Funded! This project was successfully funded on April 19, 2012.

Update #49

Resting on your laurels


We finally come to the end of the Disks, and put the worries of material matters behind us. 

The Nine of Disks: Gain

What a soothing card this has been to look at this week. With the hot and humid wave we've been having here in my Metropolis, those cool turquoise shades have just been so refreshing to have up on my screen.

Many thanks to backer and friend Sarah Salenger for modeling for this card. We spent a lovely day at King Spa in New Jersey, with the intent of gathering reference for this card, but I ended up not having any opportunity to take pictures there, perhaps unsurprisingly. So this is essentially an imagined space, inspired by my first spa experience and photos of various locations.

With the nine, finally, we have pure reward. We have passed through Worry and Failure and finally through hard-learned Prudence and reached a place where we are secure, where we need do nothing but enjoy the fruits of our labors. In the metaphor of our company, it is finally time to trust the reins of business to those we've groomed to fill our positions and take a long vacation, or perhaps enjoy and early retirement. The Gain card promises satisfaction, in any material arena. It can mean recovering from a long illness, or finally getting to enjoy a meal you've worked hard to create. Still, there is a concern as with all earthy cards, that satisfaction can lead us to sloth. At the nine, we are only a single step from the blindness that comes with total devotion to the material - it would be so very easy simply never to leave the comfort of that pool...

The Thoth depiction of this card arranges the disks in three groups of three, and Crowley makes mention of the power of three multiplied - which I think of as reflecting back to the Works in the Three of Disks that helped us reach this point. I preferred a pyramid arrangement, the pyramid being such a powerful symbol of the lengths a ruler can go to in celebrating themselves when they have the power to do so. The center space is empty, though - the structure is hollow. I may have gotten the idea from a gold-plated pyramid sauna we visited at the spa.

Now we enter the cool waters of the Suit of Cups. And I will have to set about creating a design for the pips in that suit. I have some ideas - we shall see where they lead soon.

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Update #48

The Ten Thousand Things


In Taoist writing, the phrase "The Ten Thousand Things" is often used to mean "Everything There Is" -- from the tiniest grain of sand to the earth itself. In other words, the material world and all it contains. With this card, we reach the utmost expression of materialism and the realm of Earth in the tarot.

The Ten of Disks: Wealth

With each of the four tens, we see what happens when one of the elements is allowed to completely dominate and blot out the other three. The tarot tries to show us that anything taken to it's ultimate extreme can be unhealthy and dangerous. What is wealth without the idealism of Fire? Without the compassion of Water? Without the rational guidance of Air? It's simply accumulating for the sake of accumulating - wealth without end, without meaning. Depending on the context, the Ten of Disks may be seen as the well-earned reward at the end of hard work, or the dreamed-of completion of some important task. Still, there is the warning there that what is gained is only material; glittering and tantalizing but potentially blinding you to other things in your life.

The tale of Widgets Incorporated ends here. What began as the dream has become the institution. Our company has gone global, and pulls in billions every quarter. There is almost nothing we could not buy or do if we wanted it - and we find we have to ask ourselves, what should we use all that power to do? Along the path to success, have we left behind our principles, and become subject only to the demands of the almighty dollar? 

For this card, I tried to compose a semi-cubist sort of walk through New York's Diamond Exchange. There is a one-block stretch of 47th street in Manhattan that is like a bazaar out of another time, a very strange experience to pass through. There are four giant lighted pylons that border the district, and declare clearly that there is only one business on this block. And only two reasons to enter that space: are you looking to buy, or to sell? I've collected the photos from my trip down there, if you're interested; all the elements that I ended up combining into the final composition are in there:

If you've been counting, you may note I jumped over the Nine of Disks in order to get to this card first. I'll be doing the reference shooting for that card tomorrow at a Korean spa in New Jersey - should be a fun trip. 

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Update #47

Head of the Table, Queen of the Home


I've taken a bit of an unplanned semi-vacation from the project over this past month, so I apologize for the long wait for this update. In return, I'm going to allow myself to ramble on a bit more than usual. Enjoy!

The Queen of Disks: The Matriarch

I was hoping this update would be my appropriately-timed Mother's Day update, but a nasty cold forced me to drop work midway. Having fussed over and thought over this piece for a few weeks, I'm delighted with all the little details in it but really glad to finally be done with it.

The Queen of Disks is Water in the context of Earth, the emotional center in the material realm. She is the power that turns hot food into family dinner, an unexpected windfall into a touching gift, a house into a home. She is strong and stable, sensible and reliable. But she is also sensitive and caring, the warm light that holds people together. Having neither Air nor Fire, the Queen of Disks will never be a leader in her own right, her greatness shows in the support she gives to others.

My model here is my grandmother, Janice Grossman, who passed away several years ago. I've known for a while I wanted to use her for this card - Janice is inseparable in my mind from all the trappings of her elegant Upper West Side life. Her home, her clothing, her jewelry, her hair. But when I tried to decide what photo I'd use for reference, I found myself in a bit of a quandary. What image of Janice did I want to use? The Janice of my childhood, who coddled and doted over me? Janice at the end of her life, when I moved in to take care of her instead? Young Janice, the New York socialite? 

