Creating Your Own Tarot Deck - Some helpful advice for independent creators.
It is March 2021 at the time of this writing. That means it’s been three years since I began the first painting of the WilderWoven Tarot. When I took on this project, I remember looking for (but couldn’t find) a general overview or guidance around independently creating a tarot deck. So if you’re interested in creating your own, I have some advice for you.
I’m going to divide this topic into two parts. In the first part, I’ll discuss the steps I took planning and creating the artwork for my deck. And in the second part, I’ll discuss my experience finding a print shop, producing the deck, and marketing the final product to the public.
Steps for planning & creating your deck...
1. Research. Research. Research.
A great place to start is making sure that you are very familiar with all the card meanings. Read guidebooks of the decks in your collection or those found online. Each card of the tarot represents specific events, emotions, and teachings. Of course you have creative liberty when it comes to how you interpret the cards, but keep in mind that it may be difficult for others to read your deck if your cards appear to deviate too far from their standard meanings.
Refresh your understanding of the differences between the Major and Minor Arcana. What subjects are expressed by the four suits? What do the court cards represent? Make a list of all the card names and write keywords associated with them.
Watch videos of professional tarot card readers. They are able to expertly explain the deeper meanings behind the cards. Take notes on what you learn.
If you haven’t already, establish a regular practice of reading cards. (It can be just for yourself.)
Lastly, study the artwork found in other decks. Compare how those artists have chosen to represent specific cards. Are there any obvious similarities or interesting differences?
It can be very tempting to dive in and start creating your cards right away, but your deck will benefit tremendously from the research and contemplation you put in beforehand.
The Hanged Man from The Forager's Daughter Tarot, The Rider-Waite Tarot, and the Shadowscapes Tarot.
2. Decide on a theme.
To ensure that the cards in your deck have the appearance of belonging to a cohesive body of work, it’s important to decide on (and stick with) a consistent theme and medium. Your theme and medium can be whatever speaks to you. It could be watercolor animals of the Pacific Northwest, angels painted with oils, digital fantasy landscapes, jungle plants drawn with ink, etc.
Be sure to choose a subject that you resonate with, rather than focusing on what you think may have the highest potential for sales. Creating a tarot deck is a massive undertaking, but it’s made easier if you enjoy what you’re creating. And chances are that whatever theme you’re drawn to, there are others out there that connect with your vision too.
On a related note, if your artistic voice is still undergoing rapid change month-to-month, it might be helpful to hold off on starting this project until you find some consistency in the style and skill of your work. It could be confusing to readers of your deck if some cards in your deck looked like they were drawn by different artists. (Unless they purchased a deck knowing it was created by several artists, like those created by 78 Tarot.)
Within the larger theme of your deck, explore sub themes that could run throughout your cards. Perhaps there is a way to easily distinguish between cards of the Major and Minor Arcana in your deck. Maybe there’s a particular color palette you’ll use for each suit. There could be recurring characters or settings specific to certain cards.
(An example of a sub-theme: All the Pentacle cards in the WilderWoven Tarot have the outline of a mountain.)
3. Sketch out your ideas.
Grab that sketchbook and start drawing! It’s not necessary to know exactly what the final version of all 78 cards will look like before you begin, but it’s very helpful if you have a rough idea. It can be as simple as a thumbnail sketch and a couple keywords or a short sentence.
I had a rough idea for most of my cards, but there were many (~15) that I created “in the moment” without a lot of pre-planning. A few of those cards made it in the deck and are now favorites, but most I had to repaint. As I progressed through creating my deck, there were times where I wished I had chosen a different animal or scene than the one I had painted. I ended up reworking around ten of those. A little bit more time spent in the planning stage would’ve likely prevented much of that extra work.
While on the subject of preventing extra work, decide on the size you wish your tarot cards to be before you begin working on your designs. Do you want your final cards to be the standard 2.75”x4.75”, or maybe something different? Whatever size you choose, make sure that the designs you paint/draw/create adhere to the same aspect ratio.
Some early notes and brainstorming.
4. Set a schedule and start creating.
Once you have a rough idea of how you’d like to depict the cards, it’s time to begin creating! To ensure that I completed this project in a sensible timeframe, I set a goal of completing one painting per week. There were weeks where I did more than that and there were weeks where I made no progress at all. But I found the one painting/week was a reasonable goal to aim towards. Obviously this pace will vary depending on one’s life circumstances or medium, but it’s helpful to find a schedule that works for you and stick with it.
Creating a tarot deck can feel like a daunting task. Progress will feel very slow in the beginning when what you have left to accomplish is so much greater than what you have done, but that mindset will slowly shift. I found there was a noticeable boost in my energy and perspective every 10 paintings or so. Near the end, I experienced so much inner momentum that I had to actively slow down so that I didn’t rush through my work.
The Queen of Swords
I hope this was helpful! I'm wishing you lots of luck when you decide to create your own tarot deck.
(In Part 2 of this blog post, I’ll discuss the steps I took once I completed the artwork for my deck.)