Creating Your Own Tarot Deck With Collage
This is not a comprehensive "how-to" article. If you are looking for a how-to article crammed with practical advice, look here. Collage artist Arnell Ando has created at least three different Tarot decks using the medium of collage and is an expert. I am writing this article because I am so excited about making a deck using collage that I have to share it. If you are turned off by gushing enthusiasm, stop reading now.
Let me begin with some background information. I have no artistic talent. I can not even draw decent stick people. The thought of creating my own deck always seemed so far out of reach as to not even be given a thought. In 1996, I met Arnell Ando at the International Tarot Society Conference in Chicago. I attended her lecture on creating a Tarot deck, and the experience was so positive that I bought not one, but two blank decks to try out some of her techniques. Of course, they ended up languishing in the cabinet. This year, at the American Tarot Association Conference in Denver, I attended another one of Arnell's lectures. This one was even better than the previous one, and I didn't have to buy any blanks because I already had two from Chicago. Of course, when I got home, I filed away her wonderful handouts in my drawer for "someday in the future when I have more time." We all know how that works.
Two weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to be in San Diego (Arnell's home town) on business. Of course, I made arrangements to meet with her. She graciously picked me up and took me to the Psychic Eye Bookstore, a shop that I had heard about for years. One of the employees proudly showed me their US Games deck display. I told him that I already had those decks. I was able to find a deck that I did not have on a table near the back of the store. By this time, the employee had told another employee that I had a lot of decks. The second employee said he had a deck he was sure I did not have. He then kindly showed me a collage deck he had created. It is an absolutely gorgeous deck. He practices Santeria and he uses a lot of Holy Cards in the deck, in addition to found images from magazines and other sources. The colors and images are really breathtaking. Arnell asked him how long it had taken him to make the deck, and he said it had taken him about nine months. He had collaged his images and then color copied them, cut them out, and pasted them onto a blank Tarot deck. He uses the deck for readings in the store, but he said that after a heavy day of readings he often has to glue the images back on because they start to peel. Both Arnell and I offered to buy a copy of his deck, should he ever publish it.
Arnell gave him some information on laminating the cards and on self-publishing, and gave him with a copy of her deck. Impressed, the thought, "I can do that," briefly entered my mind, but I pushed it out during a great dinner at the restaurant next door.
I planned to spend the last afternoon in California with Arnell, and eat supper at her house. When I arrived, she was working on a collage project, but invited me into her workshop and told me to help myself to a box and whatever images I wanted from her well organized boxes of imagery. I chose a small cigar box and had a great time choosing the images I wanted to put on it. I chose way too many and ended up putting about half of them back when I was finished covering the box both inside and out. I think that Arnell thought that the box would keep me busy all afternoon and that I probably would not finish it. She was wrong. I was done in a few hours and spent the rest of the afternoon looking at all of her wonderful work. The box was not what I would call beautiful. It was covered though, and I had fun doing it. I found it relaxing and rather meditative. A small spark was struck...When I returned home, I pulled out those two blank decks. I had an image in mind for the High Priestess from an art book I loved by an artist named Betty La Duke. I scanned the image, reduced the size and printed it. I found a background of a starry night from a magazine and a tarot card from a catalog. I also had some other images that I added and took away. It was very easy and very enjoyable. The final result can be seen above.
When I came home from work the next night, I decided to try my hand at another card. I had a small art book that I had bought used for a dollar with the intention of sending it to Arnell. For some reason, I had not taken it with me on the trip. I started leafing though the book looking for images that reminded me of Tarot cards. I had no specific card in mind at first, but an image brought the Nine of Swords to mind. I tore it out of the book. I kept looking and pulled out several other images that seemed Nine of Swordish to me. I cut them out and placed them on the page in various configurations. When I had one I liked, I glued them down. The next night I went to Barnes and Noble looking for art books with small images. I found The Art Book published by Phaidon: five hundred-plus images for $9.99! Leafing though this book, I found an image with a beggar that reminded me of the Five of Disks. Another image of a man in a run down neighborhood and a picture from the newspaper of what is euphemistically called "the inner city," and the Five of Disks was born. To say that I am obsessed is to underestimate the depth of my affliction. In two short weeks, I went from being a fairly normal middle-aged woman to being the scourge of waiting areas and lounges everywhere. Any magazine with small interesting images is in danger of being desecrated, if not "liberated." My husband has learned that no color image is too trivial for use. Even the Coupon Clipper circular must be set aside for my review before being thrown out. I have now moved to photographs. My husband says that he has hidden his passport lest he find it in a card. I think he is joking. At least I hope he is.
I travel a lot in my new job, and on one overnight trip I discovered a store that had little art books for half their regular price. I bought a few. I went back last week and almost liquidated their entire stock. My local library has old magazines for sale at $0.25 each. I bought as many as I could carry. On the way out, I found a few more in a bin for free!! Somehow, I added them to the pile and inched my way very carefully to the parking lot.
I now find myself working at a feverish pace. I average a card a night. If you are looking for some deep esoteric, academic deck, look elsewhere. This deck is intensely personal. Some of the images I create surprise even me when I am finished with them. I don't know where they are coming from. It is like there has been a river of cards dammed up inside me, and now that I have opened the floodgates, I am being overwhelmed. I cannot express to you how enjoyable this is. I am having the time of my life, and my only regret is that I did not discover how great this was twenty years ago. I do not think that I am being overly ambitious in saying that this is my first deck. I have plans for the next one, with some images already pre-cut. I want to take my time on the next one. I want to meditate on each card and find symbols that are appropriate to the astrological and Qabalistic underpinnings of each card. That will take me a while. But first I have to get this deck out of me. I look forward to coming home from work each day so I can start another card. I stay up late looking at images and pulling interesting ones out for future reference. In a couple of weeks, I have accumulated boxes of images. In fact, I already need bigger boxes.
If, like me, you thought that you could not produce a Tarot deck, please think again. Get a couple of old magazines and look for Tarot imagery in the advertisements. Buy a used art book for a dollar or so and see what Tarot imagery you can identify. Try making a card or two. The cost is negligible. With used magazines and/or books, a pack of three by five cards and a $0.99 glue stick, you can be on your way to having a deck where you intimately understand every symbol on every card. You don't have to be an artist, you don't have to have any talent. Hell, no one else ever has to see it. Very few people will ever get to see more than the few cards shown here from this deck. But, that is OK. I am making this deck for my pleasure, and my pleasure alone.
If I have been able to convey one-tenth of the excitement and enthusiasm that I feel for collaging a personal deck to you, the reader, then I consider this article the most successful one I have ever written. Please try collaging a card or two and see how you like it.
You can see some other collage Tarot decks at these sites:
Transformational Tarot Deck
Victoria Regina Tarot Deck
The Jumbledance Tarot
Full Moon Dreams Tarot Deck
Cerrithwen's Tarot Deck
This page is Copyright © 1998 by Michele Jackson