Practice Pays Off: An Etteilla Doodles Update

Left: RWS-based Key 13 Death card drawing, entirely by hand pen and ink sketch. Right: Etteilla-based Card 17 Death card drawing, mostly digital, including hand-drawing with a digital paintbrush.

The above side by side isn’t a fair comparison, but let’s compare anyway. The left was entirely hand-drawn in pen and ink back in 2018 when I first picked up drawing after not having done anything artsy for over 20 years. Well, I did do technical drawings in fashion design, but like creative artsy art. That I hadn’t done in decades.

The above right began as a thumbnail sketch by hand (I still feel better doing it that way, even after going digital), I scan in the rough sketch and then clean it up digitally. Then the illustration is colored digitally as well.

Gradually, I’m doing less and less by hand analog and more and more digitally in software. For example, even near the tail end of completing SKT Revelation art, I was finalizing almost the entire composition of each card by hand, scanning it in, and then digitally coloring, tweaking, etc.

At this point of the Etteilla project, however, there’s less than 1 hour of drawing by hand analog before everything goes digital and I take it to the finish line in Paint Shop Pro.

I will say, though, notwithstanding the boost you get from tech, my actual line drawing by hand has improved a great deal over the last 5 years. Almost every day for the last 5 years, but for a few exceptions, I’ve been practicing my drawing skills. I keep a sketchbook and make sure I draw something every day.

After the black and white SKT First reignited my zeal for drawing, I’ve been dedicating a lot of time to perfecting the craft. I shouldn’t use the word “perfecting.” I’m still so far from it. But I have been making a concerted effort to improve every one of my technical weaknesses when it comes to illustration and design.

So, for example, if I look back at some of my early SKT art and see that there were issues with bodily proportions, I go balls to the wall in with study and practice on drawing human anatomy.

For the life of me I couldn’t draw noses for some reason. So for what felt like an interminable period of time, all I drew in my sketchbook were noses. I looked up video tutorials by professional artists on how to draw noses.

And sure, I’m still having trouble with human body proportions, drawing noses, and what not, but hey, it’s pretty evident that I’m getting better and better. =)

If I had a vision for what I wanted to see color wise but I didn’t have the digital art technical skill to do it, I forced myself to learn that skill and went out hunting/researching info until I figured it out.

After every composition I do, I will give myself feedback. I’ll scrutinize what I just did and point out all its flaws. I write out a list of my flaws and then I resolve with an action plan to correct those flaws.

Then I don’t do another composition until I see observable improvement in said weakness. And I’ve been going at that approach hard for the last consecutive 5 years.

Yes, I did talk about how the recent trend of AI generated art derailed me a bit. Sure, it did make me feel like, “holy crap, what is even the point.” 🙂

But the hubby J did give me some optimistic points that feel valid. The person who wants to buy an AI generated art deck because the illustrations are flawless is not the same person who wants to buy a deck drawn by me, flaws and all. Maybe I can’t draw at the technical proficiency (or efficiency) of AI, but at the same time, the AI can’t do what I do (says the hubs).

When you truly love someone– all variations of Love that are true and sincere– you love that person’s flaws. The flaws are what’s most endearing about the people you love, not their “strengths” or skills or talents. You give your generosity, and loyalty, and faith, and heart to the people you love not because of their capabilities, but because of their vulnerabilities.

What you’ve got, said J to me, is love. You’re loved. Because you’re true. So keep on being you. You don’t need to compete with AI, or any amazingly talented artist for that matter. People aren’t buying your deck because of the great art. They’re buying your deck because you are you. (Gee…thanks, I think…)

Third card in the Three Septenaries. Etteilla Tarot inspired. Connecting theme: Time.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering about why I went with some of my design elements in the Death card, it’s the whole septenaries thing. The Moon is the third card in the first septenary; Lady Temperance is the third card in the second septenary; and Death, which I’ve retitled to Memento Mori, is the third card of the third. And all three cards touch on the theme of Time.

If you don’t love that triangle and sphere platform thing that Lady Temperance in my drawing is balancing atop, yeah, I’m not a big fan either. But let me show you where I got the idea:

Lady Temperance of the Four Virtues in the Etteilla Tarot

Am I the only one still tripping a bit over the card numbering in the Majors? =) Key 17 is Death? Key 3 is The Moon… Key 10 is Temperance…

Sixth card in the Three Septenaries. Etteilla-inspired. Connecting theme: Fate & Fortune.

