Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Three of Swords: Don't be Disappointed

Although I have been greatly slowed down by the details of getting the majors deck funded through Kickstarter and then published (along with THREE books, related and unrelated to the deck), I have not forgotten that I have the vast majority of the Minors still ahead of me... and I want to be working on that more than I have been able to!

Still, a design creeps out once in a while. 

The three of swords is another card you never want to draw, one of the few in the deck that has no positive meanings unless you're being extremely delicate or spinning like mad. 

It's a card that's just as well to get out of the way -- and fortunately I had just the man to help me do that, the great Emmett Kelley, the man who may not have invented the Tramp Clown but who certainly perfected it and became synonymous with the breed. There have been more Romantic clowns, but never more disappointed ones. 

This is the card that I hope people will not feel when they get their copies of the Majors deck. Come to that, I hope I don't feel it either: the majors deck should be getting done by now... I'll have to give the printers a call...

-- Freder

Sunday, December 8, 2013

The Circus is Coming to Town!

Thanks to everyone who contributed, our Tarot of the Zirkus Magi will fly! A fantastic addition to our line of publications, made possible by YOU. 

Decks could be available as early as the end of this week, and there are still copies left over for late arrivals to the show. 

Work has also begun on the full deck, coming sometime in 2014.

Thanks not just for your support, but your many kind words and enthusiasm for this project!

-- Freder

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Press Proofs Are Here!

This morning a complete, fully assembled press proof of the deck arrived from the printers! After I peeled myself off of the ceiling I spent the early afternoon snapping photos, weeding out the "winner" photos from the "losers" . . . and now I'm ready to share some of them with you!

Face front, True Believers!
Face front, True Believers!

 The printers are now just waiting for my written approval of the proof. That will go in tomorrow's mail, they will receive it on Friday. I've been told that it will take just three business days after they receive it for them to finish the job!

This means that the 300-copy run of the deck could be done and in my hands by the end of next week!

The Kickstarter Campaign ends on Friday! The deck has been fully funded, but there are still plenty of decks available. To get yours at the pre-publication price, consider pre-ordering through Kickatsrter. 

 More details as I get them! In the meantime, enjoy the photos. Sorry about the yellowy lightbulb cast in some of them... I wish you could see the proof and hold it in your hands. I think you'd agree that it's very danged neat. Again my thanks goes out to you for all of your wonderful support and encouragement! This could never have happened without you. I'm so grateful for all of you!

Finally, I took a few shots that show the finished deck side-by-side with some other familiar (and favorite) decks, so you could get a better sense of the size and heft:

... with the Centennial Edition of Waite / Smith.
... with the Centennial Edition of Waite / Smith.
... with the Swiss IJJ.
... with the Swiss IJJ.
... with the Cosmic Tarot.
... with the Cosmic Tarot.
... with the Sacred Rose.
... with the Sacred Rose.
... and the Victorian Romantic.
... and the Victorian Romantic.

... I have a confession. I love all the decks that have come out of Prague's Baba Studio, especially their Victorian Romantic (above). From the beginning it has been my secret desire to make something that could hold its own against their wonderful decks... and maybe even give them a run for their money. What do you think? Am I on the right track?


-- Freder

Monday, December 2, 2013

Deeper Into the Circus

I hope this doesn't upset anyone... but I've decided to do a second book around the deck, a nonfiction book more closely tied to the deck itself. I didn't know when I launched the Kickstarter Project that I'd consider doing such a book! I literally just started working on it during the past week and a half.

The Circus Tarot Book: A Companion to Tarot of the Zirkus Magi
The Circus Tarot Book: A Companion to Tarot of the Zirkus Magi

This book will NOT attempt to teach anyone about the Tarot! This book will NOT, for the most part, offer card meanings in the conventional sense. I do NOTconsider myself qualified to write that kind of a book; and anyway there are plenty of those out there written by good folks who know their subject.

What I am good at, though, is making cultural connections, gathering references, tying completely different things together in a way that might surprise... someone.

Some of the designs in this deck feature specific people (or parts of them!) and have specific stories behind them. Other cards contain elements from my past. Circus history flows through nearly all of them. This book will be my personal mind-journey through the cards of this deck. In the sections that I've drafted so far, the topics wander where I let them, and I find myself writing as much about film and books and toys and the history behind them and how it all fits together, as I do about the cards themselves. Somehow it all ties back to what the card is telling me. So... in a way the card meanings just MIGHT come through... but not in the way you're used to seeing in Little White Books.

Perhaps some of the cards will lead me off into fictional territory. Anything's possible.

I wouldn't call this book "a meditation;" it's too messy. Kind of "naturally scruffy" like myself.

I don't know exactly when it will be ready. I don't know exactly how long it will be -- the word count could be anywhere from 20,000 to 30,000. I don't know what it will retail out at. I DO know that it will be 5.5" wide by 8.5" inches tall, and that every card in the Major Arcana will get its own section and will be printed on a full page by itself in full color on white paper, and that it will look nice, and that it will stay in print only until the full deck comes out sometime next year; then I'll retire it until I get an expanded version out featuring all the cards.

I did think about adding it on to the Kickstarter campaign as an extra reward or combination of rewards, but there are still too many unanswered questions. So -- I just thought I'd let you know that it's coming. With any luck it will be ready around the first of the year. 

