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The Urban Tarot Deck is an illustration series that is nearly 10 years in the making. It is about magic, truth and the city.
Created by

Robin Scott

346 backers pledged $33,595 to help bring this project to life.

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Can I buy you a drink?

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Before I get to talking about my latest card (#73 of 78 for those keeping count...) I want to briefly direct your attention to a different art series that's currently looking for funding on Kickstarter.

My good friend and artistic colleague Janet Bruesselbach (whom you may recognize as my own Princess of Wands) has envisioned a series of full-scale oil portraits of transgender women that she calls The Daughters of Mercury. The project seeks to portray trans women's bodies as the women themselves want to be seen, which is something that the public is so rarely exposed to. I think the project is artistically really important, and a great deal of the funding will go directly to the models - some of whom are living currently under some incredibly difficult conditions, and could really use that support. 

I should also mention that in addition to being a proud backer of the project, I'm also delighted to be included as one of the planned models. If I had the extra $8k on hand, I'd pay for the original painting of me in a heartbeat, but since I can't, I'm counting on folk like you to support the project, so I will at least get to see the masterpiece that Janet plans to create based on me. There's only a short time left to back the project, and although there has been a lot of interest already, it still has a ways yet to go before it reaches it's goal. So go right now, show your support, then share it around!

The Knight of Cups: The Seducer

A dynamic mix of opposites, the Knight of Cups is the fire in the suit of water; he is the avatar of passion and action in the realm of love and emotion. His watery side makes him sensitive, romantic, and creative. At the same time, his fiery essence can make him aggressive when he is aroused, and drives him to constantly seek new romantic adventures. The Seducer is attractive and friendly and falls in love easily, but there is a dangerous unpredictability about him. His sudden passion may burn hotly in one moment, and then be just as quickly submerged and snuffed out in the next. One would be well advised to be cautious - while his compassion and warmth may be genuine, they may also run no deeper than reflected candlelight, flickering on the surface of a pond.

The Knight of Cups: The Seducer
The Knight of Cups: The Seducer

You may recall I posted the reference photos for this card back in June of 2012, when I had Mr. Alessandro La Porta pose for me, along with my lovely wife Amy. I have since changed the intended subtitle of the card since, although not wholly inappropriate in this context, the term "Pick Up Artist" has come to be associated with an extremely toxic, sexist culture that I'd just as soon not pay direct homage to in my work.

Just five more to go...

What happened last night?

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This was a fun, raunchy card to do. Does an image count as unsafe for work if there are representations of tiny plastic dongs in it?

 

The Seven of Cups: Debauch 

 Aleister Crowley had some choice words about Debauchery in the Book of Thoth. “This is one of the worst ideas that one can have;” he explains. “Its mode is poison, its goal madness.” Considering the exciting life Crowley was reported to have enjoyed, I’m suspecting that his unusual clarity regarding this card may come from some personal experiences with the dangers of excess. The Thoth version of the card that Lady Frieda Harris painted for him depicts a set of cups overflowing with some sort of horrible green slime, floating above a lake of the same. Pamela Colman Smith’s version of the card takes a slightly different angle, showing seven cups overflowing with strange and enticing wonders: jewels, a mountain castle, a laurel wreath. But among them there are also more ominous symbols: a snake, a dragon, a mysterious veiled figure, an almost-hidden skull. 

The Seven of Cups, as depicted in the Thoth and Rider Waite tarot decks
The Seven of Cups, as depicted in the Thoth and Rider Waite tarot decks

In all the Sevens, we see what happens when energies in the pure and perfect Six becomes unbalanced and corrupted. The Seven of Cups speaks to us of the powerful, sometimes irresistible allure of false and fleeting pleasure -- glittering and exciting, but ultimately self-destructive. We seek fun and escape in drugs, alcohol, sexual adventure, but those thrills do not last, and when they are pursued as ends in themselves, they lead only to destruction. Does that mean it’s not okay to enjoy a reckless night of hedonism now and again? Certainly not if you’re asking me; I like to think of myself as generally quite debauchery-positive, in the appropriate times and places. But the temptation to indulge in ever-greater and ever more risky excesses can be deeply seductive. 

This card warns us against the impulse that tells us to throw everything away for a blissful moment that gains us nothing of real value, while slowly destroying us from within. This card cautions us to beware a drive that is ultimately suicidal, which leads us into a terrible and all-too-common trap. If you’re someone whose life has never been personally affected by the dangers of substance abuse, you should count yourself among the lucky few. 

The Seven of Cups: Debauch
The Seven of Cups: Debauch

 I envisioned a wild bachelorette party for this card, or rather the last painful dregs of a party that has already gone on a bit longer than was really wise. A dazzling series of tempting, fruity frozen drinks stand above a table littered with the castoffs of a drunken night that nobody will recall too clearly. In the Six of Cups, we saw Pleasure that was healthy and life-affirming. Here we see that same pursuit of pleasure become corrupt trough blind over-reaching, leading to an inevitable downward spiral of regret and pain. 

Reference photo for the Seven of Cups
Reference photo for the Seven of Cups

 I had a lot of fun setting up the reference photos for this shot, trying to artfully dump some condensed cream of mushroom soup around our coffee table, then putting out a few cigarettes into the muck. Generally making an unappealing mess, that my wife could barely stand to look at, not to mention smell. I was quick to clean up of course, once I’d taken the photos I needed.  

An Update About Me

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For backers only. If you're a backer of this project, please log in to read this post.

Fashioning Dreams

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Hello again, Urban Tarot supporters. It's been a little while since we've spoken, but it seems like a great deal of life has happened in the intervening time. 

