of the Heart : A Deck of Favourable Cards by Lily S. May
Review by Judith A. Johnston
I saw this deck on eBay by chance and immediately knew I wanted to work with
it, and have now worked with the cards for two months. I have loved woodcuts
since I was a child, when I bought a book of Arthurian stories that was
illustrated with numerous woodcuts. The World Spirit Tarot and the Light and
Shadow Tarot, which I own, are both done with lino cuts, but I never
considered that this was an art technique I could do myself until Lily May and
her Mirrors of the Heart deck came to my attention.
It is strange how someone's work will set you off in a new direction. I was
not looking for a deck of cards, nor was I thinking of exploring a new art
technique, but this artist appealed to me so much, both in her artwork and her
approach to life and teaching others, that I knew she had something to teach
me. Lily writes poems, as do I, and Lily creates stories with cards, as do I,
and she says that lino cutting can be done by anyone, which piqued my
interest. Lily May is also a textile artist and a quilter, as I am, and I
really wanted to use these cards and images to do some exploration. I felt so
keenly that she had a positive message of work and action highlighted in her
People often dismiss black and white, or in this case, black and tan decks,
because they don't zap your eye with color, yet color is not always needed to
detail exuberance and joyful creation. The Mirrors of the Heart deck is hand
produced, and some of the cards are trimmed slightly bigger than others in my
deck, but for me, this is the enchantment of an item made by hand. The
cardstock is a lovely tan color and very light and there is no lamination, so
each of the 43 cards feels like an art print. I thought this was pretty
special, and the importance of slick lamination fades when another artist is
trying to get my attention. Everything about this deck spoke to me of human
experience and hardship and pushing through to discover what is important and
satisfying in life.
Hands All Around
When I first went through the deck I was struck by the many images of hands on
the cards. I went quickly past the Help card and said, "Oh yeah, helping
hands," but then I hesitated and went back and considered it more carefully.
One set of hands is extended with palms up, and the other set is reaching
toward the other with palms down, and I found this poignant as I remembered
that during moments of great emotion and grief, sometimes we can only grab
hands and hold on. It is a simple, human gesture when words cannot reach
someone or express what you feel. This singular gesture defines humans beyond
our fancy conversation and posturing, and Lily's simple card is like a
vignette of the reality we face, and how we face it together. Blindly,
blindly, when there is nothing else, there is a hand we reach for.
The Companions card shows a whale with a bird on his back and what looks like
a turtle nestled in the bird's
feathers and another bird swimming in the sea next to the whale. This reminded
me of two cards from other decks that also pinpoint the fun of being with
people you like and getting along in life, of being joyous. Do we understand
the concept of companionship as we continually strive for ephemeral
satisfaction? We hang around with strangers on the Internet, we betray the
trust of others, we gossip, do we actually connect to anyone? In Brian Froud's
Faeries' Oracle, the card that echoes this is called The Friends. Support,
friendship, respect, and cooperation, but underneath is the joy of opening
your heart, and your heart as a mirror of someone else and their joy in you.
The second deck is i Tarocchi Celtici by Laura Tuan and the card there is
Sorbo - Luis. These companions express delight in being together, and
interestingly, we see the negative aspect of friendship, which is such a loss
when compared with the happy times of real connection. The literal meaning of
companion comes from Latin: co = together, and panis = bread. Share your bread
together, eat together, companions are the bread of life, they are what feed
us and keep us alive in spirit. We could be having a whale of a time!
The Night card shows a person sleeping under a tree and the night sky of moon
and stars, with a sheep lying near keeping watch. "Sheep May Safely Graze"
says J.S. Bach, but the shepherd needs watching too. This card reminded
me of a time in hospital isolation when I had a very high fever, and a nurse
came to check on me and saw that I couldn't sleep and offered to sit with me.
She was there for a few minutes and when she left, my eyes were closed and I
wasn't asleep, but the comfort of her sitting with me in the dark is still in
my memory 30 years later. The night is frequently a terrible ordeal for
humans, as time stops and we wait. We deny ourselves peace and rest and
endlessly torture ourselves with our minds, and yet I look at this Night card
and reflect on peaceful rest.
I am back to hands...making things by hand, the hands around us. These
sentiments reminded me of a quilt block called Hands All Around which has a
curved shape, diamonds, and set-in pieces, so needs to be sewn by hand. It
prompted me to design a digital quilt as an exercise with these cards. For my
color theme, I used tan and black as my base and added a bit of gold because
the title card on the Mirrors of the Heart box is printed on gold-colored
parchment, and I added some red for contrast. I made the design in the
Electric Quilt program, and used several patterns from there as well as
real fabric images for coloring the patches.
I drew the hand and whale myself using Lily's cards as inspiration. The
images moved me to create something and use the drawing tools in my quilt
program, which I had never done before. The tools are simplified compared to a
program like Adobe Illustrator, but I managed to draw my lines and shapes, add
points, and use the Bezier tool to adjust the curves. I gathered bird, tree
and heart patterns, my hand and whale, a sheep, flowers, and the Hands All
Around block, and this is the result. I call it The Favourable Quilt
. It took me 10 hours to put together. If you own the
Mirrors of the Heart deck, fan it out in front of the quilt illustration and
you will see the magic of taking the time to work with a deck.
"And this same flower that smiles to-day,
To-morrow will be dying."
The line is by Robert Herrick from his classic poem of centuries past, To
the Virgins, to Make Much of Time. One memory I have is of a local
teacher, artist, and friend who was always saying he would reclaim his art
after he retired from teaching and had the time. He died at the age of 58 from
prostate cancer. The last time we saw him, he came over to the house and would
not stay inside, he wanted to be out in the sun and air. He was dying by steps
as he carried his morphine pump around his waist. We lost an individual, an
artist, and a unique human who will never create what he wanted to. He
is gone, there is no sun and air, it is too late for his vision.
