Drawing My Own Tarot Deck: Rumination Notes Fours to Aces


Ritual Coloring of the

Major Arcana

I shared all my digital files for the Major Arcana from the tarot deck I’m currently drawing at the end of June, 2018 here: Spirit Keeper’s Tarot (Majors Only). Then went on to explain the purpose for ritual coloring of the Majors, among other thoughts, here in a subsequent video and blog post: Ritual Coloring of the Major Arcana, though there I share some draft images from the Minors as well. If you’re not subscribed to my Instagram, then you probably don’t know that I’ve been sharing progress photos of my work as I go along. In the event that interests you, subscribe here, IG: @bellwen.

So as I explained in the last blog post on drawing my own deck, after completing the Majors and beginning on the Minors, I started with the Fours. And the suit order I’m going in for each number set is Wands, Cups, Swords, and Pentacles, which I’ve renamed to Scepters, Chalices, Swords, and Orbs. Lots of really specific reasons for the renaming. I definitely didn’t do it just for shits.

The above thumbnail snapshot does not show the cards in the order I completed them. Because of the digital filenames, when I take a screen shot of the file folder that the scans of these images are in, they’re in alphabetical order. Also, these screen shots don’t include the titles and captions.

After completing each card, I’ll log my intentions, notes, and what I was trying to express with the card. It’s not written in a way intended for you to understand, or to be published, or for public understanding. It’s written with the mindset that I need to understand what I was doing at that time and be able to retrace my own steps. So if you’re looking at that and are like, I don’t get it, I’m sorry, but you don’t have to get it.

I’m sharing my progress notes through a series of blog posts (and maybe vlogs, who knows) as just, “hey, this is what I’ve been up to” personal updates. Folks in this online tarot community like to do deck reviews (I do those), film unboxings or flip-throughs, or do tags… This is what I like to share as a community member. =)

I don’t know if it’s just conditioning and I’ve been staring at the black and white line drawings for so long that now I really dig the black and white or what, but I really dig the black and white as-is. Nonetheless, once all line drawings for the full deck are done, I’m going back to to the beginning, same order, to color them in.

Right now, looking for superfine-tip colored markers has been an adventure. I’m sourcing them one by one pretty much, because I need a more muted palette. I don’t want bold and bright, and most marker colors are too bold and bright. I want a color palette that’s going to give the images an aged, antique feel. Or so that’s how my thought goes. Who knows, right? All sorts of shit can happen between now and then.

In terms of actual process, I’m still diligently anointing every time before starting any work on the cards. I’m still doing a lot of prayers throughout and constantly stopping to, you know, look up, sniff around, and monitor what’s in the air… in a manner of speaking. There’s also copious research going on just to make sure what I’m saying (or…drawing…) is what I’m actually meaning.

There are only two decks that I’m looking at while I draw, for precedent. Pretty sure you already know which two: the Rider-Waite-Smith and Crowley’s Thoth. Well, okay, also the Tarot de Marseille, but for the pips, I don’t really need to sit there, stare, and study the Minors from the Marseille. So I’m really just sitting, staring, and studying the RWS and Thoth. Hmm… I think in a future blog post progress update I’ll share the side by side comparison photos. Those are really fun to look at!

I thought it was kind of uncanny that I completed the lower realm, i.e., Fours, Fives, Sixes, and on up to the Tens, by July 7 (7/7). Way before I even came close to completing up to Ten, the Hubby and I had already planned a road trip to Sequoia National Park and King’s Canyon for Sunday (July 8).

Okay, so by 7/7, I’m done with the lower realm. Aces, Twos, and Threes form the upper realm and would really require more devotional thought from me. Before we set out on Sunday, I had already finished the Ace of Wands (my Scepters), Ace of Cups (Chalices), and began sketching the Ace of Swords. I was struggling with the Ace of Pentacles (Orbs).

So far, the Ace of Orbs was the one that required the most rejected thumbnail rough sketches. I didn’t know what to do with the orb, the landscape, what I wanted to include and not include, how I wanted to express what I wanted to express– just– no theme– every rough thumbnail looked totally different from the previous, which means I didn’t have any clue what I was doing. (Usually, when you’re sketching thumbnail drafts, subsequent drafts look similar to the past one, and it’s just the detailing you’re revising. Not for my Ace of Orbs. I was all over the place.)

