The Eight of Coins

Thought this one might benefit from a closeup, there are lots of little details that are hard to see from the tiny overview image on the DECK page.

Feel like Fall yet? Equinox is coming up, so I hope it starts feeling that way soon!

The Star

A little bit about The Darkness of Light Tarot's The Star:

Some of the symbolism of the RWC version, including the 8 pointed star (17th in the Major series, so 1+7 = 8 points on the main star) has been retained.

In addition, the naked woman pouring water into the lake has also been retained, but while RWC depicted the same woman pouring the water back onto the land into 5 streams (symbolizing earth, air, fire, water, and spirit), I chose to embody those ideas within the artwork itself: air for the sky and its stars, earth for the beach, water for the lake, fire for the large star in the middle, and spirit for the human. Vague heavenly bodies were added to the left and right of the main star to foretell the Moon and Sun, which have still yet to come in the Fool's Journey, but nonetheless are eternally connected to the Star.

One of the woman's legs is touching the ground representing her practical abilities and good common sense, while the other leg is in the air, representing spirituality and things beyond our tangible world. The woman is in perfect balance while she pours the water, demonstrating that both connections are possible and important. This is a small change from RWC, which depicts the woman's second foot in the water to demonstrate intuition and inner resources.

Finally, Aquarius is the astrological sign of The Star, hence the connection with water (as the entire Tarot has water as a repeating theme within the artwork).

3x3 Honorable Mention!

Its official! The Darkness of Light Tarot Deck now includes award-winning art!
The image of "Death" has been accepted into the 19th annual 3x3 Illustration Competition as an honorable mention!

3x3 is an international publication highlighting illustrators and commercial artists from all walks of life. With thousands of submissions, the odds of being accepted generally hover around 10-12%.

It is a huge honor to be accepted into such a prestigious annual, and I'd like to thank the judges for their votes. If you'd like to learn more about 3x3, their website can be found here.

Even more reason to keep following the Darkness of Light Tarot Card Deck! If you haven't told your friends to check it out yet, don't wait!

Two of Wands (finished)

The Two of Wands is finally complete!

The Ace of Wands (final)

The first card in the Wands series that makes its debut is the Ace of Wands.

The color palette of the Wands is pink, mint green, and dark brown in celebration of spring. Particularly early spring before the weather becomes bearable and the cold of the winter has been shaken off and is a distant memory. The world is now recovering from death, and feels hollow and desolate, but with signs of life on the horizon, thus giving us hope for what is to come in the future.

It is a suit of new beginnings and hopes, focusing on the positive aspects of life and the opportunity to create and begin again. The colors are designed to illustrate potential, and it is my personal feeling that the most important moments in spring (and arguably life) are when we miraculously show a spark of life, insight, or strength after a long, hard tribulation.

To me, these are some of the most emotionally powerful moments in life. I chose to focus the suit of Wands in this "no man's land" between winter and summer, before life becomes completely comfortable and seasonal mindsets fully set in. 

Pamela Colman Smith

For anyone unaware, Pamela Colman Smith is the artist of the Rider-Waite Tarot deck, the first mass-market Tarot deck and possibly the most important and successful deck of all time.

While the deck was dreamed up and systematically organized by Waite and published by Smith, it was Colman who was commissioned to illustrate the cards, and interestingly, single-handedly created the visuals for the entirely of the Minor Arcana.

If you'd like to read more on Smith, an interesting short article can be found here.
Of course, the background on her can also be found on her Wikipedia.

Paint Strokes Everywhere

Since I've been focusing so much lately on making the production process tighter, last night I decided to loosen up a bit and give the cards a once over with the palette knife.

This effect makes the cards feel a little more natural and loosens them up. Also, I believe it helps give them an air of mystery and intrigue, while keeping your eye bouncing around the page. When creating interesting visuals, I believe the name of the game is variety. Now, go back in and add a bit more detail and realism...

Swords Tarot Roundup!

So far, twelve Swords cards have been created, with only two more to go before the suit is complete.
Tonight marks an important night: many of the cards were reframed and rebalanced, with coloring and lighting honed to make each piece dutifully tell its story.

While much of the balancing has already been completed, there will still be a couple more passes on the suit to clean up loose ends on artwork and bring polish to each individual piece with a fluid level of consistency.

