Caitlin Keegan’s The Illuminated Tarot: From personal project to being published

Today I want to share an interview I did with Caitlin Keegan, author and illustrator behind The Illuminated Tarot. We’re focusing on how Caitlin took her idea that stemmed from a personal project, into one that’s published by Clarkson Potter (available on Amazon).


The Illuminated Tarot is beautiful! You mentioned that the idea behind it stemmed from an interest in learning about tarot symbolism and archetypal imagery. Could you tell us a little more about how your project began?

I’ve been interested in tarot since I was a teenager because I felt drawn to the imagery, but I always felt skeptical about the “fortune-telling” aspect. Much later (in my early 30s) I had a therapist who suggested discussing images as a way to ease into bigger conversations. That led me to think of tarot in an everyday, non-psychic context and inspired me to learn more about it. I read about the parallels and historical connection between playing cards and tarot and decided it would be an interesting challenge to make one deck that could be used for both purposes.

Since a playing card deck has 52 cards, I realized that I could create one card per week and have a fully illustrated deck by the end of the year. To make it more fun for myself, I randomly drew a card to illustrate–so every week I would have a surprise “assignment” to look forward to and I would learn something new about tarot.

 

 

Having worked on the Illuminated tarot cards as a personal project – what would your advice be to other creatives who are looking to take their personal project to another level?

Be very realistic about how much time you’ll want to spend on something. I’m amazed and impressed when artists do daily projects because I know I could never accomplish that on top of other work deadlines. I would feel stressed and that would remove any enjoyment I was getting from the project. Then I would give up and feel bad about giving up– and that becomes a vicious cycle! For me, a weekly project is ideal. For others it might be bi-weekly, monthly, etc.

My advice is to know yourself and your work habits and don’t be too hard on yourself if you fall behind. You want the project to stay fun because that’s the best way to stay motivated and do your best work.

How were you able to take the Illuminated Tarot from a personal exercise in creating something new every week, to the deck of cards that you now have for sale? How did it go from a personal project to one that’s now publicly available for purchase?

I originally thought that at the end of the year, I would pull together the card images into a book proposal. But I was lucky that Jay Sacher, who I was in touch with through his work for Chronicle Books, saw the illustrations as I was posting them to Twitter. At that time, Jay was an editor at Clarkson Potter, the imprint of Penguin Random House that ultimately published the deck. I’m thankful that he liked the project and could see the potential in publishing it, and I’m thrilled with how the printed deck turned out.

My advice is to know yourself and your work habits and don’t be too hard on yourself if you fall behind. You want the project to stay fun because that’s the best way to stay motivated and do your best work.

I’ve noticed that you’ve used different mediums in your work – colour pencils and digital renderings. Could you tell us when you use one or the other, and why did you opt for creating digitally when it came to the tarot deck?

This is kind of a boring answer, but it has a lot to do with timing! It’s quicker to work digitally.

A less-boring answer is that I was really inspired by a book I have about E.A. Seguy, a textile/pattern designer from the early 1900s whose work is often grouped in with Art Deco. I just love the use of color in his work and I thought flat, bold color would be a good look for this deck. It has the look of a printed textile and also seems semi-psychedelic, which I see as a nod to the 1960s tarot decks I liked as a teenager.

I’ve since figured out a half traditional/half digital way of working and I’m excited to do more work like that. It’s a less time-consuming way to partake in one of my favorite pastimes: obsessive pencil shading.

How important are personal projects to you as an illustrator?

For me, they’re essential for staying motivated and inspired.

Has working on the project impacted your work in any way?

I think because tarot deals with universal themes, it’s particularly challenging to try and do something new with it. Modern tarot decks very often are reinterpretations of the imagery in the Smith-Waite deck–probably because those images are so ingrained in the memory of anyone who is familiar with tarot. I really wanted to break out of that as much as possible and find my own way of communicating.

Working on The Illuminated Tarot was like a lot like having a weekly editorial assignment. I would break down the card meaning into the simplest possible terms and then illustrate that idea. The process of doing this every week–while also trying (for the most part) to avoid traditional tarot imagery–really pushed me to develop my vocabulary as an illustrator.

I personally think that it’s a very exciting time for artists and illustrators, as they are able to take their ideas and run with it as opposed to waiting for others to collaborate with (which is how a lot of illustration jobs are like). What are your thoughts about that?

