Tell us about yourself, first!
My name is Liz Blackbird (she/her/hers). I’m a visual artist, fiction writer, and poet currently based in Brooklyn, but I’m about to move to Ohio to pursue an MFA in creative writing. I’m originally from Michigan, so this will be a bit of a homecoming!
Prior to printing this deck, what was your relationship to tarot?
I’ve been interested in tarot since I was a teenager. I grew up in the suburbs of Flint in the 90s and generally felt a little unsatisfied with the environment around me, like it was kind of a bad fit, like there had to be something better out there. So I think I was predisposed to be attracted to all things magical. I was not raised religious, but my mother’s family was Catholic and evangelical Christianity was a strong (and often oppressive) force many of my friends’ lives, so I’ve also always been resistant to organized religion. A lot of my friends at that time felt similarly and were exploring wicca, neopaganism, and other more open-ended spiritual practices, and I initially learned about tarot through them. Many of us would ultimately come out as queer, and I think that had a lot to do with those initial feelings of discomfort with the status quo and the “bad fit” it seemed to be for us that led us to seek alternative spiritual paths in the first place.
The tarot attracted me as an artist, because I love the way its meanings are conveyed visually through mysterious and evocative images. It also nested nicely with my general agnosticism – whether or not I believe that I am being guided by supernatural forces, I can still trust that what I “read” in the tarot represents my truth on some level, even if it’s just tapping into something I already know about a situation but have been afraid to admit to myself, or giving me a framework to think about a situation in a different way. I generally only read for myself or close friends, so I’m usually pretty intimately acquainted with the lives of people I read for.
What stands out about the Heart and Hands deck? Why did you want to create this deck specifically?
The genesis of this deck was different than most, because it initially began not as a commercial endeavor, but as a personal project that I undertook to help me develop a new artistic direction at a time when I was feeling a little blocked. I had decided not to focus on studio art in college, and was regretting that decision a little bit. I had a really inspiring art professor at the time, Jyung Mee Park at the Maryland Institute College of Art, who essentially told me not to force it, that your art should stem from something you do naturally. In my sketchbooks, I had been doing a lot of casual black-and-white free-associative drawing, so I decided to try to take on a project in that style to see where I could go with it. I was already interested in tarot but didn’t feel that my knowledge of the cards’ meanings was very strong, so I decided to try designing my own deck to both stimulate my creativity and get to know the cards better. This, of course, turned out to be a much bigger project than I expected! It took me ten years to complete the illustrations. Though I had initially expected the project to remain private, as the years went by, so many of my friends saw my drawings and asked about how to get a copy of the deck that I decided I had to print it. I named it the Heart & Hands Tarot as a reminder of the power of our hearts to dream new possibilities and our hands to put those dreams into practice.
Ultimately, I think the black-and-white illustration style I developed is very unique and makes the deck stand out. I also think that my intention to enact a kind of creative “rebirth” through creating these cards really permeates the deck and comes through in the lushness and exuberance of the drawings. I also tried to create images that communicate the meanings of the cards in a direct and relatable way without requiring prior knowledge of other fields, like astrology and Kabbalah. But in general, I think my slow and meditative composition process—the fact that I didn’t force it—is what makes this deck special.
How does your deck speak to marginalized and queer audiences?
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 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.
Another big element of my work is in helping people heal so they can get to the part where they can be inspired and empowered. How does your deck speak to the healing process?
I think that in a lot of ways, creating this deck was a form of shadow work. Being a visual artist was a strong part of my identity as a teen, but because I did not focus on studio art in college, I found it harder and harder to maintain a creative practice in my 20s. Working on this deck was a big part of what kept me connected to that creative part of myself even as I was trying to make a living in other fields. Also, because the tarot is, among other things, a compendium of archetypal personalities, situations, concepts, and developmental states that we might experience throughout the life cycle, I found that working on parts of the deck that corresponded to issues I was dealing with in my life at the time was a great way to think through those issues in a broader, more distanced, more insightful way.
Thank you so much for taking time to tell me more about this wonderful new addition to the tarot canon. How can we find out more or support you?
I’m currently running an Indiegogo campaign to raise funds to print the deck, so please visit my campaign page to support the project and to check out the "perks" (including copies of the deck) available for donating. https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/heart-hands-tarot-deck/x/14290775#/ The campaign will be live until August 14th! I'm also launching an Etsy shop, ThirteenWaysToLook, so that I can make the deck available there after the campaign ends. It should be active by the winter of this year.
Thanks so much to all of you, especially Liz. Now, go support indie decks!