I Present to You the Eightieth and Final Assemblage!


So like everyone else, I thought I was done with Tarot of Bones assemblages at the end of last year. Apparently not.

I’ve spent the past few weeks designing and laying out the final card files using the photos of the assemblages and background images (since the assemblages are not all at the same aspect ratio as the final cards). During the layout process, I began to feel more and more like I wanted the card back to also be an assemblage. It’s not that the illustration that I originally commissioned from Erin “Narumi” Prince of Lotus Lion wasn’t absolutely gorgeous; just the opposite!

But as the deck’s final appearance began to take form in my mind, I realized that I wanted all of the art to be assemblages, even the back. So over the past several days I created one final assemblage that I felt summed up the spirit of the deck.

I started with a wooden box–but not just any wooden box. It’s one of my many antique shop finds, an old smoked salmon box from before they were printed with Salish-style salmon designs. It had seen better days–the lid was coming off and was warped, the paint was faded and distressed. It was perfect.

It initially became involved in the Tarot of Bones when during the photography session back in April Sandra Buskirk took photos of various items–leather, feathers, wood and more–that I could use for the card backgrounds later on. The lid of this box was one of them, and ended up being one of my more commonly used textures during the layout process.

Later on, as I was casting about for the proper backboard for the card back assemblage, I came across the box again in my supply room. It was just about the size I wanted, and the color and texture were appropriate. So I brought it out, fixed the lid’s hinges, and began designing the assemblage.

I made sure all five sorts of bone represented in the Tarot of Bones–skulls, ribs, long bones, vertebrae, and jaws (teeth)–were also present in the assemblage. I also added in various natural materials that I’d used in other assemblages, from stones to moss to one very lovely scallop shell. While it thematically matches the other assemblages, unlike the others there will be no text on the card back, making it easier to distinguish front from back.

So I think now I can officially (again) say that all of the Tarot of Bones assemblages are complete! I’ll be taking it with me to Seattle on Friday along with the last few assemblages that need their photos redone, and hopefully by early next week all the layout will be complete and I can start prepping the files to send them to the printer.

And Now–The World!


The World is one of those cards that surprised me at how well it came together. It sat as a painted backboard for the better part of a week since I was entangled in preparation for one last vending event this month (the fourth of four!) It wasn’t until yesterday that I was able to put together the rest of the piece. Once the four corner stones were laid in place, they drew it together perfectly!

This is one of the few cards that uses a resin replica skull rather than a real one; it’s not legal to trade in hawksbill sea turtle skulls, so I was happy to pick up a Bone Clones replica. I chose the sea turtle for this card because of the common association of turtles with the planet itself–a large green expanse of land surrounded by vast oceans. Additionally, sea turtles have access to areas of the planet we can only traverse with specialized equipment, and they’re able to move easily through more dimensions of space than we are on dry land. This reflected the open horizons and higher awareness symbolism of this card. And, of course, there’s the eye-opening experience of travel–a sea turtle may go many thousands of miles in a given year. Finally, the ocean is the birthplace of life on this planet, and this sea turtle skull is wrapped in a cradle of “seaweed”. (Here’s the tutorial I used to make the faux seaweed out of an old plastic bag.)

This is the 63rd assemblage completed; my pace has slowed down some due to being busy in other areas of work and life, but I still am well on track for completing all the assemblages by the end of the year, keeping me on my production schedule.



A Few FAQs About the Tarot of Bones

I have been getting a few questions repeatedly over the past few months, so I thought I’d take a few moments to address them (again):

Are these just temporary arrangements of bones and other materials?

No, these are permanent assemblage pieces. Part of why this is such an expensive endeavor is because I can’t re-use the materials, and I’m putting together almost eighty of these pieces.

Are those real bones?

Yes. You can read more about my choice to use bones here, and more about my commitment to use eco-friendly materials in general here.

Will the Tarot of Bones be available for purchase, or did I miss my window with the close of the IndieGoGo campaign?

Yes, it will be for sale, and no, I am not intending it to be a limited edition. I anticipate my first print run for the deck will be 1,000 (250 of them are already claimed by IndieGoGo supporters) and once those run out I’ll have another batch printed up. I am planning to release the book through CreateSpace, which uses print on demand technology, so I won’t run out of them. You will have the option to buy either the deck and book together or separately.