I feel inclined to apologize for the long break since the last update, and to provide some kind of explanation for what I've been up to. But the truth is, the last few months have been such a monumental storm of major life changes and emotional upheavals, I've just been in no state to really focus on my art. It's been difficult, and while there's still a lot going on in my world right now, I'm finally getting back to a place where I'm ready to work again. So instead of coming back with an apology for things I cannot expect to control, I'll instead come back with gratitude and with a renewed commitment - thank you all so much for sticking with me and with this project. It wouldn't exist without you. This deck continues to be my first priority and primary focus, and whatever delays life sends my way, it will get done. And soon -  only 7 more cards still to go...

The Princess of Cups: The Costume Designer

Having one foot in the dreamy world of Water, and one on the solid surface of Earth, the Princess of Cups has the power to crystallize the stuff of imagination into beautiful reality. A kind and gentle dreamer, the Princess embraces the most positive aspects of the element of Water and then uses them to fuel her creativity. She is a lover of romance, of wonder, and of grand stories. 

The Princess of Cups: The Costume Designer
The Princess of Cups: The Costume Designer

There is, of course, a danger in becoming too wrapped up in the world of dreams. Lacking the clarity of Air or the passion of Fire, The Princess needs to keep herself grounded to the real world, or she might find herself trapped in a castle in the sky built of her own imaginings.

I want to thank backer Susan Goodell for both modeling for this card, and providing the primary inspiration for its direction. When I initially interviewed Susan back at the beginning of this project, she told me about how much she loves Broadway shows, and how she plans every trip she makes to New York around which shows she can get tickets to see. It occurred to me that, if we could describe New York as having a dream life, its dreams play out each night on the theatre stages of the city. I decided that I wanted my Princess of Cups to have a role in building those dreams, so I imagined her as a costume designer, helping to transform imaginary characters into reality through their clothing. 

I imagined my Princess working out of a tiny, basement level studio, crowded with materials and bits of inspiration, right in the heart of the theatre district. In reality, her surroundings are meager, but in her imagination transforms it into center stage. The costume she has just completed will soon glitter under a spotlight, playing a part in a fairy tale that is retold before a new audience every night.

Happily Ever After

One of the many exciting developments of the last few months was the birth of my roommates' healthy baby daughter. Little Amelia Rose is just six weeks old now, and we're delighted to have her around. Shortly before the big day, I took the happy moms out for a quick photo shoot. Jennifer and Sarah will be the primary figures for my 10 of Cups, coming up soon. Here's a quick preview of what's in store for that card.

Jennifer and Sarah Salenger
Jennifer and Sarah Salenger

Shattered Hopes

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A troubling card, with troubling feelings attached to it. I mentioned in the last update that I was still working on a complicated setup for this piece, involving a multi-person photo-shoot. As you'll see, I've changed my approach a bit since then. I ended up not photographing any models and instead wound up buying, smashing, and then photographing a lot of porcelain and glass to create this card.

The Five of Cups: Disappointment

The fives are always trouble, of course. Midway through our journey in each suit, we will find the place of opposition, where the guiding element encounters it's natural opposite and risks losing everything it has gained. The optimistic planning of Air hits the punishing reality of Earth, and meets Defeat in the five of Swords. The passion of Fire meets the complexity of personal feeling in Water, and leads to Strife in the Five of Wands. The stable promise of Earth is shaken by the mortal fears of Air, and creates Worry in the Five of Disks. Finally, in this card, we see that perfect relationship we began in the Two of Cups come crashing down around us. The dream of Water has been caught up in the spiraling chaos of Fire.

The Five of Cups: Disappointment
The Five of Cups: Disappointment

Disappointment feels like such a mild word for so much pain. What does it mean, when you are disappointed by someone close to you? What does it feel like to know that someone you love is disappointed in you? It can be a crushing, lonely feeling. There is grief there, and anger, and certainly fear. Is your relationship a lie? Has the person you trusted betrayed your trust? Have you lost everything you'd been working so hard to achieve?

The feelings we see in this card are hard to pin down, but if you have known love in your life, you have certainly also known the pain of disappointment. You had high hopes for what could have been, for who that person you put your trust in was, for who they were capable of being. You have learned something, but it was something you hoped never to learn. Perhaps someone you put your trust in was not worthy of it. Perhaps it was you. Perhaps it was inevitable. Perhaps it was obvious to everyone but you. In this moment, does it matter?

What happened to lead to the scene we see here? A break up? A divorce? The discovery of infidelity? An act of violence? Death? It could by all of the above, or something else entirely. The point is less the specifics of the narrative, and more the feelings involved, and the aftermath of their expression. What we hoped would last has been shattered. Whether it can be repaired or not is another question.

In piecing together an image for this card that spoke to me, I admit I was up against one large obstacle - I'm a really big fan of Pamela Colman Smith's version of this card. That solitary, black figure elegantly conveys such a powerful and immediate sense of grief, I was tempted to simply try to recreate that scene in a modern context. I was originally going in a more funerary direction with my vision of this card, but I was bothered by something. The grief of mourning, while overwhelming, can imply a "cleaner" kind of sadness. Death, at least, is a definite kind of ending, and I don't think we have that satisfying sense of closure here. Fitting this card into the context of the suit of cups, I wanted something more turbulent, implying anger, grief, shame, and all the other messy kinds of pain that can come with the ending of a relationship. A friend of mine suggested "broken wedding china" to me, and I realized those three words were the perfect symbol.

The Five of Cups, by Pamela Colman Smith
The Five of Cups, by Pamela Colman Smith

Speaking of symbols, the flowers on the floor are intended to be marigolds, and the china pattern on the dishware features pinecones. Both choices were somewhat deliberate, for those who care about such details.

And yes, by the way, that is a raw steak in the background. I first used that texture on the Death card, but it was fun to bring it back and make it a bit more prominent. I wanted that broken china hutch to feel like an open chest wound.