The Heart & Hands Tarot is a black and white deck by artist Liz Blackbird, and while it was first released as an indie deck crowd-funded via Kickstarter, it gained such buzz that now it’s been picked up by U.S. Games for the mass market.
This deck reminds me a bit of the Wandering Moon Tarot, which I reviewed recently, but the two feature very distinct and different art styles. Where Wandering Moon utilized pointillism evocative of stardust and galaxy matter with maybe the slightest trace of a Shel Silverstein vibe, Blackbird’s Heart & Hands is in a bold, dramatic Art Nouveau style of illustration.
The Major Arcana were drawn when the artist was in her early 20s, and in her words, “when I was at my least enlightened, but also at my most confident and attuned with my own creativity.” There’s so much symbolism and expression to admire here– the skull’s head moth in the Death card, with that caption being the only one shaded in while the other captions are white, preceded by a figure cocooned like a chrysalis in The Hanged Man right before we see the moth, the androgynous Lovers card, to the eye shape that the Key number 2 is encased in, in The High Priestess. I love the abstract slightly-hidden-side-profile embodying The Empress card.
She drew the suit of Cups as she experienced her first love. I love the heart on the chalice in the Ace (1) of Cups, and the style of rendering the clouds there seem East Asian inspired. There’s also this modern-esque woodcut engravings aesthetic.
The court cards came to her as she graduated from college and stepped into the world beyond the ivory towers that students had known for too long. As she traveled and met people from all walks of life, so, too, the faces of the court card illustrations came to her.
She worked on the suit of Pentacles as she was experiencing her first full-time job. There’s a repeating pictorial theme in this suit of money exchanging hands. The figure in a suit holding a briefcase with a three-card reading tagged onto the side of that briefcase is provocative in the Prince of Pentacles. Loving the chthonic deity imagery for the King of Pentacles.
And then when that first love ended, Blackbird drew the suit of Swords, with dramatic imagery of blades piercing hearts and hands. Yet we end with a bright and inspiring ending to this story: as a new relationship and new career blossomed, her suit of Wands came to life. In this suit, you see rays of light and hands regaining control of their environments.
This deck also designates Justice as Key 8 and Strength for Key 11, where the start of the Majors gave me the impression that the creator was departing from the RWS, though then the Minors feel very much within the universe of RWS inspiration. That hybrid approach works for me here.
Blackbird’s art style reminds me of linocut block printmaking. Her stylistic approach to drawing human figures reminds me a bit of the Efflorescent Tarot (especially if you’re drawing connections to the original black and white edition of Efflorescent).
I wonder if the overall design of the cards would have been better served with less white margin space. Or maybe some ornamental design along the edges so that the thick white borders are less stark.
By the way, I don’t know what finish U.S. Games used for this deck, but I love it! It gives the cards a great slip so I can fan them out fluidly across my reading table. They shuffle beautifully and feel like magic as they move beneath your palms.
The deck came to its completion in Blackbird’s 30s, and thus was a decade in the making. I love the thoughtfulness in the detailing for the card back design. The companion guidebook is meaty! It’s got minimal white space and includes a description of the imagery on each card along with some notes on its inspiration, the card meaning upright, and then the card meaning in reverse. There’s a seven-card Open Hand Spread that feels a bit like palmistry meets cartomancy, and I’m totally here for it!
What really impresses me is the use of ornamental patterns to fill forms and space in the compositions. This is better appreciated when you zoom in and look at the artwork close-up.
I want to close by quoting from an interview of the deck creator conducted by Cassandra Snow, which you can read in full here. Snow asked Blackbird, “How does your deck speak to marginalized and queer audiences?” Here’s Blackbird’s response:
Because I identify as queer, and because queerness was so bound up in the way I first became interested in tarot, I tried to design this deck in a way that avoided presuming heterosexuality or a male perspective, and that included people of color.
Many of my figures, especially my Lovers, are very androgynous, and my number cards are all zoomed in to depict only the figures’ hands to avoid ascribing them a fixed identity.
For my court cards, I chose to use a Prince and Princess rather than a Knight and Page to have gender equity within the court.
There are also two major arcana cards that depict genderqueer figures – Justice and the World.
In general, I wanted to create space in the designs for readers to be able to ascribe their own gender and sexuality interpretations to the cards.
Liz Blackbird’s Heart & Hands Tarot is a remarkable and memorable deck, and where representation and inclusivity matters, this may just very well be your soul deck.
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 deck for prospective review. Everything I’ve said here is sincere and accurately reflects my opinion.