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Q&A 5th September 2018

It’s been just over a month since the last Q&A, so time for a new one.

When will the Theda Bara deck be on kickstarter?

The deck will definitely be on kickstarter some time in September. I’m aiming at the moment for the middle of September, maybe around Sunday 15th, but this is not set in stone and several things need to be finalised before this can happen. I need to finalise some quotes with suppliers, and check on the quality of some items from different suppliers.

I am confident it will definitely be on kickstarter before the end of September. This will allow for a 30 day campaign running to some time in October, and then, if successful, four-five weeks to get everything printed and distributed to backers by the first week in December.

Can you let me know when it is released?

Yes, of course. Either:

  • Follow me on Facebook and send me a message there. The link is in the column to the right of this Q&A, or
  • Email me at steve@jooktarot.com

Either way, I will add your name to the list of people who have already asked and will let you know when the deck is on kickstarter.

How much will the deck cost?

So, the costs still haven’t been finalised. All I can say is that the deck will be at the lower end of the usual kickstarter price per deck, without sacrificing any quality.

After the kickstarter, the deck will be sold, probably from this website, or etsy or ebay…..not sure which. However, I can guarantee that the deck sale price will be higher than the kickstarter price. The kickstarter price will be at a discount to the full price.

Aren’t the images you are using copyrighted?

No, the images are covered by US copyright laws (they were all taken in the USA). The majority of images used were taken by staff photographers from Fox studios in the 1910s. In the majority of cases, the identity of the photographer is unknown.

These photographs were stills taken on the film sets mostly in New York, California and Florida. They were taken to promote the films and to feed the growing newspaper interest in ‘photoplays’ and the emerging film magazines.

Under US copyright law, the copyright for an image expires 90 years after it is first published. All of the photographs I am using were first published on or before 1928, and are therefore over 90 years so copyright has expired and the images are free for all use.

The same principle applies to the Ouspensky text that was published in 1913, and the Boiardo poems written in the 15th century and published in the 16th century.

That’s it for this Q&A. Please follow on Instagram or Facebook to get more regular updates.

VAMP: the Theda Bara Tarot, the minor arcana

VAMP: the Theda Bara Tarot is due to be entered on kickstarter to crowd fund a print run some time in September.

The minors of the VAMP deck are based on the writings of Count Matteo Boiardo (1441-1494) who proposed a 78 card tarot consisting of 21 majors, plus the Fool and four suits based on what was popularly known at the time as the Four Passions of Fear, Jealousy, Hope and Love.

In the late 1400s, Boiardo wrote a tarot poem consisting of two sonnets and five capitolo, with a tercet (3 line verse) for each capitolo. So each minor card has it’s own three line verse. The ace to ten of each suit is a tercet based on the passion, and the verses for the court cards relate to classical figures that the 15th century audience would be familiar with.

So, the Boiardo suits based on the Four Passions are the basis for the Theda Bara deck.

Mary Greer relates the Boairdo suits to the more familiar suits as:

Fear = Swords

Jealousy = Wands

Hope = Coins

Love = Cups

So, why use these suits for the Theda Bara deck rather than the more traditional suits? Well, Theda Bara was a star of the silent film era, and  the basic themes of the silent films she starred in are the passions and emotions of Fear, Jealousy, Hope and Love.

Theda was a student of the Delsarte method, that was commonly used by actors in the silent era. This involved poses and facial expressions to register emotions. In Eve Golden’s biography of Theda, she describes:

“In the early years of fan magazines, Theda and her fellow stars were pictured registering Fear, Love, ….and other facial expressions”

By modern standards the Delsarte method may look exaggerated and almost pantomime like. But it is unfair to make such judgements, and the acting methods of today may look equally ‘wrong’ in one hundred years from now. Luckily for us, we have stills from the period with Theda in poses and with facial expressions that perfectly match the Boiardo suits.

I have created each card using a suitable image to reflect that emotion. This was not an easy task. I have a collection of many hundred different images of Theda, and narrowed them down to about 130 covering the four suits. The ranking them from most to least, as Mary Greer explains in ‘Understanding the Tarot Court’

“The pip cards in the ‘good suits’ (love and hope) rank from ten down to ace and the ‘bad’ pips (fear and jealousy) ran the other direction ‘because more love and more love are better than less, and less fear and jealousy are better than more” 

This allows the reader a choice in deciding on how to  interpret the minors. The reader can relate each card to the matched traditional suit as described above by Mary Greer, so the Ace of Hope here becomes the Ace of Coins. The card is read in the traditional manner with the  common meanings for the Ace of Coins. Alternatively, they can be read in the same way that Boiardo proposed. In the case of the Ten of Fear above, this would be the ‘worst bad card’ as Fear is the worst of the Four Passions and ten is the highest rank of the pips. Using the Boiardo tercet for each card gives further guidance for the reader, and  the three verses for each minor are clearly displayed in their entirety (unlike the majors where I have deliberately obscured the text).

