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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.
The Urban Tarot Deck is an illustration series that is nearly 10 years in the making. It is about magic, truth and the city.
346 backers pledged $33,595 to help bring this project to life.

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Tidings of Comfort and Joy

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Hello tarot folk,

I hope you're having pleasant holiday season, whichever holidays you recognize in this season. Our next card is all about the warm feelings of home, family and good food.

The Nine of Cups: Happiness

The pursuit of Happiness is important enough to us that we wrote it into the declaration of independance here in the US, as an inalienable right. What is that perfect happiness? A single moment without care, surrounded by family and friends, knowing that you are loved and safe. With the Nine, the Love that began our journey through the suit of cups has reached it's full expression and become an all-encompassing fulfillment. This is what we strive for. From the moment we first held hands, through all of the ups and downs and painful setbacks, this is the vision that has driven us, a happiness that knows no fear, no doubt, no reservation.

The Nine of Cups: Happiness
The Nine of Cups: Happiness

It is, like all the Cups, a shimmering dream just out of reach of our mundane reality, but one worth pursuing. There is a sense in this image of a scene too perfect to be real, like a memory seen through rose-tinted lenses. Aleister Crowley referred to this card as "a dream within a dream." There's nothing cynical about that - even if true happiness exists only in the mind and the heart, that makes it no less real and powerful for us.

I had some fun with mixed media in this piece; you'll see a lot of textures scribbled in with crayon and paint, but sitting side by side with more sharply defined details. The scene is set in Fort Washington Park, with the impressive arcs of the George Washington Bridge reaching across the Hudson in the background. In the summer months, the picnic tables along the river are abuzz with families gathering around the public grills, and the smell of food drifts through the park.

One last card from the cups still to go, and that will conclude the minor arcana entirely. After that, there are just two cards left, and I've been looking forward to them for quite some time.

Laziness or whatever, I guess...

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Hi tarot people,

I want to thank everyone who contributed to the Daughters of Mercury project last month. Thanks to people like you, the project was fully funded, and I'm looking forward to being a model, a few months down the line.

And so we come to the 74th card,

The Eight of Cups: Indolence

After the initial honeymoon phase we saw in the first three cards in the suit, the relationship story told in the Cups has suffered through some difficult times. With the four, we faced the dangers of getting too comfortable and stale. In the five, we dealt with betrayal and disappointment. Although the six brought us once more to pure joy, the seven immediately found itself overindulging in that pleasure, and becoming corrupted by it. With the eight, we see perhaps the ultimate threat to any relationship: when someone simply stops caring enough to make it work.

The Eight of Cups: Indolence
The Eight of Cups: Indolence

We all know the signs when someone has stopped putting in the effort. Maybe they are waiting to be dumped, because they don't have the courage to leave. Maybe they're just killing time at their job, waiting to be fired because they haven't the motivation to quit. There is a siren call, which we have all heard at one time or another, that tells you to give up, stay home, phone it in and just stop giving a crap. Goodness knows I've answered that call more than I'd like to admit.

This card represents a toxic morass of procrastination, distraction, depression and sloth; a ever-deepening pit that we dig for ourselves. The longer we stay in it, the harder it becomes to climb out again. It takes the strength of will that allows us to speak honest, painful truths, and the emotional courage we sometimes need to stand up and simply walk away. 

Ah, but perhaps that can wait another day, right? There's this show I've been meaning to see...

I had been imagining this card originally as being set at the desk of some anonymous cubicle farm, where a lazy employee was drinking on the job and playing solitaire rather than working. But I decided to get a little more personal with it, and depict my own workstation, and put my own self-recriminations for laziness right up on the screen. One big blank rectangle in Photoshop - the empty canvas is a scary thing for any artist to contemplate. It's funny how much work indolence took to capture though; there's a lot going on in this composition, and I went back and forth on a lot of the details over the last week before I was happy with it. I certainly had some fun making little creatures out of office supplies and building pyramids out of shot glasses though. Seemed odd at the time to think that what I was doing was actually work.

I'm already well into the next card, the Nine of Cups, so I'm hoping to show that to you soon. Grey skies are gonna clear up...

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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