During our Sunday hike through the Sequoia National Forest, we came across a fallen hollowed-out redwood, which you could crawl through. The above is a photo taken from inside the redwood’s trunk. Immediately knew that’s what I wanted the framing of my Ace of Orbs to look like–entrance into a dark, cavernous-like area.

Since we were at a redwood forest, there were pine cones everywhere, and it dawned on me that’s what I wanted to use for the symbolism here. And then I noticed that astrologically, Sunday commenced a Star of David, or two opposite trines (forming the Star of David), in Earth and Water (elemental dignities, anybody? how exciting!). Water… chalice… Bread of Life… Mary… everything came together. Then, the shading and light on the orb reveals to you where the light source is coming from: you. You’re the source of illumination shining into the dark cave, onto the sacred orb, the essential ingredient in the recipe for the Bread of Life.

Yesterday evening (July 9), I completed the four Aces. Tuesday (today) I begin the Twos.

The four Aces are interconnected. Since I’m going in the elemental order of Fire, Water, Air, and Earth, you’ll see how the flames in the Ace of Wands shares the outline of the dove in the subsequent card, the Ace of Cups. Then the central symbolism etched onto the chalice along with the clouds and the dove wings lead in to the Ace of Swords. And the idea of logos and communication in the Ace of Swords is the bridge into the Ace of Pentacles, where you’ve got alphabet letters and ideograms from ten different ancient writing systems. (Also, when you Open the Four Worlds, the realm of Air, or the Formative World, begets the realm of Earth, the Active World.) And then, full circle, the Orb shares the outline of the circle detailing on the torch in the Ace of Wands.

The Aces also have to stand in for the four alchemical stages–Citrinatas, the Awakening in Fire; Albedo, the Purifying in Water; Rubedo, the Consummating in Air; and Nigredo, the Darkening in Earth.

As a tarot aficionado, I’m partial to the Aces, so it was really important to me that I gave each one my all. I believe I’ve done that.

At this point, since I’ve been sharing my process publicly. I’ve been peppered with a lot of questions about what I’ll be doing with the deck once I’m done. The black and white line drawings of the Majors are already made available to you for free download, in many different options so you can really customize and personalize, and for the purpose of ritual coloring so that you can produce a Majors only deck to commune with your Holy Guardian Angel. I’ve stated that I’ll be coloring in the Majors, but will I be offering the colored version to the public? I don’t know yet. How about the Minors? What’s to come of the full deck? I don’t know.

I was adamant about doing all of this my way from the start, without any concern or care for industry publishing standards when it comes to card size dimensions, or what a common majority thinks cards mean and to express that rather than my own personal and intimate relationship with each card– I shut it all out and what went into each card is 100% me. This is about my relationship with the essential natures in each card, how I want to encode each card, and overall, the total sum of the work here is I’m casting a spell. I’m also pushing the boundaries because that’s the only way to cross the threshold.

The downside to not concerning myself with industry publishing standards is the card size I went with is wonky and now to fit it into a printable tarot deck, you either cut off and lose details along the four edges of each card image or you’ll have to go with really thick, chunky borders. So at this point, just in terms of logistics and the technical side, I don’t even know if this deck is publishable.

For those who want to know if this deck– either black and white or the colored version– will be put on sale in the marketplace for purchase. Here’s the thing. If you know the tarot marketplace at all, then you already know that occult tarot decks don’t tend to sell well (even though everybody says they want more occult tarot decks– they don’t actually buy them– the fun, fluff ones full of goddesses, fantasy art animal totems, feminine angels, sexy fairies, and rainbows are always the ones that actually sell). So I just don’t see this deck as ever being one that would make it on to a store shelf.

Also, in considering traditional production, if the quality isn’t there for how this specific deck, Spirit Keeper’s Tarot, is produced, then there’s just no reason to even try. I don’t want to see this work manifested in some flimsy shit thing. Better to keep it private than for that to happen.

Then there’s self-publishing. No. I’m not doing it. That’s just out of the question. To self-publish and sell your own deck, you basically become a publishing house and you do it all. Your life revolves around working with overseas production, quality control, handling customer service and having to answer dumb questions with a smile, accounting, inventory management, using up all your free time to pack and ship boxes and wait in line at the post office. And your home becomes a warehouse. No, thank you. So self-publishing isn’t going to happen.

