A Tarot Tour
when I first started researching tarot decks, artist-made decks were well on the scene. I however, wasn't really aware of any until after I started making my own. Instead, my dear friend Erin showed me some of her decks and I did a little shopping in different stores around Pittsburgh and any occult shops and book stores where ever I was traveling at the time.
These decks taught me a lot about how to make tarot. Borders or no? How to establish a suit theme but unify the deck as a whole, and what symbols people looked for in the cards to read them. I'm still learning and my collection is expanding.
Here is a little trip through my current decks. I'm not going to share a lot about the creators or deck history and instead link you to Aeclectic Tarot for that (they do a better job). Instead I want to talk about each deck's influence on my own work and share some thoughts about how I think tarot decks are changing.
I am showcasing the deck cover (if I have it), the back of the card, Judgement, Ace of Cups, The Fool, Eight of Swords, and The Devil from each deck to compare them.
Tarot of the Cat People
Legitimately the most amazing tarot deck, Cat People tells the story of an alternate cat universe with the cards. It was originally published in 1985 and you can tell. I freaking LOVE this deck as it tells the most unique story using the tarot format. This copy is on a longterm loan from my friend Erin but going through these cards for this piece encouraged me to buy a copy for myself on Etsy. It's pretty reasonable and widely available.
This deck has a distinct style that's carried throughout all 78 cards. It empowered me to create whatever the fuck I wanted and really go for it. Tarot of the Cat People rules.
AIGA Dallas-Fort Worth Community Project
My friend John supports my love of card decks. As a member of the DFW chapter of AIGA he shared with me this community project they did in 2018. Every card is designed by a different person and the company that printed the deck is local to Dallas. More information here. I don't use this deck ever but it's interesting! I am not much for a deck that is illustrated by multiple people but I do enjoy flipping through it and seeing the different takes on the cards.
Art Nouveau Tarot
I came across this deck in a (clean) garbage bag filled with occult books that smelled intensely of incense. My friend was moving and asked if I wanted some of his old occult materials from the '90s and of course I said yes. This deck was made in 1989 and is no longer in print (and is now actually worth a bit of coin). Thing is, I'm not that kind of collector. For me, it's all about the art.
Art Nouveau reminds me of how goddamn hard it used to be to make something like this. These illustrations took Matt Myers three years to complete and you can tell. The cards are smaller than normal yet rich with detail. I have not had this deck for very long but I appreciate it as someone who tried to achieve a similar level of detail. He also has a self-portrait card in there that serves no other purpose than to say "I was here, I made this" and it reminded me of how I make myself The Fool in every deck.
I would be remiss in saying that from my 2020 perspective, this deck doesn't do it for me conceptually. This was made in the era of tarot looking a certain way and meaning certain things. I can still appreciate the craftsmanship.
Interview with the artist Matt Myers on New Age Hipster
The Fantastic Menagerie Tarot
This is probably the closest to perfection when it comes to execution of style in tarot, for me. I'm obsessed with the art style in this deck. It honestly breaks my heart that it's not being published anymore and is stupid expensive to buy second-hand. I currently posses it on loan from my afore mentioned friend Erin—so I am very careful with it. Read Aeclectic Tarot's write up about the creators of this deck.
Fantastic Menagerie is the most charming collection illustrations I have ever seen. While it's not a style that I myself can execute, it became a goal to capture not just the right meaning for each card—but to convey my own attitude and essence, (still working on it).
My first tarot deck ever was the Tarot Apokalypsis. I found it at The Controversial Bookstore in San Diego (now B-Intuitive) while wandering around the North Park neighborhood in 2016.
Yes, I bought my first tarot deck for myself. You can too.
This is probably the most influential deck (structurally speaking) on my own work. The borderless style, the digitally illustrated / photobashed artwork, the intensely saturated colors, and its use of the seasons and different cardinal directions for each suit were all very influential to Bridge Witches.
This homage to Pamela Coleman-Smith illustrations features myths, legends, and deities from Egypt, Ancient Greece and Rome, Scandianvia, and the Khmer culture. I'll be honest though, when I bought this deck, I didn't know much at all about it or about tarot in general. I chose it based on the cover (featuring Pandora and her box) and the price point.
While the huge hardcover guide is filled with extensive card meaning breakdowns and includes cited sources from various texts, I'm not able to speak to how accurately it portrays the different ancient cultures that it depicts. What I have come to understand however, is that tarot decks are rife with references to myriad cultures that are repurposed for their own use in occult tools. That never sits well with me and that aspect of this deck makes me uncomfortable. Read more about this deck on Aeclectic Tarot.
Tarot Apolaypsis reminded me that I need to be aware of my bias and how that effects the art I produce. I can't just pick symbols willy-nilly and say "this is mine now!" It was important to me to represent the real world around me but also acknowledge that is through my own lens warped but its own baggage. It's my responsibility to continually educate myself and chip away at this bias where ever possible.
I believe that now more than ever, we are beginning to question where our tarot comes from and what stories it is telling. Now that artist decks are widely available on Etsy and elsewhere, we can support a diverse array of creators and learn more about their worlds.
Tarot and Astrology
Funny story: While making my deck I was worried that tarot people would clock me for the meanings and astrological associations. My friend was getting really tired explaining it all to me and recommended I check out Tarot and Astrology: Enhance Your Readings with the Wisdom of the Zodiac as a resource. It was wild to open the book and see that I knew the illustrator John Blumen and could just call him and ask how he made this deck.
Chatting with John about the technical aspects of drawing digitally (something that was very new to me at that time) was invaluable.
I haven't spend a ton of time with this deck. I found it at Corner of the Sky Books & Beyond, a used bookstore in Cleveland and when I unwrapped it, the smell of cigarette smoke on it was so strong I had to air it out for a few weeks. Regardless, I've enjoyed flipping through it. They style is very late-70s and reminds me a bit of the Hobbit animated cartoon.
Medival Scapini Tarot
I have used this deck to read for myself and it's not for beginners. That being said, I get lost in these images. The vaguely creepy aesthetic has influenced my current more horror focused deck. It's full of color and even a metallic gold finish but has a quintessentially medieval brutality to it. Most people when they create a scary deck relay on the color scheme of red, white, and black. I'm not that kind of goth!
Luigi Scapini plumbed that medieval aesthetic to recreate decks reminiscent of that era. The illustrations are languid and densely packed. I believe I acquired these at an occult shop here in Pittsburgh called Hocus Pocus in the Oakland neighborhood.
Rider-Waite auf Deutche!
Of course I have a Rider-Waite deck. I never read with it but use it as a resource. I purchased this in Switzerland at Orell Füssli—the oldest continually running publicly traded business in the country. Opening as a book publisher in 1519, they also run a gorgeous bookstore in Zürich.
This Might Hurt
Last but not least, my most recent acquisition: This Might Hurt! This is a queer and diverse deck that is one of the most well made products I own—down to the holographic edges. I keep it on my desk and read with it, study it.
You might be asking, with your focus on queer representation and diversity why do you not have more of these decks? Well, I didn't want to be be influenced by what other people were making. I wanted to study what came before me so I could understand it and twist it.
I'm at the point now where I want to buy all of these and support the amazing artists. Check out thismighthurttarot.com and get one!! The feel is incredible and it's fun to read with.
And that's it!
I hope you enjoyed this tour. It was longer than I realized! Once I gathered my decks I saw... wow I have gotten a few over the years. I can't wait to acquire more!