From a usability perspective, it is extremely important that each piece be instantly recognizable and laden with symbols and story while still making sense within a larger context. As a result, many of the edits tend to move away from creating a striking individual image and lean towards a usable series overall. This means focusing on a central composition, consistent color scheme, strong contrast to draw our eye to the most important areas of the illustration, and consistent objects contained within the compositions. In this case, a consistent looking sword.

Four of Swords (final)

Just in time for the Walking Dead midseason premiere (and coincidentally Valentine's Day) its time for the next card in the Tarot series, an often low-profile card called the Four of Swords.

Much like the Rider-Waite deck, the Darkness of Light Tarot deck uses death as a prominent theme in the Four of Swords. While the "traditional" view of the meaning behind the Four of Swords is symbolic of a "period of rest and recovery after a time of challenge, with the premise that, once recovered, you can and will return to the challenge. In the meantime, the Four of Swords provides a new challenge - to stay silent and inactive. This is the time to build up your mental strength." (

While the traditional Rider-Waite deck depicts a knight's tomb under a stained glass window of what appears to be a wife and child, the Darkness of Light deck depicts a tombstone adorned with blue roses (appearing to have been put there by a loved one). Thus, the love, respect, and connectedness demonstrated in the Rider-Waite deck is still present, albeit a more lonely and absolute sense of atmosphere is obtained.

The blue roses (which do not occur naturally in nature) at the foot of the tombstone symbolize mystery. "An appreciation for the enigmatic, the inexplicable is expressed by blue roses. A tantalizing vision that cannot be totally pinned down, a mystery that cannot be fully unraveled is the blue rose. A person who receives the blue rose is the subject of much speculation and though. A complex personality that does not allow easy interpretation is what the blue rose indicates." (

Do the blue roses symbolize the mystery of the death? The person who died? Or the mystery of who put them there? Perhaps it symbolizes the mystery of the relationship between the two? Since the Four of Swords represents taking a rest from a challenge, perhaps the blue roses represent the paradoxical nature of ceasing to confront a challenge while not actually stopping the confrontation itself.

Four swords are found resting near the tombstone. Ideally, the first three symbolize challenge or confrontation, perhaps caused by the death of the person, or perhaps causing the death of the person. The fourth sword lies on its side, symbolizing rest and tiredness from opposition. Most likely, it is connected with the body of the deceased itself, and symbolizes a time of rest in the face of a challenge.

Finally, the phrase "Fine a Nouvo" is found carved onto the tombstone, which means "until again" in Italian. The phrase was designed to be both spiritual and a foretelling of the future, as the meaning of the symbols will ultimately reflect the overall purpose of the card itself.

Thoughts on the Tarot, Seasons and Romanticism

For as long as I can remember, I've been a Romantic.

No, I don't mean someone who is good at romance (although that's a nice thought), I'm talking about someone who derives meaning, shares in the philosophy of, and contemplates Romanticism in their work.

What is Romanticism? It was an artistic and intellectual movement that originated in Europe around the 1790's, and peaked in popularity from around 1800 to 1850. It was characterized by an emphasis on emotion and individualism, as well as the glorification of nature and the past.

Although there are a variety of reasons why this particular movement flourished, one of the biggest reasons is that it was a reaction to the industrial revolution and the scientific rationalization of nature at the time (due to the enlightenment). Its this last bit that is the most interesting to me...

It hit me today while I was sketching the next Tarot card in the series that I was subconsciously planning my schedule so that I could work on each suit during its corresponding season of the year (for those who aren't aware, each suit of the Tarot corresponds to a particular season of the calendar year).

While not everyone agrees on which suit pairs with which season, the idea of this pairing has largely become a driving force behind the development and philosophy of the Darkness of Light Tarot Deck. Planning an illustration on the card now regularly involves careful study of the setting, air temperature, and general mood that the card should give off before the pencil ever touches paper. The result of this process is vastly different from constructing narrative by maintaining focus on only the central character, as we see in popular decks such as Rider-Waite. Without doubt incorporating more ambiance into the image can drastically alter the feeling one takes away from a card's artwork, and perhaps the reading in general.

For example, Swords, the suit I'm currently working on, is generally associated with winter. Therefore, the artwork takes place in a baron or desolate place, filled with snow and ice, and faintly tinted blue. The suit of Swords is noted for its intellectual rationalization and logic, which integrates well with the feeling I associate with winter: the harsh intellectual truth that some animals and humans might not survive the cold. There is no room for feelings in this suit, only cold, hard judgements based exclusively on the facts delivered to us by the universe.

