Redesigning Cards in SKT for the New Edition

Scan of the pen and ink line drawings that will become the new card back design

It’s been back to the drawing board for me on account of a few cards from Spirit Keeper’s Tarot. As a rare books and art collector myself, I have some sense of considerations for what retains value of limited edition decks, and I wanted to honor those who supported me in the first edition black and white run by doing everything in my control to assure that your acquisition of the SKT first edition deck was a worthwhile investment. =)

Rejected drafts of card back designs.

I see SKT #2 as a sibling of SKT #1. It’s the same deck the same way siblings share the same DNA, but there are distinct physical and personality differences between #1 and #2. At least that is my hope for what you’ll be able to perceive between the two editions.

First, let’s just talk about the drawings. I’ll share with you which cards I’ve scrapped entirely, went back to a blank drawing board, and did an entirely new illustration.

The Four Knights

In the first edition, the four Knights I drew focused on them as angels and more specifically, as elemental forces. The Knight of Scepters (Wands) signifies the potent elemental force of Fire, the Knight of Chalices (Cups) signifies the potent elemental force of Water, etc. Also, again, angels. I think my brain focused way too much on the angel thing that it limited the breadth of my conceptual designs.

So I knew I wanted to re-conceptualize the four Knights. This time, my focus would be on alchemy. Here’s my first sketch, in pencil:

Instead of limiting myself with this arbitrary need to personify in the courts, I decided to focus on the Knights as horses, the four horses of the four horsemen, and work within chess symbolism, which we already started in the Pages (the Strongholds in SKT) with the imagery of the rooks.

My pencil sketch also tells you what my focus was– the four alchemical glyphs: sulfur, water, mercury, and salt, and the four alchemical stages. The knights represent the driving force for transmutation or changing state into the four alchemical stages. Then, of course, I wrote a small chapter in the revised Book of Maps to explain my thought process.

After getting down a rough outline sketch with the pencil, I go in and complete the illustration in black ink. I worked on the four Knights as a group (rather than card by card as I had done with the initial conception of SKT).

I’m pretty bad at drawing people, so instead of forcing myself to draw people, I did an artsy cop-out and simply alleviated any self-induced pressure to draw people. Why do angelic beings need to look humanoid anyway?

Key 21: New World Order

After completing the four Knights, I worked on redesigning Key 21: New World Order (the World card in the Majors). For me to agree to working on a second edition of SKT meant the second edition had to have a changed point of view in some way, where something in the universe of the First Edition had to be closed and the second edition had to then represent something new. So to me, that meant Key 21 definitely needed to be redesigned.

At the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, I saw the above, which now regrettably I don’t have any information on because I can’t find the notes I took during my time at the museum. Anyway, all you need to know is the above is from that museum.

I’m in love with the pelican-as-messiah motif (in case you couldn’t tell from my first go around of the Majors in SKT…), so let’s make it front and center in The World card! =)

How interesting that my drawing of The World card is right next to the Knight of Pentacles drawing, marking the continuation of the Earth elemental.

The five beams of light radiating from the top left corner of the World card down to the right was for a very intentional reason, and it’ll be apparent to you when I place it next to two other cards, The Reaper (Death card) and The Angel (Temperance). These three cards connected represent the stages from initiation to actualizing the divine higher genius to the completed Work. Placed side by side in numerical Key order, we can see that transcending space and the chronology of time, it is always our Angel who is the catalyst. It was the Angel who called us on our initiatory path and it is the Angel who guides us through to completion.

Key 4: The Emperor

The above is a photo I took in Prague at a castle. It was the display set up in the castle’s war room, open to tourists. It’s kind of the perfect model for me to reference for a redesigned Emperor card!

Here’s the Emperor card mid-sketch where I’m still doing the basic outlines with the ink. Haven’t gone in to fill out the depth yet, though you see I’ve started on the ram horns at the top.

Now there’s also a metaphysical (for me at least) reason to redesign Key 4 in a second edition of the deck. Keeping to my commitment to a deck that’s going to produce a different, shall we say, energy from the first, Key 4 has to change– hear me out.

First, this is the key of temporal power, where we presume we hold dominion to some degree– any degree– thanks to some form of divine mandate or divine commandment. All Great Work, all creativity and machinations of humanity stem from that presumption, whether we’re fully conscious of it or not.

Operating on that magical theory that producing SKT, the first edition, was in effect the completed construction of an inner temple, then to renovate that inner temple in any way, the pivotal key is Key 4. Okay granted maybe this makes sense only to me, but since it’s my tarot deck, that’s good enough. =)

To me, it also made metaphysical sense that the other card that I had to redesign was Key 21, the classic World card.

Key 0: The Keeper

I redesigned the third of the three Key 0s in the deck, The Keeper card. The Keeper card from the limited first edition run was deeply personal to me. I went in a different direction entirely for the redesign. Below to the left in black and white is the card from the original first edition deck. To the right, in sepia, from a printed test run of the redesign, is the new Keeper card.

Now we have the spirit of The Annealer greeting the Keeper. This is the personification of an alchemical process, which is a metaphor (to me at least) of applying stress and testing the limits of your spirit in order to strengthen it, and that strength is in fact flexibility, not rigidity– it’s strength by transforming yourself to be more malleable, that way it’s a lot harder to destroy or hurt you.

Then in the foreground we’ve got a raven. The way it’s drawn, some might see it as a white raven, and the black lines are the shading. Or you might see it as a black raven, and the white spaces are where the light hits the dark feathers. The raven will always be there for you when you work with the Keeper card, when you embody the Keeper, as a spirit guardian of protection, to ensure safe astral and psychic travels.

