At last, our Coffee Tarot Limited Edition (Majors only) deck is done!
We’re so happy with how it came out.
Ron and I have conceived many decks over the years, but this will probably be the last one we’ll bring to fruition in the material world.
In Chez Boyer, we’re huge coffee lovers—the smell, the taste, the mugs, the flavored creamers…
There’s nothing like it.
The idea for Coffee Tarot bubbled up when we were out on the porch, drinking java and having one of our impromptu Coffee Creative Calypso gatherings. (Our 3C catchphrase refers to our family brainstorming sessions, where we sit around a table to discuss art, philosophy, writing and music—and, sometimes, pull out the MagPo for spontaneous poetry or story ideas).
I said to Ron: “We should do a Coffee Tarot. Try using watercolor pencils on paper, instead, so it’s not as time consuming as our Snowland Deck” (which utilized specially cut wood that was sanded, gessoed multiple times and painted using acrylics).
“I don’t know…” he wavered. “I like the detailing that acrylics afford.”
“Yes”, I conceded, “but watercolor pencils would be so much faster. And, you can do it in a limited color palette! Primarily coffee and creamer tones—browns, white, ecru…maybe some gray and black for shadow or metal renderings”.
“Hmmm”. Ron wasn’t convinced.
“Oh, come ON”, I pleaded. “It will be fun! We can do a Majors-only deck, as an experiment. That way, it’s only 22 cards instead of 78. If pre-orders are brisk, to our liking, we can expand it to a full deck. But no pressure! Plus, pencils will be so much faster. You’ll be done in a few months, rather than several years.”
I admit to having selfish motives.
I wanted a Coffee Tarot…badly! After all, it combined two of my loves. And, I’d never seen a Coffee Tarot suggested as an idea, let alone pulled off (one of my criteria for pouncing on a new project).
We started getting ideas right then and there for cards. Because we collaborated before with our Snowland Deck, Ron was familiar with the process: have a unique rendering that still reflected a common or sensible meaning for a particular card.
He became convinced we had something here, getting really jazzed as the image possibilities flowed fast and furious between us.
The process began in late May 2014 and ended September 21, 2014—the day the final card was completed (appropriately, Blending—our version of Temperance).
I thought I’d give you a brief tour through the Coffee Tarot to give you an idea of our inspirations and reasoning for each card.
Without further ado, let’s get brewing!
The Bean – Every good cup of coffee started off with a bean. The “beans” of a coffee plant are actually seeds—the perfect personification for The Fool in our Coffee Tarot. Just as The Fool starts out his journey (or life) with fresh-faced potential, so does The Bean. Will he be cast off as “undesirable”? Fall off the plant unnoticed? Left on the shrub to rot in the sun? Picked to be roasted as a chocolate covered treat or for the eventual elixir of the gods—possibly traveling thousands of miles to parts unknown? Will the final result be welcomed, enjoyed and celebrated? Rejected, poured down the drain and vilified? Just as The Fool doesn’t know what or who he’ll encounter on the path to experience, so, too, the humble Bean from the coffee plant. For more thoughts on The Bean, see my post "The Evolution and Reinterpretation of Symbols (Or, the Coffee Tarot Leaves Me Cold)" at this link.
Magic – Here at Chez Boyer, coffee + creamer + sugar + creative tools = magic! Sure, we could’ve taken the easy route for this card, portraying a wizard pointing his wand to make the perfect cup of coffee. But, in our artistic household, the wand of creativity begins with tools: pen, pixels and paper for me; paints, pencils and canvas for Ron; piano keys for Noah. Yes, mostly fueled by caffeine via coffee (ha!), but we still must pick up and use those creative tools for true magic to manifest. Fuel isn’t enough for a car to go, after all: the driver must put the key in the ignition, shift gears and put the foot to the gas pedal to move. So for our Coffee Tarot, a hot cup of joe is surrounded by four symbols correlating to those on the Rider-Waite-Smith version’s table (which correspond to the four elements): Fire/Wands is represented by the rising steam forming a lemniscate above the cup (the heat igniting our imagination); Earth/Coins is represented by the clay bowl of sugar and metal spoon (all harvested from the earth); Water/Cups is represented by the container of liquid creamer (hazelnut half-and-half for me, please!) and Air/Swords is represented by the pen—a tool for communication (and often mightier than the sword)—and a blank notebook, a place for words to find expression via ink.
