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VAMP: Theda Bara Tarot: Part 1

WRITTEN BY: Ste Jook

Ste Jook is a traditionally photographer and skilled calligrapher who has taken the plunge and in the process of creating The Jook Tarot and VAMP: Theda Bara Tarot. We are going to look at the VAMP: Theda Bara tarot process and results and you can find more about Jook Tarot here and support the Kickstarter here

My first ever tarot deck has been completed and is currently on kickstarter hoping to raise the funds for a full print run.

calligraphy on film

In 30 days time, I will be able to write a blog post entitled either ‘How to successfully crowdfund a tarot deck’ or ‘Lessons I’ve learnt from failing to crowdfund a tarot deck’ Hopefully it will be the former, but at this stage I am unqualified to give any advice about funding.

But it is the perfect time to reflect on the creative and decision making process that has been the journey from idea to reality. And, hopefully, to encourage anyone considering creating their own cards to start their own journey. Even if my crowdfunding proves to be unsuccessful, there are still many benefits and positives from having gone through the creative process.

Like many, my first tarot deck was the 1JJ Swiss tarot deck, received as a present in 1984. And like many, it sparked a lifelong interest in the tarot and related fields. My 1JJ Swiss was a French version, so I didn’t even know what some of the cards were. Who or what was L’Imperatrice? 

My next couple of tarot decks were also old Tarot de Marseille style cards, and this instilled in me a love for the art and symbology of the older decks. It was not until I got my first Rider Waite deck that I discovered that the minors could be fully illustrated too.

The iconic 1JJ Swiss tarot deck

I have wanted to create my own deck for as long as I can remember, but it was always a vague intention with no plan or idea. Like saying I wanted to write a book or learn to play a musical instrument.

Maybe about 8 years ago, the desire to create a deck came more into focus and I actively started to look for a tarot project.

The first thing to consider was the medium. And this is the first important consideration for any creator. What do you enjoy doing and if you want to sell the deck, what are you competent enough at to create something commercially desirable? My art background is as a traditional photographer and a printmaker. I am also a reasonably competent calligrapher, but nowhere near professional (although my hands do appear in a film as the Mayor of Antwerp writing a letter, but that’s a different story). 

Ste Jooks calligraphy card


So my choices of medium were limited to what I am competent at and also what I enjoy. I love painting but am not a good enough painter to create a whole deck. I am in awe of the many talented painters who create beautiful tarot cards. Creating a deck is a big undertaking, so it also has to be something you enjoy doing, and preferably something that you would enjoy doing even if the tarot was not the subject matter.

The choices for me were photography, printmaking and calligraphy. 

I am competent at various intaglio and relief printmaking techniques and woodcut would seem to be the obvious choice for the tarot given the history of the cards. I have the technical ability to create a nice woodcut tarot deck.

This brings me to the second important consideration for any creator. What is the point of doing this? For me, I wanted to create a tarot deck as an artistic endeavour about a subject I love. For me, this means creating something original and bringing something new to the subject. I could create a woodcut tarot deck but it would virtually be a Tarot de Marseille copy, as I did not have an idea for something different from all the other woodcut decks already created.

Someone once said ‘There is no such thing as an original idea’ and there is much truth in this. I wasn’t expecting to create something totally original, more just wanting to create something that was sufficiently different to disappear among the noise.

Matteo Poem

This is where more talented artists than me can succeed, as their individual style is more than enough to differentiate themselves and they can create something unique and original because they as an artist are unique. I have several decks from artists I love where their personal individual style makes them immediately recognisable.

Sadly, I am not such an artist with a developed style, so printmaking was not an option for me. I felt that calligraphy alone was not sufficient to create a tarot deck (although I do have one idea that I might try one day). Realistically, calligraphy could only play a supporting role in the deck creation, and is actually major part of my current deck.

This left photography for me as the only medium I was competent at to create a tarot deck. The first photographic tarot deck was the wonderful Mountain Dream tarot created by Bea Nettles in 1975, and since then there have been numerous photographic decks created. The advent of easy access to digital manipulation has also allowed a surge in collage style decks.

As a traditional (film only) photographer I didn’t want to work digitally. As many photographic decks already existed, I felt I didn’t really have anything new or original to offer. 

So, I was left with the desire to create a tarot deck, but not the ability to create one that was original or offered something new and interesting. Then in 2014, I discovered the Victorian photographic process of wet plate collodion that was enjoying a small revival from a small number of artists. I realised this was the medium I needed to create a unique tarot deck. No one has ever created a wet plate collodion, so in that sense it will be original, and more importantly the medium creates the most beautiful atmospheric prints that will bring a wonderfully ethereal feel to the tarot that for me perfectly matches the subject matter.

My wet plate collodion deck is work in progress. There is a reason that wet plate collodion as a process stopped in the 1880s, as it has severe problems, limitations and significant costs. Consequently, I am only able to produce one card a fortnight. So I expect the deck to be completed some time in the year 2021. This is certainly going to be a labour of love.

Ste Jooks wet plate camera

This wet plate deck will primarily bring something new and original to the tarot world as a result of the uniqueness of the medium. It will ultimately be a deck with images and symbology familiar to anyone who has ever looked at a Rider Waite deck. I do not like the phrase I often see of ‘Rider Waite clone’ as I feel it has unnecessarily negative connotations. However, this phrase will probably apply to my wet plate collodion deck as the originality is from the medium so it makes sense to keep to a traditional vision of tarot symbolism. I could of course, use wet plate collodion and create a unique theme of say Victorian dogs, but I feel the value of this medium is in the aesthetic more than the theme. 

The High Priestess card

This post has mainly been about creating a tarot deck that is original or new and different in some way as a result of the artists use of a unique medium. My use of wet plate collodion as such a medium for the tarot cannot be isolated. Surely, there must be other lesser known mediums out there that have not been used for a tarot deck, and as such would make a welcome addition to the genre? I cannot be the only person to be practising an artistic medium that has not been utilised in the creation of a tarot deck. I imagine all the mainstream popular mediums will have been used, but there must be some art forms that tarot lovers could use to create something new and different to enrich our tarot culture. And I hope that someone reading this who participates in such an art finds some encouragement in these words to apply their skill into creating their own unique tarot deck.

I hope this post has been interesting. If so, I will continue the subject away from the use of a specific art medium onto considering how to make something new and interesting by the use of an original theme. If not, please complain to TABI and demand I get removed from the blog.

Jook

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