Thanks very much for your interest and support. 

-- Freder

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Final Days!

The Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for the printing of The Tarot of The Zirkus Magi has entered its final week online. Thanks to you, the project has been successfully funded and the deck will be published. There are still plenty of copies remaining, but only a few days to get them at the pre-publication price! Visit the project here:

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Majors Deck Funded!

Thank you to everyone who helped put this over the top. The deck is now fully funded and is going to come to life!
There are still 14 days left to go in the campaign, and something around 200 decks remaining in the print run; plenty for anyone arriving late to the show! 
Instead of waiting for the campaign to wrap, I'll contact the printers tomorrow, tell them it's happening and try to get this circus on the road to completion. They have not yet given me an estimate on how long the job will take; I'm guessing and hoping that the deck will be ready to go by mid-December. As soon as I get more specific news from them, I'll post it here.
I'm still kind of in a state of disbelief ... thank you all so much for the nice things you've said and for helping to make this happen. Forward to the Minors! 
I'm particularly surprised and honored that so many of you expressed an interest in the book as well. That, too should be ready to go by mid-December; hopefully no later. I'll keep you posted!
Best wishes to you all;

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The FINAL Major Arcana Card

This has already been visible in the "trailer" for the deck that I made to launch the Kickstarter project, so I guess it's not much of a reveal! I sat on it for so long because I was thinking over some changes in the design. Just today I decided -- Nope! I like it as it is! Hope you agree.

The Temperance Card typically pictures an Angel pouring two liquids together from separate vessels, whilst standing with one foot in a body of water. Air, Earth, Fire and Water, all melding into a harmonized whole. Harmony, unity, balance -- the conscious with the unconscious, the past with the future, this card was a tough nut for me to crack symbolically, which is why I put it off so long (I'm afraid putting things off is my preferred method of "dealing" with things that I am not ready to face). 

There's no obvious metaphor in the world of the Circus for the themes presented in the Temperance card. Or is there? It was only after coming across the central figure that I hit on juggling. A juggler is taking objects in opposition and blending them in flight. This was my lightbulb moment -- juggling as Art as Temperance was the perfect solution. The lady in the card above has one other virtue: while she is juggling, she is also balancing. It takes tremendous skill and concentration. Having already decided to abandon the RWS title of "Temperance" in favor of Crowley's "Art," the connection was even easier to make. 

I did consider adding a lemiscate over her to better connect the airborne balls on her right to the ones in her hands and on her head. But -- I didn't put them there; she did! So the connection is taken on faith, even if the two balls in the air look suspiciously like planets in the distant sky. 

I realized that this was actually one of my favorite cards... so I'm leaving it alone. 

õnnistagu -

-- Freder

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Wrapper Design

I can now reveal the design for the thick "belly band" that will go around each deck:


The majors edition of the deck is now 50% funded @ Kickstarter, after just four days.
If you want to pre-order your copy, you have until December 8!
Pre-ordering through Kickstarter will make publishing the deck possible.

Thanks to everyone who has helped fund the deck so far.
You guys are absolutely amazing!

-- Freder

Friday, November 8, 2013

Now Live! Pre-order the Majors deck

I have been astonished at the response that my work with this deck has received. Now is the moment of truth! Make the production of this deck possible by pre-ordering here:


Thursday, November 7, 2013

Kickstarter for the Majors deck starts TOMORROW, 11/8/13

The project to raise funds for the printing of the Majors version of this deck has been approved by Kickstarter, and will go live tomorrow!

What this means is that this is your chance to pre-order the Majors deck, and in so doing help to make its production possible. If the goal isn't reached, you will not be charged -- but neither will the deck get produced.

Watch this space for the link... the project will go live right around 11 AM EST.

The deck is $18 postpaid within the continental USA. Overseas buyers will need to add $5.00 USD for shipping. All the relevant information, product descriptions etc, will be on the Kickstarter page when it goes live tomorrow.

I've looked around online, and believe that the asking price is not only within reason, but significantly less than what some other designers are asking for their Majors-only decks.

So, please -- if this deck speaks to you (and I hope it does) pre-order your copy as soon as you can. Only 300 copies will be printed.

õnnistagu --

-- Freder

Monday, November 4, 2013

The Penultimate Judgement

Some designs are difficult, some are easy, and some are just fiddly, fiddly, fiddly. This was a fiddly one. The basic concepts came together nicely, and I think the symbolism comes through an interesting way. But in the earliest version the colors were off and something was missing.I rebuilt the thing to much better result, but have been tweaking it ever since.

My friend Carrie Paris disliked the Acrobats: but to me they are a vital element of the card. The idea behind them is stolen from the opening moments of the Cirque du Soleil movie Alegria (not to be confused with the DVD of the their live show by the same name, which is a completely different animal). 

In about equal parts the movie is beautiful, fascinating, and almost unbelievably misguided. It's not something that I would recommend to everyone. It's a kettle into which too many ingredients were thrown, and not all of those elements were good to start with.

But the movie opens with a lovely image that transforms acrobatic performers into celestial bodies whirling through space. And that's the effect that I was going for here. After much fiddling I did remove one of the acrobats (are you HAPPY now, Carrie?) because the uneven number worked better for me than the even one, and because the space was just that much too cluttered.

