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long with thousands of other people, I was made homeless due to the Olympics in Sydney on 2000. Landlords were kicking people out and renovating places, so many people like me who didn’t have a lease ended up without anywhere to live. An online pal, a fellow free-ware developer, offered me a room in his place – in Arizona. So I jumped on a plane and set off. Since I wasn’t allowed to work in the US, I decided to work on some pet projects on the web. One was a site on fork bending http://fork-you.com and one was a tarot deck. You can ask Dan Pelletier about the fork bending
Digital graphics were still pretty new, and I’d been playing around with it since the very beginning – I made my first digital tarot deck on dPaint on an Amiga in the early 90′s. I think I had 32 colours to work with, and there was no ‘anti-aliasing’ or ‘feathering’ so it looked pretty much like Lego blocks. Technology had improved in those 10 years or so, and now it was possible to use millions of colours and layering, so digital collage was by then a feasible option.
2000 doesn’t sound that long ago, but I’d be surprised if there were 10% as many decks on the market then, compared to now. Anyway, I had this idea that I wanted a deck that LOOKED like my Visconti Sforza, but that READ like a Rider-Waite. There are probably scores of decks now that would kinda fit that bill, but then, there were none. Even Brian Williams ‘Renaissance Tarot” didn’t look remotely Renaissance – more like a pastel Art-Nouveau fantasy of the Renaissance. Anyway, I had this idea to digitally collage old artworks to created easy to interpret tarot cards. It was as much about my love of International Gothic style art as it was about tarot, and they weren’t heavily collaged. I was working on a tiny little laptop with a touchpad, didn’t even have a mouse, so it was pretty rough. You can still see it on my site http://goldentarot.com
The deck developed quite a following online. I think I’d really struck a chord that a lot of people, like me, liked the feeling of tradition and the heritage of the tarot in the Renaissance without wanting the difficulty of trying to read a deck without illustrated Minors.
About a year after the deck came out, I started getting emails to congratulate me on getting Golden published. It turned out that it had been pirated in Germany, as part of an annual calendar/deck set by a publisher who had previously pirated other artists’ work. My Agents at the time said it ‘wasn’t viable’ to sue the German company, and the German copyright agency said it wasn’t a breach of copyright as the images I’d used was public domain. Of course this is rubbish – collages are NEW works of art, and copyright belongs to the collagist. But I can’t afford to sue someone myself, especially on the other side of the world. So, I was very annoyed but there was little I could do.
Then, unbeknownst to me, a fan in the US took up my case in the forums. Judy Sidone Tillinger had studied medieval and Renaissance art in College and now worked as an editor at a newspaper in New York. She started an email campaign, and I got swamped with hundreds of emails of support, and also requests to publish the deck legally so people could buy copies. I was flattered, but didn’t want to go through that whole rejection-slip process as I had with earlier projects. I sent everyone a polite standard “thanks, but it’s too hard to get published” reply. What I didn’t realize is that people must also have been sending the major tarot publishers similar requests, as both US Games and Llewellyn asked me to submit formal proposals, which I did. USGS very quickly send me a contract, which required that I sign copyright over to them. I’d always sworn as an artist that I’d never give up my copyright, but US Games were insistent, and pointed to the piracy of my work and said they needed to own copyright in order to legally protect against future piracy attempts. I still wasn’t too sure. I went to a great copyright lawyer, who pointed out that the contract also gave them full, exclusive digital rights – so they could technically make me shut down the website that had got me the fan base in the first place.
Then, late at night a few days after I got the contract, I got a call from US Games. A woman said she was just checking the number and that I was home, and that Stuart Kaplan would ring me back shortly. Kaplan took long enough to call me that I was completely freaked out and feeling quite nauseous by the time the phone rang. STUART KAPLAN! CEO of US Games, author of the huge Tarot Encylopedias, father of the modern tarot in many respects. Love him or hate him, tarot owes him a huge debt of gratitude for its current popularity. I heard his voice and didn’t know what to say. I don’t think I was very coherent, but I basically got the message. He liked my deck, and would I sign the contract? I explained about the copyright issue and he said that the contract wouldn’t be changed – I could sign it and be published by US Games, or not. I had a week to decide.