And is that Key 13: The High Priest supposed to be The Hierophant or The Lovers? =D And that Key 6, be it titled “The Stars” or “The Firmament,” is — according to Papus — The Empress card equivalent.

I also recently finished the Two of Swords. But oopsie…

I wasn’t detail-oriented. I did check a few different versions of Etteilla before setting to composing my Two of Swords, but didn’t look carefully enough.

Etteilla Tarot, Two of Swords. Compare: Seven of Swords from Etteilla I ft. Probus.

Some printings of the Two of Swords between 1870 and 1890 mistakenly swapped in a Victorian-version-of-clip-art engraving of the 3rd century Roman emperor Probus, whereas the earlier printings of this card featured Constantine. Probus was on the Seven of Swords.

From Jeux de cartes instructives. 10, Histoire des Empereurs (1808) by Pierre-François Godard

Cartomancy scholar and the awesomest person ever John Choma pointed this out to me. And here I thought I had been careful! Argh! Not careful enough! 🙂

Since I digitally do my card illustrations in layers, I could easily swap out Probus for Constantine, since I planned on drawing Constantine anyway for what I thought was going to be the Seven of Swords. But going with the keywords printed on the cards and the historical biographies of the two emperors, I’m feeling like Constantine makes more sense with the Seven of Swords, and I really like how I worked in Probus’s story for the Two of Swords card meaning. =)

Courtesy of John Choma

And look what John sent me! I love the tarot community so much! ❤

Btw I love the “diversity” of featuring Fohi (Fuxi) and Confucius! Look at that Asian representation even way back when! =)

In tandem with the art, I’ve been writing up the card entries in an Etteilla Tarot guidebook, which can be used for  both the deck I’m creating and any of the historical Etteillas.

9 thoughts on “Practice Pays Off: An Etteilla Doodles Update

  1. Milinda

    That James, he’s a keeper. And absolutely right. AI, to me, doesn’t have “soul” and your drawings have both heart and soul (not to mention the correct number of hands, feet, etc.). That aside, this is my Death card year and I’m loving your depiction here. The curves lend a sort of grace that I don’t normally consider when I contemplate the Death card. Thank you for this.


  2. Stuart Shrigley-Wightman

    Yep practice makes perfect. You can see it in the other cards as well and they hold your energies. There is something in the images. An echo? An imprint/signature? Maybe? But with the AI I don’t feel that, they are hollow. They have no feeling for me and they all look the same the characters all have stretched out bodies with the lacy billowing material around them. But like you said. What is art? Sure it has its place. But when it’s been drawn /painted there’s something that exists within the work. I get that from your SKT deck. Just my opinion. Stu

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Wow, now I feel better about creating numerous versions of my collage tarot cards, always thinking that I can do something better. I love ALL your versions.

    & I can research myself to death, too, although I think that’s part of the fun.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I genuinely love what you said here about loving flaws. I have been feeling so derailed lately by a recurring impression of ‘merit first, then receive love’ …other words for love might also be respect. Which must be holistic and given in an open manner. One ‘earns it’ mainly in the sense that one does not damage it! At least, thats what I hope for in life. I LOVE the Memento Mori card, btw. And it’s so cool to read about your process! 💜💜💜


    1. I also slip into the impression of “merit first, then receive love,” esp. on a subconscious behavioral level, or conflating merit, respect, and love altogether. So I do love the reminder that no, actually when we really stop to think about it, those who love us– truly, sincerely love us– do so because of our flaws and vulnerabilities, not because of what utility they think we might serve.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. lol oops– I uploaded the wrong draft of my Two of Swords. An earlier version had Probus looking left when upright intentionally and right when reversed because of some thought I had about how I wanted Probus to look right for directionality reasons when the card comes up in reverse. Future-looking from the vantage point of a card spread, yada yada but then I changed my mind and reverted back to following Tradition. 😛

      I updated the image file in the blog post. 😀


  5. Pingback: Practice Pays Off: An Etteilla Doodles Update – spiritual advisor to psychics

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