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Making a Tarot Deck

Updated: Apr 5

Making a Tarot Deck

Guest Post by: Michelle Castro

Hello, my name is Michelle Castro and I’m the artist behind the Little Odd Tarot. In this post I’ll be sharing how I made my deck, my thought process behind some of the cards and how I went about funding the project. If you are interested in making your own deck, I hope this helps you and gives you a sort of idea on what to expect. If you are just curious about the process, I hope you enjoy reading about it.

Before I start, I just want to emphasize that this is how I went about it, and my own personal work habits; I am sometimes very impulsive and a fast worker. Everyone’s work flow, style and time frame is going to be different. I tend to complicate things for myself so please, if you do want to make your own deck (specifically to sell) don’t feel like you need to follow exactly what I did and/or in the timeframe I completed it in. Everything varies from person to person and project to project.

I went into this project knowing nothing. And by nothing I do mean nothing. I didn’t know anything about making decks or illustrating them, I wasn’t even familiar with tarot. Since I was a child things like tarot and the afterlife grabbed my attention but, it was kind of frown upon to be interested in that so I never explored it. During my junior year in university, my best friend Ashton Maxwell (who wrote the guidebook to the deck) told me she was interested in starting to read tarot. I thought it would be a cute idea to draw a deck for her as a gift. I spent all my senior year trying to figure out a theme for the deck but, senior projects were taking most of my time and I didn’t want to make her something when I wasn’t even focused on it. On my graduation day she gave me my first tarot deck and brought up the idea of making a deck together. And, in the beginning of July 2021, the first sketch for the Little Odd Tarot was created. The idea was that because I was still new to tarot and she had more of an understanding of it, I would sketch the drawings and run them by her to double check I got the imagery right. I still did my own research before sketching, I read the card descriptions in my gifted deck, looked for meanings online (mostly in the Biddy Tarot website), and watched videos of people explaining the cards just so I had a better understanding of each card and how people perceive them.

Before we go down the rabbit whole that is my mind and memory, I’ll give you a basic list of what I did and you can do to make a deck (mostly if you plan on selling):

  1. Plan the deck: Do you have a theme? A color palette? Do you need to research the meanings of cards or the theme you are following?

  2. Make the deck: This is where you begin to flesh everything out. This includes the card, the back of the card, the box design, and if you decide to a guidebook

  3. Look for Resources: How are you printing your deck?

  4. How are you selling your deck? (Optional): Crowdfunding? Pre-orders?

  5. Marketing

  6. Shipping

Step 1: Plan the deck

I know a lot of people make a game plan first, having at least a basic idea of the theme for their deck, maybe a color palette. This depends on how you want to make your deck. Some people make the sketches of the entire deck first and then do the final illustrations. I kind of just skipped the theme planning and went with the flow. We didn’t know what our theme would be, we just thought that my art style would be fun for a deck and since my style is very Burtonesque we just ran with that. My friend pointed out that one of my older drawings would be a good idea/starting point for the fool; and that’s the direction it went in. We discussed making it a black and white deck with a splash of one color throughout it. But as I was illustrating them, I forgot about the color part and we ended up scratching that. For the borders of the cards, I wanted them to have an art/sketchy feel to them and that’s why they are a bit “messy”. And the font of the cards is actually my own handwriting.

Originally the deck was going to be a little more “darker” like my Broken Neck Guy but as I started sketching the cards, they became a little more fun and less dark. I couldn’t find inspiration to sketch the fool and make it a little different than the Rider-Waite. I was also struggling with imposter syndrome since I didn’t know anything about tarot. So, I began listening to videos of people explaining the cards and one in particular sparked an image in my head and thus the first card was sketched: The Empress. I don’t remember what video but the way they explained it made me think of a flower crown. The idea was that she would have this flower crown with the pomegranates and grass/leaves for her hair. She was going to be wearing this dress with more pomegranates and a sort of gold collar. I fell in love with this card, and still am, that it gave me the motivation and courage I needed to continue with the next card.