Certainly, with social media, it’s much easier to get your work out to an audience. That’s why I hope that we (especially we in the U.S.) will be able to stop those who want to privatize and further corporatize the Internet. Net neutrality is essential for the open exchange of ideas–for culture in general, not just for art. In terms of art and illustration specifically; right now almost anyone can be published online and I think that’s a good thing. The culture moves forward when more of us can be heard.

What’s next for you? Are you taking this project any further?

Right now I’m working on something involving dream symbols and interpretation. I’d love to do more tarot or oracle decks in the future too. I’m also keeping up a weekly surface pattern design project I started in 2016. I post a new repeat pattern every week to Instagram and many are inspired by my visits to museums and botanic gardens around NYC.

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You can check out more of Caitlin’s work on her website, and you can get a copy of The Illustrated Tarot on Amazon

The joy of being unimportant

(That’s not me – but it’s Mr. T, and we’re in Zakopane)

I feel almost apologetic when I have to say that I was busy, seeing how the word has turned into a bit of a reviled creature that’s brought up to the table from time to time in an immodest show. But to be honest, it feels like I’ve woken up a bit, and I’m happy to report that I was busy (not in a look-at-me way, but in a look-I’m-really-running-around way).

I’m also now aware of how unimportant I am (woohoo!) and therefore should not take this blog as seriously. It seems like all the cool people are on Instagram, Facebook or Snapchat, so it’s a moment of revelation that’s very liberating!

And so here I am, breaking a bit from my usual format to do a quick recap lest I myself forgot what I was up to:

I was away in Poland (Warsaw, Krakow, Zakopane) and Singapore. The former was for a much-needed break, and the latter was for teaching, and learning (although I have to say the learning never completely stops for me, even while on vacation).

(Utagawa Hiroshige – Sudden Rain in Shono)

In Poland, I went to an exhibition that featured rare ukiyo-e prints from Japan, and featured the works of Utagawa Hiroshige, Keisai Eisen, and Katsushika Hokusai among many others. The exhibition also showed how each imprint was made (wood-block carvings) and then layered together to form a complete print. It blew my mind to be able to see these prints so up close, along with the artist’s sketchbooks and other books, most notably Hokusai’s books.

We went to a lot of places in Poland. The Army Museum, the Poster museum, the Chopin Museum, Flying Tiger, etc. We ate a lot. The food was so, so good and we’ll go again in a heartbeat!

I also went to Auschwitz. It made me angry.

An article I wrote for Communication Arts came out in May, where I interviewed collectives like Peepshow, the OIC in Singapore and the wonderful ladies of Parallel Universe, on how they run their outfit. Seeing my name in print never gets old!

(Koji Yamamura image from Raksasa Print)

I was fortunate enough to attend a talk by Koji Yamamura, an animator from Japan at Raksasa Print’s animation fest, and came away from the session with a fresh appreciation for moving images (he creates them by drawing. every. single. frame. WHOA).

I facilitated a workshop at the Asian Festival of Children’s Content, where I spent 4 days with other amazing facilitators and equally inspiring participants, where we talked, breathed and just soaked in stories and images. The conference after, where I also spoke, that was the icing on the cake as well – it’s where I met with many other amazing illustrators and teachers, where we chatted over coffee and lunch breaks.

I took part in a zine workshop, held by one my favorite artists – PiXin in Singapore while I was there too. I wrote poetry, and created a 8 page zine in 15 minutes (because I had to rush off). It reminded me of how I wasn’t creating enough, since everyone almost always has 15 minutes in a day.

I’m currently teaching my first every online class after 2 years, it’s called Find Your Personal Artistic Style, and I can’t believe how long I’ve put it off.

My students successfully ran their very first bazaar, selling products that they’ve carefully crafted, with stories behind their collection. I’m very proud of them for coming this far, since it was done on their own volition. To be extra sure – since it happened the last time – I collected $20 from each student for safekeeping to make sure they don’t flake out or renege on their word. I’m happy to report that they all got their $20 back.

Semester at the local art college has also begun, and I’m guiding students on creating abstract work for their first assignment, and gearing up for their final assignment – a personal story turned into a zine.

On Skillshare, I’ve re-learnt new things through video tutorials – very useful tools like using the Shape Builder Tool for Adobe Illustrator (where have I been?!) and also the basics of Adobe After Effects to see how I can use this for new projects.

I’m also researching quite a bit about illustrative branding, illustration in tech and in use for mobile apps for a commission I’m working on, and it’s a fascinating niche where I’m enjoying myself while learning new things along the way.

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If the months of April, May and June have taught me anything, it’s that I can do a lot more everyday. I’ve never created so much in the past 3 months, and I’m trying to see if I can keep up the momentum of making.

