Design Your Own Tarot Deck Adventure!

Design Your Own Tarot Deck Adventure!


Packaging design for Jacob's Tarot

The High Priestess from Jacob's Tarot by Eris Hilton

Creating a tarot deck is one of the most ambitious things an artist can do. It’s not just about pretty pictures, or creating charming little vignettes. There is more to it than that. The layers of the onion skin keep peeling off, sheet after sheet. You bring something of yourself and your work to the table, but there is something more to it than that. I’m not a great artist, but I’m a serviceable enough one. I can draw a bit, but I’m more of a designer. Give me the pieces, the raw materials, and I will transform them into something new. I will go crazy in the process, and you won’t recognize the pieces when I’m done, but the end result will do what it is intended to do. I am a much better designer than an artist. I am a much better art director than a designer. For me, it’s always been more about the process than the end result. If I have any tendency towards swordiness at all, it will be in my work. Once I get past the crazy delight of brainstorming and idea development, and through the multiple edits and tweaks that a piece needs to solidify whatever it’s intent it, I tend to make myself go insane over getting it “just right”. It’s the Hierophant in me, but it’s a major source of anxiety and worry. I cannot rest until it’s… right. I hate that part. The creative process is one that I have a love/hate push/pull with. If I never finished any of my projects, I’d probably be happier.

I used to do quite a bit of freelance work, but not that much anymore. I just don’t get paid enough for the level of perfection I hold myself to, and the love really suffers.

In design school, I used tarot as a spring board for my art class projects if I was out of ideas. Give me a problem to solve? The ideas come fast and furious with a vengeance. Ask me just to draw “something”? That’s not really a problem I can do anything with. Tarot was an easy solution, because the subject matter was really limitless, and it gave me something interesting to focus on rather than a vase of flowers. Of course, you know what this leads to…

I decided at one point to try to design my own deck…. As you can see above. It was never intended to be functional. It was more of an art thing. ^_^

Strength from Jacob's Tarot by Eris Hilton

The Sun from Jacob's Tarot by Eris Hilton

It started off as something totally different. I’d done a drawing for my husband who was away at boot camp. It was a bit different than my usual style (kind of cartoony, bumptious, textured, not overly concerned with proportions). It was a bit darker, but I thought it was interesting. I did a similar drawing in the same style… Just sharpies, and  prismacolor markers on Bristol board. I rather liked that one two. That first drawing became The Lovers, and the second became the High Priestess. At that point, my knowledge of tarot was rudimentary at best. The only decks I had were my Hudes tarot (which I fucking hate!) and my first beloved Thoth deck. (I’d had a few others that had gotten stolen out of my locker at work. Jerks.) I rather liked the idea of trying to design a deck, and thought that I’d get some mileage out of the illustrations with some of my class projects. I had a really boring layout class that I’d be making a calendar for, and another class where I’d be doing some product development. I figured that something tarot related would work. I didn’t figure it would matter too much if they weren’t traditional. I mean… it was just an art project.

The Star
The Lovers

It was fun to go through the process, focusing only on the cards I really liked or had an idea for. I’d completed about four of them before heading back east to visit my husband over spring break (I was moving to his new station that summer when school was out). At the last minute, he was sent on a week long mission, leaving me stranded in temporary housing on a military base thousands of miles from home, with no one to talk to for a week.

It was the worst week of my entire life. Granted, it was only five days. I did see him the weekend I arrived, and the weekend I left, but the work week? I drove my rental car around, trying to check out the town. I went to the mall by myself. I found a Target. I was lonely, bored, and irritable. I threw myself into trying to finish the major arcana of my little deck. I was cooped up in the hotel room most of the time (no laptop back then). I drew, and drew, and drew, and drew. Furiously. Sometimes for 12 or 13 hours at a stretch. I drew and I slept and I read. I was actually pretty miserable and depressed, but I got a lot done.

I only did about 13 cards altogether. They weren’t traditional by any means. The symbolism is as simple and basic as you can possibly get, but they end up being kind of fun. Kind of dark. They were very much “me” as I was at that point in my life. My only regret is that I was unable to push myself any further. This is as far as I got… The Star, The Lovers, The Devil, The Empress, Temperance, The Sun, Strength, The High Priestess, The Moon, and Death. I think I had a Hermit and a Universe at one point, but I think they sucked so I never scanned either.

This was about 9 years ago, and I never finished them. I don’t draw in that style anymore, and a few more years of design school really changed my aesthetic for the better. I became pickier. More discerning. More of a hierophant. Still, a mock-up of a tarot deck is still in my portfolio. If I were to do a deck now, it would be a very different sort of deck. I am in a different place, and I understand tarot much better. Much more intuitively. I am hard on myself for the lack of development in the deck, but I just wasn’t ready for it then.

I have to embrace what I did right, and learn from what I did wrong. I’d like to try again. I plan do. I won’t do it all by hand… I’d get too discouraged. I don’t have the patience. I’d probably do a mixture of techniques that I’ve learned flow well with how I work. I’d definitely use my sharpie and some bristol… It’s still my preferred. A bit of Photoshop. Some digital painting. Bits of typefaces. A bit of Illustrator. A bit of liberally hacked stock art and stock photography. Some of my own photography. Textures. Scans of vintage fabric. Pieces of old cards and letters. Not like a collage, but a composition that makes sense. Think Enchanted Tarot, without the lacy Victorian hubris. I’ve always taken parts of things that seemingly have no value or meaning, like stock art or dingbats, and used them in ways that borrowed a bit but made them into something new. I have no idea what the theme would be. Something Erisian? I like the idea, but I’m not sure if it would translate well.

I want to. We’ll see. It can be done… I just want to do it in a way that feels… right.

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4 thoughts on “Design Your Own Tarot Deck Adventure!

  1. I don’t know whether to applaud or bow, so imagine something in between.

    Thank you for sharing, not just the pictures, but the story behind it all. The way you’ve described the process really resonates with me; the layers and layers as well as the damn Hierophant party-poopering 😉 There is a mixture of joyful abandon and manic addition (more more more!) in these cards… I know this deck is over, but I think it would be a big hit. People are ready for more exuberant tarot art now.

    That said, I know you’ll rock your own special brand of “collage” deck! I’ve seen the magic you make with type and clip art! Go Eris, or go home 😉

    1. I’ve always regretted not being able to get the deck to the next level. I know you know how tough it is to surf that initial wave of creative madness only to not be able to ride it out to completion.

      I think part of my problem now is I’m doing it to actually make a working deck, not just an art piece. Maybe I need to rearrange my priorities a bit, eh? 😉

      1. Whereas I realized a little later that the thing that shines from this project and why I think it was so successful is that it was created (largely) without _expectation_ (I think?) It was a mini creative epiphany for me! Art without expectation…

        So maybe the secret is to let go of that “must do x”-factor and just make it to make it???

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