After a sleepless night, I got in contact with Llewellyn, who had been much more communicative throughout this whole Proposal process, and told Barbara Moore about the deadline (I’d say ultimatum, but that’s really too harsh a word). She understood, and offered to rush it through – but said that it was very unlikely with such short notice, that normally their assessment process takes months of market research etc. And as it turned out, she was right – they said no, and so I signed with US Games and they got copyright of the deck.
Two Strength Cards
As soon as I signed the contract, I got to work. I had to start again from scratch to create the deck at high resolution for publication. Given the limitations of working from low-resolution files, it was a difficult task. Many of the original designs were impossible to do at the higher resolution. In addition, I had to make it ‘more Rider Waite’ – a requirement for US Games decks, and also something I wanted to do. After all, making a beautiful but easy-to-read deck was my main intention.
I worked obsessively. Pretty much sixteen hours a day at least, seven days a week for about 4 months to finish the deck. Over 1600 hours in a very short space of time. My friends were worried about me – I’d ignore the phone and glare at them for bothering me and not invite them in when they dropped in to check if I was alright. Luckily I was single and living alone then
It was partly because that’s the way I work best, completely immersing myself in something, but it was also economic necessity – I got one small Advance when I signed the contract, but then no more money until it got published. My credit card held out for awhile, and then my brother helped out with bills and rent.
Finally it was finished and I sent it off, expecting a long, drawn-out editorial process of amending cards. To my surprise, they only asked me to change one card. Then, it was a case of them doing their end of the process. I got on with my life. I enrolled in Art School to get a qualification to teach, met Jasper there, became a VJ (live video performance artist). During that period, I had very little to do with tarot. At Art school, they pretty much look down on anything as commercial and graphic-design related as a tarot deck, so I just didn’t really think of it as part of my life. There was delay after delay with the publication and I think it was coming up to two years before it finally made it to market. After many and varied reasons for delays, the last straw was when it got pulled from pre-order on Amazon because they basically just didn’t believe it was really going to happen any more. I tried to explain to them that it WAS on it’s way, on a train across Northern America… it should have arrived by now…. then I heard that the train had got derailed by an avalanche and that the freight (including my decks) had got cleared off the rails so that other trains could get through…
It ended up seeming more and more like it would never get to market, but finally it did. And it looked WONDERFUL. Probably many of your listeners have seen Golden – the majestic blue box, the deck’s gilded edges. Kaplan had wanted it to be their ‘deluxe’ product and I’d said I wanted an affordable, budget edition made as well, so that everyone could afford a copy if they wanted it. The compromise was what had taken the 2 years – US Games went to great lengths to find a publisher in China who could make such a high quality product at such a budget price. They’d had to experiment a great deal to get the gilded edges not to flake and chip. Usually, a gilt-edged book is only read a few times, but a tarot deck is constantly handled. I don’t know HOW they did it, but it’s a technical triumph. I still can’t believe that they made such a stunning package for RRP of $25 (and I hear you can buy it for as little as $14 in the US). It’s got to be their least profitable product, considering the quality of the production.
I was very worried that it would get written off as a bit of a Show Pony – lovely to look at, but sniffed at by tarot professionals. Although I’d put a huge amount of research into tarot tradition for the deck, I’d also added in extra symbolism of my own so it wasn’t 100% ‘traditional tarot’. I’m not a dedicated tarot expert – I haven’t dedicated my life to tarot the way many people have. I’m really in awe at the mastery of people like Stuart Kaplan, Mary Greer, Rachel Pollack, Dan Pelletier etc, but my interests are too varied to concentrate on becoming an expert in one field. So, I’ve been very surprised by the acceptance of the deck by tarot experts. When I heard that it was one of Mary Greer’s favorite decks (long before I was lucky enough to meet her in person) I was stunned, as her ‘Tarot for Your Self’ was the first time I’d read a book that explained use of the tarot how I’d used it myself since my teens – intuitively, for personal insight and self-awareness.