Once selecting the image, they were edited and digitally enhanced to be suitable for the cards. The relevant Boiardo tercet for each card was written by myself with an ink pen using an oblique nib. I used a personalised variation of chancery cursive script, a calligraphy style that was created in Italy in the 15th century, and I love to imagine that Boiardo would have used a similar style himself when creating the poems.

I will be releasing more images from the minor suits over the next few days on my instagram and facebook pages, so please follow me there to keep up to date with them.

 

Jook tarot on Instagram

Jook tarot is now on Instagram.

My user name on Instagram is jook_tarot. If you are on Instagram it would be great if you could follow me there. I am hoping to release one photograph a day on Instagram, so this will also be the best way to see regular updates from the project.

I have also added an Instagram feed below that you can click on.

 

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A name for the Theda Bara tarot

 

I have been looking for the right name for the Theda Bara tarot. It could simply be called ‘The Theda Bara Tarot’ but that felt unsatisfactory to me.

 

It could be a name making reference to the text in the cards by Ouspensky and Boiardo, but they are not the main theme of the deck.

One idea was to call it the ‘Arab Death’ tarot. Arab Death being an anagram of Theda Bara, something pointed out by the studio publicists at the time. However, the name has unpleasant connotations.

After much consideration I decided to call the deck ‘VAMP’ in recognition that Theda Bara was the first cinematic femme fatale. The first Vamp.

And google tells me that there is not already a Vamp tarot in existence, so that’s a positive too.

Follow me on Facebook by clicking the link in the header below or the sidebar. You can subscribe to receive emails by filling out your details below.

Any questions or comments are more than welcome, please contact me.

 

 

Q&A 3rd August 2018

I said I would do a regular Q&A and the last one was about a month ago, so time for another.

‘When will the deck be finished?’

The Jook wet plate collodion deck is going to take a long time. It really is a labour of love, and also quite expensive to produce the individual images. It is definitely going to be a full 78 card deck. Realistically, I don’t think I can create more than one card a week, so at that rate it will take more than a year to finish it. So probably looking at late 2019.

For the Theda Bara deck, this is a side project that I want to complete by the end of this month. This will be finalising the cards, choosing a printer and selecting card stock and packaging. I hope then to get it onto kickstarter or indiegogo or some other crowdfunding to raise the money to get a print run done. So, I’m going to set a target for everything to be ready for print by the end of August, crowdfunding in September. Then if enough money raised, printing in October, so decks ready for sending in November.

‘How much will the deck cost?’

At this stage I really don’t know. It will depend on the printer selected and the printing cost per deck plus taxes and shipping. I am not doing this to make money; I really just want to get my art out. So I wan’t to keep the purchase cost reasonable, but at the same time don’t want to compromise on quality. Small print runs work out quite expensive per deck, and this will be a major factor in determining the price.

‘We can help with marketing/social media/influencing blah blah blah’

No thank you.

What is your favourite tarot deck?

Now this is a tough question. Like what is your favourite film/song, there can never be just one answer. It depends on the mood and reason. So I am going to choose more than one:

1JJ Swiss will always have a special place in my heart as it was the first deck I got as a present from my close friend, Michael, back in 1984/85 when I was about 18. It was this deck that started my interest in the tarot, despite confusing me as it was in French and had Jupiter and Junon instead of the Pope (Hierophant) and Papess (High Priestess). I try to avoid using it now, as it is showing signs of age and a bit dog-eared.

Visconti Sforza. This is simultaneously one of the most beautiful and historically significant tarot decks around. It really is a wonderful piece of art from literally the golden age of tarot.

Rider Waite. I know it’s a bit of a cliche, but without this deck I probably would not be creating my own right now. And for a less than confident reader, it is the go to deck for readings.

Mucha Tarot. I just love the art of Alphonse Mucha and the art nouveau movement. I remember as a teenager, a friend’s parents had Much advertising posters on their walls, and being attracted to the images. So I love this deck and the clever way the makers have updated and changed Mucha’s images to fit the RWS style.

I could probably name many more decks, but will leave it as these four as a good overall representation of my favourites.

That’s all the questions for this session, please email or comment if you want to ask anything. Please subscribe below to receive email notifications of future posts.

 

Tarot Association of the British Isles Conference

I got back home today after attending the TABI conference that was held yesterday in Birmingham. For more information about TABI, check out their website here.

Was a really great conference, and I would recommend attending such an event to anyone with an interest in the tarot. It was a lovely and inclusive environment with excellent speakers on very interesting subjects. I will definitely be attending in 2019.

I was able to share my first draft copies of the Theda Bara deck with several attendees at the conference and got some lovely comments. I also got some great feedback on how to proceed with the deck.

One of the big issued I have is around the background text. I enjoyed and related to the PD Ouspensky prose I have used for the major arcana. However, the Ouspensky text only covered the majors, and not the minors. To maintain a consistent theme, I would want to include text for the minor arcana too. At the conference, Caitlín Matthews  was one of the guest speakers, and she mentioned the 15th century tarot poetry of Matteo Boiardo. I was unfamiliar with Boiardo and delighted to find a source for text for the minors.

I was able to have a conversation with several attendees about the minor arcana, and following this, I am currently considering the Theda Bara deck being a majors only deck. This would allow me to print them on larger size high quality tarot stock.

