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Creating your own tarot deck

A surprising number of people dream of creating their own tarot deck, but few
actually make it through to card 78. That’s hardly surprising; it is a major
commitment of time and creatie energy.
!oweer, making your own cards leads to a depth of understanding and knowledge
of the Tarot that you simply will not get by using a published deck. The cards become
your own uni"ue statement# a re$ection of yourself which, if you allow it, can
transform your life. %aking something, the product of mind, body, and soul, is a truly
ama&ing e'perience, and is not con(ned to those indiiduals we call artists.
We all have our own unique form of self-expression
)ery human is naturally creatie. *nfortunately, we are often criticised or
discouraged from using our natural gifts and, oer the years, lose touch with the
intuitie spontaneity of childhood. +ut the well,spring is still there. -our dream of
creating a tarot deck could well be the call to reconnect with it.
.ertainly, you do not hae to be an artist to produce your own deck. %ost tarot packs
hae been produced by passionate amateurs, and range from handwritten cards to
accomplished watercolours. +ooks such as The New Tarot by /achel 0ollack, and the
three,olume set of Encyclopedia of Tarot by 1tuart 2aplan, show an abundance of
wonderfully creatie decks# each is part of the ast range of human e'perience. 1o if
all you can manage are stick people or words, rough shapes or abstract designs, it
will be as alid as the most accomplished artist’s pack. 3n fact, only a handful of tarot
decks hae been produced by world,renowned artists 4 more than four centuries lie
between +onifacio +embo’s 5isconti,1for&a deck of c.6789, and 1alador :ali’s of
A common "uestion is how long you should study the tarot before attempting to
produce your own pack. The answer is simple# start when you hae the urge to do so.
-ou will learn on the way. 3f you wait too long, the energy will dissipate. 3 often feel
that the more we learn, the less fresh our approach; we become burdened by the
weight of all those e'perts who know so much more than we do.
1o act on that (rst surge of energy, get it outside of you to manifest in the world.
+egin anywhere 4 whicheer card appeals most 4 and see where it takes you. *se any
medium# paint, collage, pencil, crayons, pen and ink; cared wood, papier mach<,
stone, plasticine... 3f you feel happiest with a plan of action, draw up a list of cards
you’d like to begin with, research their meanings, look at other packs, and then rough
out some ideas until you produce something that has the right =feel’. )en then, it
doesn’t hae to be perfect; you will (nd that your ideas re(ne as you progress.
The process and the benefts
-ou may well produce a few cards and then stop. 3n that case, creating those images
has ful(lled your creatie need; you will almost certainly hae learnt something
aluable about yourself, and hae something uni"ue to show for it. 3f, howeer, you
stopped because you’re oerawed by the thought of seenty,seen >or so? more
cards, remember the famous journey of a thousand miles. @e begin by taking one
step, and then another. @e continue, because the journey takes us to places we
could neer hae imagined# through into the mythic worlds, the dreamtime, the well,
spring of e'istence 4 whateer you choose to call the deep source of inspiration and
There are other profound bene(ts to creating your own pack. As you work, you’ll gain
a deep insight into each card you produce. Aormally if you meditate on a card, it’ll be
in blocks of 4 say 4 B9 minutes. 3f you set out to design that card, you’ll probably
research it, check out other packs, rough out some ideas and (nally produce it. Aow
we’re talking hours at a time, all focused on this card and eerything it means,
symbolically, spiritually, archetypally. This creates a permanent bridge to your
intuition and subconscious wisdom# communicating not only with the tarot, but with
your deepest 1elf. The cards 4 particularly the %ajor Arcana 4 portray a journey of
initiation. @ith eery image you produce, your personal e'perience of its spiritual
path grows. -ou could well (nd yourself moing from the early stages of creatiity to
feelings of achieement, balance, despair, endurance, on to hope, awareness and
(nally, completion and ful(lment. 3t is an almost alchemic process of transmutation.
The Rider-Waite Tarot and the Thoth deck
@e can sense this process in the two most famous decks today. 3nterestingly, both
were designed by women# 0amela .olman 1mith painted the =/ider,@aite’ pack in
6;9; under A.). @aite’s guidance; and Cady Drieda !arris produced Aleistair
.rowley’s Thoth Tarot between 6;89 and 6;8E.