For me, the acrobats are the one element that connects Alestair Crowley's Aeon version of this card to the Waite-Smith Judgement version. Instead of a single Angel Gabriel blowing his trumpet, raising the dead from their graves and calling them on to heaven, my acrobats are a flight of angels calling on those who have died inside to rediscover that which makes them happy and gives them joy.  In the Great Circus of Life, allowing yourself to be reborn and to fly now and again is the whole purpose. 

I think I've accomplished a kind of unity between the two diverse modes of symbolism with this card. I hope that it speaks to you.


õnnistagu --

-- Freder

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Here Comes The Sun

Although this was the LAST card in the Major Arcana that I completed (which perhaps bodes well for the project?), the two remaining cards needed at least some back-braining time and perhaps a tweak or two before they're ready for Prime Time. 

This was in many ways the easiest card in the whole Major Arcana to put together, once I stopped being afraid of it. Its message, after all, is simple: bounty, sunshine, joy, happiness and accomplishment. Perhaps the latter more than anything. Although this design contains a nod to traditional tarot imagery in the form of the horse and rider(s) -- an element left over from my original design for The Chariot -- I part company with tradition over this card because I dislike naked children (who would not be appropriate in a circus in any case!).

Marseilles decks show TWO naked children playing with each other in the sun. That was even worse. Not sure if Crowley was the one who turned them into an adult male/female couple, but it was a step in the right direction. In later decks that adopted Crowley's symbol, the couple stopped dancing or flying and just embraced each other, which makes it too much like THE LOVERS and THE TWO OF CUPS, to my mind. I was happy to find an element that restored both the dancing and the joy. It's an image that I love that wouldn't have worked on any other card in the deck. 

Actually, my favorite SUN card design is in a deck that I have issues with. Ciro Marcelli is an accomplished digital artist who has produced three full tarot decks and a Lenormand, all of which have been embraced by the tarot community. For me, everything that Marcelli does looks just a little bit too much like the cover of a Romance novel... but once in a while he comes up with a stunner and his SUN card in Legacy of the Divine Tarot is one. It's an image that doesn't derive from any tarot tradition but is entirely of his own making, and it's lovely. Looking at his SUN card is enough to give me second thoughts about my own.

This being my first deck, it's appropriate that I follow certain traditions and symbols as I learn, although re-interpreting them for my theme. But working on this project also makes me want to design a non-traditional deck composed of original symbols. Michael Dowers and Christine Payne-Towler accomplished this with their Tarot of the Holy Light -- one of my favorite decks (I have it in both physical and app form) and to my mind the most significant and unique deck to appear since PCS and Crowley. 

The only completely original element in my SUN card, and the part of it that I'm most pleased with, is the slogan I put on the banner unfurling from around the sun, which reads in Latin The Great Circus of Life. That about says it all.


-- Freder

Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Card Back Design -- ready for prime time?

I am still not certain about this and am posting it in hope of getting some feedback. It's as close as I've come to succeeding, however... and if this doesn't fly it may be time to scrap the whole design and start fresh. So, please, y'all, let me know what you think: duckmeister[at]ducksoup[dot]me.

The central eye has been the biggest issue. From the start I wanted at least a symbolic Cabalistic "All-Seeing Eye" in the center of the card.  I started with a vintage illustration that I often use in all sorts of projects, but I knew right away that it wasn't right.  For one thing, there was just the fact that I have used the same eye a lot before, and didn't want to use it again. But -- it wasn't reversible and it didn't work for a lot of other reasons, too. I found it to be kind of off-putting. 

A second version was at least reversible, but perhaps a bit too creepy. I'd spent quite a lot of time looking for the right eye, but all fell short for one reason or another -- most often because they were not reversible. Do you know how hard it is to find a reversible human eye? 'Just sayin'.

Carrie Paris suggested the ticket element, and that helped, but did not nail the thing down.

Well -- I was making yet another run through all of my graphics sources, having no luck at all, when I chanced upon a photo at Flickr that showed a completely subliminal eye created by the mix of landscape, reflection and focal elements. And it was then that I realized that if you look at a Circus Ring from a certain angle, it actually takes on the general shape of an eye. 

This was my lightbulb moment: the circus ring itself would be my All-Seeing Eye, home as it is to every character of the Major Arcana. So that's what I did. I had to build it from scratch, because even at that angle a circus ring is not reversible thanks to perspective issues. 

I still ran into trouble, because I originally wanted the iris and pupil to be a reversible bust of a clown. I could not make this work. Just take my word for it: it was a good idea but not, like many seemingly good ideas, a Happening Thing. It was only then that I recalled seeing a picture of a real circus ring that had a compass-pointed star occupying the whole of its center. This, I finally decided, would be my iris. The six-pointed star being a common tarot element made it perfect. I put two of them together and played with them a bit, and there at last was the design you see before you. 

It is, hands down, the version of the card back design that I'm happiest with. I have my all-seeing eye, but in way that works with the theme and does not, I think, creep people out. But -- is it too busy? Do I need to just start all over again? Sometimes you just get too close to a design and can't see what might be obvious to a disinterested observer. 

Does it fly, or do I need to  go back to the drawing board on this one? Let me know! This will be on the back of every card, so the user will be seeing it a lot. That makes it one of the most important designs in the deck!