At the time of writing, I am not sure how to proceed. I am currently waiting on card stock samples from a number of printers and will make a decision soon on the way forward.

The Theda Bara Tarot

I have reached a bit of an impasse with the Jook tarot. This is mainly due to the need to acquire a lot of props for the cards, and these are taking longer to obtain that I originally expected. Also, the unusual high temperature over the last few weeks in the UK has made both my studio and workshop unusable at the moment, and wet plate collodion chemicals do not like this. So, I have decided to work on a side project until September when I will be ready to re-commence the Jook tarot.

This side project is the Theda Bara Tarot. It was something I had planned, but thought it would be something for after the Jook Tarot was finished.

The inspiration for the idea behind the Theda Bara Tarot is from two angles.

Firstly, I described in my blog here that I researched thousands of vintage photographs, many from the silent film era. I saved the images that I liked best and that matched the aesthetic look and feel I wanted. I  noticed that images of Theda Bara were catching my attention much more than anyone else. I kept on seeing images of her from various films, thinking ‘that would make a great card.’ Eventually I realised that it might be feasible to create the major arcana with Theda Bara images. So I resolved to try and do this once I had completed the Jook Tarot.

Secondly, I talked in my blog here about my original intention to include my calligraphy in the Jook Tarot. As I decided this did not work with that tarot, I wanted to include it in a different project and the Theda Bara tarot is perfect for this.

I have now added a page to the main menu covering the Theda Bara tarot, and this can be found here.

Jook Tarot props

Bea Nettles created the first photographic tarot deck; the Mountain Dream Tarot published in 1975. At the time, there was no digital and no photoshop, so Nettles had to obtain all the props she needed for the deck. In her words:

If you needed an eagle in an image, you had to find an eagle to photograph…. The same was true with flames, water, boats, swords, and all of the other props.

Work in progress on the shield for the Emperor and Empress

This reality is very true for my tarot deck. Although it would be possible to scan the plates from the wet plate process into photoshop and add items there, this would not be true and honest to the process and to the aesthetic and look of the deck. Consequently, all the props I need for each card must be purchased, borrowed or made.

Making the Sun; with 21 rays

For some cards this may be a large undertaking due to the number of props needed. Some cards will get away with very little. Under props I include costumes. As noted in the previous blog, these need to adhere to the theme and aesthetic of the period, so no modern clothing allowed.

Purchasing the props would certainly be the easiest option, and I have purchased a few cheap items from vintage/antique shops and ebay. However, due to the large number of props needed, purchasing them all is not affordable. I’ve been able to borrow some items from friends and family which has helped.

The Sun almost finished

The remainder of props needed will have to be made. This is proving to actually be quite fun and enjoyable, but is very very time consuming. I realise that this is going to create a delay in producing the deck. However, I see no other way to solve this. I have a vision of the cards I want to produce and these require very specific props, and I don’t want to compromise on this.

The wet plate collodion process also has an impact on the props. Firstly, it is only sensitive to blue light, so red appears as almost black and blue as almost white. This means for some props I need to be careful about their colour. For example, yellow also appears as almost black, so if I want my Sun to look light on the black and white scale, it can’t be yellow.

Foamboard sword made for a test, and foam armour templates

Secondly, as I mention in a previous blog post, the process does not produce pin sharp images that we are used to today. Images are a lot softer, with rapid fall off of focus. So the process is very forgiving, and I will be able to get away with props that would look terrible on digital, but look fine on wet plate.

In a future blog post, I will describe the prop making process for some of the items I am making in more detail

Jook Tarot script and lettering

In my previous blog posts I have described my approach relating to tarot research, tarot elements and symbolism, wet plate collodion aesthetics and the look and theme of my tarot. The next part of the process is to discuss the script and lettering to be used in the deck. This is about the calligraphy script that I will use for the cards and the options I have looked at.

I started calligraphy classes in 2012 with the excellent Rosana Ibarrola from Love Calligraphy  and have been going ever since. I went to these to improve my handwriting and to be able to incorporate calligraphy in my art.

My original idea was to use a lot of text in my tarot card designs. This can be seen from the mock ups above. The text was taken from the prose in The Symbolism of the Tarot by PD Ouspensky where he describes each card from the point of view of a journey. I tried different scripts from Victorian copperplate to Renaissance chancery cursive.

However, after completing my research on tarot symbolism, I reached the conclusion I wanted to include more imagery in my cards, and that the kind of text above would be distracting. So, my cards for this deck will not have any background text.

The only script I will have on each card will be the name and number of that card. I will still hand write each name and number of the cards. I need a script of the type that matches the aesthetic and theme of the cards that I discussed in my previous blog posts. So, I decided to make my own so that it looks exactly the way I want it. My first idea was to make a script similar to the 1JJ Swiss tarot, but I then felt this would not fully match the theme. At the time of writing this blog, I have not finalised the look of the script, but have sketched some ideas based on the silent era film theme.

In my next blog post, I will discuss how to bring all these aspects together to create my tarot deck design.

 

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