Secret Recipe – Echoing the two pillars in the RWS High Priestess card, one cylindrical storage shelf is made of dark wood, while the other is light. The checkerboard patterned floor also reflects the black/white duality theme (to learn more about the High Priestess symbolism, see my post here.) Instead of a pomegranate veil, however, our barista enters a curtain made of another type of seed: the coffee bean! What kind of fruitfulness hides behind that beaded curtain? Is it a stockroom? The roasting area? A place for storing secret recipes? That’s the rub: like the High Priestess, she tells us nothing. Whether her lips are sealed or she has our back to us, we don’t know the secret she holds…or guards. Either we become initiated into the cosmic coffee shop to find out for ourselves—or we decide that some mysteries are just not worth the effort to pursue, let alone fully understand.
French Press – Our version of The Empress, The French Press card not only depicts an actual French press—but also a French (em)Press. Can you guess who she is? ::wink:: Surrounded by pots, pans, utensils and finished sweet treats, our Queen of the Kitchen envisions, nurtures and produces life-sustaining goodies. A copper mold on the wall forms the shape of a rabbit, a symbol of fertility and productivity (click here to read my post on rabbit symbolism in the Tarot). Her badge of honor reads L’Emperatrice, the French name for this card. (To read more about the Symbols in the Empress card, click here).
The Emperor – Director of trade routes (as seen on the back of his solid, square, imposing throne), overseer of quality control, decider of import/export agreements and ruler over an organized coffee kingdom, our Emperor functions much like the traditional renderings of The Emperor card—except his domain is java! Most cards depict The Emperor face on, but we decided that showing him from behind—actually governing and interacting with people—told more of a story than a static figure. Plus, we get to guess what The Emperor’s facial expression and reaction is to this excited man presenting a full bag of coffee beans. (Coffee beans decorate the flag, the emperor’s cape and the diamond motfis on the throne).
Tradition – Our version of The Hierophant, Tradition replicates one of the oldest forms of storytelling, as well as the transmission of history, tribal mores and spiritual mythos: the cave painting. Ron decided to go a surrealistic route on this card, portraying the hunted horned animals as coffee bean creatures. Two hunters in the lower left corner wonder WTF is going on when a third lays down arms to chase the caffeinated beast, cup outstretched, no doubt suffering from withdrawal! A common motif among cave paintings, Ron included the red outlined hands on the wall, except they reach for a steaming mug of joe in the upper right—not only attempting to make their mark on the clan’s dwelling, but also showing the central role that coffee plays in their world.
The Lovers –The Lovers is oh-so-much more than just meeting someone, falling in love and declaring undying devotion. It’s also a card about commitment, vows, choice and sharing (sometimes, uncomfortably, to those with untamed egos). As our lovers share a single hot cup of coffee with dual handles, each reaches for the last biscotti. Will they beak it in half? Will each insist that the other eat it? Will one say “Dibs!”—grab it, nibble and giggle in sugary glee? Perhaps they’ll feed each other, taking bites in turn. Or maybe they’ll touch hands, smile warmly—and decide they’d rather have some hot sex right now instead of eating another sweet treat. One thing we know about our Lovers: they’re into each other (and coffee!). (Joined coffee beans decorate the center of the mug, and the woman wears a coffee bean bracelet).
Fuel – Our version of The Chariot, we decided to call this card Fuel, which enables our percolator rocket to get off the ground—indicating propulsion, high energy, advancement, confident forward (or, in this case, upward) movement, busting through barriers and public achievement. Once again, we wanted to capture the energy and meaning of The Chariot, rather than show a static Rider-Waite-Smith style image that usually portrays none of the steel will, dynamism, harnessed energy and progress embodied within this archetype. Ron had the idea of a rocket taking off, which beautifully reflects these card meanings. And for those of us who rely on java to start our day (let alone get anything done), we know coffee is our fuel—and, sometimes, an impetus for greatness!