Next up: THE SUN.

-- Freder

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Roll on The Chariot!

This one went through a couple of versions. The real design problem was simply that Circus wagons are meant to be seen and appreciated from the side, not the front! At one point I said to Carrie Paris (whom I now dub the Official Midwife for this deck). "I wish I could turn this card on its side!"

But -- you can't do that in Tarot, dang it! 

Then -- once you've crammed in as much of the side as you possibly can, you have to figure out how and where to fit in the creatures who are drawing the chariot! It's a nightmare! Plus, I had discovered a really cute circus wagon that I loved and wanted to fit as much of it into the picture as I could... and in addition to that, I had a vintage photo of a circus family on the back of a horse that I wanted to include as well. The finished design didn't end up doing justice to either element. I'm going to do something different here and show you my first "take" on the card:

My real problem with this design is that -- despite having a black panther as one of the creatures drawing the wagon -- it just sort of sits there. The Chariot typically represents speed, haste, power, victory and success among other things, and ... really NONE of those things were coming through in the original design (the new version still comes up short in speed and haste, IMHO). Carrie had other points to make. It was clear that the thing needed more work.

I kept the background and will (maybe) use it on one of the remaining Major Arcana cards, and who knows but that the other images will turn up somewhere in the minors, so nothing will go to waste -- but really, aren't you glad I went back to the old drawing board on this one?

The finished card above combines elements from more than six vintage sources, all "artified" and hand-colored. I was very pleased to find a vintage driver who would actually sit on the wagon in something approaching the right perspective, although he's holding his sceptre at kind of a wonky angle! 

Honestly, I still would like to find a way to get those horses in motion. On the other hand, Pamela Coleman Smith's original card design for The Chariot isn't all that great on speed, either... the two Sphinxes drawing her Chariot are sitting with their paws folded! And if you go back to very early styles of decks (the many iterations of Marseilles that are out there, the Swiss IJJ and the "Ancient Italian" which is a particular favorite of mine)... honestly, none of their horses are particularly perky. Marseilles decks typically show them standing with one hoof raised to suggest motion (and I might be able to manage that... we'll see), while the Italian shows them in a clearly stationary pose... only the IJJ deck gets them in any kind of real motion, but the IJJ Chariot is just ... weird! -- with its split-screen view of an empty chariot and a man posed in situ in a completely unrelated scene!

I'm getting very, very close to completing the Major Arcana! This is exciting (for ME, anyway)! I'm still trying to iron out production details for the majors-only version of the deck... but I'm working on it!

One thing I'm toying with: the DEVIL card as I have currently designed it works very well with my BOOK and is exactly what I need for my purposes... but perhaps it isn't the best design for a working deck. So I'm thinking that when the complete 78-card deck goes into production that it will have a completely different DEVIL card, and that I'll use the current one only for the first limited run of the Majors deck.

As always, I look forward to hearing your thoughts and input! duckmeister(at)duck soup(dot)me will reach me!

Next up: The Card BACK design!

-- Freder

Saturday, October 5, 2013

The World

This was a card that I have known for some time exactly what I intended to do. I only wish that there were existing photographs of the featured act -- which is billed as "The Balloon Horse Jupiter in his Sensational Ascension Act with a gorgeous Pyrotechnic Display" -- alas, as far as I know, there are none, and I had to cobble this image together from the two that adorn his poster issued by Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey back sometime around the turn of the century. I was worried that tarot purists might take exception to this change in the classical imagery; but the message is essentially the same. This card, which is typically the last in the Major Arcana unless you are one of the folks who places The Fool at the end instead of the beginning, should sum all all the themes of the entire deck.  It should be the most transcendent image in the deck. It wasn't until quite late in the design process that I finally figured out how to present the four elements that traditionally occupy the card's corners. My first attempt at the background included non-specific constellations. This Did Not Work. Only then did the lightbulb go on over my head as it should have done much sooner! I like it when a design comes together naturally and easily, and this was a pleasure beginning to end. 

Next up: THE CHARIOT -- and then I will have only TWO cards remaining in the Major Arcana!

-- Freder.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Production Trial and Error...

Printed sample cards for the majors-only deck have arrived from the printers. You can't see it in the picture due in part to the bright sunlight, but the image is just a hair too dark (not a big deal and something I can fix, forewarned being forearmed), although the actual print quality is excellent. The trim is also very good, especially considering how little leeway the design allows them. 

But the card stock they used is MUCH too thin, not even the weight of a normal playing card. THAT is a big deal. Also I'm not a fan of the UV coating that they used. It's just too glossy, makes the cards look more like photographic prints than a working card deck.

So -- I'm going to have to get another estimate from the printer before I can get any closer to producing the deck. Oh, well... it was a step that had to be taken, which makes me one step closer to realizing this dream...

Coming up this weekend: The WORLD. And that will leave just three cards left to design in the Majors.

Thanks to all for your support and comments, and for looking at my deck! As always, I can be reached at duckmeister[at]ducksoup[dot]me.

