Creativity in Confined Spaces 

Since the Corona Virus ‘lockdown’ began here in Ireland during March I decided to emmerse myself in my Tarot project.  It’s not often that I get unadulterated ‘free’ time.  It’s something I’ve wanted to do for years but I didn’t know what form it would take.  Strangely I had a premonition of sorts about the project.  Nothing  sensational.  Just a slide into my inner world.  You’ll see by the previous blog post that my last mandala painting, entitled, “Winter” depicted a woman curling up into the bosom of the earth. I often feel this winding down of energy, particularly around Samhain.  When the light gets low, so do I.

Winter Blues

Accompanied by successive migraine headaches and an extremely aggravated shoulder from overwork, there were many days where I had to take to my bed.  Propped up by a stack of new books on astrology, I passed the time in and out of my cave, getting up for Christmas Day of course, but then back to the sanctuary of my bedroom.  When I emerged I started painting again by the window that overlooks the garden.  When I say ‘started painting again’, I don’t mean that I was creating anything new.  In fact I was copying a lot of previous work I’d done (new versions of the same thing).  It was more like ‘colouring in’.  Anything to get my hand moving with the hopes that in this situation, activition would precede motivation.  It worked to a certain extent but I still felt flat and dried up. Something was missing.


It wasn’t helped by the fact that the storms of February brought a complete standstill to my normal market activities and my income.  (I’d regretted spending so much on books around Christmas time!) Nothing was coming in.  Energy was still low.  The winter seemed endless.  I hadn’t been in the studio for weeks as working in the cold (even with two heaters on) was unbearable for my shoulder.  But I had to push myself just a little bit.  

The Blueprint Tarot

So I started with a little bit of designing.  I picked up my Tarot project again and pencilled in a couple of the cards on my ‘blueprint’ deck.  This is a deck made up basically of my thumbnail sketches.  When I’m happy with the design, I ink them in as I go.  I can actually use this deck for readings now as it is complete in number, even though the artwork is not.  This is what I call a practical work in progress! I am also using it to work out the design for my own heritage deck.  This is a deck that is hand-painted and will be a more in depth coloured version of the blueprint.  I’m hoping it will survive enough readings to be handed down to my daughter.  Call me an incurable romantic, but I just love the idea of having a genuine hand painted Tarot deck, something like the Lords and Ladies would have had commissioned in medieval times.

The Heritage Deck

It’s well and good having fanciful dreams of creating a Tarot but at the end of the day (or many days, even years in my case) the deck needs to be created in present time.  It’s no good just doing one card and then a few months later waiting for the time to do another.  It’s no good forcing the idea either.  That never works in the creative world.  But how does one progress to gain enough momentum to create the darned thing?  Especially as continuity is important.  The deck needs to look coherent in artwork as well as theme.  But it is just too big a project to do in just a few short sittings.  It’s also that interest and motivation remain high, and that is very hard to keep going if you’re tired.

Tarot de Marseilles

I had to find a way around this and I did.  I needed to set simple goals, yet keep them confined within a short but complete project in itself.  With a subject like the Tarot I felt it important to start at the beginning, and this meant going back historically to some of the earliest decks.  I chose the Tarot de Marseilles, a printed version done by Pierre Madenie, and I started a simple copy of the major arcana.  I did a card a day, or maybe two days.  The outline was simple; just copy it straight, maybe change the colours, but more importantly, have fun doing it! As I was still in my ‘copy’ and ‘colour in’ mode, I took the largest deck I had (done by Mary Packard).  These lovely big cards were large enough to translate into small paintings.  I started off cutting the card size I needed using smooth watercolour paper (Hot Pressed, Saunders Waterford, High White), and simply traced the images onto it and coloured them in.  Tedious yes, but rewarding, even more!  There was something magical to me about creating my own deck that I could hold in my hands.  The artwork came alive.  I noticed small symbolic details in the cards which allowed me to enter this esoteric world.  Yet, the primitive, sometimes crude faces and gestures of the characters grounded this understanding in a very physical, awkward world of our ancestors.  The characters became real to me.  The message imbued in the card had new meaning.  For the first time, I felt I was ‘really’ at the start of my Tarot journey.  I had completed a majors only deck, felt a great sense of achievement, and had cracked the code, artistically speaking, to being able to manage and accomplish my own Tarot project.  For me it was like a little initiation process, and I had passed!