I am so excited to be offering you this pre-publication glimpse of Zeke’s Arcana, painted by Melbourne-based artist and art YouTuber Julia (who also goes by Zeke, hence Zeke’s Arcana).
Her work is often described as “strange, prismatic, and unearthly,” and Zeke’s Arcana is true to those words. Julia and her creative partner Jules teamed up to produce this fresh and bubbly RWS-based deck of cards.
The deck project began around 2018, and the journey of creating these cards is documented in a series of videos on the Zeke’s Lunchbox YouTube channel.
A Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign launches on September 30, 2021 to fund the production of this vibrant art deck. To retrace the artist’s incredible journey, check out this Playlist of all videos relating to Zeke’s Arcana Tarot.
In this pre-release glimpse, you’re going to see how the Three Septenaries of the Majors are assigned a specific color palette.
The First Septenary, which Zeke refers to as the practical plane, is orange; the Second Septenary, the mental plane, is purple, and the Third Septenary, the spiritual plane, is blue.
The color coordination then continues in the Minor Arcana, mapping out four distinct geographies based on the four elements.
The Major Arcana cards are done in acrylic paint. Watch a video of the artist painting The World card. You can see the saturation differences between the original painting that you see in the video and the digitally retouched version printed for the deck, which you’ll catch a glimpse of later in this showcase.
I love the artist’s own tongue-in-cheek description of her tarot card illustrations here– “painting naked alien babes.” That figure in the Strength card, for instance, seems to be wearing a Biblically-accurate angel with eyeballs as headgear, not to mention after a couple of blinks I realize the tiger has a unicorn horn. I love that symbolic touch of the caterpillar and butterflies in the Death card. Nemo’s head on a clothed human body for Temperance is creepy-cute in all the good ways.
The undertaking began with the Majors, which articulate 22 distinct environments, or 22 provinces. The Minor Arcana cards are characters and scenes that are set in those 22 regional provinces.
Cards from the Suit of Wands, for instance, are set in the environment defined by The Sun card. The blue skies and pink bubble terrain that’s the setting throughout the suit of Wands are showing you the many regions of the environment featured in The Sun, and for that matter, there’s a similarity in terrain and geography throughout the Third Septenary. The purple, snowy environment you see in the Second Septenary is the setting for the Suit of Coins or Pentacles.
The cards remind me a bit of Navigators of the Mystic Sea by Julia Turk, or if Deviant Moon Tarot was given a total hue and saturation reboot. The aesthetic in Zeke’s Arcana was heavily inspired by the 80s and 90s, which is delightfully evident.
The cards I’m showing here are from an early prototype copy of the deck, so some of these cards and minor detailing may be different from the final. What you’ll be seeing in these photos may include temporary placeholders.
For example, the above Page of Wands gives you a sense of the motif that will be recurring through the four Pages, but then below, you’ll see that right now, the Page of Coins is still a temporary placeholder card.
From what I’ve been following of the deck’s design journey, the Major Arcana cards were all hand-painted in acrylics, i.e., traditional art. Then for the Minor Arcana, the cards are done digitally. The above screenshot shows the artist rendering the King of Coins card via digital painting.
In this video Julia talks about her sampling process and the many test prints she went through. Her and her creative partner Jules’s approach to deck production design is highly meticulous.
For instance, her partially-formed idea for the Knight of Coins (to compare, you can see a more fleshed out Knight concept in the earlier Suit of Wands) was printed and produced into an early prototype deck anyway. Considering how costly it can get to print each prototype, that approach is commitment! =)
There are some really beautifully done nods to Asian aesthetic standards, like the money trees throughout the suit of Coins and the facial structure inspiring the Queen of Coins.
In one of Julia’s art videos on her channel, she talks about splitting images down the center to create space, and filling that center meridian the way you see in both the King of Wands and the above King of Coins. You also saw it earlier in the spit down the figure’s face in the Knight of Wands. This surrealist concept is just such an extraordinary visual touch to the art.
The use of color contrast to create eye-popping, memorable illustrations is just incredible. Details throughout the deck– like the swan as the boat in the Six of Swords, or the bird of prey in the Eight of Swords wearing blinders– demonstrate the depth of thought that went into designing the compositions for each card.
Speaking of the disclaimer that this is just an early unfinished prototype draft of the deck, I’m almost certain that the Aces aren’t done either, so the white space archways you see in the four Aces are placeholders. I’d bet the artist is working on the concept for what the four archways will look like, and then digitally layer them in once she’s decided on a concept.
The way animals are depicted in this deck is pure joy. Look at the Three of Cups, Four of Cups, Five, that Nine of Cups, or the koi fish in the Ten of Cups!
Zeke’s Arcana feels like a retro candy store that has been given a design makeover by Lisa Frank, invoking waves of nostalgia in me. I love the Treasure Trolls in the Six of Cups, which incidentally, is a card oft associated with nostalgia. Speaking of… Oh man, I had this pretty impressive collection of Treasure Troll dolls when I was in grade school.
When my sisters and I were kids, we were obsessed with Lisa Frank and Treasure Trolls (and also Care Bears). Every time my dad went on a work trip, he’d come home with a dedicated suitcase full of Lisa Frank paraphernalia and Treasure Troll dolls. As kids we had pretty much made it mandatory on him that Dad couldn’t return home from a work trip without armloads of toys for us. Now as an adult and having had to go on several work trips myself, I’m so impressed with him! How the heck did he ever find the time on work trips to slip off to toy stores and buy arm loads of toys?!? Can you imagine the effort it must have taken a father to search specifically for Lisa Frank and Treasure Trolls in a city he’s never been to before, in those days before Google Maps? Anyway sorry for the tangent.
The artistic talent it took to create this deck is next level, and I love the hybrid approach of traditional plus digital. Zeke’s Arcana Tarot melds pop art with surrealism and plays with warm-cool color contrasts in a way that will activate your creativity.
I’m so thrilled to be showcasing this pre-release glimpse of the deck. I hope you’ll contribute to the Zeke’s Arcana Kickstarter campaign. Help make this ambitious, years-in-the-making art project a reality!
FTC Disclosure: In accordance with Title 16 of the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations Part 255, “Guides Concerning Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising,” I received this early draft prototype of the deck for prospective review. Everything I’ve said here is sincere and accurately reflects my opinion of the deck.