Tarot from a Painter’s Perspective

I had originally intended for my first deck to closely follow RWS, and the second to closely follow the Thoth deck. My current thinking is that the first deck will follow traditional imagery and meanings, but the second one will built from the ground up with my own imagery and symbolism. I had also thought that I’d design them together, but now I see that one must follow the other. This is a four to six year plan. I need this kind of focus.


Some of the modern tarot decks I’ve been looking at were painted by fantasy artists. They’re full of soft billowy brush work, glowing light, and dramatic shadows. Some of them try to look mysterious and spooky. Some of them hinge on a gimmick, like using cats, or cartoon characters, or pictures by famous artists. I’m finding myself drawn to more traditional looking decks with lots of symbolism and details with specific meanings. Every line, angle, color, expression, and object on the early decks has meaning.


Scaling the work will be a huge issue. Every detail will have to be clear and visible on a printed six inch card, but also look full and detailed at ten inches on a digital screen. The use and thickness of lines is critical. Shading needs to be minimal. Textures and perspective have almost no place in images like these. A good test will be creating black and white monochromatic versions of each image. The full color versions need to be created in such a way that a black and white copy looks clear and crisp.


I’m planning to take a surreal approach to the pictures. Consider Salvador Dali’s “Rose Meditative” The landscape and the subject exist in separate realms, but they compliment each other and together create a cohesive image. I’m planning to use a traditional camera angle for the subject, and a carefully measured alternative one for the landscape. The images on each card will be a part of a larger vision that includes all the cards, both figuratively and literally. I’m planning to consider reversals when designing the images. I want to include inverted imagery for this purpose.


Things you need to know to paint for print:

1: How to create raster images for print. In other words, how to scale the relationship between the tip of the brush and the digital canvas to the relationship between the ink and the paper. This is about knowing the difference between the texture you see on the screen as you drag the brush, and the texture you’ll see on the finished print.

2: How to create RGB and CMYK versions of a painting that retain the original intent. Digital art can look dead on paper. You need to know why, and you need to know how to fix it. Paint it like a painting. Finish it like a photograph. Test run everything before you send it out.

3: How to create a content library for large scale projects. This means creating objects, layers, and textures that you can quickly modify and reuse. Each window in “The Catskill Mountain House” is a detailed large scale drawing, but there are only three of them. This is a very good way to work when you need a couple hundred detailed images.

4: Let a professional do your printing. Your $800 printer is still the cheap home version. Know who to use, what to send them, and what to ask for to get exactly what you want. Every detail matters. Don’t assume they know. If you want a certain thing, ask for a certain thing.


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