I’d never read for other people – I don’t think I’d even had my tarot read professionally. That’s not what it was about for me – it was always about archetypes and analyzing the world around you – where you fit, how you affect the things that happen in your own life. A tool to assist personal responsibility, not to surrender it. It still makes me very uncomfortable when someone turns to a tarot reader to ask something like ‘should I take this job?’ and wants a ‘yes or no’ answer. They may as well toss a coin, if they’re not willing to consider the complexity of the situation, and face all the additional questions a proper tarot reading may raise. Anyway, I know a lot of your listeners may disagree with me there, so I’ll move on
Golden Tarot finally hit the shelves in 2004. By then, there were already many, many new decks flooding onto the market, including many medieval and Renaissance themed decks. I was thrilled when it was voted one of the ‘Top Ten’ decks on Aeclectic for 2004, and then it happened again in 2005. By the 2006 vote, I was just plain shocked to see it still in the ‘Top Ten of All Time’. There must be hundreds and hundreds of decks on the market now, I find it hard to think that mine is still so popular. My rating on Amazon is still a 5-star average after over 50 reviews (and they’re not all personal friends of mine I guess that goes to show that if you research something well, and put in your own personal passion and vision into it, there are going to be other people who share that passion and vision.
I get the most amazing fan mail for Golden Tarot. It’s funny, because I feel that what I’m doing, say, with my video art, is more important (that sounds so pretentious! Don’t know how else to put it though), more creative, more innovative. But then, golden really touches a lot of people – enough to get them bothering to email me and say so.
A lot of people have asked me when I was going to make another deck. That always seemed a bit weird because I’m not a collector, and I think that now I’ve created the deck I wanted, why would I bother making another one? And from a financial point of view, it would be crazy. even if it IS a popular, successful deck, I know it’s never going to make me enough money to be worth the hours spent making it. At least, with a traditional publiching model. I make about the same as unemployment benefit from Golden. I’m not complaining – I mean, at least I’m making that much, I don’t starve. And as I mentioned earlier, I doubt it’s a cash-cow for US Games, considering the luxury packaging, gilding etc. But after I read ‘The Long Tail’ I thought there has to be a better way. I have a sizable online following and the most wonderful, dedicated fans – many of whom have been with me since the pre-publication days. Lots of people around the world share my love of tarot and the Renaissance, and I can digitally collage old-master paintings better than anyone (Hmm, come to think of it I might be the only one doing it…). I must be able to make a better living
I’ve been a digital developer for a long time – running free graphics websites like http://retrokat.com/medieval/ since the 90′s and with new media like mobile phone content becoming more widespread, that’s where I should be looking to make my main living. Since I don’t own the digital rights to Golden, I can’t just adapt that for mobiles. Also, that wouldn’t work very well anyway – you need to design completely differently for the small screen. Which gave me the idea for a new deck…
Leave the RWS layouts out of it. If they were so tiny, then it’s just going to be a memory trigger and no more – and I want more than that. I want something that has a chance of connecting with the person, a trigger for reflection and personal insight. And what can possibly do that with so few pixels?…
The human face. It’s the first thing we recognize as babies… and regardless of language, we can read a lot about what someone’s trying to communicate from their expression. And if there’s one thing they did well in the 16th and 17th centuries, it’s painting faces.
So.. it was to be a deck of portraits. Maybe a few symbols here and there, if they didn’t detract too much from the person’s facial expression or body language, but predominantly, faces chosen to communicate the meanings of the card. Faces you can become familiar with, faces you can read. ’78 friends you can hold in your hand’.