-- Freder

Sunday, September 29, 2013


It's poetic justice, you might say, that "Justice" is one of the more contentious tarot cards in the deck. Depending on your school of thought or the deck you are using, it is either card #11 or card #8 in the Major Arcana. Alistair Crowley muddied the waters even further with his undeniably beautiful and profound Thoth deck: "Justice" not being a concept that you or I could imagine a man like Crowley having much interest in, he changed the name of the card to "Adjustment" -- although the symbolism remained much the same. For my part -- although "Circus Justice" is a real thing and not something that you want to be on the receiving end of -- the concepts of Adjustment and Balance seemed to have more meaning for me in the context of a circusy tarot. So, while most of the deck is derived from Waite-Smith concepts and symbolism, I am veering from time to time towards the much less moralistic Thoth deck. It's my hope that this sort of philosophical gene-splicing will make my deck at least a little bit more unusual, and useful in a way that a slavish devotion to RWS would not be.

This card is the reason why my Major Arcana are not numbered: it wasn't (just) a design thing... I want the end-users of the deck to be able to stack up the Justice and Strength cards where it suits them. My personal preference is "Strength" in the eighth position and "Justice" at eleven, but there's no reason why I should force that preference on anyone. 

Red and Green are the colors that Pamela Coleman Smith used to robe her Justice figure, so I've used those colors here as well... but where Smith's Justice is a passive, seated figure, in Tarot of the Zircus Magi, Adjustment is a figure who embodies the concept of balance in all her physicality. This card came together quickly and nicely once I had figured out what in heck I was going to do with it...


-- Freder

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Hanged Man

This one went through a couple of different versions. On the one hand, this was a case of not knowing what to do with the card until the right idea presented itself. But even after that happened, and I latched on to Harry Houdini as being the obvious choice for my Hanged Man, my first version of the card just Did Not Work. The upper body was too open in its pose, and Houdini's head did not work on the body. Sometimes a Frankenstein monster just refuses to get up and walk. Or in this case, hang right. I tried adding a loose straight-jacket dropping away in the lower right corner, to indicate that Houdini was in the moment of escape; it looked nice, but it didn't fix the card and as my friend and mentor Carrie Paris pointed out, the symbolism was not right. Dr. Frankenstein got to work again, sawed the upper body completely off and subbed in Houdini's own torso in chains. I still had to change his head, however. In the image that I was using, Harry was giving a stern up-from-under look that didn't work for me. I used a different head from a different photo that was obviously taken in the same session. It fit nicely. Once again, the background is taken from one of my mother's ex-collection of folk art paintings, blown up and heavily processed. The circus pole that Harry is dangling from is the same one in the circus ring in my Heirophant card. The rope follows the lines of the original photograph, but had to be re-done, re-textured piece by piece because it had whited out to nothing in the processing. I'm pleased with Harry's halo of Illumination, which is a bit of circus tent pattern that has been Magically Altered in a variety of ways. 

Hope you like the card! As always, I can be reached at duckmeister[at]ducksoup[dot]me if you have any thoughts!

Next Up: ?????


Friday, September 20, 2013

The Empress

My first design for The Empress did not pan out. For a while I was all "Oh, dear, Oh, dear, what to do with her now?" Even when I decided on the central figure it could have gone any number of ways. The lady is billed as a Freak Show performer, which suits her perfectly to my needs but kind of beggars the question: did they really expect an audience to believe that all that fur was growing on her? Well... they were simpler times, yes? 

But growing is the right word for this card. She is concealing her pregnancy under all that extra hair, and she is holding court in an elegant, somewhat spidery greenhouse. A framed arrangement of flowers hangs on the trunk of a large tree. I like the thought that it's actually growing out of the tree: a symbol of design emerging from nature. Traditional symbols are found on her crown and scepter. I literally renamed her just as I was about to post the image! "The Leading lady" was just going to be the title of this post -- but I liked it so much I decided to keep it. I think she's ready for her close-up now!


-- Freder.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

The Hermit

I have to confess that I'm kind of pleased with myself about this one. How do you illustrate isolation in a Circus milieu? The minute I saw the image of the stilt-walker I knew: my Hermit is definitely "above it all!" A few judicious changes needed to made, but once I knew what I wanted and needed to do, all of the elements came nicely and quickly into place. I even like my choice of nomenclature as a more grandiloquent (and therefore circusy) way of saying the same thing. With some processing, I found just the right bleak corner of a folk art painting for the background. The original Hermit card by Pamela Coleman Smith is one of the simplest and starkest of her designs. Although "stark" is not exactly the word that I'd use to describe this deck I'm working on, I do think I managed to capture the flavour.

NEXT UP: At long last, THE EMPRESS.

-- Freder

Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Lovers

"The Lovers" was one of those cards that I really didn't know what I was going to do with. I did uncover several images of circus couples, but none of them particularly moved me -- until I saw this one. The aerialist and the clown seem an unlikely pair, but as I looked at them it seemed to me that the image, with the lady lovingly applying the clown's make-up while he holds the tin for her, and the clown at a lower level, looking up to her, felt wonderfully intimate in all the right ways. The Lovers card is about choice, and this couple seem to have made a happy choice indeed. Hand-coloring the image and turning it into art was a bit of a fussy process, as it always is. and the background gave me a hard time, but once I had decided on the central image the only real trouble came in working in as many of the standard symbols from PCS as I could: the mountain of hope and aspiration,  the two trees representing nature and design respectively, and the Archangel Raphael ("the subconscious mind in harmony with the Divine," according to Farrar and Bone)-- which is straight off of the fountain in New York's Central Park.

