Wednesday, July 18, 2007

A Day of the Dead Tarot

It's really been a while, I didn't realize just how much energy my job was robbing me of. Thankfully I've quit that job. It was just not a good fit for me. Now I will be spending the next two years developing and printing the Major Arcana of a Tarot Deck.

I had a very successful oral presentation in San Francisco yesterday at the Academy of Art University. My proposal for my Masters Thesis project was approved. The abstract will be posted in the next paragraph to be followed by the written proposal. It will be the first steps in creation of a Day of the Dead Tarot

Day of the Dead Tarot

The Major Arcana in Woodcut


For my masters thesis I propose the creation of a woodcut edition of 10 sets of Day of the Dead themed Major Arcana; the first 22 trump cards in a deck of Tarot.

Through meditation and study I hope to develop and combine culturally mixed archetypes and symbols of my various ancestral influences into a series of images that can be universally understood.

I will execute these 3.5” x 6.5” images using the ancient Japanese Hanga method of multicolor woodcut printing and modern relief cut materials such as “Easy Cut®” to create a first edition of 10 sets.

I intend for this section of the tarot to be 22 individual miniature works of art that merge cohesively into a loose-leaf book that will be presented in a handmade clamshell box.

This will not be a set of cards for divination but rather a nonlinear fine art book for meditation and growth, or simply for artistic appreciation.

The Project

It is my intention for my master’s project to be the initial step into a significant body of work that has been formulating in the back of my mind for probably most of my life. I grew up in an art studio and learned to draw and paint by direct observation. In my first college printmaking survey class I discovered woodcut printing and have been near obsessed ever since. I’ve also studied Tarot and metaphysics since adolescence so it’s only natural that I should eventually come around to combining my artistic and spiritual interests.

I was babysitting in the mid 1970s and the kids were asleep; seeking to relieve the boredom I scanned the client’s bookshelves and came across a book on Tarot. The cover image was intriguing and a quick scan of the contents compelling so I sat down and read it while the client’s children dreamed. The client was surprised on her return to find me wide awake. Realizing I’d been inspired by her library, she pulled out an unopened Rider-Waite Tarot and gifted the deck and book to me. I treasured that gift and practiced with it for over 30 years. Finally in the late 1990s I re-gifted the book and well worn cards to another artist who was developing her own tarot deck. At that time I was experiencing life changes; my only child had left home for military training and I quit my job to use his unused college savings to resume my own interrupted education.

While held captivated in an intense art history lecture I began to visualize the mythological ideologies and Tarot based archetypes that were being discussed. It began with imaginary visions correlating the lecture discussion to the Day of the Dead art and altar installations I’ve been doing for over a decade. These daydreams lead to even more imaginary visions of a Day of the Dead Tarot. It then dawned on me that my medium, woodcut printing, would materialize these visions beautifully and could also make a great master’s thesis.

The concept I have for my master’s project is to create a Day of the Dead woodcut edition of the Major Arcana of a Tarot (the first 22 trump cards, numbers 0-21). Eventually I intend to make the whole deck but each card requires much meditation and study to develop poignant symbolism so it will take several years to complete all 78 cards. The Major Arcana are the most involved cards and are the foundation for the rest of the deck. They are iconic representations of the best and worst qualities of humanity. Some new age groups claim that they are catalysts for initiation into increasingly higher levels of spiritual growth. I want the cards I create to tie the aspects of the Day of the Dead, an indigenous cultural event and the Tarot, a European concept. I intend to develop this deck using iconography from my Chicano and Indigenous ancestry as well incorporate symbols from my European and Modern American cultural background. Since most archetypes and symbols are universal I should be able to find and develop a wealth of cross cultural transformational imagery.

These cards will not be laminated so they will not be appropriate for divination, rather they will be a non linear book that can be used for meditation, self reflection and artistic appreciation. I intend for each card of this Tarot to stand on it’s own as an individual work of art and still be able to cohesively fit in with the rest of the collective as pages in a loose leaf picture book.

Each card will be produced using the non-toxic Japanese Hanga style of woodcut printing. In this technique a different plywood surface is carved for each color to be used in the image. The mediums used are watercolor paints and rice paste. I intend to do a 4 color process using Baltic birch plywood for the keyline (black line art) matrix and “Easy Cut®” for the primary color fields. I will work in transparencies of primary colors to create overlapping lines that produce secondary colors. The primary colors I will use are Thalo Blue, Alizarin Crimson and Lemon Yellow. I will print each image onto heavyweight fine art paper that is approximately 4”x7” with 4 deckled edges.

I will complete a 1st edition of 10 sets of Major Arcana in two years by cutting the block and printing a new card each month. Each set of the edition will be presented in its own custom handmade clamshell box to house and protect it.

I hope during the course of this project that I will find a deeper level of self actualization that will help me to develop my personal artistic style. I also hope to refine my artistic skill and craftsmanship.


Annie B said...

Oh wow!! Hats off to you! What an exciting undertaking, Patti. I started working on a tarot deck about 15 years ago, but found that I wasn't really up to it, both artistically and developmentally. But it's an idea that always intrigued me. I'll be watching your progress with great interest.

Phare-Camp said...

Wow Annie, just how crazy bored are you with your studio all packed up and ready to move??? Did you read the whole thing or just the abstract ;^} Thanks for the encouraging words...if anything, like the death card, this project will be transformational. Whether I'm up for it or not I've forced my own hand by making it public and now it must be done; especially since my college will be monitoring my progress. It will either be my dark night or my salvation...pain or bliss I'm sure a better human being will emerge from the making of it!

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