When will the Tarot of Bones be released?

My production schedule has a Summer 2016 release date. Right now I am almost two months ahead of schedule with the assemblages; however, this does not necessarily mean the set will be released early.

How much will it cost?

I am not sure yet. My early bird pre-order prices were very low, as a way to get people to adopt early (which they did, with much enthusiasm!) I am currently working with an estimate I got from the deck printer back in March; I will have to get an updated estimate next spring when I am preparing to have the deck printed up. As for the book, we’ll see if CreateSpace’s rates stay steady between now and then.



The Queen of Wands Sets Upon Her Throne!



Behold the fiery Queen of Wands! This card is full of boundless creative energy and passion, and fertility of both mind and body. I chose the bobcat for her emblem because of the feline symbolism often associated with this card, and the great amount of strength, speed and power the bobcat has in spite of her smaller size. The fibula bone adds sturdiness to the bobcat’s hind leg as she leaps up cliffs or chases after prey. A strip of bobcat fur down the center symbolizes the warmth she retains throughout the year.

On a different topic, I keep getting people thinking these are temporary assemblages that I’m just photographing and then pulling apart so I can reuse the components. I want to make it clear these are permanent assemblage pieces; part of why this is such an expensive project is because I have to buy the components for each assemblage. The photographs I take are generally quick snapshots just to show off the completed piece. Once I have the assemblages all complete I’ll be taking better photographs of them for the final card art.

This does mean that yes, the assemblages will be available for purchase once the Tarot of Bones deck and book are released next year! So if there’s one that really catches your eye, make note of it. Perhaps you’ll get to make it a part of your art collection!


Here Come the Skulls!


Just got the newest shipment of (mostly) replica skulls for assemblages for the Tarot of Bones! Replicas include sea turtle, hummingbird, sloth, eagle and albatross. The little bitty Indian toad skull is real. Generally speaking I hate using replicas because they’re made of non-biodegradable, petro-based plastic and therefore aren’t especially ecofriendly, so most of the skulls I use are natural bone. But in cases when the real deal isn’t legal or in line with my ethics, I use replicas. I have a couple more replicas and a lot of bone skulls on the way, so expect more pics soon!

203%! Woohoo!!!!!!

Final IndieGoGocomicsans

Well, folks, we did it! The Tarot of Bones IndieGoGo campaign ended at midnight, 203% funded at $10,147! Considering I was just hoping for a couple thousand dollars for materials, and a bit more to defray operating costs, and I wasn’t even expecting it to get funded in the first place, the final tally is pretty damned astounding. Almost 250 of you believed enough in the project to back it over a year out from release, and more of you have contacted me telling me that if finances and other factors had been different you would have jumped in, too. (Don’t worry, there will be other preorder opportunities in the future.)

So now what? Well, IndieGoGo needs to take care of all its behind the scenes magic, which means over the next couple of weeks they’ll be charging everyone’s cards and Paypal accounts. No doubt there’ll be at least a few that are declined, just from sheer statistics’ sake, so I don’t know whether they spend part of the time asking those folks to try again or not. And of course both IndieGoGo and Paypal will want to take their cuts of the money that’s raised, so I’m definitely not going to end up with the entire $10,147 in my account. But theoretically in two weeks I’ll have both the deposit that’s left and a final list of those who successfully backed the campaign. After that I can contact my backers to find out perks details (what books/etc. they want, etc.), any address changes, and so forth. I’ve already begun asking my sources to arrange the last skulls, bones and other materials I need for the rest of the assemblages, so once the money arrives I can place my orders.

In the meantime I’ll keep working on the assemblages. I have 37 done at this point, which means I’m almost halfway done! In fact, I made ten of them in a two-week period, which is just absolutely crazy–so I’m taking a few days off to work on a few other projects on my work bench. I can’t stay away for too long, so expect more assemblages soon!