I soon realized that before I could compose an image, I needed to make a bit of a side trip down memory lane. So I compiled all the photos of Janice I could - those in storage in the apartment where she once lived, those in my parents' collection - and I went through hundreds of them, scanning and assembling the best of these into a chronological album of her life, from her first wedding in 1939 to when we lived together in 2005. I've posted them all in a Google+ album here:

I decided that what I really wanted to capture was that very particular knowing smile she had, a quiet half-smirk that seemed to say "I know what you're up to, you can't pull one over on me." The scene that I wanted to depict I had no real reference for, but I remember very well - a passover seder at my grandparents' home. The scene is set around 1993, when I was 13 years old. My parents and my uncle sit on one side of the table, my younger sister and myself on the other, mostly obscured. My grandfather would have sat on the opposite side, theoretically the leader of the seder service, although in reality he was a very quiet man when I knew him.

Many of the elements of the dining room I've chosen to depict are long gone - the hutch, the table, the mirror, the chairs, even my grandparents' old dishware were eventually sold at auction. The sunburst behind Janice's head is inspired directly by a mirror she had on her wall, also sold to help pay for Janice's nursing home care. Only that chandelier still hangs just as it did, in the room that is now my living room. I pieced together the scene from bits of old photos and from my own unreliable memories.

The room as it looks now (for the particularly curious):

Once I had the basic idea of the scene, I could see that I didn't really have the detailed reference I needed for the pose itself. So I employed my sister Carolyn to play the part of Janice for me. As it happens, she's inherited much of Janice's old wardrobe, and so could easily put together an outfit that was perfect for the photo shoot. The purse she brought, going by the initials on the clasp, may actually have belonged to Janice's mother originally.

A couple of minor notes: I transformed the pair of columns framing the room to resemble spiraling horns as a reference to the goat horns (actually a markhor, according to Crowley) that feature heavily on the Thoth version of this card. The orange that I've put on the seder plate would definitely not have been there at our family seder in '93, but it's there at our seder in recent years - I encourage you to look up the symbolism of it's placement if you're not familiar with the practice.

Moving forward, I'd like to finish up the rest of the Disks in short order and move right onto the last suit. I have another grandmother - my grandmother-in-law actually - who's modeled for the last queen, and her birthday is coming up fairly soon.

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Update #46

Measure twice, cut once


Man, I was kind of dreading this card. I knew it would be a lot of slow detailed work. So many tiny clocks! Of course, all of that is quite appropriate to the card's meaning...

The Eight of Disks: Prudence

With the Seven, the story of our imaginary company had taken a fairly bad turn. The failures we here at Widgets Inc. had worried so much about in the Five had finally come to fruition. And with that Failure had come the reminder that after failure, you get up, you recover, you learn, you move on. What have we learned? We have learned caution, certainly. We have learned to take our time and check our work thoroughly. We have learned to always have a plan in case things go wrong, because we know that sooner or later they will. We have learned to have patience enough to give our work the time and space it needs to come out right. We are wiser now that we have fallen and picked ourselves up again. We have learned Prudence.

My illustration for this card was distinctly inspired by Pamela Colman Smith's image for the Rider-Waite tarot ( In it, we see a man hard at work hammering a nail into one of the eight pentacles for some reason (I think the idea is that he's engraving it? Maybe the thing is just broken?). Anyway, I found myself immediately thinking of a watch repair shop as my modern version. All of those round watch faces immediately seemed like a natural connection to the round disks, and those incredibly tiny little gears and springs require the most extraordinary patience and care to manipulate and repair. And again, there is the simple association with time, as this card is all about taking the proper time with your work. 

I looked up a few different watch repair shops online, and then really lucked out with the first one I stumbled into - Daniel's Jewelry on Lexington. When I explained that I was there to gather reference for a piece about watch repair, they showed me around their shop, let me go behind the counter and posed for me pouring over their work. Although the finished piece describes something of an invented space, every element - all the various clocks and watches and such - comes from somewhere in their shop. I'll be returning this week of course to give them a print or two now that the piece is done. If you'd like to see the rest of that shoot, it's all here:

It's all silver spoons from here on up with the disks - the remaining cards are all about more than you know what to do with. Prudence pays off in the end.

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Update #45

Guardian of Growing Things

1 comment

I've been a little precious about deciding that this card was finally finished - ended up spending a few days fiddling with small compositional elements before I decided it was really done. I think I've just realized why I'm a little particular about it - this card more than any other in the set is a card that says "the city is a place where things can grow, the city can be nurturing". That's a message that I feel very strongly about, and it's very personal to me.

The Princess of Disks: The Kindergarten Teacher

She is the ultimate personification of elemental Earth in the tarot, and generally counted as the last card in the set. The Princess of Disks is the caretaker of growing things, a protector and a nurturer. Like all the court of disks, her greatest strength is in her stability, her endurance, her determination. She understands the importance of her charge. The card is often very strongly associated with motherhood and pregnancy, as the Princess of Disks is the protector of new life and new beginnings. I saw it as telling the story of a woman who has devoted her professional life to taking care of other people's children, giving vital guidance and care in our earliest days but often forgotten as we grow up.

I've surrounded my model, Diana Kudajarova, by symbols of growth, life and creation. Wearing a smock that has failed utterly to keep her from being covering in paint, the Kindergarten Teacher takes a precious moment while the kids play in the schoolyard to reflect on her work. She is exhausted and sticky and sore, but she has made a difference in the lives of so many children who pass through her classroom. 

The mural in the background is from the schoolyard at P.S. 111 on 10th avenue (there are graffiti-style letters among the flags that read "Hell's Kitchen"). The skyline in the background includes the pyramid top of the Worldwide Plaza building on 50th street. I am aware, of course, that what little we see of the interior of the school in this image bares a lot more resemblance to a country day school than to the more institutional design of the NY public schools from which I emerged. But then, kindergarten room in my rose-tinted memories would also probably look quite a lot different to me as an adult.

The hampster-like animal in the tank is secretly a tribble. Shh. They're born pregnant. 

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