Illustrator’s Tarot - Review by Paula Gibby


Like many of you, I have been a regular visitor to Michele’s Web Site for a number of years. I waited impatiently each week for the latest updates to be added to the site. At the time, I was rather new to tarot and Michele’s site and the Kaplan volumes were my only sources for searching out interesting decks for my rapidly growing collection.

In particular, I always looked forward to updates to the "hard-to-find" and "out of print" categories. I already knew how to find out about decks published by most of the U.S. houses (Llewellyn, U.S. Games, etc.), but the world of "collector" tarots was pretty much a closed book for me. Michele’s updates afforded me some tantalizing glimpses of tarot decks I had never even heard of, much less seen.

On one of my many visits, I came across Michele’s review of the Illustrator’s Tarot, a collaborative deck published in 1995. I was immediately drawn to the idea of a deck to which many artists had contributed. One of the reasons I collect decks is because I derive an intense fulfillment and enjoyment from experiencing the myriad permutations built upon that amazing framework called the tarot. I enjoy spreading out the cards from several decks at a time and becoming absorbed in the amazing process involved in creating these unforgettable images. So when I can enjoy the contrasts in style, artistic medium and ideological expression all in one deck…well, that is just an added bonus for me.

So, when I saw the Illustrator’s Tarot, I immediately began looking for it. Those of you who know me will arch eyebrows in surprise when I tell you that I just couldn’t find it. I am not often unsuccessful in my searches for decks but this one had me stumped. I decided to put the search on the back burner and let time take its course. I went on with collecting and my researching techniques and networking continued to improve with each passing year. But, when I periodically returned to my quest for this deck, I still couldn’t find it.

And then, last month, that changed. In the course of a conversation with a dear friend, she mentioned she had this very deck. Fortunately for me, I had a rare deck that she wanted very much and we happily traded.

Fellow collectors will understand the sense of anticipation that accompanies waiting for the arrival of a much-looked-for deck. The days could not pass quickly enough, but then, finally, it arrived.

I was not disappointed. Even better, I now had a listing of all the artists that had contributed to the deck, which made it possible for me to track down the coordinator of the project, Wendy Lee, to glean more information about the creation of this deck. As the years have passed and my collection has grown, I have become more and more interested in the entire process of creating a tarot deck – from those first glimmers of an idea all the way through final production of the cards.

So being able to speak with the coordinator of the deck made it even more special for me.

Wendy Lee, who attended the Academy of Art College in San Francisco, was the person who conceived the idea of gathering a group of artists together to create a tarot deck. She contacted 20 other artists and explained that she wanted to create a deck of tarot cards that could be sent out to art directors and publishers to advertise their work. By working together to advertise, it would save them a lot of money in printing and mailing costs.

Wendy had each artist pick a card to illustrate. She provided some very basic meanings (gathered from a few different sources), but other than that, each artist took those basic meanings and interpreted them in their own way using their own very individual artistic styles. A variety of media were used, although acrylic paints were used in half of the card renderings. This was because most of the artists had attended the very same art college, which, at the time, emphasized the use of acrylic paints in most of the illustration classes.

The other ten cards use a variety of media. The Emperor, Moon, Sun and Judgement cards are completely done using various computer illustration programs. The Chariot is a combination of black ink and color pencil. The Devil is pencil on colored paper. The Star is made of layers of cut paper. The Hierophant (renamed Jupiter in this deck), Hermit and Wheel of Fortune cards are painted using watercolors.

Michele has displayed some of the cards in her review, so I won’t repeat them here. However, there are plenty of other interesting and/or beautiful cards to appreciate.

Heather and K. Capelli chose the stuff that legends are made of by selecting Kokopelli as the Fool. Magician, trickster, storyteller, teacher -- this nomadic, hunchbacked musician with an absolute passion for life, takes one giant step forward towards the city in the distance, all the while playing confidently upon his flute. Although Kokopelli is a perfect choice for the Fool, it is interesting to notice the similarity between the name of this ephemeral "pied piper" and the names of the artists themselves.

Richard Sheppard chose the god Jupiter to represent the Hierophant. Jupiter, in all his classical splendor, clutches a lightning bolt in one upraised hand. However, he has definitely kept up with the times…he is using his trusty computer to deliver his "shocking" communiqués.

Justice is one of my favorite cards. Artist Siobhan Ruck has placed her delicately poised Justice high above a circus crowd on a thin high-wire. She is rendered entirely in white, giving her a pure, shining appearance against the darkly colored backdrop. To keep her balance, blindfolded Justice holds the scales in one hand and her sword in the other. The perspective of this rendering is quite interesting. The viewer is "above" Justice, looking down at her and then downward even more all the way to the audience below, which gives the card viewer a very real sense of height. Ms. Ruck used a gel medium mixed into some of her paints which gives the card a richly textured background.

Artist Liz Beatrice used computer graphics to generate another favorite card -- The Sun. In this vivid rendering, we see the enormous sun looking downward on two slight figures, hand-in-hand. The intensity and proximity of the Sun has cast a molten glow over the entire landscape. It is as if the intense light and heat are just beginning to soften and melt the images within the card.

Artist Dave Feasey created an unforgettable Judgement card. Whether you like it nor not, it definitely makes a statement. A manic clown crouches over a toaster. Instead of a trumpet, this clown is making heavy use of a bullhorn. From the greenish steam emanating from the toaster, you can discern various human figures. What is even more interesting is what is going on in the background. Behind the clown, you will see a blue arm stretching upwards to the heavens. There is a mouth (with teeth) in the back of the hand, which is busily sucking up all that greenish steam. Now, follow that blue arm all the way down to what you initially think is a mountain range. It’s not. That is a human head in profile. If I were that clown, I would pay a little more attention to this gigantic person who is also awakening with the blare of the bullhorn.

I have NO idea what this card is all about, but you must admit it’s pretty cool.

As with any collaborative deck, there are some cards you love, some you hate and some you just don’t get. I was pleasantly surprised to find that there were only a couple of cards that I just haven’t yet learned to appreciate. Of course, there are some I am much more attracted to than others, but overall this deck is a pleasure to spend time with.

These generously sized cards are 5x7 with a glossy finish. They have the look and feel of good quality postcards. The quality of the cardstock and the box is excellent. There is a little booklet containing brief card meanings and instructions for the obligatory Celtic Cross spread, along with a separate card containing the names and addresses of all the artists who participated in creating this quite interesting deck.

(22 Cards by 21 Hard-Working Artists)
Pelican Press

Paula Gibby

About the author:

Paula Gibby first began to study the tarot in the summer of 1996, as a result of studying Kabbalah and the Tree of Life.  She completed two B.O.T.A. tarot courses and is an active member of Tarot-l and Comparative Tarot.  She has contributed tarot reviews to Wicce's Tarot Page and is a major tarot collector--at present, she owns over 300 decks.  Her spiritual studies continue to widen; she has completed several Reiki courses and has received the Reiki II attunements.  Inspired by the work of Arnell Ando and Michele Jackson, she plans to create a tarot deck sometime in the future, but is presently quite busy as a Finance Manager in the Washington, D.C. area.

Review Copyright PaulaGibby 2000

Page Copyright Diane Wilkes 2000