I was immediately impressed with the artwork. My deck was tough enough to do with photography (and I wasn’t even the photographer!). The artist, whoever they were, was undertaking something much tougher. The artist is Robin Scott and when I heard she’d completed the deck, I asked if she’d be willing to discuss her Tarot journey with me.
Lucky for me, she did!
The first card Robin completed was the Knight of Swords, which she also says, is the only one that, if given the chance, she might re-do. “I look at this as a little embarrassing, I did most of it as a senior in college. It doesn’t look much like my work now. But I can’t do that; otherwise where do I stop? I’ll be doing the entire deck over again.”
But the Knight of Swords was only the beginning. Robin felt the artistic progress of the deck was very much characterized by the different suits as she worked on them. She started with the Swords and the Wands and quickly moved through them, doing a few cards a week. But anyone who has completed a long-term creative project will tell you that there is a moment when it simply gets hard. Shaunta Grimes writes about it brilliantly in this blog, calling it the “Trudge Stage.” For Robin, that came about somewhere in the middle of the Disks suit (a suit called “pentacles” or “coins” in other decks).
“Five of disks equals worry, right?” she said, laughing.
The Lovers is her own wedding photo. “I look quite different, now,” she said.
The Tarot is about transformation. When working on a Tarot deck, one is likely to experience massive personal transformation. Just as Robin began working on the cups suit, she experienced a gender crisis and began transitioning.
“I stopped working on the deck completely, and went into a bit of an emotional retreat for a few months while I sorted myself out and asked myself some really scary questions about who I am, and who I want to be. .. And then I sent a coming out letter to the deck’s supporters explaining where I’d been.”
Robin follows her personal revelation about her gender in looking at her work in the cards. “In the Ace of Cups, there’s a lot of pink that starts entering the palette. I was in an intense, emotional place.”
The emotional part of the deck’s creation wasn’t the only tough part. Logistically, the production of the deck proved a challenge. Robin had promised backers and customers that the decks would be there before Christmas, but around that time there was a staffing change at the deck production company, causing delays.
“We didn’t really get them until the first week of December, so it was TIGHT getting them out before the holidays. I had to apologize to a lot of backers.”
The creation of a project like this can be a lonely endeavor. However, Robin’s story is different. To bring her vision into bloom, she elicited the help of many, many supporters…her journey did not need to be a solo one.
Truly, the Urban Tarot’s backing from a Kickstarter campaign is a key element of this story. This isn’t just an artist’s labor of love—it’s a symbol for the support of a whole community in raising an art-baby. To help fund the deck, Robin offered model spots to backers of a certain donation level. For example, the model for the Knight of Wands was a backer, himself. Enlisted in the Navy, the backer flew Robin to his home in Honolulu to take the reference shot.
The Moon card model was another Tarot fan whose husband reached out to Robin. He couldn’t afford the $1,000 (technically $950, rounded up) donation Robin requested to give someone a spot in the deck, but he offered his extensive comic book collection in trade. His wife, he explained, was a huge Tarot fan and this would mean a lot to her. Moved by the expression, Robin accepted a few comics and the man flew his wife to NYC. Robin showed her around the Natural History Museum, dressed her in bloody rags, and “did a really creepy shoot” in Robin’s foyer.
Robin cited the The Devil shoot as her favorite. The model was her friend Anthony. Her direction to her friend and model was, “Look like you’re waiting for me to blow you.”
The sun card was definitely the most difficult for her. She chased the model (a small child) around for three hours, taking about 750 shots around the park. “All I wanted was this nice shot of him smiling and running. But he didn’t want to do that. “
As a whole, Robin noted that the feedback was generally positive and supportive—from the work itself to her personal transition. She worked closely with her fans, taking special care to stay in touch with them and including them in the process of creation. This is as much a story of how to ask for help and including community support in this as it is the creation of a Tarot deck. The creation of any long-term project can be a very lonely adventure. Robin’s experience was different.
“I feel like that positive support changed me. I would not have been able to do this, otherwise.”
With regards to advice Robin has for other people making decks, is to go into the work with a strong sense of your own interpretation of the Tarot. “I approached Tarot thinking I had to live up to models, patterns, and mystical structures that had been established, but it’s all part of the same conversation. Aleister Crowley, and Pamela Coleman Smith…all of them have opinions on how the Tarot is supposed to be, but ultimately, you are the only one who can do your own Tarot.”
“It’s good to know about what’s come before, because art does not exist in a vacuum. But it took me awhile to understand that I had the freedom to do what I wanted.”
As for what’s next, Robin is interested in potentially doing a second printing of the deck, but would like someone else to take over distribution going forward. She is interested in doing more art shows and events to do readings and sell decks. She is also working on a horror series inspired by Lovecraft, the link to which can be found, here.
Aside from that, the future is open for Robin! “The deck was my life for a long time, but I’m still getting lots of pressure. People say things like ‘This is good, but I’d love to see the Equinox Tarot.’ “ The Equinox Tarot is a deck she started awhile ago, all black and white, but tries to get to the core of the cards’ meaning in a really simple way. “If I do another Kickstarter. When I feel like I’m ready to do that, I’d like that.”
With regards to the best use of Kickstarter, “Remember to keep it personal. I think it’s really issue to alienate your sponsor and backers if you don’t stay honest with them. People get angry and want to know where the THING is. They want to know where the money is going. That’s why people do this. People believe in that product, which is your whole process.”
For me, hearing Robin’s story was every bit as much of a story of creation as it was a lesson in the beauty of collaboration. Art is hard. Creating a Tarot deck is difficult. I can speak from experience and Robin’s experience serves as an illustration in that when creating one, it’s truly an exercise in walking through the experiences of the Tarot—through the Major Arcana and peppered by the people and experiences of the Minor Arcana. For me, hearing Robin’s story is the Death card—Transformation, Knight of Coins—determination, but above all, it’s the World, but giving a new meaning to the World. The World, yes, represents endings, but in this story I see it as a world of people coming together in order to make this project a reality.
It’s a story I think all artists could use!
The Urban Tarot can be purchased at this link!
Are you interested in learning how to read the Court Cards of the Tarot? I am teaching a class on Tuesday, August 9th at 7:00 p.m. at Mind Body Soul Yoga Studio in Washington Heights! Further information and enrollment can be found at this link.