Key 9: The Erudite

I was inspired by the Il Commendatore statue in Prague, also known as the Cloak of Conscience. You’ll see a photograph I took of the sculpture at left, commissioned in honor of Mozart, by the way, and then my pen and ink line drawing of it (still an unfinished work in progress in the above photo).

I printed a test run of the deck in sepia and when I scrutinized Key 9 this time around, I just felt like I wanted to see more. That’s when I decided to add the cloaked figure. Anna Chromý, the artist of the original Cloak of Conscience, said her art was inspired by something Albert Einstein had said about being a “lone traveler.”

Said Einstein, “I have never belonged to my country, my home, my friends, or even my immediate family, with my whole heart; in the face of all these ties, I have never lost a sense of distance and a need for solitude.”

That’s quite Hermit-y, isn’t it?

I wrote out the Ten Commandments in the Paleo-Hebrew alphabet and created a seamless tile with the lettering. Then digitally filled in the background of the card with that lettering tile. To me, I didn’t feel like I needed to subscribe religiously and personally to the Ten Commandments (not that I see anything wrong with it either, and it’s not like I disagree with it) for me to appreciate its symbolic value.

The symbolism of the Ten Commandments, transcending religion per se and striking at the icons in our collective unconscious, is an evocative reminder that it’s not just about what you read, or know, or even say, but it’s about how you act. Plus, yeah, can’t deny, the Moses vibes throughout the Major Arcana are strong…

Key 6: The Lovers

Here’s some crazy synchronicity for you. I was working on the redesign of Key 6 over Christmas Eve. Meanwhile, at the same exact time I was drawing The Lovers card in my northern California home, my little sister got engaged. Her boyfriend of many years (I should know exactly how many years, but alas I do not) got down on bended knee and proposed to her while they were vacationing in Uruguay. Not to mention it happened by a significant body of water (notice the body of water illustrated in the redesigned Lovers).

I had just finished drawing the Garden of Eden and the two Trees. Then I headed downstairs to get myself another mug of coffee. That’s when my sister texted me, asking me if I was free to chat. I said yeah, sure, since I just finished my ritual drawing session. I even remarked to her that she had impeccable timing because I just finished. Had she called even a couple minutes earlier, I would have still been in session and not likely to have seen her text. She then called and announced the great news: The Boyfriend proposed!

When she told me, I didn’t even think about the tarot card I just finished illustrating upstairs. I was focused entirely on the good news and the fact my baby sister is getting married. Then we got on a family conference chat to talk about the engagement and all of us ooh-ed and ahh-ed at photos of the engagement ring, teasing her about how enormous the rock is (it’s pretty enormous). It wasn’t until the next day did I realize– oh– dang!–the synchronicity!

The above two doodles are scans of two pen and ink drawings I did over the holiday season. The one on the left is titled Garden of Eden, which you can see in the redesigned Key 6.

The one on the right is titled Alleyway of Fortune, which has become the new background of my Key 10: Wheel of Life card.  I don’t have a thumbnail visual of Key 10 for you yet since that’s still in the works.

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12 thoughts on “Redesigning Cards in SKT for the New Edition

  1. sybes1

    Hey I HAVE to comment on the redesign of The Erudite: At first that cloaked figure creeped me out but the reference photo and explanation opened my mind with an epiphany. The Cloak of Conscience—I love it. But the quote from Einstein is what really got me—My birth card is The Erudite and losing my home and 99.9% of my possessions (letters, photos, paintings, art collection, family heirlooms) had thrown me into a new way of looking at my life. So now your rendition of The Erudite has become deeply personal to me—I haven’t lost my country (except in the obvious figurative way right now if you get my drift) but I lost my home and my relatives are more distant than in my childhood. I haven’t lost my friends but I know they aren’t ‘mine’. I have always been happiest when alone. My need for solitude is great. Thanks for opening my mind and allowing this personal epiphany. XO Sally


    1. Oh, wow. Yes, there is something so beautiful, so haunting about what Einstein said and then how it was expressed in the Cloak of Conscience, and which is all so very Hermit!


  2. Ana Ottenwalder

    I am really looking forward to the finished Alleyway of Fortune card as this is my Card of the Year for 2019!!!
    I just love the Tree of Life and I am an avid Orchid grower, so the Garden of Eden card really speaks volumes to me, I feel so connected to this deck already, this is my soul deck and I don’t even have it!! I have dreams with this deck!
    I cannot wait. Amazing job Benebel!!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. K. Potter

    These redesigned cards look amazing!

    Also, looking at the 13, 14, 21 cards next to each other reminded me that my card of the year is Temperance, which seems to line up incredibly well for working deeply with the SKT deck and working towards a more esoteric understanding of the cards.

    Thank you for sharing your process!


  4. Maree

    I am truly excited about your 2nd edition of SKT . I love Sepia ! so the fact you decided you were going to have them that color I was so happy ! I love the new top of the deck design your doing and alll the symbolic goodness you put on it , you really think of everything to protect the seeker from negative unwanted energies or entities . Love where your getting your inspiration too . So excited Benebell , can’t wait to get a deck . Happy New Year ! Many blessings Priestess !


  5. Nina

    I’m so excited for the 2ndedition of The Spirit Keepers Tarot. I have the 1st edition but can’t use it, my eyes just can’t take in all the lines. It’s to do with my eyesight. The 2nd edition . . . I can see!!!! The sepia tone and the fact that certain parts of the card have been coloured with sepia, breaks up the image enough that I can focus on certain points of each card. You have no idea how excited I am!!!!
    Thank you Benebell Wen!


  6. Pingback: Spirit Keeper’s Tarot: First Edition and Vitruvian Edition – benebell wen

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