks, I wanted to make a generalized deck based upon the traditional 78-card tarot. I was inspired by the tradition of the Tarot de Marseille and by the Rider-Waite tarot deck.

After the research, I set about planning each card with rough sketches. I carried around a small sketch pad, and whenever an idea for a particular card came to me, I jotted it down. This proved to quicken my entire brainstorming process. I realized that I do my best thinking and sketching in the middle of a busy day, and not when I’m actually sitting in the studio. Of course, some cards were harder than others, and at times I found it difficult to create an image that could conjure different meanings and interpretations. I didn’t want to create images that were one-dimensional in meaning. I wanted to make sure each image could be interpreted in a variety of ways.

Tarot Sketches 1

Tarot Sketches 2

I spent many hours in the studio converting the rough sketches to fully realized illustrations. I used ink and watercolor on 4″x6″ bristol. After several months, I had finished 78 multi-colored pieces of art.

Tarot Cards

That was the fun part of the project. Like most artists, I always prefer the creation of the art over the end steps of making the art into a finished product. A 4″x6″ card is an unwieldy size and not very suitable for someone who actually wants to use the deck. Based upon most standard size decks, I went about trying to create a decorative border and design to accommodate the art I created. I created test backgrounds and prints to figure out the final look of the cards.

I had to make some final design choices that I had not intended on. For instance, I was going to keep my hand-lettering on the cards. However, after viewing a test print, I preferred to use a font alongside my artwork. I also had intended on a sepia background and border, but then decided on a greyscale background.

After a few test prints, I decided upon a final design. I saved them, printed them, and now I have self-published working decks. I made some decks available online for tarot enthusiasts and art collectors: http://woodsillustration.bigcartel.com/

Tarot Cards

Knight of Wands

9 of Swords

9 of Pentacles

As a whole, I consider the project complete. However, I have not yet decided on the future of the original tarot watercolors. For now, I have them safely stored in my studio until I can figure out a plan for them.

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Dead Heads and Things I Like Right Now

So, this is definitely a departure from my last post about adorable kittens. What can I say? I am versatile. One day it’s all about kittens, the next day I’m drawing dead heads in my sketchbook.

So here’s a mashup of the small sketches I’ve made:

Dead Heads: W. Woods Illustration

It’s not really my fault. I am often inspired by the things that I read, and I’ve been on a horror kick for the past couple of weeks. I’ve been enjoying short stories by Stephen King and taking comic / graphic novel recommendations from my friends and fellow artists.

First, I was recommended the work of Junji Ito. Junji Ito is a horror manga artist, and a friend and graphic novel connoisseur suggested I read his three-volume work Uzumaki. I don’t read much manga, so I didn’t know what to expect. I bought the first volume just to try it out. Immediately after reading it, I was compelled to purchase the next two. I finished the three volumes quickly and then skimmed through them again, taking in the beauty and horror of Ito’s art.

The gist of the volumes (for those who haven’t read them already): a town is possessed by spirals. It sounds odd, and it is, but delightfully odd and utterly horrific. It definitely gave me chills and made sleeping more difficult after I put it down before bed.

An image from Junji Ito’s Uzumaki
Uzumaki

Next, I started reading some old comics from the 70s called Grimm’s Ghost Stories. Another friend of mine collects these as reference in his own art, so I borrowed a couple. These are all campy, short, and, well, kind of low-quality…and I really enjoyed them. I still get a kick out of horror cliches and these comics have them in abundance. It got me in the mood to think up my own horror comics.

One of the covers of Grimm’s Ghost Stories
Grimm's Ghost Stories

These are the things that are fueling some of my ideas and sketches, as well as just providing some needed entertainment. Read them…if you dare! MWAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Flash of lightening, clap of thunder