And, finally, though I’ve said it many times over the past six weeks: thank you. Thank you to everyone who helped me ramp up the promotion leading up to the campaign, thank you to everyone who promoted it through podcasts and interviews and reblogs and shares. And, most of all, thank you to everyone who’s believed in me and the Tarot of Bones so much that you invested in a nascent project fueled by creative insanity and a love for natural history. I hope that when Summer 2016 rolls around and the deck and book are in your hands that you find it was worth it all.

I Am Officially 1/6 of the Way Done!


Well, with the assemblage pieces, anyway. I just completed the Seven of Wands this morning, the thirteenth card in my set so far. That means I’ve finished 1/6 of the assemblages! I’m still keeping up on writing each card’s section in the book manuscript as I finish the art, so I’m not behind there, either. This is especially impressive considering I spent the better part of two weeks out of town in February, and the time when I was home trying to play catch-up. The first half of March will be similarly busy, so expect my pace on the Tarot of Bones to flag a bit until the latter half of the month. I should still be able to keep up the pace of 6 1/2 assemblages per month.

So–the Seven of Wands (which I keep mis-typing as the Sven of Wands, a very different card!). This card made me have to figure out how to make ungulate leg bones look like they were fighting. For a moment I was tempted to put them in little jackets with spears and knives and such, but decided on a more minimalist rendition. Needless to say, the card’s energy is very much about defending your turf (for better or worse), and I hope I managed to convey that well with this piece.

I also got to play with a new-but-old medium–crayons! Of course I’ve been coloring with crayons since I was wee little, and I still have the crayons I had when I was young; some of them are older than I am! But I haven’t done much with them in my artwork today. This was my opportunity to experiment, since I wanted a pleasant but not too distracting background for the bones, and acrylics weren’t going to give me the texture I wanted on this old piece of wood paneling I got from the Goodwill Outlet.

I put a couple of layers of acrylic paint on the board just for some uniformity and a better canvas than the flat black it had been before. I tried out some combinations of crayon colors in my sketchbook before coming up with the ideal layers. While the texture ended up a little less solid than I expected due to the faux woodgrain on the board, I really like the effect at the end here. Methinks I’ll have to play with this again.

I Think This is My Favorite Card Yet



So, Justice is complete! I admit I’ve been dancing around this card for a little bit; its centerpiece is a genuine Nile crocodile skull, carefully sourced from a highly regarded taxidermy supplier. It’s not the absolute most expensive skull out there, but it’s also not the easiest to get, and I really didn’t want to screw this one up. Not that I couldn’t have repurposed it for another art project if I had; nothing goes to waste here. Still, I really like the spirit of this one, and it’s like it was made for this piece.

Now, anyone familiar with Egyptian mythology will immediately get the symbolism of the piece: the crocodile-headed goddess, Ammit, waits patiently to be fed the hearts of those deemed too impure to pass into the afterlife. The lone feather on the chain represents the feather that the hearts are weighed against. Ammit isn’t good or evil, nor does she do the judging herself–she’s just here for the food. In the same way, crocodiles don’t deliberately pick out prey based on any moral qualities; they just go for whatever wildebeest or zebra gets too close to the water and isn’t paying attention. Justice is (ideally) impartial, though for those embroiled in legal or other re-balancing situations it can be a harrowing, even traumatic experience.

Why Justice and not Judgement? Judgement has an overlay of forgiveness and moving on; the penance has been done, and though there may be a few more amends to make, the person has accepted their mistakes and the consequences and is ready to grow from them. Justice is earlier in the process, the rude awakening, the initial “Hey, you screwed up, you know that?” I have a different critter in mind for Justice, though you’ll have to wait to see what it is.

I do have to admit this is my favorite piece that I’ve completed so far. I have 69 left to go, so surely there’ll be others I like at least as much, but this one’s going to be a standout for me.

The Ace of Wands Now Complete!

Just finished up the Ace of Wands; I have a nasty cold, and so that made finishing details and writing up its description for the book rather challenging. Heh–maybe the Ace of Wands is reversed for me today; there are obstacles in my path! Still, the joyous energy of this card is even more infectious for me than a rhinovirus, and I persevered through the sneezing and Kleenex.