Something else this deck reflects is a mirror of how we spend our time. We
have no time seemingly, and yet if we choose, we do have hours here and there
to make art. One of my favourite books is called Making Room for Making
Art by Sally Warner. It is for those of us who miss our art that was
shunted aside for "real" life, and how to bring it back and think of ourselves
as artists, how to find the time. Three years ago I started to buy tarot decks
and suddenly I was writing again as I responded to the art in the decks and
tied them into words and poetry that kept my imagination sparkling. I started
drawing again, seeing color, sewing; I was messing around with paint and paper
and I was happier than I had been in a long time. The artistic expression of a
deck like Mirrors of the Heart is a doorway to my own mind and creativity.
"Hello," it says, "Have you forgotten something important?" Yes, I forgot, and
it was like living in a desert of lingering, stultifying restriction.
So, while I was waiting for the Mirrors of the Heart deck to arrive, I bought
some lino cutting supplies. These supplies are readily available at art supply
or craft stores, and you can buy interchangeable lino cutting blades that
screw into a handle much like changing drill bits; water soluble or oil-based
printing inks; the lino blocks themselves in various sizes; fancy papers; a
Plexiglas sheet for rolling the ink out, and a small brayer to spread the ink
on the block. You can start for about $20, and after that, you spend your
I wanted to put some effort into learning a new technique and developing my
abilities. I wanted to work with this deck using the technique the artist
had used, and that was all it took: my will to work, the choice and the will
to start, to attempt, to try. I have years before I retire; think of what I
could accomplish in those years. Or not, there is that awful choice we face,
and time will hold us accountable.
Last summer I became interested in drawing mandalas in response to some of
the artwork on my tarot and oracle decks, but also in response to events in
my life. I had purchased a full set of Prismacolor colored pencils several
years ago, but I was afraid to use them because my work did not have the
photorealistic quality of other pencil artists. Oh well, we can't have that,
better put them high up on the shelf so you don't get the urge to actually
draw something that looks like folk art! I finally gave up and did what I
wanted, which was to use the pencils and create things, regardless of how
they look to me or anyone else.
I approached lino cutting the same way and combined my first print with a
mandala that I drew with my colored pencils. I was keen on combining the two
art techniques as a study exercise with Mirrors of the Heart, and a way of
slowing myself down to see the symbolism and details in the cards. Awareness
is often a reality we avoid by fitful attempts to keep busy. It's the
slowing down, the taking time that is hard for us, but for the mind to flow
and create with freedom, you need to do that.
I chose a bird motif because I love birds and they are scattered throughout
this deck. I call this fellow Favourable Bird
or F.B. for short. My printmaking techniques are rather
crude, there is an art and skill to this that I have no experience in, but
that was the point, to try and connect with what the artist experienced when
making this deck. I used a couple of motifs from the cards to fill in and I
drew a lily from a gardening book. The plant in front of the lily was
inspired by the Sexuality card and the roots go very deep and are aflame.
One of the lino prints I did was on the rough side of pastel paper and I
turned it into a collage, and used some clip art of a globe because Lily
also has that symbol on her Peace
card. Then I added symbols about journeys, maps, illuminated manuscripts,
lateral thinking, and added a few of the quilt motifs from my digital quilt.
As well as providing visual appeal and integrating the colors I was working
with for the exercises, it says something to me about spontaneous effort and
play and opening the world with your own hands.
My Motif Made Me Do It
During a trip to a quilt shop to find fabrics that matched the Mirrors of
the Heart colors of tan and black, I bought two beautiful prints. Part of
the marvel of working with the deck was using colors I don't normally use.
F.B. insisted that he be printed on the lovely, pale marbled fabric. He also
insisted that some embellishment was needed for him to attract a female bird
he had his eye on--notably a lovebird in a certain wreath on The Favourable
Quilt. Much discussion ensued about crests and flowing paradisiacal feathers
and such, so I gave
him a few
flowers to echo the red flowers in the lining. They also match the red
highlights in the aforementioned digital quilt; what female would not want a
gentleman with such an eye for color coordination? Plus every deck needs a
suitable bag and now I have one, although the resident motif seems a bit
opinionated and prone to flirtatious comments about lovebirds.
These exercises propelled me to learn about a deck that I came across
randomly, and they funneled my mind to free my artistic expression. I found
these cards to be truly mirrors of my heart. I think of several tarot
artists and my artist friends and the positive influence they have had on my
well-being and outlook on life. I see artists creating and I want to do
THAT. We live in hopeless deserts of passivity, longing for expression and
the action of our own hands and minds. Sometimes chance grabs our attention,
as it did for me with this deck, and perception alters, action creates, and
the world changes. The world is not always about perfection and
photorealism, or competition and conventional archetype. If we choose, it
can be about being creatively active in an individual way. It is about
energy and the hand of the artist, and there are hands everywhere in the
Mirrors of the Heart cards.
You can read another view of this deck here.
To order this deck, you can go to
Lily S. May's store on eBay or Arts
of May (her website).
Judy Johnston is an artistic eccentric living in Canada, surrounded by
books, cats, tarot cards, John Scofield CDs, computer software, and fabric.
When not working in a library, she makes and sells tarot bags with random
designs. Green is her favorite color.
Images © 1993 Lily S. May except as noted (other images © 2004 Judy Johnston)
Review © 2005 Judy Johnston
Page © 2005 Diane Wilkes