Presenting the Ten of Cups!


The Ten of Cups took me a while, between waiting for layers of paint to dry, and taking a four-day backpacking trip last week that required a fair bit of prep and recovery time. I really love the color scheme, though, and it was worth the frustration of trying to get the rainbow’s streaks relatively even. It reminds me a lot of the 1980s, actually–between My Little Pony, Rainbow Brite, Strawberry Shortcake and other children’s cartoons, there were a LOT of rainbows in my life! And since the Ten of Cups refers to a time when the hard times are over, a nostalgic look at childhood isn’t entirely inappropriate.

This is the 40th assemblage, and I’m still ahead of schedule, too, even with taking a bit of time off. The 41st is currently in partial completion on my workbench, and I should be done with it later this week.

The First Assemblage Piece is Complete!

Whew! I seriously thought I wasn’t going to get any art done this week, and have to delay my work on this project yet again! Recovering from running Curious Gallery took me a bit longer than anticipated, and I’m preparing to vend at another event this weekend, so those bookends have been rather time-hungry. However, I have been promising and promising myself that I would start on the first assemblage piece this week, and so last night I finally cleared out some artwork time. I stayed up entirely too late and woke up entirely too early, but the first assemblage piece is done: the Three of Cups!

It’s a pretty simple and small piece; consider it my first cautious step onto the path that will lead to the final deck. In my last post I pondered which card I would start with; turns out the artist-brain won out, and my fascination with a trio of juvenile red fox rib bones became the late-night inspiration for the Three of Cups. (By the way, no, that is not the final photo that will be used for the deck.)

It’s not much of a departure from my current style; really, it could fit in with the rest of my assemblage pieces nicely. So I admit that I was staying somewhat within my comfort zone while I created it. But I did feel challenged to find ways to incorporate traditional tarot symbolism without the usual Rider-Waite-Smith emblem of three celebrating women (sometimes said to be the three Graces.) To represent harmony and cooperation, I nested the three rib bones within each other so that they mirrored each other’s curves while still displaying their own unique details. The good fortune of the Three of Cups is reflected in the fertility of pine cones and flowers. The sand dollar represents wholeness and support. Upright, this card can denote celebration, but within reasonable limits; the moss in which the various items are embedded is contained safely within a wooden box.

Each of the suits of the Minor Arcana will be represented by a different sort of bone. I chose ribs for Cups because they both protect and contain some of the most vital organs of the vertebrate body, most notably the heart. While I’m not sticking to traditional tarot meanings entirely, I am inspired by the emotional nature associated with this suit.

I’m also not drawing on the species-specific energy of the animals whose bones are used in the Minor Arcana cards as much as I am with the Major Arcana. The fact that these are red fox bones is more chance than anything; I chose them for their size, pleasing shape and readiness for incorporation into the piece. The Minor Arcana is primarily concerned with the function of the bones themselves, the cupping qualities of ribs in this case.

I’m not sure which card I’ll work with next. The Major Arcana are certainly appealing and full of rich symbolism both tarot and animal, but they’re also a bit intimidating as they’ll be more complicated pieces. I might just do a couple more Minor Arcana before moving on. Either way, I’m not likely to unveil another piece until next week; after this weekend I have a couple of weeks with no events scheduled, though I need to catch up on some custom orders and other projects with deadlines. Still, having made the first piece I feel more confident in my goal of having all 78 assemblages done by the end of 2015, and I’m sure I’ll be leveraging my down time between vending and workshop events quite a bit.

Also, I did post a work-in-progress (WIP) picture of this piece last night over on my Patreon account, along with a picture of a couple of skulls for the Major Arcana. Please consider being my Patron; for as little as $1 a month you can have access to exclusive WIP pictures and more!

Considering Which Card to Start With

As I mentioned before, due to being really busy getting ready to run Curious Gallery this upcoming weekend, I’m probably not going to get to start on the art and writing for the Tarot of Bones til next week. However, I’m making plans for when I have that opportunity. One of the obvious questions is: which card am I going to start with?

It’s a more complicated question than you might think. See, my artist-brain and writer-brain work differently. The writer-brain is very linear. When I write a book, I always start with an outline, and then I flesh it out, and when I get to actually writing the book I tend to write the chapters in order. Oh, sure, I may jump around a bit as I think “Wait, this bit of info would fit better a few chapters ahead” or “I think I could say this better in the introduction instead of the conclusion”. But for the most part I want Chapter One to be done before I really buckle down on Chapter Two. And I’m likely to start writing on each card before I make the assemblage piece because I want to organize my thoughts on the card’s symbolism before I go putting bone to bamboo (or moss to wood–you get the idea.) So right now Writer-Brain is saying “Start with the Fool, and work your way through the Major Arcana. You can even do a neat archetypal exploration of the cards’ symbolism! Then you can go through each of the suits of the Minor Arcana and climb your way up those, and it’ll all be sensible and in order!”

My artist-brain is different. Artist-brain is capricious and can be swayed by the slightest of whims. Walking into a thrift shop is difficult, because when I hit the knick-knack aisle, Artist-Brain tries to convince me that at least a third of what I see should immediately be brought home and turned into art, bank balance be damned. And so when it comes to the Tarot of Bones, Artist-Brain is more likely to want to start with whatever looks shiniest or sounds like the coolest project. Right now, it’s looking reallllllly hard at the small pile of skulls I have sitting on my workbench, and thinking about deer leg bones, and considering whether we needed an even bigger pile of lichen-covered sticks from the sidewalk outside. (It’s also pouting because I told it I don’t yet have the money for a few of the pricier skulls and replicas, and of course those are the cards it wants to work on right now, dammit.)

I’m considering making both Writer-Brain and Artist-Brain happy by starting with the Fool (Coyote), partly because it’s the first card of the Major Arcana, and partly because I already have design ideas for it and most of the materials I need, which means a mostly uninterrupted creative flow. After that, though, who knows in what direction I may go? I might jump onto one of the Minor Arcana, just to make a piece that doesn’t center on a skull. Or maybe I’ll meditate and see which card pops up next.

At any rate, I’m at least as anxious to start making this project manifest as you are to see the results, and I just want to make sure my lovely event is well cared for this year before I send my attention in a new direction. So I’ll keep percolating for now, and we’ll see what happens after this week!

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!