Strength – Ron came up with this innovative image, which perfectly illustrates two components of Strength: the delicate balance of grace under pressure, and actual physical strength. Can you imagine the finesse required to balance a hot cup of coffee on a bulging bicep while opening (then pouring) a packet of sugar in the steaming cup? Wow! And the Juan tattoo? My idea—an homage to Juan Valdez, an iconic fictional character popularized in coffee commercials.
The Seeker – Our version of The Hermit, we spent many hours debating on this one. Ron wanted to do an old prospector in front of (or inside) a cave, holding up a lantern. But how to incorporate the coffee element besides having him hold a cup of coffee? Make the cave entrance look like a coffee bean? I just couldn’t get on board with that idea. When we reach an impasse with a card, Ron and I let it “brew” in our subconscious—sometimes, for days—as he works on other cards or projects. “What about a library?” I suggested, “populated with books bearing coffee-related titles? You could paint a lamp, maybe an old-fashioned gas one, representing illumination. Hermits are often wisdom bearers, as well as guides to knowledge for those hungry for information or truth”. Ron got excited about the idea—and came up with all the titles on the books. Below is a close-up. Too funny, huh? My favorite is Baby’s 1st Cup: Tips on Serving Coffee in the Crib. (LOL!)
The Roasting Wheel – The Roasting Wheel is our version of The Wheel of Fortune card. Round and round the wheel spins, tossing the beans to and fro as they’re made ready for either chocolate covered candies or brewing. Those closer to the outside are more likely to get tossed overboard, never making it to their intended destinations. In life, we’re thrown around, too, by the unexpected vagaries of life. The closer we stay to center (our center), the better our chances of making it to our destination, intact. All humanity shares the churning wheel archetype, collectively and individually, and each of us has been “roasted” (burned?) in myriad ways. Makes you feel a bit more compassionate for your fellow human beans, doesn’t it?
The Scale – Our version of Justice, The Scale depicts how we weigh goods, values and experience. Do we judge with our heads (or pockets)—or our hearts? In the Coffee Tarot, coffee beans outweigh precious gems, jewelry and gold coins (natch!). Ron enjoys including a “little man” motif in at least one of his cards (in our Snowland Deck, he’s hiding amid the Commander’s spiked icicle crown), and he’s clearly on the side of coffee in this image (with two cups in hand). The twining vine shows how our judgments and estimations can grow over time (hopefully, evolving in proportion to objectivity, gathered facts, open-minded inquiry and a thirst for truth). The playful swirls, reminiscent of the luxurious aroma of hot coffee, reminds us that our preferences and tastes may color our judgments—and, on a grand scale, those things we deem so terribly important, may in fact be “small beans”…so lighten up!
Hanging – My original idea for this card was to show an elaborate kinetic sculpture hanging from a large tree branch, made up of various sizes and shapes of ceramic mugs. Yes, it was rather abstract, I admit, but I thought it connected to the tree of Yggdrasil, as well as “seeing things differently” (I mean, who would think of ornamental hanging mugs akin to homemade wind chimes? Oops. Me, that’s who). Ron couldn’t catch a vision for it, feeling that it didn’t tell enough of a story. So we sat on it for awhile, and he came up with a cowboy relaxing (“hanging out”) on his porch, watching his young boys play in the yard (they’re reflected in the window behind him). A coffee mug dangles (hangs) from the man’s gloved hand. One of the sons trusses up his brother to a tree, hanging him from the ankle. What a new perspective—hanging upside down in the backyard, at the mercy of your sibling! And, perhaps, the dad is reflecting on his own childhood—or how far he’s come as a father. Or maybe, he’s silently thanking his Deity or communing with nature at his rural homestead. We’ll leave that up to you, the viewer, to decide. (A coffee bean band encircles the father’s hat).
Out of Business – Death can be a tricky card to depict, especially if you eschew Rider-Waite-Style iconography (a skeleton on a horse or the grim reaper)—and if you happen to illustrate upbeat, gentle decks. Ron conceived the Out of Business card rather quickly, and I loved the idea. I suggested a flower pushing up through the concrete outside (bottom left) to hint at life struggling against the elements (and hard times), yet preserving among harsh environs. And, although the cloth awning is tattered and litter is strewn on the sidewalk, the “For Sale” sign also offers hope: the promise of a new owner who will revive and refurbish the Coffee Shop, reborn as a thriving business that will bless the local economy—and the java-craved palettes of the community.
