During the creation of Shadowscapes Tarot, the Major Arcana was easy to create, in terms of imagery and motivation. The archetypes of the Majors are enticing to any artist, imbued as they are with the collective subconscious of meaning, and familiar to even those who know little or nothing of Tarot. "Death," "The Tower," "The Empress"...each of these conjures a host of ready visual associations and metaphors just from hearing the name alone.
The Minor Arcana was much harder. A number and a suit: how to create meaning from something that seems random? How to motivate myself artistically to not hold back, but to pour everything I have within me into each card? It would be a shame to have created a body of work I was proud of in the Major Arcana, and then to fall short when coming to the rest of the deck.
I decided on one thing immediately. Just as I had done with the Major Arcana, I would proceed with the cards in order. Aces first, twos, threes, etc. By not allowing myself to skip ahead to what might be perceived as the "fun" images, I forced my mind to look into each card to find the meaning in it, to seek out its unique beauty, and to determine how it intersected with my life experiences and personal symbology.
After having come to this decision, I was surprised at how well it worked. I suppose that should not have been unexpected, for the popularity of the tarot and the fact that it has lasted and is so ageless is because the meanings of the cards span the whole of the human experience. If a single card is isolated, and one digs deep enough into the soul, there is bound to be some connection that one finds to what that card signifies. As a result, the journey of creating the deck felt like an extended exercise in meditation, spanning the four and a half years it took to complete the project.
At times during the journey, it felt like purest synchronicity the way inspiration would present itself as I approached a card. Or perhaps it was as I have said: that the connections are all there in our lives, only needing the moment of meditation to comprehend how that puzzle piece fits into the weaving. These links always exist, but they are not recognized as such until they are actively searched for.
I remember coming to the Eight of Pentacles in October and pondering how I was going to distill the spirit of craftsmanship and pursuit of higher understanding into an image. On the one hand, it was an easy card for me to relate to, given my current project, and being an artist. But relating to, and finding the right imagery that connects those thoughts and concepts into a visual context, are different processes. It is the process of communication (which is ultimately what an artist's endeavors distills into).
After scratching aimlessly at my sketchpad for a while, I set aside the pencils and brushes and made my way down to Sausal Creek, which runs at the bottom of a ravine across from my house. The chill of autumn was just starting to set in as we transitioned from our long heated spell of summer drought into the months of rain. Dried and thorny blackberry hedges hemmed in the path, and sunlight trickled in through the greenery. I noticed then the glints of iridescent light from the dew on myriad webs strung in the foliage. These were masterpieces, stretched from twigs and tree limbs, beautiful geometric perfection spun in spider silk, with the little artisans seated at the center.
I knew then that I had found my muse. She was Arachne of Greek myth, in her moment of comprehension for her pride, being transformed to a spider to be given the gift to weave ephemeral beauty for all time. She was Spider Woman of Navajo tales who taught women how to spin and was the embodiment of creative thought. And she was the Spider before me: even as I watched, I saw to one side a spider slowly setting her anchor threads and then proceeding to patiently walk round and round her web in an ever-widening spiral, her legs twisting in a strange and intricate eight-legged dance to bind each strand as she passed the radiating anchor threads.
Another favorite moment of stochastic alignment for me during the creation process was when I began to work on the Hermit. The summer when I came to him, I was spending a few weeks with my husband's family on Manitoulin Island, in Ontario, Canada. It is an isolated place, removed from the light and sound and humanity that surround me in Oakland, California.
My ears are accustomed at home to nighttime "silence" being the hum of my computer in the other room, the chatter of the family next door, the sounding of the trains five miles distant that carries on dry nights, and the occasional airplane coming into Oakland Airport. Orion gleams bright in the sky, and sometimes you can make out the Big Dipper.
At the island, though, it was a different experience altogether: at night the Milky Way trekked across the sky in a spill of light that reflected in the still waters of Lake Manitou. The silence was complete, broken only perhaps by a passing nocturnal creature whose eyes would pause and gleam outside a window before vanishing into the undergrowth. At dawn and dusk I went out to the dock and watched as the loons skimmed like phantom shadows near the lake's surface, their eerie cries sliding across that mirror surface.
In the haunting cries of the loons came the Hermit's inspiration. It is no surprise that loons were seen as spirit creatures to the Indians in those northern retreats. There was something otherworldly in the experience of encountering them. Like faery creatures of other cultures, their choice of timing at dawn and dusk seemed to mark the transition moments of the day, when the doors to the otherworld were opened briefly and realities existed in a nebulous way. When I returned home to Oakland, I summoned the memory of the wheeling stars in the night sky, and the still cold waters, and the voices of the loons, and held those all in my mind. And the Hermit came into being.
I've been asked, if I deviated from the imagery that other tarot decks have used, how are readers to find their own connection to the deck? I feel that the symbols I have employed have a deeper meaning than just their singular connection to myself. By delving into the language and imagery of myth, I tried to tap into a more universal well of metaphors. These are not just meanings that I have derived on my own from a void, but concepts and themes that have appeared over and over in cultures around the world and through time. In the way that each culture has its own creation myth that somehow has uncanny similarities, there are images and symbols and stories that are recognized on a subconscious level; meanings that are felt, stories that are understood.
Stephanie Pui-Mun Law (Oakland, California) is a professional artist whose fantasy illustrations have been commissioned by various game and book publishers. Author and illustrator for the book Dreamscapes, her work also ...