Category: Calligraphy

VAMP – A Reading

This blog post also appears here.

Questioning the Vamp

I have been working on creating my own tarot deck for over a year now using an obsolete Victorian photographic method called ‘wet plate collodion’. This is a labour of love; it is a slow and expensive process so will probably not be completed until some time in 2021.

In the meantime, I started work on another tarot deck as a side project. This has now been completed and the result is a deck called ‘VAMP: the Theda Bara Tarot’ Theda Bara was a huge star of the silent film era. She was the first screen Vamp and is sadly not well known today as most of her films were destroyed in a huge fire at Fox Studios in 1937. The VAMP tarot deck comprises of images of Theda Bara merged with my calligraphy of tarot prose. This prose comes from PD Ouspensky’s ‘The Symbolism of the Tarot’ published in 1913 for the major arcana and the tarot poetry of 15th century Italian Count Matteo Boiardo for the minor arcana.

The deck is currently on kickstarter to hopefully raised funds to finance a small print run. At the time of writing, it is uncertain whether or not it will succeed – I would say 40:60 chance. In a couple of weeks I will write a blog about ‘how to successfully crowdfund a tarot deck’, or ‘lessons learned from a failed kickstarter’. Hopefully the former.

As I really can’t predict the outcome, I decided to do a reading to get some indication or advice from the cards themselves. I have a test deck of VAMP produced by my printer and wanted to use this to question itself about the outcome. Nothing unusual so far, and probably something most tarot deck creators would do.

The interesting thing for me is that the VAMP minors are based on the Boiardo proposal of 4 suits based on the ‘Four Passions’ of Fear, Jealousy, Hope and Love. And this was the first time I had ever attempted a reading using these suits. As far as I am aware, no complete copies of Boiardo’s tarot survive. So potentially I could be the first person in a couple of hundred years to do a reading based on his writings.

The VAMP deck uses majors based on the 22 traditional and familiar characters, it is only the minors that are different. So, I decided to do a reading using just the minors to ensure every card was something new to me. It is possible to read the Boiardo minors by equating them to the relevant traditional minor card. For example, treat and read the Ace of Love as if it was the Ace of Cups. However, I decided to read the cards in their original format.

I decided to do a simple 3 card reading of Past, Present and Future. I thought first about my expectations, and what cards I thought might come up to represent these phases. My own assessment of where I was up to was something like this:

  • Past – Hope that the work I was doing to create the deck would result in a successful outcome.
  • Present – Fear that I might not get to the funding target
  • Future – Love for all the pledgers who have spent their money to support the project.

These are the actual cards I dealt:

 

Past.

Three of Fear. In the Boiardo tarot system, fear is probably the worse suit. Possibly the worse card in the deck is the Ten of Fear which tells of a fear so crippling that it causes physical symptoms. The Boiardo tercet for the Three of Fear reads:

FEAR makes the lamb tremble in the fold
If it hears the wolf outside; and it stays so enclosed,
That the subtlest breeze can hardly reach it.

Three is a low level fear card and a low level of fear is not necessarily a big problem, and hopefully not be too hard to overcome. The card suggests someone in their comfort zone and not willing to expose themselves to new challenges or ideas.

I was expecting Hope for the past, but got the Three of Fear. Okay, this confused me at first, so I talked about it with my daughter. She laughed and said that for the entire project I have been voicing doubts about my ability and general lack of confidence in what I was doing. She reminded me that on occasion I had been uncertain and she thought at one stage I was going to quit the project. So, yes Fear. Fear of failure was a barrier to overcome. That the deck made its way onto kickstarter is evidence that I overcame that barrier. The fact that the selected card is a low number means that it was a low level of fear I was experiencing, but still one that had to be overcome to get to this stage.

 

Present.

I was expecting a Hope card and got the Four of Jealousy that reads:

JEALOUSY, when it comes, it is better not to think
That you can fight it, because it wins everyone:
But it is good to be able to tolerate it.

Deep down I knew what this meant. My kickstarter is a bit behind target and progressing only slowly. I found myself looking at other crowdfunding tarot decks and being a little jealous of some that were sailing away, reaching their target quickly and overfunded several times over. I don’t like admitting this, as I consider jealousy to be a destructive and unpleasant emotion. However, if the hat fits…. I take some solace from the poem on the Four of Jealousy that is telling me not to fight the jealousy. It says jealousy is natural, and as long as it is tolerated and not acted upon, all will be fine.

 

Future  

I was hoping for a Love card here, that would be an indication that the kickstarter had been a success and that I was sending love to everyone who had contributed to making it so.

Instead I was dealt the Ten of Hope. The Boiardo poem for this reads:

HOPE wakes up the poor man who works
Digging, making a mountain, or a lake, flat,
Because he hopes to receive a prize for his efforts.

On reflection, this makes more sense. I have overcome the fear of the past and learnt to accept the jealousy of the present. The Love card I was hoping for would have been a fortune telling wish for the future some weeks away. The Hope card I got now is telling me about the immediate future and what I need to do over the next two weeks. And this is to continue working hard and keeping the hope and faith that this will result in ‘receiving a prize for my efforts’. That prize being a successful campaign.

So, my first reading using the Boiardo suits, and one that I found interesting and useful. And hopefully I will be writing that ‘how to successfully crowdfund a tarot deck’ blog post in a few weeks time……

You can see the kickstarter campaign here:

 

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 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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