Blending – The Thoth deck calls Temperance “Art”, and it wasn’t until I was writing this "Tour Through the Coffee Tarot" post that I realized our version’s resemblance to the imagery of Crowley’s deck (at least, in terms of pouring two different liquids into one receptacle). Although I’ve owned the Thoth Tarot for years, I never get it out, so most of the imagery isn’t in my conscious memory. Anyway, I thought Blending would be a great title for this card, especially when it comes to combining opposites. The blender at left echoes this “mixing it up” theme. Just like some baristas love to test out flavorings and ingredients to make new, sensuous elixirs for customers, so, too, does the figure in the Coffee Tarot’s Blending card. She doesn’t aim for perfection, for her quest is experimentation—and so her countertop is a messy one. Will she add cocoa from the sifter? Whisk in some other ingredients? Adjust the amounts of her flavorings? Decide the espresso base could do with some steamed milk? Add a dash of cinnamon or vanilla to her mocha surprise? Blending invites us to artistry—to experiment with unique combinations--harmonizing sweet and salty, dark and light, hot and cold, spicy and earthy, masculine and feminine. What could we do with our life if we weren’t afraid to experiment—to try unexpected combinations? To allow more Yang if we’re mostly Yin…or Yin, if we’re mostly Yang? (Initially, Ron had the Yin/Yang symbol on the cup, but I thought it would look better on the apron. Then, we could yell out “Coffee!” on the mug. Just in case you forgot what our deck was about).
Caf~fiend – Who’s The Devil in a Coffee Tarot? Why, the shakes—the kind that comes with waaaaay too much caffeinated coffee. Our rattlesnake sports a vibrating tail made up of coffee beans, as does his distinctive diamond-back skin. Look closely at the handle on the mug at right, and you’ll spy a handcuff— symbolizing the chains and self-made prison of addiction. With no thought of personal cost (even if it’s a poisonous snake bite!), the coffee “fiends” still reaches for another cup. Addicts know all about the “just one more” mantra, and for these fearless (or foolish) java junkies, another cup could come at a very high price. (Huge thanks to Sylvia of Dunedin Tarot in New Zealand for providing the clever name for this card!).
The Rip – Although Ron suggested a rather conventional image for our version of The Tower (a building hit by lightning, albeit a fresh rendering), I had a flash of inspiration: a tall burlap bag! Filled with coffee beans! With a rip! “Hmm”, considered Ron. “It’s rather simplistic…” “Well, yes”, I countered. “But it’s a cool image! And we can have mice gnawing on the bag, representing the thoughts, attitudes and beliefs that no longer serve wellbeing and which can eventually undermine (or destroy) a person’s life”. And so it is.
The Star – Coffee is obviously the star of our deck! And since I’ve been watching one of my childhood idols on DVD, I had the idea of a Wonder Woman-inspired card. The emerging stars resemble those in the 70s TV show intro, and the coffee bean motif in the background mimics the pixel dots in old-school comic books. The base of the mug is Wonder Woman’s tiara, while the handle is a nod to her golden magic lasso. Wonder Woman was (is?) the ultimate feminist icon, promoting and defending Aquarian values like compassion, unity, sisterhood, equality, diplomacy, technology (used mindfully), world peace, innovation and respect for the individual—as well as some of the more New Age ideas of animal communication, telepathy, superhuman skills, psychic ability, immortality, Atlantis, goddess worship and alien contact. Much better at capturing the ideal and import of The Star card than a naked woman pouring liquid from a jug beside a stream, in my estimation… (Interestingly, two fascinating books about Wonder Woman came out in 2014: Wonder Woman Unbound: The Curious History of the World's Most Famous Heroine and The Secret History of Wonder Woman).
