Tips on Building a Tarot Deck from Scratch?
December 27, 2021 9:15 AM   Subscribe

I want to build my first-ever personal tarot deck in the new year but am completely illiterate as an artist. Hoping the Mefiverse can assist me with card stock info, art supplies, and general maker knowledge to make my first deck awesome.
posted by Lipstick Thespian to Media & Arts (5 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Wow, ambitious challenge!

Off the top of my head, from an illustrator's (and Tarot user's) perspective there will be several stages and area of consideration:

- What research have I done? What other decks do I like? Can I draw inspiration from these? Or is there some innovative approach I haven't seen done before? Mindmap your ideas. Sketch some initial designs for cards. Do a lot of initial drawing and planning before you commit to a final outcome.

- How durable do these cards need to be? Do I want them to be reinforced/laminated in some way? How big do you want them? How will you cut the actual card (knife + cutting mat + metal ruler is better than scissors)? Do you want nice rounded edges like a professional deck? What practical skills like these do I need to watch tutorials for before I start?

- What will I be using to create the images? Paint? Markers? Coloured pencil? Printed digital drawings? Linocut? Each of these will work better with different kinds of card. If you will be printing, you'll want to test the printer and card stock with some test prints before you get too far down the line- printing is expensive and a bad print job can ruin the effect of painstaking work.

- Will you be scanning and printing drawings/paintings and tinkering in e.g. photoshop, then printing? If so, scanning and editing skills will be required to make the scanned images look good. Again, good to practice and experiment with this before you get too far down the line (e.g. reproducing colour pencil can be really hard!)

- If you have an iPad, Procreate is a popular tool with a gentle learning curve. If working digitally, you can get packs of brushes that give nicer effects than the default brushes. Texture is also a great thing you can achieve with digital art. Watch a bunch of tutorials to get a feel for the options.

- If you're not reproducing the images (scanning, editing and printing) then you can be more detailed and cram lots into a small image .If you will be reproducing, your image will need to be clearer and have fewer details. If you're doing printmaking by hand, there are other sets of rules on how to make an image reproduce clearly and coherently. Look up tips and guides to your chosen medium- there will be loads online to pick from.

- What elements am I including in each card? How detailed are these images going to be? Am I going to draw from existing Tarot decks or creating my own imagery? Is the deck going to be themed? What colours work well with the theme if there is one, and/or with each suit?

- How will I use colour? Colour is extremely important for symbolic meaning, and can easily look really bad if you're not careful. A colour scheme generator (example) could be a useful tool. In general working with up to 2-4 colours in one image helps keep things manageable.

- If you'll be using traditional media, you'll want to practice a bit so you feel confident and comfortable with the tools you're using. E.g. getting watercolours to look nice is hard. The media and style of drawing you use will also inform the vibe of the deck e.g. Linocut can give a rustic, woodsy effect. Bold lines and areas of solid colour will look modern and energetic.

- It can be easy to **** up a good drawing by adding colour or linework. You could scan sketches and ink and colour them digitally. Or you could use a lightbox to trace a sketch and produce a final outcome that way.

- If you haven't really drawn before, you might struggle to get all the details of each card looking how you want them to. Especially for the suit cards, you may want to simplify things and use symbols to represent different elements rather than trying to draw lots of figures to a level that can convey meaning well. Things like stamps or templates might reduce your workload and make the deck look more cohesive and coherent.

- If this is for personal use, what key elements of decks that you already use will you want to keep, and which ones can you discard?

- Look up some guides to composition and think about where the focus of an image will be, where the lines of movement are, etc. This is important for Tarot cards especially, as you will want them to be cohesive enough images to let you do interpretative work with them.

- What other elements do you want to include? A border round the images? A pattern for the back of the card? Text? Play around with all these things and factor them in to your compositions when you're sketching your ideas.

Have fun and good luck!
posted by Balthamos at 9:44 AM on December 27, 2021 [9 favorites]

Best answer: No matter what technique(s) you use to create the images, I would recommend scanning your artwork (if it's not digital to begin with) and having the cards printed by a company that specializes in playing cards, assuming that's an acceptable option for you. They will shuffle, stack, and generally hold up better than anything handmade or printed on home equipment, and not using originals means you can easily create your images with any mix of drawing, painting, photography, digital art, etc. without having to worry about matching size, texture, thickness, permanence, etc. I'm sure you could find something local to you, but this company is the same that I just used to make some lovely jigsaw puzzles. Xmas shipping to Canada from Dongguan was… appropriately costly, but if you don't need rush delivery (and especially if you get more than one copy of the deck), the prices are fair.
posted by wreckingball at 9:59 AM on December 27, 2021 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Some additional art-teachery ideas (including some overlap with those in Balthamos's fantastic reply):
  • This is a huge undertaking! Get a dedicated note-/sketchbook for the project.
  • Treat each card as a "prompt" or assignment, and have some go-to brainstorming exercises for each card, e.g.:
    • Do a no-judgments, free-association drawing—make a random scribble, spend some time looking at it on the page, and then "turn it into something." Repeat if desired, but don't throw the "bad" ones out—they may surprise you when you come back to them later.
    • If you're a language person, make a list of relevant words or a mind map for each card. Circle the words that seem to resonate best, and (optionally) use them as the basis of a "western haiku" or other short, restrictive verse form (the restrictions are important, as they force you to work decisively).
    • Collage (paper or digital) is a great way to start formulating your ideas, especially if freehand drawing is intimidating. If you don't like a "cut and paste" look for the finished art, you can trace/paint over them (directly or digitally), or just use them for reference/inspiration.
    • If you're more tactile/spatial in your approach, building/arranging dioramas, dollhouses and tableaus can be a great way to create/derive imagery. Photograph them from different angles to quickly brainstorm different compositions. You can use the photos for the artwork itself, trace/paint over them, or use them as reference/inspiration. I assume something like this can also be done in 3D software, or in Minecraft or that Nintendo pet game or whatever

  • Self-imposed constraints are among your most useful tools. Once you've tried out a bunch of different techniques and approaches, homing in on a "recipe" (of processes, materials, colours, etc.) for conceiving and executing each card will save you a lot of dithering and hand-wringing (though a dithery approach is also valid and suits many!).

posted by wreckingball at 11:25 AM on December 27, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I would say to start with one suit and do all the cards in it in order. If you start with the trumps it can be hard to slog through the rest since they aren't nearly as fun (maybe this is just me). Also this way you can really refine the style so the trumps look extra good when you get to them.
posted by ananci at 2:13 PM on December 27, 2021

Best answer: If you want to create a deck of cards that can be shuffled, dealt and used without damage, I recommend that you look at The Game Crafter in Minnesota for printing copies. There are other print-on-demand card printers but TGC is the byword in doing it right, and its pricing makes it affordable to produce a single copy at a time.
posted by Hogshead at 4:39 PM on December 27, 2021 [1 favorite]

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