That piece of statuary is by far my favorite angel, factoring as it does into a key scene from one of my all-time favorite films, the movie version of the stage musical GODSPELL. 

Once again, the circus background is actually a TOY circus mftd. by Marx. I disliked blurring it, but against it in its focussed state the couple were indistinct. Blurring it at least had the benefit of adding depth and allowing the couple to stand out. 

I've been able to push quite a few designs through fairly rapidly, but all that is about to change as I take on a freelance job that is about to suck away at least a month of my life. I have two other cards mostly complete and will be staggering their release here to give myself the illusion of progress during that time. 

By my reckoning, I have just seven cards remaining in the Major Arcana! A release of the Majors-only version of the deck is almost assured by the time Fall settles in hard, hand in hand with the release of the novel SEE THEM DANCE, which the deck compliments.  That's soon! Time does fly by after all -- as The Lovers imply, you make your choice and then hang on for dear life.


-- Freder

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Beginning the Pip Cards: 10 of Swords

Earlier in the week, I promised you THE LOVERS. It's on the way! In the meantime, here's something that I did just last night that I'm pretty excited about: my first design for the deck's pip cards. This meant  deciding on a style and frame format that would set the whole rest of the deck in stone -- and I'm pleased with what took shape.

At the top of each card, in the same style but with the colors reversed from the Majors, will be the card number and its suit. At the bottom, in the same style and colors as the Majors, will be a keyword for the card's basic meaning. Most of these will be derived from Aleistair Crowley's THOTH deck (which will make my Circus Tarot an interesting Bastard Child born of RWS and Thoth), but I reserve the right to use a different word if I think that I can do better. This gives each card a real circus-sideshow look that I'm quite pleased with, and leaves plenty of room for the central image.

This also forced me to decide on my suit names, so here they are: CUPS are CUPS, SWORDS are BLADES, WANDS are BATONS, and COINS/PENTACLES/DISKS are RINGS. 

So, I made a lot of little progress last night!

The thing that made this card the obvious first choice from the pip cards to get its design was the central image. I found it quite early on in the process and immediately thought, "Ten of Swords! If he doesn't have enough piercings, I'll add 'em on!" 

He didn't, and I did.

The DEATH card in the Majors is nothing to be afraid of: that's not true of the ten of swords! The ten of swords is one of only about two or three cards in a Tarot deck that you DON'T want to draw under any circumstances. Even its REVERSED meaning is not good! In the past couple of years, drawing at least one card for a daily reading, I have only drawn the ten of swords twice -- and both times what it predicted came fully to fruition. Don't mess with the ten of swords. Does it look painful? It should. No good will come of it!

Next up: THE LOVERS. Promise!

-- Freder

Monday, August 26, 2013

The Queen of Cups

Sometimes it's all just trial and error. This lady was originally to have been my design for the Empress card -- but it was pointed out to me (and I agreed) that she wasn't nearly "Earth Motherish" enough for that role. So -- I'm still looking for my Empress. On the other hand, nothing goes to waste: and with a little rejiggering and some thought, the same lady became my Queen of Cups. It was the elephant that helped me decide on the suit. Elephants, I have already decided, will factor heavily in my deck's suit of Cups. Although not a water-bound species, they are reliant upon and connected to water -- and their emotions run deep. These are both Cup elements. Naturally their Queen would be an Elephant trainer. It just so happens that Mirjam Magi -- the character from my novel who is pictured here -- is the Elephant trainer for the Circus Magi. 

That's another reason why I couldn't just let this design go: this is one of only three cards so far that actually represents a character from the story, and must be included in the finished book. 

It helps, I think, that the blue flowing curtain adds a vaguely waterish touch.

"Duchess" being something of a circus term, I will be using it for all the Queens in the Minor Arcana. The Kings will be called "Governors." I've yet to decide on the naming for the Knights and Pages -- but I can tell you right now that they won't be called Knights or Pages! Likewise, for a while, I entertained the notion of changing the suit name from "Cups" to "Elephants" -- but I think that's just a little too cute, don't you? Also limiting. I don't want to commit right up front to having an Elephant on every card in that suit! So, for now at least, Cups are Cups. Swords will change to Knives and Wands will become Batons. Coins I have not yet decided upon. The proper Circus term for money is "Mazuma," but I again I worry about getting to cute with the deck...

I would love to hear your thoughts! Click here to email me: 



Friday, August 23, 2013

... HE Made Me Do It!

There's a lot that I can't tell you about this design, as THE DEVIL is one of just a handful of cards that features specific characters or events from the novel, SEE THEM DANCE, that compliments the Tarot of the Zircus Magi. This one actually reveals an awful lot -- maybe too much -- of the plot.

That said, I did try to make it as Waite-Smithish as possible, with some different symbolism. Gone is the pentagram over the Devil's head, as my Devil is about as far away from the Devil of the old religions as you cab get. Still, he's devilish enough: that's The Feejee Mermaid floating in the green tank, with the augmentation of some grasping, controlling tentacles.

The Feejee Mermaid has an interesting history that's well worth looking up if you get a chance. It was one of P.T. Barnum's uglier hoaxes, the mummified carcass of a monkey sewn onto the tail of a flounder. It's doubtful that the exhibit actually fooled anyone: still, people came from far and wide to see it in its display case at Barnum's American Museum, which was his principal business -- long before he got into the circus racket.