The Moon – Ron and his love for space travel! Our winter-themed deck depicted a snowmonaut for The Stars card, and Mr. Ron revisits the idea with a surrealistic javanaut on what looks to be the Earth's moon…but is it? After all, instead of our blue planet reflected in the visor, we have a huge floating coffee bean. And the coffee poured from the thermos? It’s floating. Where the hell is he, anyway? And so it is with The Moon. We’re never sure of our footing (or location) when this card comes up, because it’s fraught with mystery, concealment, shadows, reflection, subconscious symbols and—sometimes, deception (including self-deception). Looking closer, we see several super-cool motifs embedded by Ron: JAVA (instead of NASA), a coffee bean flag (instead of the U.S. flag), the number 18 on the badge (the traditional numerical designation of The Moon) and a metallic mug on the javanaut’s suit. (When hard pressed, Ron admits this is his favorite card in the Coffee Tarot, with World Café a close second).
The Moon (Bonus) – I asked (begged) Ron to do a second Moon card, because I really liked one of his ideas: to depict the “Hey, Diddle Diddle” nursery rhyme, but have a cup (instead of a dish) run away with the spoon. I love the surprised expression on the moon as a cow attempts to jump him. A surrealistic nod to a beloved children’s song, as well as the fantastical imagery that often populates our dreams and intuitive vision.
The Sun – At first glance, this appears to be a simple rendering. Some may even call it “cute”. But I’ve deconstructed its symbols (including the heavy eyelids, the rooster and Styrofoam cup) that are so unconsciously imbedded; you may not have given them second thought. Click here to read that post. I love the idea that the sun needs java to start his day just like many of us mere mortals!
Wake Up Call – In the Coffee Tarot’s version of Judgment, the angel doesn’t blow a horn summoning the dead to a final reckoning, resurrecting dead flesh into glowing spirit now unfettered from mortality. No, in our deck, a helpful angel pours from a carafe (whose trumpet emblem “blows” coffee drips) into a mug—held by the outstretched hand of a corpse. Coffee zombie, indeed! A supernatural resuscitation totally believable for coffee lovers… And the mounded dirt around the grave? It looks just like coffee grounds!
World Café – Initially, this card began as Ron’s idea for Justice (scales were depicted in the upper left, with three additional symbols in the other three corners). When I first saw the sketch, I thought it was The World card. Until he told me, “No, that’s Justice”. Hmm. “No, I don’t like it as Justice. It feels like The World. Let’s play with it.” Ron had the brilliant idea of portraying the four senses involved in enjoying a cup of coffee as the four corner symbols (traditionally occupied by the four symbols of the Fixed Zodiac signs—Aquarius, Scorpio, Leo and Taurus). So we have sight (eye), smell (nose), taste (tongue) and touch (hands around a steaming mug). A coffee bean serves as the man’s Third Eye (of course!), and he balances the spectrum of coffee—from bag to silver flagon—in his hands. The concentric circles surrounding the man go from dark to light—symbolizing ignorance evolving into illumination, The Bean’s inexperience expanding to wisdom gained from worldly experience. Interestingly, World Café turned out to be one of Ron’s favorite images from this deck. (The central figure wears a necklace adorned with coffee beans).
The Backing – A slew of roasted coffee beans seemed like the perfect backing for a Coffee Tarot! We were going to do a second backing for a full, mass-market edition—reversible coffee cups—but when pre-orders for our Limited Edition deck didn’t meet our expectations, we decided to forgo doing a full deck altogether.
Because watercolor pencils crumble rather easily, Ron must sharpen almost all of them using an exacto knife rather than a traditional sharpener. Yes, he sharpens most of them by hand. Whew!
You may wonder, “Janet, what are your favorite cards in the Coffee Tarot?”
It’s a difficult question to answer, truly. I really love Tradition and Fuel, as well as The Rip. I find Out of Business quite touching and expressive, too (Noah says that’s his favorite). And you can probably tell how much I love The Star. But if I had to pick one, at gunpoint, it would be Wake Up Call. It cracks me up. I love the luminosity Ron achieved with the glowing angel (hard to believe it’s watercolor pencils!), as well as the emerging sunrise. Very appealing both compositionally, as well as symbolically.
Sketches, Poses and Ron’s Studio (Oh My!)