Wands, on the other hand, is generally associated with spring (sometimes fall). Therefore, I am planning to have most of the artwork take place in the same baron place as winter, but now filled with hope. Buds are starting to appear, and there is no longer an absence of living things on the landscape, but the young, tender saplings I associate with a "wand." Wands as a suit represent primal energy and inspiration, ambition, and expansion. To me, this feels extremely spring-like, and appropriate for something struggling, but ambitiously optimistic and working hard to renew itself.

While its clear that the suits of the Tarot pair nicely with each season (whatever season you feel is appropriate), I am coming to realize as I become more familiar with the Tarot that there are many more Romantic elements within the cards than I first noticed.

For example, a hallmark of Romanticism is largely a celebration of nature and a rejection of the scientific rationalization of nature. It strikes me that so much of reading Tarot is about intuition. In fact, intuition itself is a natural process, something possessed by all humans but not easily understood or yet measured by science. Essentially, the complex intuitive feelings generated by the cards within us all is able to probe much deeper into the inner self than a scientific analysis could ever hope to achieve. This is one of the most interesting and fundamental appeals of Tarot: the fact that they cannot be measured, and only "work" when the user is in touch with his or her natural state of intuition, completely untouched and unmeasured by science or technology.

Tarot also fulfills another trait of Romanticism, the persistence of the past. The images found within the Tarot cards have been built on tradition, first appearing in the 1400's in medieval courts. Although their artwork has changed over the years, the essential meaning of each card has not (it has been codified over the years thanks largely to the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn). This "preservation" and focus on the past also feels like a Romantic idea, and ties in extremely nicely with its other attributes (intuition) to create powerful archetypes we as humans can all understand and use.

Yet another aspect of the Tarot and Romanticism is how they both emphasize individuality. Each artist is encouraged to draw the cards the way he or she sees them, each reader is encouraged to read the cards the way he or she sees them, and the entire process of using and collecting cards in the first place is largely subjective, and depends totally on the user. The idea of understanding the cards, creating them, and using them, is an incredibly open-ended system that places a tremendous emphasis on individualism and self expression.

I'd even go so far as to say the Tarot itself is the embodiment of Romanticism: the perfect blend of nature, rejection of mechanization, focus on human intuition and intellectualism, persistence of themes of the past, and the overall notion that we are all subject to the great and mysterious powers of the universe (the Major Arcana). Its also not surprising that the Tarot left behind its roots as a game in Italy and France and started to become codified and used as a tool of divinatory purposes during the height of the Romantic period.

While I've always considered myself part Romantic, I never really considered the Tarot cards this way until I've taken up their mantle and investigated this deeply and fully into their inner workings.

...and that leads me to my final thought: was I subconsciously drawn to the Tarot because of my feelings and thoughts towards intuition and Romanticism, or were they drawn to me?

The Three of Swords (finished)

For the Three of Swords I decided to change things up a bit from its traditional depiction in the Rider-Waite deck.

I always felt like this particular card never really symbolically or narratively fit in with the rest of the deck (it featured a heart with 3 swords stuck through it).

Therefore, my first decision was to change the artwork to something figurative so it was more consistent with the other cards. I also made the decision, like the other swords cards, to depict the artwork in winter (as the suit of swords is primarily associated with the season of winter).

After some research on other decks, I stumbled across a title for the Three of Swords on the Hermetic Tarot Deck, which is an extremely ornate and heavily symbolic deck originally created by the Hermetic Order of the New Dawn. 

It reiterated the original meaning of the card, which is called: "The Lord of Sorrow."

Using this title as a basis, I sought to capture the essential feeling of sorrow (which skewed slightly towards betrayal in the Rider-Waite deck). My primary vehicle to convey this was to paint the model alone in an isolated and desolate place. By extension, she is feeling lonely and sitting completely by herself, surrounded by feelings of sorrow and pain. Furthermore, I chose to make the pose pensive and slightly defensive in nature. She is covered and guarded, thinking about things that have recently happened to her.

The tree behind the figure symbolizes her current feelings: bare and raw. However, when the spring comes around, the tree will begin to bloom, and just like the tree growing buds and blooming, feelings of sorrow will eventually pass with the season.

