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

Monday, July 8, 2013

The High Priestess: My Lady in the Dark

"The High Priestess" is not always my favorite card in any given deck, but she is authoritatively my favorite person in all of the Tarot. She is Muse, she is Spirit Guide, she is Gateway to the Unconscious and Keeper of the Mysteries. I suppose that she is the woman I've been looking for all my life. Whether or not that's true, she is certainly the same woman -- I named her Margaret Darwin -- who is the pivotal character and central figure of my novel, Persephone's Torch. 

As far as I'm concerned, Pamela Coleman Smith is the most influential and elegant of all Tarot illustrators; but I have never been drawn so very much to her iteration of The High Priestess. She is almost too transcendent -- too far removed from human emotion and feeling. My ideal High Priestess should be an exotic and almost overpoweringly seductive figure -- but ultimately unapproachable and unobtainable.

Like it or loathe it, Barbara Moore's Steampunk Tarot got the High Priestess spectacularly right. The Rosetta Tarot and Victorian Gothic Tarot also have memorable High Priestesses. Where Tarot designers usually err with this card, they do so by making her too remote, almost Un-human, rather above it all. For me, The High Priestess is a passionate woman, capable of smiling although we do not see her smile,  whose intimate connection with the Great Mysteries renders her aloof from the mundane.

I knew that I had to get her right.

My High Priestess forms the backbone of this entire deck-in-progress. When I discovered her face, I just knew in my bones that she was absolutely right for me. But she had no body, and finding the right one ultimately proved to be as difficult as finding her face. In the end, the solution that presented itself made for an outrageous combination of women: and yet I felt it in my bones that it was Just Absolutely Right.

And so I grafted one woman's head to another woman's body. Can you recognize whose body I selected? The clue is in the cards.

Once the Priestess herself had been found, her temple came together by trial and error in one long six-hour session of working without relief or breaks of any kind. I simply could not break myself away. The Pomegranate moon was, hands down, the most difficult element to get right. Usually the best solution when you hit a block like that is to just stop, stand away from the design, back-brain it for a while. But I could not stop. The High Priestess would not let me.

 The last thing that I did, almost as an afterthought, was to tip in the color cards on her reading table. This simple little thing (although not so simple to get the cards into perspective) seemed to just snap the whole image into focus.

It was nearing 4:00 AM when I finished and I was Used Up. So intensely focussed on the work had I been that I was completely worthless the next day; temporarily burned out. The High Priestess demands absolute devotion, and her card was created with very little conscious thought -- all instinct and feeling, trial and error, dipping as much as possible into the Black Water of the unconscious. She came together almost as if she had designed herself.

Next Up: THE MOON.

-- Freder