0amela >0i'ie? .olman 1mith spent her childhood in the *2 although the family’s
roots were in the *1; the .olmans were followers of the philosopher 1wedenborg and
0amela=s work depicts a comple' and iid dream world full of mysticism, ritual, and
fantasy. +oth Arthur @aite and 0amela were members of the Frder of the Golden
:awn, and she followed him when he seceded from -.+. -eats’ Codge. @aite
commissioned her to paint a =corrected’ ersion of the tarot including pictorial images
in the pip cards, which closely follow the designs on the 1ola,+usca deck of late 6E

.entury, the earliest e'tant pack with illustrated %inor Arcana. The resulting pack is
"uite cool and slightly $owery, but lingers in the mind 4 witness the number of packs
nowadays based on her images.
3n contrast, the cards Cady Drieda !arris painted for .rowley are full of passion and
moement. The deck may owe its particular se'ual energy to the loe she
purportedly felt for .rowley, or it may be her particular essence. There is surprisingly
little information on Drieda’s life. 1he was married to 1ir 0ercy !arris, a minor
baronet, staying with him until his death in 6;EB. 1he then moed to 1rinagar
2ashmir to lie on a houseboat. This was a woman with a highly original mind, who
managed to marry artistic techni"ue with the deepest mysticism, transforming her
Art :eco style into something immensely powerful. *nderpinning her work were the
concepts of projectie geometry, an oHshoot of )uclidean geometry studied by
disciples of 1teiner in the 6;89s. The basic tenet was that time and space are not
separate# a central point and in(nite space can occupy the same position. @e see
this concept made isible in the Thoth cards, which Drieda would work and rework to
satisfy .rowley who >unusually? praised her work highly. 1he isited him shortly
before his death in :ecember 6;77 and still remembered him fondly in a letter in
6;E8. 1he died in 6;IB.
y own !ourney
3 created my tarot cards between 6;78 and 6;86, working in the eenings. +y the
time the pack was complete they were an integral part of my psyche and spiritual
awareness. 3 hae worked with them, read them, meditated on them, and grown
through them for oer thirty years. Aow they are actually published JThe Intuitive
Tarot, .onnections 0ublishing >*2? and 1t %artin’s 0ress >Aew -ork?K. 3t has been an
incredible e'perience.
!oweer, it was by no means an easy journey. +rought up in Limbabwe, 3 wanted to
be an artist as far back as 3 can remember. Cack of obious talent meant only
grudging family support and when, at senior school, 3 was faced with a choice of
science or art, my father decreed 3 should take science. 3n the end 3 took neither and,
my dream of doing a (ne art degree in tatters, 3 ended up at a technical college in
1outh Africa, studying commercial art. 3 spent most of my time trying to catch up with
the other students artistically and emotionally, failing miserably when my (rst loe
aHair ended in feelings of terror and disintegration. @hen 3 transferred to (ne art in
my second year, my father withdrew his (nancial support >(ne art, he felt, was
tantamount to staration in a garret?. 3 (nally $unked out, spent a couple of ery
painful years at home and (nally, as a sort of rite of passage, came oer to +ritain in
Condon in the early 6;79s was a reelation# 3 loed its contrasts and oH,beat humour.
3 stayed and married in 6;7B. 3 had too little self,con(dence to look for work as an
artist, so found myself the (rst of many ;,E oMce jobs and tried, tentatiely, to paint
at night.
3 discoered the Tarot through a teleision programme in 6;7B but wasn’t impressed;
the images seemed crude and ugly. !oweer, a few months later in one of those odd
compulsions that can change a life, 3 suddenly decided 3 had to hae a pack. At the
time there were ery few aailable, so 3 began painting my own 4 a rather uninspiring
set of cards based on medieal tapestry, which 3 later sold outright to *1 Games.
The Intuitive Tarot
Fne eening in 6;78, doodling idly, 3 looked down and found 3 had drawn the Dool 4
but a ery diHerent Dool from any 3 had preiously encountered. !is eyes,
otherworldly yet compelling, looked deep into my soul, and challenged me to follow
him. 3 could almost hear the sounds of his world, and smell the heat of that other sun.
3n some inde(nable yet ital way, 3 had come home. The ne't day 3 began on the
%agician. !e too appeared almost eHortlessly, with that same sense of what 3 now
call the Ftherworld. As 3 continued, reading eerything 3 could (nd on the tarot, 3
knew that 3 had found my home, my soul work, and also my spiritual path. 3 had
rejected organised religion at art college, but all my life without realising it 3 had been
searching for the direct, gnostic connection to the numinous depicted in the tarot.