I popped a website up saying that I was considering this new deck, and showed a few draft samples. Behind the scenes, I was trying to get a mobile-content deal. Ack, now there’s a hard market to break into. People started to ask me when the deck would be finished, and I explained that it was on hold unless I could get a deal for it. Then, along came a very generous benefactor who offered to pay me to finish the deck. This person wants to remain anonymous, understandably, as they don’t want to get swamped by requests for money. Fishing for a private benefactor was the furtherest thing from my mind. The person doesn’t want a percentage or anything, just a copy of the deck when and if I can get a deal. Incredible! Like a fairytale. So that’s what I’m working on at the moment.
You can see some of the cards on tarotcielo.com – although due to piracy of my work, I can only show a few. At least, until/unless I get a deal
Another market I’ll be looking to with the deck is use of digital images for online and 900 line readers. Some of these readers use digital images of cards, but there are very few public-domain decks, and the commercial deck publishers are very strict about use of images from their published decks. For example, you couldn’t show a client images from Golden Tarot through online chat or by email without paying a usage fee to US Games Systems. And if you’re thinking that some of that will go to the deck creator, that’s not true in my case.
I think if I can create images that work well with online and phone readings, and if the reader knows that a payment (no matter how small) goes to the creator of the cards, then they’d respect that. That’s how the music industry is evolving. I have friends who sell their own tracks, for example through sites like Martian Music, and their fans will happily pay $1 a track rather than pirating the music, because they KNOW that most of that goes to the band. Digital rights are really empowering like that – you can use that more direct connection between artist and consumer to make a more fair deal for both. That’s an exciting for both creatives and consumers.
In particular, I think tarot people are concerned about fairness, karma etc. eg, ebay sellers email me to ask my permission before they list copies of the pirated German pre-US Games version of Golden Tarot. And if anyone tries to sell pirated versions or unapproved products related to Golden, immediately someone will recognize it and email me from my website. That sort of dedication and direct relationship with my fans has been there right since the beginning with Golden. I’m sorry if any of your listeners have emailed me and not got a reply. I always mean to, but there just aren’t enough hours in the day!
Welcome to the Hermit’s Journey. This is Bonnie Cehovet, and today I am going to be talking about a specific type of Tarot deck – those that fall into what I call the “Gold” or “Gilded” category. Sometimes these are viewed as art decks, sometimes as collectors items, and sometimes they are published as Special Editions of a regular Tarot deck. They all have one thing in common – they feature the color gold. This can be done through using the color to highlight different parts of a card, or it can be done through the application of gold foil. I adore the gold foil decks – but I absolutely dare someone to get a decent scan with them!
One of the decks that is unique unto itself in this category is the Golden Tarot, by Kat Black (U.S. Games Systems, Inc.). The imagery is a collage of artwork from the late Middle Ages and Early Renaissance, featuring the color gold prominently, along with the use of a gold border and a gold back to the cards. The most stunning feature of this deck, however, is the gilt card edges – when you take the top off of the box (which is one of the most elegant – and sturdy – Tarot boxes that I have ever seen!) the gilt edging transfixes you – it is so incredibly mesmerizing, you just want to sit there and look at it! Bravo Kat!
Gold Leaf Tarot Decks
Baroque Bohemian Cats Tarot
Golden Man Tarot
Golden Rider Tarot
Golden Tarot Deck
New Century Tarot deck
Stairs of Gold Tarot (aka Tavaglione Tarot)
Victorian Romantic Tarot (Gold Edition)
William Wilde Zeitler
William Zeitler is a composer and professional musician. He has numerous published and commissioned works to his credit. A classically trained pianist, he earned his music degree from the California Institute of the Arts.
The Glass Armonica is the musical instrument invented by Benjamin Franklin in 1761. Said to be the invention that pleased him the most, Franklin’s Glass Armonica is a series of glass bowls mounted on a horizontal rod. Tapering in size, they are played like wine glasses as they spin.
William’s instrument is custom built and was a year in the making. It contains 44 glass bowls mounted on a hand crafted stand of cherry and oak.
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