When I was first contacted by Llewellyn with the proposal of creating a tarot deck, I was immediately enthusiastic about the idea. There were, after all, many themes in common with my personal illustration work. However, even though Barbara Moore had warned me from the onset that such a project would be a labor of love, I really underestimated just how much work was involved. Having said that, it has truly been a satisfying experience. The process has obviously involved not only getting to know more about the subject itself, but also meeting with interesting people along the way, including a charming High Priestess of Isis Rising.
The basic concept behind the deck is essentially the balance between science and faith, the physical and spiritual. These often conflicting concepts come together in my images. Mystical characters comfortably sharing their world with mechanical, man-made devices symbolizes that as humans we still have some freedom to influence and effect our destinies. This joint act is played out on the stage of Mother Earth. If nature serves as a decorative set design for The Gilded Tarot, with its visual emphasis on details of grass and trees, then the various living creatures within the cards are the audience who are witnesses to our various decisions, fortunes, and misfortunes that unfold thorough the readings.
The different scenes depicted do not represent any specific region or time. I’ve taken complete liberty with historical accuracy, inventing, and borrowing costumes and architecture at will from different periods. The characters themselves form a visual album of family, friends, and co-workers, now converted to angels, demons, triumphant heroes, and royalty. Their participation required a variety of tactics: a romantic dinner for my wife (Temperance), lunch and month-long commitments to make the coffee for my co-workers (Strength, Empress, and Emperor), and old fashioned threats of taking away computer games from my fourteen-year-old son, who for some reason was reluctant to dress up in tights for the Ten of Wands. My daughter (Judgement and the Eight of Swords), on the other hand, was simply happy to pose for as many as possible.
I decided to give a stronger individual identity than normal to differentiate the suits and Major Arcana. I color-coded the various borders, and used some of the design elements and character that are introduced in the Aces of each suit. I then applied them to the royals. For example, the grained wood and guilt-centered embellishments of the Wands are reinforced in the column of the Queen and the King’s throne. The same detail can be seen in the decorative gold metal work of the Cup, which is reflected in the elaborate metalwork of that suit’s throne. The royal costumes also compliment the color scheme of their suit, reinforcing its overall unity. I wanted each King, Queen, Knight, etc., to be obviously a Wand, Sword, Cup, or Pentacle in their own right — not merely because they are holding their corresponding items.
On a technical point, I’ve received a great number of e-mails requesting additional information, not just from tarot enthusiasts, but from others generally curious about the creative process. Were the images painted or computer generated? Actually the answer is yes to both, but that requires a little clarification.
My approach is to regard the computer screen as a blank canvas. I draw or paint the imagery using a digital pen and tablet in what is a surprisingly similar process to my pre-digital days. The software, however, allows me to use an infinite array of “virtual” brush sizes, shapes, and colors. This also enables me to achieve a more traditional, textured look, which I prefer. This is juxtaposed to the plastic perfection so characteristic of many digital projects today, from animated movies to digital art (including various tarot decks), which are generated on computers using 3-D programs and packaged filter effects.
Looking back on this completed project, my personal conclusion is that a tarot deck is a creative genre that will be repeatedly judged over a considerable period of time, both for the symbolic content and artistic merit of its imagery, and its qualities as a deck for reading. These are all highly subjective considerations. That any deck will ever fully satisfy these criteria for everyone in the tarot community is an impossibility, but my hope is that The Gilded Tarot will be enjoyed by many, and in doing so will also stand the test of time.