Although I felt that the tentacles did an adequate job of replacing the chains of control and addiction in the traditional card, the fun idea of using a Monty Pythonish sixteen-ton weight appealed to me enough that I tossed that in as well. My circus performers both have their dervish aspects, although neither have tails. 

This was a card that I knew what I wanted to do with for quite a long while before I actually began it, so the design process was pretty straightforward and it came together quite quickly without too much in the way of trial and error or experimentation. Hope that you like it!


-- Freder

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Star

This was one of my more problematic designs so far.... and yet the final version isn't terribly different from the original conception. Cutting it down from two figures to one was part of the key. Another part was making the connection from the draperies supporting the aerialist to the two steams of water typically being poured from vessels in Gaia's hands. If the water represents the unconscious mind, the cloth here represents energy flowing from the heavens and taking on the form of water. Here, this energy is shown enriching the whole planet rather than a specific landscape. Carrie Paris suggested that this is an image that evokes card No. 21, The World, and she's right -- but I have other plans for The World!!

The thing that really nailed down this design for me was finding a constellation that resembles the Ibis that sits in a tree of life visible over Gaia's right shoulder in the Waite-Smith version of the card. There it is, just over my aerialist's right shoulder! With that element, I felt that I had all the important aspects of The Star intact: the dual streams of life-water nourishing a verdant planet, the sense of connection to the earth combined with weightlessness in the main figure, the central star (representing "the radiance of cosmic consciousness" and the seven surrounding stars representing "the seven chakras in our bodies" and the Ibis, "an aspect of Thoth... keeper of magic and mysteries of the universe"-- all three quotes from Farrar & Bone's The Concise Tarot Reader

Next up: De Debbil, oops -- I mean THE DEVIL.


Thursday, August 8, 2013

The Magician

Yep, the Magician for the Circus Magi is in the house. Geo. Melies, the father of fantastic cinema and an accomplished stage magician in his own right, kindly loaned me the use of his head. In every respect, this is a Frankenstein monster of a card design, sewn together from a wide range of elements. Yes, I know that the tools on the Magician's stand are supposed to relate to the four suits of the minor arcana... but in this case some of the suits are represented symbolically, while other items on the stand are what real magicians refer to as misdirection. Geo. is holding the wand in his Frankenstein hand, and the sword is leaning against the stand... meanwhile cups are represented by the bottle (just as good for holding water and other spirits) and the worldly suit of coins is represented by the globe floating above the stand.

Interestingly, the body I used comes from one of Melies's movies, although it is not Melies himself, and everything about it has been revised.

The minor suits are still somewhat problematic for me, as I'm undecided how "cute" I want to get with them and whether or not it's better to just play it straight. This is intended to be a fully functional deck, after all... I wouldn't want to sink it with too much circusy nonsense. For instance, one of my ideas was to have each suit correspond to a circus animal: Cups/Water = Elephants (which would put my formed design for THE EMPRESS, who was being uplifted by an elephant, right at home as the Queen of Cups), Wands/Fire= Lions, Swords/Air possibly Camels and I never got around to figuring out the coins. Honestly, I think that may all be a little much. What do y'all think?

Design of the card back is in progress and I should have an image to put in front of you within a week or two. 

Meanwile -- my next design, THE STAR, will put me just about halfway through the Majors! -- But the hard stuff is still ahead of me!

Tamam Shud, as Stan Lee used to say --

-- Freder

Saturday, July 27, 2013

The Hierophant

Our originally scheduled Tarot Person for this post, The Empress, is in the garage for refinement. Fortunately, The Hierophant is mostly ready to take her place.

As Carrie Paris pointed out to me, this may be a Tarot First: because our Mystagogue is actually a woman in Native American drag. And she's not just any woman, either: she is Miss Annie Oakley, the legendary sharpshooter who came to fame as a featured performer in Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. 

Once upon a time, Miss Oakley went to a costume ball dressed as "Sitting Bull Jr." -- and this photo was the result of her winning first prize for best costume. Whether as Annie Oakley or as Sitting Bull -- who also did his time with Buffalo Bill's circus outfit, this Hierophant is well-steeped in the legendry of the American West and Circus History, which more than gives her the gravitas needed to hold down this position in the deck. 

The keys and a very small pair of circus aerialists standing in for acolytes, each with their proper colors of flower, round out the traditional elements for this card. Instead of a three-crossed staff, the colorful circus ring lighting takes on the role of representing the three realms of existence. Everything here has been hand-colored in an old-fashioned way to make it pop, as well as heavily processed in my usual way. Making her lower half transparent was almost a necessity in order to cover up the extensions I had to make to the original portrait, and I think it adds to her overall flavour of mysticism. I hope you like my Hierophant. She's about the only priestly figure that I would kneel down to. 

Next Up: It's another biggie: THE MAGICIAN. 

-- Freder

Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Fool on The Hill

Here we have one of the very few cards in my deck that represents an actual character from the novel. In this case, The Fool is Cranch the Clown, the Top Dog in his trade on the whole planet Oakley, where all the world is literally a circus. Cranch has an unusual build for one of his profession, being eight feet tall, six feet wide, and weighing more than a thousand pounds (most of it muscle: clowning is not a sedentary lifestyle choice). And yes, as you can see if you look closely, he has six eyes. Useful for a Fool with a long, hard journey ahead of him, as both my character and the traditional Fool of the Tarot have in common. 