)ach card became an e'ploration 4 into myself, into mythology and Nungian
psychology, ancient and medieal history, alchemy, Taoism, the "abalah, een new
physics. Fther tarot decks were, of course, an endless inspiration, particularly the
Thoth and /ider,@aite decks, and one of the oHspring of the latter, 0alladini’s
A"uarian Tarot. Alfred :ouglas’s The Tarot became my faourite reference book, while
Art Aoueau also proided a constant source of ideas. 3 would begin by sketching out
a number of tiny thumbnails, working with arious aspects of the card meaning, until
3 produced one 3 liked. 3’d then paint it full si&e >EO ' 8.EO?. At the beginning 3 had no
idea about colour and used a chart to check what combinations worked. After a while
this became instinctie, so for those who think they hae no eye for colour, take
heart 4 like eerything, it can be learntP
Although most of the cards $owed through with ease, some were much more diMcult.
The )mpress, the :eil, and the @orld were designed and redesigned. 3 dimly sensed
they were mirroring parts of my psyche# my repressed anger, lack of emotional
holding, and an inability to deal with the world. 3n a reprise of my college e'perience 3
once again found myself in some psychic neerland outside =normal’ e'istence,
wrung by e'istential terrors. After a few months 3 recoered enough to start
psychotherapy, and began to work through my issues.
3 had neer considered producing the %inor Arcana. !oweer, around 6;78,
encouraged by friends and my own recoery, 3 suddenly decided to go for it. 3 used a
slightly smaller oal motif as the %ajors and attributed each suit with its own special
"uality and colour range 4 .ups were predominantly blue, :iscs were gold, @ands
green, and 1words neutral. The work grew easier as 3 progressed; towards the end, 3
could complete a card in an eening. 1o it was that in 6;86, 3 went to Aew -ork with
my Tarot deck, to talk about publication to *1 Games.
The next stage of the !ourney
1tuart 2aplan is a canny businessman and his terms were uncompromising# you gae
him both originals and the copyright. 3 decided to wait for a better oHer. 3t took
twenty,two years 4 but, as you see, we made itP
3n the meantime, 3 completed my course of psychotherapy and studied
psychosynthesis, arts therapy, and dreamwork. 3 began producing large, powerful oil
paintings which 3 interacted with, journeyed into, and learned from; and, in B996,
accomplished my childhood dream of getting a degree in Dine Art.
B99B was my year of miracles. Dirst 3 discoered my tribe in the Frder of +ards,
Fates and :ruids. Their support gae me the courage to leae oMce life after thirty
years. 0hilip .arr,Gomm, the Frder’s .hief, saw my cards, thought they were
stunning, and generously shared his contacts in the publishing world, as well as
proposal templates. As 3 began writing my proposal, another helpful professional
suggested the title =3ntuitie Tarot’. This was the marketing theme the cards needed.
The tarot is, of course, an intuitie tool, but my proposal could now emphasi&e each
reader’s ability to connect into their intuition, and gae them a space with each card
for notes.
The day after 3 sent in the proposal, the publishers emailed me to ask for more
details. @e had a dream meeting where eerything $owed. They liked me, loed the
cards, and immediately accepted them for publication. The mock,up was displayed at
the Condon +ook Dair, and 1t %artin’s 0ress bought the publishing rights. Then all 3
had to do was to write the bookP
This is not the way most tarot decks are produced. *sually a writer will conceie a
theme they (nd interesting, and an artist is commissioned to illustrate this theme. 3
had done the whole thing backwardsP Aor were my images illustrations# somehow,
they felt more like the essence. @riting about them, then, was easy. 3 meditated on
each card >see bo'?, incorporated any new ideas coming through; gae traditional
interpretations, suggestions as to how the card could be used in self,deelopment,
and then opened it up to the reader’s own intuition. +y Aoember B998 the book was
3 spent a few months cleaning up the scans of the cards, and then waited for
publication. This is not a process you can hurry# it takes around two years from start
to (nish, as each stage needs proo(ng and checking, and nowadays the printers are
often in far,away places like .hina. +ut (nally, in Fctober B997, the tarot was
launched, and 3 am now able to enjoy it as it (nds its place in the world. )'periencing
your child grown to maturity is a strange and wonderful feeling.
"etting your pack published
3f, once you hae painted your pack, you too would like to get them published, ensure
your marketing theme is clear and topical. There are so many packs on the market at
present that this can be a challenge, but it isn’t impossible. .heck out the esoteric
bookshops and see what sells; get feedback from friends, clients, tarot groups >a
number of which can be found on the internet?. Fther tarot decks, and The Artists
and Writers Handbook >updated annually? are inaluable resources. @rite your
proposal, include a biography and sections on your theme and your market research
(ndings, a summary of chapter headings and the subject matter you’ll coer.
3llustrate your proposal with three or four images, and keep the layout clean with lots
of white space.