Does the backboard for this piece look a little familiar? That’s not surprising–it’s a secondhand bamboo cutting board! I buy these by the armload from local thrift stores; the ones that are really badly cut up rarely get bought otherwise, but the wear and tear makes them perfect for my art. This one has been stained with some secondhand red wood stain that I got from SCRAP a while back, and the red really makes the scratches and cuts pop visually.

Also, this card is the sixth I’ve completed. In order to meet my goal of completing all 78 assemblage pieces by the end of the year, I need to complete 6.5 each month. I’m actually ahead of schedule, because the first half of January got eaten up by Curious Gallery, and so I’ve basically done my month’s worth of work in about two weeks. I’m going to try to keep the pace up, because as the year rolls on I’m going to run into busier times, like the summer festival season. So I’ll take advantage of windfalls of time when and as I can, and if all goes well I’ll meet or beat my deadline.

Finally, because a few people have asked–yes, these are permanent assemblage pieces, not just temporary arrangements. That’s part of what takes so long to put them together–you’d be amazed how much time I spend waiting for paint and adhesives to dry!

So Where Are We On The First Day of the Year?

Good morning, all! So I’ve officially unveiled the Tarot of Bones, and figured I’d give a quick status update so you know where the project is.

For the past couple of months I’ve been doing a lot of preparation work. This website was actually one of the last things I did; I’ve primarily been collecting supplies for the assemblage pieces, and brushing up on my tarot know-how as it’s been a number of years since I read it rather than my totem card deck.

I admit that I love shopping for art supplies, so having a project where I have the excuse to buy more just makes things all the better! The skulls (both real and replica) have been primarily bought new, as Goodwill generally doesn’t have a taxidermy section! However, I still have a lot of osteological specimens to buy, so I will likely end up with at least some secondhand pieces from private collections. In case you’re curious about the skulls in the picture, the big one is a javelina, the smaller mammal is a raccoon, and the bird is a black-casqued hornbill with a small amount of damage. The other two bird skulls are resin casts of raven and burrowing owl skulls. The smaller bones in bags are mostly opossum and coyote.

But what about that tray, and the bamboo mat rolled up to the side, and the plumb bob and roll of lace-adorned burlap? All of those stemmed from a recent trip to a Goodwill outlet here in Portland. I am an avid thrift shopper, and I’ve found everything from big bags of dried moss to deerskin leather there. Yard sales, antique shops, and the infamous Portland “free box” have also yielded good fodder in the past.

And I’m also a scavenger of natural materials, too. Look at all the dried leaves, ferns and other plants in the title graphic for this site–I collected all of those from around Portland. Most of them were fallen leaves on the sidewalk (also a great place to pick up sticks coats in moss and lichens after a storm.) I also got permission from homeowners to pluck a few fern fronds and other goodies from their gardens. And I pressed them all in a series of out-of-date old biology textbooks whose pages will also be making appearances in some of the assemblage pieces.

In addition to materials gathering I’ve also been researching the tarot. I used to read it several years ago, but eventually set my tarot cards aside to focus entirely on totem readings. I’ve been looking back through some books on the historical meanings of the cards. While each assemblage piece will be a combination of my own interpretation of the cards and the bones I use, I’m also inspired by the commonly-used archetypes of the tarot. So expect some of the old, some of the new, and all aimed at helping you discover your own interpretation of the cards themselves.

So yes, right now everything is in pieces–but they’re pieces that are coming together in my head. I am the sort of artist who lets things percolate in my brain for weeks or even months, and then lets it all out in one glorious creative frenzy. Because most of my time and effort are tied up in my other Big Project, Curious Gallery, an arts festival I’ve organized here in Portland for January 10-11, I’ll probably not be able to work on the first pieces until later in January. By the end of the month I’d like to have a few of the assemblages done, and if I’m going to have all 78 finished by the end of the year, I need to average 6-7 per month.

Wow–sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? I’m not worried, though. Keep in mind that I am a full-time self-employed artist and writer, and I routinely juggle several different projects and obligations at once. So you should expect to start seeing art manifest after January 11. In the meantime, I’ll keep you posted on materials acquisitions, ruminations on the symbols and archetypes I’ll be working with, and other pertinent news.

And thanks for going on this adventure with me!