Especially the part where I create just for fun. Because that’s a lot more important.

Now that’s harder to do.

What have you been up to lately?

How to be Everything by Emilie Wapnick

I’ve been a long-time fan of Emilie’s Puttylike blog that talks about being a multipotentialite (read: people who have multiple interests/skills/preference to excel in two or more different skills). Her new book How to be Everything has just launched, and I’m really thrilled. So while you might say I’m biased because I was featured on her TED talk in 2015 (and I’m also in chapter 5 of the book) – reading her blog and talking to her made me realise that I’m not as weird as I thought I was; and instead, being able to straddle a few different industries with a varied set of skills meant that I could build a career that could play to my strengths.

To celebrate the launch of her book, I set up an interview with her to find out more about the book, and what it could mean to you.

Congrats on your new book! I’ve always been a fan, and when I found your website, I realized that I’m a multipotentialite myself. When did you figure that out for yourself?

In my late teens/early twenties I began to notice my tendency to jump between different disciplines and projects. I actually worried about it a lot at that time. I was afraid I would never be able to stick with anything, and I was afraid I’d never find my Thing. Plus the idea of making a living was terrifying to me because I thought I would either have to jump from job to job to job and have no financial stability or choose a single path and deny all of my other passions.

Why the label? Why is it important for people to recognize that they’re a multipotentialite?

Labels can be empowering or restrictive depending on who’s using them and for what purpose. I’ve found that many multipotentialites grow up feeling like there’s something wrong with them. They internalize messages from the culture that warn us of the perils of being a “jack-of-all-trades, master of none,” or a “quitter” or “dilettante.”

Learning that you are a multipotentialite–that there’s a name for it and that there are many other people out there like this, some of whom are incredibly successful–can be a huge relief and help you feel proud of your plurality. The term multipotentialite also brings a positive spin to the idea, whereas “jack-of-all-trades,” usually has negative connotations.

So the book – tell us how you got to being unsure of what you wanted to do, to broaching this big subject that you’ve brought forward through your website and the TED talk?

In my mid-twenties I made a personal declaration of sorts: I decided that if this was how I am wired, I was going to find a way to make it work. That’s when I started my blog, Puttylike. I wanted to create a space where I could learn from other people who were doing many things successfully and share what I was learning. My vision was to create a community of people who don’t just want to do one thing so we could share resources and figure this out together.

Over the years, I noticed that there are a handful of books about the phenomenon of people with many passions, but none of them go into much detail about how to make a living. And then there are a ton of career planning guides out there that help you whittle down your aptitudes and passions to that one perfect fit. Where was the work advice for multipotentialites? That’s how the idea for How to Be Everything came about. I saw a real need for something practical, specifically for multipotentialites.

I believe that great artists are multipotentialites in some form or way. Could you give us a few examples of creative people you researched when you were writing the book?

I agree. There are a lot of famous artists/creatives who have worked in multiple disciplines. Everyone from Bowie to James Franco to the Charles and Ray Eames. In my book, I really tried to focus on more relatable examples though. I wanted to make it clear that you don’t need to be well-known or some kind of genius to make this work.

I interviewed a percussionist named Mark Powers who performs, teaches, runs workshops, writes children’s books, hosts TEDx events, and travels all over the world creating records with a philanthropic purpose to them. I also spoke with a digital media artist named Margaux Yiu who works at a company that is open to her stepping out of her job title. So over the course of her 16 year career, she has done design, web development, photography, video editing, and writing.

But yes, I think the reason that great artists tend to be multipotentialites is that artists are curious people who draw inspiration from domains outside of whatever medium they happen to be working in. It’s not really about the medium anyway; the medium’s just a tool to express a deeper idea.

What does being a multipotentialite mean in this day and age? How can they make the world a better place?

This is a really good time to be a multipotentialite. It’s now possible to work from anywhere and get your work out to the world without the help of gatekeepers who have access to distribution. You can self-publish a best-seller, crowd fund an invention, or teach people on the other side of the globe! There are infinite opportunities to express your creativity and design a career that really works with your multipotentialite nature.

Embracing your many passions doesn’t just lead to personal fulfillment, it’s also about social contribution. Multipotentialites are creative, out-of-the-box thinkers who can see multifaceted problems from several angles, make connections between disparate subjects, and relate to people from all walks of life. It’s no coincidence that the great artists, scientists, and innovators throughout history were (and are) multipotentialites.

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Thanks so much Emilie!

Her book is now available on Amazon, and in bookstores near you!

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