1o now it’s time to begin your work. 3f you allow it, the tarot will take you on a
magical mystery journey into strange and far,away lands, into the heights and depths
of the human creatie spirit. 3 wish you all the best on your path, and know that it will
repay your hard work with gifts you cannot conceie at present. Cet me know how
you get onP
Cilla Conway is the creator of The 3ntuitie Tarot (I!N no" #$%&'()$#*&$#+" he lives
in ,ondon, teaches at the Colle-e of .sychic tudies, and runs workshops on creative
art, as well as the tarot" www"cillaconway"co/ and www"theintuitivetarot"co/
editating on a card in preparation for your own design
Dirst research the meanings and images of the card you’e chosen. Then close your
eyes, take a few deep breaths, and center yourself. -ou may already hae a faourite
way of approaching your inner worlds, but if not, imagine yourself standing before a
large oak doorway. 2nock (rmly, and then push the door open and walk through. 1ee
yourself standing in your inner landscape. +e aware of eerything around you 4 place,
colours, smells, sounds. 3f you don’t see anyone nearby, start walking; or,
alternatiely, send a call out for the (gureQs in the card to come and join you.
5isualise them as clearly as you can, and imagine your conersation. !ow did they
come to be hereR @hat is their storyR .an they help you in any way, particularly with
an image when you returnR Dinally, ask if there’s anything they want from you. 3f
you’re with one of the (gures in the %ajor Arcana, be aware you are communicating
with an archetype, a fundamental human energy (eld, and respect it accordingly.
@hen you are ready to return, ask if there is anything else that needs to be said, gie
your thanks, and moe back through the oak door. /eturn to your body by taking a
few more deep breaths.
Cike dreams, details from isuali&ations can disappear ery "uickly. %ake rough
notes, any "uick jottings or ideas immediately after returning. Then, you are free to
moe into sketches for the (nished card. -ou may (nd the ideas arrie without eHort,
as though they were just waiting to be called; but if nothing comes immediately, gie
them time to distill in the alchemic processes of the mind. They’ll probably arrie
when you least e'pect it.
@hen you make your own Tarot .ards, you not only get e'actly the cards you want,
but you’ll also get an e'tremely strong connection with your cards. This kind of
connection is something that can be diMcult to achiee with standard cards.
Ff course a drawing talent is a plus, but you don’t need it when you make your own
Tarot .ards. The fact that you are making them for your own use, the S"ualityO of the
Sartistic lookO is something you decide on your own.
The symbolic meaning is probably the only thing you hae to consider, especially if
you are planing to use the cards for esoteric work.
Ftherwise it’s totally up to you. -ou could concentrate on the colors or een use
abstract forms, so long as it’s only you using the cards. 3t all depends on how you
isuali&e the images and their meanings.
!ow to %ake -our Fwn Tarot .ards
@hen we look at the history of Tarot .ards, the symbolism is something we can’t
e'clude or be without.
This is why the si&e of the cards matter. 3n fact the si&e is probably the most
important factor in the design of the cards, apart from the symbolism of course.
@hen you use your Tarot .ards, you will hae to be able to see clearly the images
and the cards hae to be easy to shuTe. That’s why the cards can not be so small
that it’s diMcult to see or read the symbols on them, or so big that they’re diMcult to
%y iew is that the cards should be between B.6 in >E.8 cm? ' 8.E in >8.8 cm?, the si&e
of a traditional EB cards deck, and B.8 in >7 cm? ' 7.7 in >6B cm? which is the si&e of
my /ider,@aite Tarot .ards. This is of course my personal iew, but you should not be
make your own Tarot .ards much smaller or bigger, than this.
The material you use for the cards has to be relatiely hard, or not to $e'ible. 3f you
use paper, 3 would say that a carton of not less than 9.97 in >6 mm? should be used.
0referably you should not use paper, but wood.
@hen you buy standard Tarot .ards, you don’t hae much choice in material, but
when you make your own Tarot .ards, the choice of material is entirely yours. @ood
is a natural product and it’s easy to get in its natural form. 0aper on the other hand is
heaily treated with all kinds of chemicals.
The same goes for the painting. @hen choosing the painting, you should go for the
most SnaturalO painting you can get. That is to say, you should try to bypass painting
that is highly saturated with chemicals.
Fne of the things that you should keep in mind, is the back of the cards. -ou need to
hae all the cards with an identical image on the back. This is a must when you use
your cards in fortunetelling.
3t will not take you long to recogni&e the arious defects on the back design that will
ineitably aHect your work. -ou might for e'ample shuTe the cards in a way that
keeps the SbadO cards from turning up in the beginning. The best is to use a single
color background with no images or lines on them
, 1ee more at# http#QQwww.tarot,cards,meanings,guide.comQmake,your,own,tarot,