Finally, the tree also serves as a marker of a memory, something that happened in the past or recent past that the figure is despairing over. It symbolizes something important that causes her current feelings, and it is shown as weak and sickly, barely holding itself up and covered in snow. 

The Queen of Swords (finished)

I keep going back and forth on whether to give the Queen of Swords a crown. I couldn't find any specific meaning to it other than royalty aspect, so I'm not sure if I should take the risk changing the aesthetics. On the other hand, it might provide that nice finishing touch I've been looking for as well.

In the end, it's finished for now. Once the entire suit is done I'll be revisiting all of the cards and reworking details to bring them all stylistically together. That seems like a good time to look deeper into the idea of a crown.

For now, anyhow, its onward to the next card in the series. King of Swords, Three of Swords, and Eight of Swords are all on deck. Stay tuned.

Seven of Swords

Just like topic of this card, out of nowhere comes the artwork for the Seven of Swords. He smugly steals armaments from a small local encampment under the cover of night and weather, but little does he realize that he is leaving footprints and will be discovered. Perhaps overconfidence in the face of misplaced deeds isn't such a good policy?

The Six of Swords

The Six of Swords

Six of Swords (sketch)

Sketch for the upcoming Six of Swords.

I broke away from the traditional Rider-Waite design for this card. While the symbolism was nice, after looking around a bit I felt like the boat metaphor was overused and starting to make many of the designs feel stale or contrived. Instead, I used a design that I believe conveys the same meaning while still capturing the spirit of the card. I'm very happy with the results of the sketch so far.

This symbolism for this design was taken from the Crystal Visions Tarot deck, illustrated by Jennifer Galasso.

Two of Swords (final revision)

The revised version of the Two of Swords

Two of Swords Progress Post

Work in progress revised Two of Swords

Two of Swords (again!)

I wasn't happy with the previous version of the Two of Swords. It somehow felt like a cross between the Rider-Waite line drawing style by Pamela Colman Smith with some digital rendering on top.

Since then, I've adjusted and refined the process for the Minor Arcana, starting with a rendered pencil sketch instead of an inked line drawing.

Based on that, I decided to go back and revise the Two of Swords, bringing it closer in style to the current process. So far, I'm much happier with the results. Here is the sketch:

The Knight of Swords

Evolution of The Knight of Swords

Reference Material

A behind the scenes of some reference material I shot while at the Met in New York. It was looking too clean so I had to dirty it up before I posted. Edited entirely on my phone using three different apps... I never want to go through that again. Praise Photoshop! 

Research and Namaste

As I continually make progress on the Darkness of Light series, I'm reminded of why I began working on the project in the first place, which is to learn something new about life while challenging myself to create better artwork.

The learning process certainly hasn't stopped, and I continue to make inroads in research and practice regarding the Tarot and its history and meaning. I've even tried my hand at readings while learning the meanings of the cards.

Today, I decided to dedicate a post to research and learning. I spent this past week in New York City visiting with friends and being inspired by all the wonderful art and culture. One of the places I visited, Namaste Bookshop in Union Square, came recommended by a friend. I found the store to be a wealth of information and resources, and actually ended up purchasing two Tarot decks of completely different themes and styles (The Hermetic Tarot, and the Art Nouveau Tarot).

That wasn't all, however. I was also able to make my way to the Metropolitan Museum of Fine Art for some great reference shots of medieval armor and figures using it.

Now and then its important to reflect on what inspires us to create in the first place. Today, its the curiosity to learn about something new and then express myself through that lense.

First Look at Tarot Card Back

The back of the Tarot cards have been tormenting me. The artwork you see in this post was created a while back for a different project, then revised and finished to become the current back of the Darkness of Light series.

While I like the image itself, it feels a little on the dark side, which may cause some printing issues, and the structure of the wolves themselves still aren't ready for prime time, i.e.: another revision is in store, thus, making this the third repainting and the current back a work in progress.

The shapes overlaying the wolves  represent the sacred geometry found on Da Vinci's Vitruvian Man. Plans are to expand this a bit more as well.

Sketches from the road

Visiting New York City for the week to see some friends and eat delicious food. Stopped by Namaste Bookshop  in Union Square to round up some inspiration and reference material.

Nothing fancy here, a quick sketch from the road to keep momentum going (Knight of Swords)

The Infamous Ten of Swords

I used a slightly different process when creating the Ten of Swords, giving it a more rendered and fuller look than the previous cards, which have a more traditional line-oriented feel to them.

