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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.

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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.

A few more Theda Bara cards

A few more Theda Bara cards completed. All of the images for the major arcana have been selected, and the script for these needs to be completed and added.

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.

 

The Jook Tarot theme

Theda Bara in Cleopatra (1917)

In my previous blog posts, I described my process for tarot symbolism research and the aesthetic of wet plate collodion photography. In this blog post I am going to talk about the theme of my tarot deck.

I need the deck to have a unified theme, a way for the cards to work together as a set. Part of this is achieved by the use of the wet plate collodion to give the cards a uniform look. In addition to this, I want it to have a consistent theme running trough the cards to help them work as a unified deck rather than a random collection of images.

I talked in previous blog posts about the wet plate process being widely used from the 1860s to the 1890s, and according to Wikipedia, still used by some portrait photographers as late as the 1930s. I am using the same equipment and chemicals that would have been used during this period. It makes sense to me that the first part of the theme should be that the deck looks like it was created during that period. So, the clothing, make up and props should also look as if they were from that period or earlier.

Valeska Suratt (c1916)

I love the look and feel of the old silent films, and the studios were great at making many stills of these films. Sadly for the many films (such as Cleopatra starring Theda Bara) lost in the Fox studio fire, all we have left are these stills. Stills from the silent era films are a major inspiration for me as invoking the look and feel of the period.

Julia Margaret Cameron – The Passing of Arthur (1874)

Add to this the works of Victorian photographers such as Julia Margaret Cameron and others who were linked to the pre Raphaelite Brotherhood and were among the first to use photography as an art form. Much of this art based photography was allegorical and based on Biblical and historical events. This ties in with my interest in the silent films, especially the epic ones similarly based on historical and Biblical events. 

I suppose my attraction to these images is that many seem to relate to vague historical periods where there are knights with swords, kings, queens, emperors and empresses. Just like the tarot. Even the Rider Waite deck printed in 1910 features characters in armour, medieval dresses, many swords and not even a hint of the 20th century.

This was also at a time in the Victorian era when there was an interest in spiritualism, mysticism, the occult etc. So in addition to the type of images described above, there are a lot of vintage photographs surviving from this period of fortune tellers, gypsies and interesting and eccentric looking characters who embraced this culture and lifestyle. To me, many of these images look like real life tarot characters.

My approach for inspiration for a coherent theme has been to search for images from the past from silent films, Victorian art photographers and from the general area of mysticism related images. I hope that these images give me the inspiration to produce a series of tarot images that fit together as a unified whole when compared to the other cards in the deck. Whenever I came across an image on the web or from a book, I made a copy, printed them and placed them on file. Examples of these images can be seen on this page and are also part of the header image on this website.

In a future blog post I will consider the addition of text to the images, and how everything will hopefully come together to produce the card images.

 

 

 

Q&A 06.07.18

I will be doing a regular Q&A about anything relating to this project and the tarot and wet plate collodion process in general. The website has only been up and running for a short period, so only one question received so far.

‘Do you do tarot readings’

The short answer is ‘No’.

I have done a couple of readings in the past, but am not a confident reader. I am familiar and comfortable with the tarot and understand the meanings of the cards. However, my fascination and interest in the cards is focused on the art, symbolism and history of the tarot. So I would describe myself as a tarot artist rather than a reader. I know lots of great tarot artists and tarot historians are great readers too, but I am not that talented.

 

Please email or use the contact form with any questions and I will answer them in a future post.

 

Jook Tarot aesthetic

 

In my previous blog post, I talked about how I decided on what key elements and symbolism I wanted to include in each of the major arcana cards. In this post I will describe how I combine this with the aesthetic and look, and of the theme of the cards I am creating. This post will concentrate on the aesthetic and I will describe the theme in a future post.

The starting point for the aesthetic and look of my tarot deck is related to the medium I have chosen. By using the wet plate collodion photogaphy process, I am making a creative choice in how the medium impacts on the resulting image. Wet plate collodion has a unique look, that I believe to be both beautiful and mesmerising. It has a strange quality that captivates the viewer. Look into the eyes of a sitter on a wet plate and you feel you really are looking directly into their soul.

I describe the wet plate collodion process in more detail here. It was widely used from the 1860s to the 1880s. The look of wet plate collodion is influenced by a number of factors. I am using a camera dating from about 1880 and a selection of lenses from about the same period. I use the same collodion chemical as made according to recipes from that period. I use the same kind of substrate in glass plates. Everything is as close as possible to how it would have been done in the Victorian age. So the resulting images are as authentic and true to that period as I can make them.

So this is the first part of the aesthetic for my cards. That is that they genuinely look as if they could have been taken in the Victorian era. As far as I am aware the first photographic tarot deck was the beautiful and innovative Mountain Dream Tarot by Bea Nettles printed in 1975. But what if someone had produced a photographic tarot deck a century before that? What would it look like? What would be the influences? By using wet plate collodion, I can at least produce tarot images that could genuinely have been created then.

The wet plate process and the lens design and quality produces some interesting results compared to the later film negatives, and modern lenses. These include:

  • Wet plate collodion is a black and white process. It is only sensitive to blue light, so red appears as almost black and blue as almost white. When you see Victorian photos where they appear to be in mourning as they are dressed in black, this may not have been the case and they may have been in bright red or pink.
  • Early lenses were uncoated and of a simple design and this has a striking effect on images, especially on the way the background blurs. A very shallow depth of field and a swirling background are features of these lenses and the process.
  • Wet plate collodion is not as light sensitive as later methods. Most of my photos require an exposure time of between 5 and 12 seconds. Any movement during that time will result in a blurred image. It is not possible to get the pin sharp images we see in modern photography, and the slight softness of the image is a feature of the process and equipment. I should mention it would be possible to get sharper images by using modern lenses and powerful lighting units, but in my opinion this would detract from what I am trying to achieve.
  • Due to the process there are inevitably imperfections in every plate produced. Some of these can be explained, but some seem to be mysteries. These imperfections are often referred to as ‘artefacts’ and in some cases embraced as they are part of the uniqueness and charm of wet plate. I actively try to prevent such imperfections, but I have yet to produce a plate that is totally free from artefacts, and I suspect they will continue to appear in all  my work.

In this post, I have described how the choice of wet plate collodion as the medium has a significant impact on how the cards will look. In my next blog post I will explain how I will try and bring this all together with a theme that combines the tarot imagery and symbolism with the look and feel of wet plate collodion.

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