That leaves… pretty much nothing. =) So unless I (or you) can think of a creative solution, as of this writing, the Minors are staying private and not for sale. Not unless you’ve got a better idea than the ones presented above? =)


Rumination Notes:

Aces to Threes

11 thoughts on “Drawing My Own Tarot Deck: Rumination Notes Fours to Aces

  1. James Bridge

    Holy moly, Wen; is there anything you don’t do? A multiple-published author, a legal eagle, a leading Tarot voice, and an artist, too… what a Renaissance woman!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m surprised that you decided to go with alcohol markers for coloring- given that you want a delicate and nuanced color scheme, I think that watercolor and/or colored pencils would also work wonderfully

    but the really pale Copic marker colors are also fantastic and easy to use (you could even just use the inks with brushes too, hm)~ (also, it’s not too late to go the mixed media route if you have both the tools and the will to do so! ;3 )

    -anyway, this is a wonderful project to watch unfold, thanks for sharing your progress with us, I look forward to learning lots from this excellent Deck of yours!! *w* ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Nam Nam

    Sell them as a coloring book or mystical art or oracle book. Less hassle for you. Or keep them private. It’s a great personal project that you were generous enough to share.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Karen

    My weak little “I’m impressed” fails to convey the magnitude of my awe and respect. You are a force and amazingly prolific.

    I love this project so much.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Caro

    Hi Benebell!

    First of all, I am so amazed by this detailled progress notes. Right now I am way too busy to attempt taking coloring your majors seriously, so I haven’t downloaded them or printed them or even looked at the instructions. I am sure it will be time and energy intensive and so worth it. As a fan of hermetic, esoteric decks as well as the pretty ones, I understand how finding a Mass Market publisher that would do the deck justice might be hard if not impossible. Self publishing is a hassle, like you said, and I understand completely. I am a diy kind of gal so I propose this: once line art is done, why not SELL the files the way you gifted the Majors? I would pay to download those files and I happen to know a few ways how to make the prints workable and borderless for myself. Also, cardstock is number 1 on my list of requirements so that way, everyone could decide how they want their deck. On paper to stick to cardboard, printed by a print on demand service etc. And you could earn a lot more for each download than you could earn royalties for each deck sold traditionally. Sure, some people would pester you with inquiries, but a steadfast FAQ and a note that how people will use the files is up to them would probably clear out the worst of it. I really hope I will be able to buy the downloads, because I think this deck would be very special indeed and absolutely worth the effort of me finding the perfect cardstock for it. Please consider selling the files (and your notes – even in the current form they are enlightening, at least to me, and I’d like to study them if possible). That way you can avoid much hassle and leave all the work to diligent students of your craft! thank you.


    1. this is a good idea! I’ve bought digital art files from Gumroad.com and something like this would be easy to sell and distribute with such a service, that way, those with the time and the resources could avail themselves of making their own physical versions without B. Wen having to work on Deck Printing

      so yeah, I support this idea too!!~ *w*


  6. Hello Benebell,

    The deck of course is amazing, especially since it is focused on spiritual development and not a general purpose deck. I like the black and white drawings as it is; the B&W outlines invite us to fill out the card ourselves, either physically or metaphysically.

    In terms of the publishing problem, let me echo what others have said: publish electronic files. There are lots of solutions that work for one person printing one deck (like exacto knives) that would be brutal at scale. There is also the possibility of giving the deck away and selling the book. If plan A is to keep the deck private, then you are losing exactly nothing by giving it away, and having the deck freely available will be a huge draw for selling the book. And you know how to publish a book.


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  8. Ludovico

    Why not a Kickstarter and print only the ones you are requested? You don’t have to be a Publishing House, just get someone who print the stuff and send it by mail… you can even skip those steps with online options like http://www.makeplayingcards.com/

    You are a great illustrator and yours is a very fine work of art. A lot of us would love to get a copy of it


  9. Pingback: Ritual Coloring of the Major Arcana – benebell wen

  10. Pingback: Linkage: Mice, borders, and the old ways | Spiral Nature Magazine

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