Because I was making a radical choice for the figure (including a body taken from a Schoenhut Circus figure from my mother's vast toy collection), I tried to incorporate as many traditional elements from the Fool card as I could. Instead of a mountain to drop off the edge of, my fool has an arrangement of chairs and ladders to take a pratfall from. Instead of a red feather in his gap, he has red spots on his costume. His dog seems to have wholly given in to the exuberance of the circus. Instead of a hobo's baf on a stick, I wanted to give him what's known in the Circus trade as a Grouch Bag, but could not find any way to make it work. So I gave him a nice durable antique leather bag instead. 

Today I am about to head off on my own brief Fool's Journey! Wish me lock and a safe return so that I can get back to work on what matters to me: this deck, among other things.


-- Freder

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Emperor

I was prolific last week. It helped that, although it tested the limits of my meagre design skills, The Emperor came together relatively easily.

Everyone knows that the Emperor of the Circus is The Ringmaster. But you'd be surprised to know how few photographs of this personage exist. It seems that folks don't go to the circus to take pictures of The Ringmaster! There was nobody and nothing that I could use to manage my circus ring. And so again I was forced into the role of Doctor Fronkonsteen in order to build my perfect Ringmaster out of the body parts of dead people! I think both of the men I selected are much improved by the alterations I made to their physiognomy. 

Neither of them were actually Ringmasters! It took some fairly extensive alterations to make my man suitable for the ring, and for the Tarot, but at the same time everything that I did seemed to fall into place nicely. There was not nearly as much fiddling or trial and error involved in the making of this card as there was with the Wheel or the Moon. 

I'm particularly pleased with the sneaky way I managed to incorporate both the Ankh and the Orb that the Emperor traditionally carries. Also, he normally sits on a Goat Throne. Fortunately, the great and wonderful antique toy set known as The Schoenhut Circus has a goat among its menagerie. The blue of the Schoenhut circus ring also nicely evokes the river that runs through the traditional Emperor card. 

Yes, my Ringmaster is the power behind a TOY circus. But are we not all toys in the hands of The Emperor? And trust me, there has never ever been a better toy than the Schoenhut Circus. It's quite likely that they will be making future appearances in my deck. I wish now that I had kept my mother's Schoenhut Circus. Though incomplete, it was wonderful. But it was a traumatic time, and I had to make a lot of decisions in horrible circumstances. 

It makes me happy to have this particular Ringmaster watching over that circus in the afterlife.

Next: a key card and one that may be controversial: THE FOOL.

-- Freder

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Reaching for The Moon

"It's like reaching for the moon
It's like reaching for the sun
It's like reaching for the stars...
Reaching for you.
You're so far above me
How can I expect an angel to love me who
Is so divine as you are...

"It's like flying without wings
Playing fiddle without strings
And a million other things
No one can do....
Though my hopes are slender
In my secret heart I pray that you'll surrender soon
Oh, it's like reaching for the moon."

                 -- Sherman/Lewis/Marqusee, (c) ASCAP

There are lots worse ways to open than with one of Billie Holliday's most exquisite recordings, yes?

This was another card that was harder to nail down than I imagined going in. I had what I thought was the perfect piece of art on hand, derived from a vintage poster advertising the Theatre des Robert-Houdin during the years that it was owned and operated by George Melies, the father of movie fantasy and magic. But when I'd "completed" the first version of the card, that artwork just did not work as well as I'd imagined. The card was too illustrative: it didn't "play well" with the other designs, as all of the other cards had photographic elements for a centerpiece. The dogs and the twin-peaked tent worked more or less perfectly (although as usual they required a lot of fiddly finessing before they looked "right" to me)... so it became obvious that the moon figure would have to go.

But by then I was actually married to the concept of an etherial lady reclining in a crescent moon. Finding her was another matter. 

I have access to lots of old "paper moon" photographs, including a nifty one featuring someone's much-loved pooch, but finding the right one of a lady draped in diaphanous veils was harder than you might think. In the end, it was Melies who again came to the rescue with a still from one of his famous celestial movies. Once I'd hand-tinted the photo and rearranged the yods to fit around it, finally the design was set.

Barnum's Feejee Mermaid makes his/her second appearance in the deck, sitting in for the usual Crabster. I hate crabs and lobsters; I don't eat them, I don't like looking at them and I was damned if I was going to have one of those things in my deck! If the Crabster typically represents the darker reaches of the subconscious issuing from the depths to bathe in moonlight, the Feejee Mermaid, being a complete hoax, one of Barnum's uglier humbugs, worked just as well here, if not better given the overall theme of the cards. Here it appears via an actual photo of the creature, though heavily "artified" and tweaked as usual. To make it appear as if it is emerging from water, the lower half was put on a separate layer and then blurred and shadowed. 

The dogs are from a vintage circus poster, the tent is an actual tent that has been heavily altered and cartoonified, and once again the background is a detail from a folk art "carved painting" that came from my mother's collection -- again, highly processed to suit the particular look that I've set for this deck.

As always, I welcome any and all thoughts, comments and feedback: .


-- Freder