The Creative Process of Making a Tarot deck
by Arnell Ando
(Originally published in the Llewellyn 2002 Calendar)
When creating your deck it's helpful to perceive yourself as the writer,
director, producer and cast of a play. Keep the somewhat detached role of a
director while identifying with each card and seeing how you respond to their
themes in your life. Keep a running journal of your internal process. Stay
committed to your personal vision and you will also be depicting universal
themes. By keeping your deck personal it will entice you to delve deeper and
keep you enthralled. Every image, symbol, color and number of objects can have
meaning and will give your mind areas to free associate with later. Trust your
intuitive nature and it will all fall into place. Select imagery that evokes in
you a range of emotions, as well as things that depict your beliefs,
aspirations, challenges, and fears. Look for images that represent your past,
present and potential future. Combining opposing or conflicting imagery in a
collage can help you perceive things from different perspectives as well as give
your cards layers of possible meanings.
Making a Collage Tarot deck
Begin collecting imagery that appeals to you, even if it's the wrong size for your cards (you can always adjust the size on a copy machine, or with a scanner if you are familiar with a program like Photoshop, although it is not recommended to increase the size by much.) Collect magazines, art books, old photos, ads, greeting cards, and handmade paper. Used bookstores carry a selection of art books and local libraries often have bins of donated discarded magazines. Anything that is basically flat, including fabrics, snakeskin, etc. can be utilized in collage.
It's important to note that if you are making this deck for personal study or for teaching purposes you needn't worry about copyright protected imagery. However if you plan to publish your deck you have to be careful not to use images that are still protected under current copyright law. It is usually safe to use images that are 75 years or older combined with your own art but keep good records of all artwork used (the title, artist, year and owner, museum or gallery).
Separate images into categories. Pawing through magazines when you are meditating on a card can be very distracting, whereas if you keep a large assortment of pictures, colored paper, and symbols in separate, itemized folders or containers it can be very meditative to look through them until you find the ones that fit your vision of the card. The act of collecting images has the effect of casting your empty net out and gathering all manner of food for thought from the collective unconscious.
If you plan to work in the actual size of the cards it's best to buy a couple packs of blank index cards or a blank Tarot deck from your neighborhood occult shop. If you use blank index cards, you can buy a corner cutter for around $8 (at crafts or rubberstamp stores). If you choose to work in a larger format, you can shrink down your cards later on your scanner or at a copy shop (being mindful that tiny details may get lost when shrunken down).
I use stick glue to apply the images onto my cards. While gluing I keep a stack of scrap paper so I always have a clean area to work. Dual point markers are good for blending and touch up. When cutting images from cardboard a white outline often shows on the edge of the image. The brush tip of a dual marker eliminates these outlines. Sharp scissors are crucial. For detail work I use a small pair of straight cuticle scissors. Rubberstamp stores sell great supplies such as glitter and hole punchers with symbolic shapes which can be used as an interesting 2 layer effect with a dimensional background showing through or to place the cut symbols directly upon a section of the card for added meaning.
If you've been recording your impressions of the cards and those of others you appreciate in a Tarot journal this will be helpful to study while meditating on your card's personal meanings and atmosphere. Tarot encyclopedias and dictionaries are also useful as a resource for multiple card interpretations and artistic inspiration.
Music, incense, candles and rituals that have personal relevance are helpful in achieving the state of mind for artistic and spiritual contemplation. Setting aside time dedicated to making your deck also conditions your mind to honor this creative space.