Ron’s a stickler for authenticity, so he stages almost all of his paintings involving humans using a timed camera. When we’re up, Noah and I also serve as models, too (we’re usually on a night schedule while Ron, having a full-time day job, is a morning person), but Ron does most of the modeling. When need arises, he even makes props for card imagery—like the “French press”. (We’ve since gotten a French press, but haven’t tried it out yet). Below are some of his reference photos:
Some sketches don’t meet my approval—or we end up coming up with a better idea in the interim. Why don’t all of Ron’s sketches meet my approval? Well, first, I need to have a “That’s it!” feeling about an image. It must reflect one or more of the traditional meanings of the particular Tarot card, as well as include an obvious nod to the theme. Both Ron and I want each card of our Tarots to tell a story, so that those completely new to Tarot can weave a yarn about a particular image (including children). For us, the storytelling component is a vital link to intuition and the ability to mine symbolic associations for personal insight.
And, sometimes, I just don’t like the way an image is posed. For example, after seeing his staged photo of Wake Up Call, I suggested that a hand could be thrust up through the grave dirt. For Blending, the last card Ron completed, I wasn’t happy with the arm positions, the size of the blender and the Yin/Yang symbol on the cup. So he erased some elements, and began sketching some corrections:
For The World card, Ron’s initial idea was to put “the world” in a drop a coffee. He’d show the different activities made possible by a caffeinated high (exercise, writing, running after kids, playing an instrument, chores, work, etc.), connected by lines—as if diagramming a molecular structure—all depicted inside The Drop.
Ron woke up from a dead sleep with The Drop idea, hatched in is dreams in the middle of the night. Noah accompanied him to the studio to watch the idea unfold.
As much as I loved the idea—I mean, really loved it—a card’s image must fulfill two purposes above all else (in my creative direction handbook, anyway): 1. Serve the Tarot (including reflecting one or more traditional, practical meanings for a card) and 2. Serve the theme in a obvious way.
While The Drop was clever, the drop could be liquid anything. We assume it’s coffee because it’s from the Coffee Tarot—but could the image stand on its own? Would someone think of coffee as the first (or even second) choice for the liquid? And, the activities were a result of coffee—but, again, the theme wasn’t obvious enough to my liking.
Below is a picture of Ron at work in his art studio, complete with some labeling (ha!). Click on it for a larger version.
Our local seamstress just finished eighteen of the fifty bags she’s making (I handpicked the fabric—it came all the way from England!), as well as the satin cording. Ron and I sewed on the special café au lait bronze charms on each of them (no two are alike). Below are some pics:
It just so happens that the supplier of the fabric above (in the U.K.) no longer carries this print. But the good news is that I've found another cute fabric:
EDIT: Jamme asked in the comments below how the paintings go from canvas/paper to cards. Great question! Here's my process:
- I take Ron's completed work (either canvas or paper) and scan it.
- I then design borders for the image. (For Snowland, it was white borders all around. For Coffee Tarot, it's the brown strip at bottom).
- I choose what color and font I want for the titles, and add them to the image.
- Using a template provided by the printer (The Game Crafter)--we use the Jumbo size for our decks (but there's lots of types to pick from)--I overlay the image onto the template. This took a LOT of trial and error for Snowland!
- I the create a special title card featuring the deck's title and our names (so we can sign them and, in the case of Coffee Tarot being a Limited Edition, number them).
- I create a "game" at the printer's, and upload each card. It "proofs" to see if there's any size errors.
- When all cards have been proofed, I order a test deck to see if everything came out the way I envisioned. If not, it's back to the drawing board until I get a perfect deck.
- When a test deck turns out perfect, I then place a bulk order with the printer.
- When the decks arrive, I go through every one, making sure all cards are there and that there's no printing/ink errors (it happens). I then put the deck in order. (For Snowland, it was title card, the 4 Special Significators, Majors, Energy suit, Emoting Suit, Material Suit and Mental Suit. For the Coffee Tarot, it will be title card then the Majors Fool - World).
- We then place each deck in a bag, tuck in a Thank You card and/or business card, package it up and send it somewhere in the world! :o)
I hope you enjoyed my intimate tour of our Coffee Tarot, including some behind-the-scenes snapshots of our workspaces and creative process. We’re only printing fifty of our Limited Edition Coffee Tarot, and thirty are already spoken for (which leaves only twenty left). To order your deck, which comes with the charmed bag, please visit Tarot.Coffee.
Thanks for reading, for your interest and for supporting our work!