This process lends to the work looking a bit darker and more heavily shaded, making it a good fit to complement the Major Arcana, which are fully painted.

Swords of Winter (prepared for Instagram)

Swords of Winter (prepared for Instagram)

Learnings and Progress

A short note about progress on the deck...

This Tarot deck is a living, breathing thing. It evolves as I evolve, and I put my heart and soul into each piece I create. Not only is it my duty as an artist, but the further into the deck I get, the more personal and intimate the project becomes.

Therefore, as I continue to research and learn more about the Tarot itself, I'll slowly be updating older cards with better and more accurate artwork so that they can still be used for divination purposes (an extremely important goal of the deck) and look better at the same time. As a result, I'll be updating some of the older artwork to bring everything in line with the same sense of style, giving the deck a more consistent feel and better continuity. Its is important to me that each suit, and the message from each and every card, make sense together as a series, rather than simply look beautiful and stand by itself. After all, each card relies on one another to send a message, no card is an island.

All that said, I could work for years and years on a single card, tweaking it until it is perfect and adding more and more symbolism until it is packed to the gills. In the interest of turning out a product in a timely manner for those of you following along, its important that the deck itself continues to move forward with new pieces. An update (if necessary) can take place in a future iteration of the deck down the road that builds on what this first, major step accomplishes.

As a result, you may see cards appear and disappear from the "Card Art" section as they removed to be redone, or updated with a more consistent look. I can assure you that progress is moving forward, just at the pace of reflection and quality.

Ace of Swords (colored)

Colored Ace of Swords

The Two of Swords

The Two of Swords depicts a young, blindfolded woman who holds a sword in each hand. She sits before a sea filled with rocks and crags that present obstacles to ships which need clear passage. The blindfold shows that the woman in this card is confused about her situation and that she can see neither the problem nor the solution clearly. The swords she holds are perfectly balanced, showing a balanced and stable mind, and that both sides of the situation need to be addressed. The crossed swords are also symbolic of the need for a truce and the Suit of Swords indicates that the problem at hand needs to be resolved using logic and intellect. The waxing moon to the right of the woman shows a new beginning arising out of the solutions found for this problem.
-Biddy Tarot

The pictures to the left demonstrate progress on the Two of Swords, which the lowest image being the final version.

Early sketch of the Two of Swords

An early sketch of the Two of Swords

The Magician (work in progress)

A comparison of The Magician from the popular Rider-Waite tarot deck with the Darkness of Light tarot deck (work in progress).

While a variety of tarot deck artwork was studied (Thoth, Tarot of Marseilles, Rider-Waite, among others), I chose to leave The Magician relatively unchanged from its original symbolism, which according to Biddy Tarot (using the Rider-Waite as an example) explains that "The Magician is the bridge between the world of the spirit and the world of humanity. His right hand holds a staff raised toward the sky, and his left hand points to the earth. He takes the power of the Universe and channels it through his own body and directs it to the physical plane. Above The Magician's head is the symbol of eternity. His magical table holds all four suits of the Tarot, each of which represents one of the four primordial elements of the alchemists: earth, air, fire and water. These symbolize the appropriate use of mind, heart, body and soul in the process of manifestation. The Magician's robe is white, symbolizing the purity and innocence found in The Fool, but his cloak is red, representing worldly experience and knowledge. In the bed of flowers at his feet this duality is repeated in the mix of pure white lilies and thorny red roses."

In the Darkness of Light version, the inner robe was changed to black, while the outer robe becomes white. This is to represent the duality between a variety of opposing forces in human nature: good and evil, innocence and lack of innocence, and to underscore the dichotomy between the human world and the spirit world as distinctly different planes of existence.

A similar philosophy was applied to the background where water was used instead of flowers. Water often represents change or transition, underscoring The Magician's role as the bridge between worlds. Additionally, its said spirits gather energy or are attracted to water, which I believe helps push the main concept and therefore the larger role of The Magician within the deck itself. Also, while the Magician is designed to "channel power from the universe and direct it towards the physical plane," a backdrop of water provided a more powerful aesthetic for conveying this idea.

Finally, I opted to paint The Magician's magical table as a form found in nature, in this case a rock, as I believed it more closely resembled the "purity" The Magician is supposed to convey, and created a bold contrast between the physical manifestations of the suits of the Tarot, and their natural symbolism.