Hand Making Decks When my cards are complete I color copy them (5 cards per 8 1/2 by 11 inch sheet), cut them out, and glue them onto backs (with glue stick), trimming them so that both sides fit precisely and then round the corners, laminate, and then cut and corner them one last time. If your cards have a white border, t helps to put a piece of colored paper on top of you cards which are lying face down on the color copier so that you'll be able to distinguish the edges of your cards from the white paper. The color copying process often causes the imagery to appear more vivid and erases many of the seams caused by collage. Laminating your original deck will make it difficult to obtain clear copies of it because the plastic reflects off the glass of the copy machine. To bring out the clearest hues in your copies, it's best to combine the cards that are predominately the same color tones. Estimating a color copy to be $1.00 - a full set of 78 cards will be about $16.00 plus the backs and lamination. One of my decks has colored collage backs and the other has a B&W design. The B&W backs are much cheaper to produce although I still copy them on quality, color copy paper. A quick and cheap alternative would be to use colored card stock, or specialty paper. This saves you a step because you can glue the fronts directly onto sheets of colored paper and then cut the two sides out together. The quality of color copiers differs greatly so it's best to shop around. Ask them to supply color copy quality paper, which is thicker, absorbs the colors nicely and has a soft sheen. Put something heavy onto your stack of cards between the process of gluing and laminating them because if they begin to curl, they may get air pockets or wrinkles. A sharp paper cutter is a worthwhile investment for cutting the cards once they are laminated, giving them a straight 1/8th inch border. You can buy a laminator and lamination sheets at a local office supply store. I prefer to do it myself but you might try your local business supply center and see if their lamination services suit your needs and make the process quicker and easier. Note in the article section of my site I have guest artists who share their own techniques of creating decks. Jean Hutter for example, has offered an easier and quicker method, (if you don't mind creating decks that have backs without a specific design).
Self-publishing your deck If you plan to mass-produce your decks for sale, there are a few printing companies which specialize in producing Tarot decks. These are to be preferred (rather than going to a local printing shop) as they understand the need for a protective coating on the cards, the thickness of the card stock, and how crucial it is that the card backs all be exactly the same. They will also factor in the price of having the cards cut, collated and shrink-wrapped. In my case I went to a local printer and I needed to carefully punch out the perforated cards from sheets and collate them into decks before shrink-wrapping the decks. This was extremely tedious and time consuming. You could have the booklet and box printed locally to save expenses. When pricing your decks for retail it's important to factor in the 'middle man' in case you plan to have them available in stores. When selling your decks to stores they expect a 40% discount and selling them to wholesale distributors, they expect a 60% discount. Some benefits to self-publishing are 1) you have full artistic control. 2) All costs are a tax-deductible business expense (except of course your precious time). 3)It takes much less time to self-publish (3-6 months compared to a year or more).
I recommend before sending your work to a publisher that you contact them first and find out if they are accepting new submissions and if they are willing to publish a collage deck. Even if you document your sources and are careful to use only artwork that is considered in the public domain combined with your own art, they may still shy aware from publishing a collage deck. If you find a publisher willing to publish your deck expect it to take at least a year. They may do 10,000 copies the first printing giving you a small royalty on the publisher's net wholesale proceeds. They usually will ask for full/sole exclusive rights to license and sell internationally in any form. You usually retain the copyright and the full rights revert back to you once they've stopped printing. They will usually sell them to you at wholesale prices (which you can then personalize for your fans and sell on your own site for retail or offer to promote at conventions and local book signings, etc.) Other benefits to getting published are; it's great for circulation. With a large first printing and excellent promotional tactics, your deck will get good exposure and, of course, no huge personal financial investment is needed up front. Whatever you decide to do I wish you the best and hope to add your deck to my growing collection!
Arnell Ando is a Jungian-based, certified Expressive Arts Therapist and certified Tarot grandmaster. She has created 4 Tarot decks including, Transformational Tarot, which was self-published in 1995 and will be published by US Games in 2006. Arnell has combined her studies in the spiritual and psychological fields and her passion for mythology to create her unique interpretation of the Tarot. She has contributed to numerous collaborative decks including Artist's Inner Vision. You can see her decks and read various articles pertaining to Tarot and the Expressive Arts here . She continues to explore new mediums including custom made miniature occult shops and elaborate Tarot shadow boxes. Arnell conducts art and Tarot workshops in her studio in San Diego and at various symposiums.