Our latest interview is with Yve Lepkowski, creator of the Anecdotes Tarot. The deck is based on Joanna Newsom's music and the artwork is a whimsical representation of a specific lyric, or a song as a whole.
The 22 trumps follow the sequence of our old friend, the Tarot de Marseille. The imagery in all the cards has been inspired by other historic Tarots, such as the Sola Busca deck, the "Mantegna Tarocchi," and the decks of the Etteilla school. The songs of the trumps span the entire discography.
Kickstarter - Anecdotes Tarot
Where in the world do you call home?
I’m from Northern New Jersey. It’s a place with a lot to offer in the way of inspiring landscapes – the forests, the ocean, the ominous marshes, flame-spouting electricity plants, and the looming, increasingly pointy Manhattan skyline.
What was your first experience with oracles and / or tarot and when did you fall in love with it?
I’ve always loved playing cards, but I first heard of trump suits through science fiction & fantasy books. The two big ones are Roger Zelazny’s Chronicles of Amber (where the main characters communicate and teleport using special trump cards), and Gene Wolfe’s novel The Sorcerer’s House (which seems to be structured around tarot trumps and/or Lenormand). So my start in tarot was actually looking at it as a series of artistic symbols, more than an oracle!
What made you want to create your own tarot deck? What was your inspiration?
Anecdotes Tarot is the second tarot deck I’ve drawn, and it’s all inspired by Joanna Newsom’s music. Creating tarot art is appealing in the same way as treating mythological and religious themes – it gives you a certain language and way of looking at the world to work with. My background is in math and I really like having this semi-formal framework for art as well. It was really satisfying to look for all the connections between the music and the tarot archetypes. But I think my favorite aspect of tarot art is that it’s functional. These pictures won’t be stuffed away in a portfolio or hanging on the wall for the rest of their lives. They’ll be shuffled and used, and the pictures develop and change in relation to each other.
Aside from your own deck, do you have a favourite deck? If so, which one?
I’ve only been using it since January (that is, after I started creating this deck), but my favorite deck is the Etteilla-based “Grand Jeu d’Oracle des Dames.” These are from the late 1800s and done in a faux-medieval engraving style, using Etteilla’s keywords and oddly rearranged trumps. It has a really gorgeous antique look and lively poses. My favorite pre-Etteilla deck, not without its own oddities, is the Jacques Viéville tarot. I used this deck as inspiration for a lot of Anecdotes Tarot, in particular the “Moon” card, and the colors and feel of the entire Suit of Coins.
Do you have a favourite card (either from your deck or just the card in general). If so, why is it your favourite?
It’s difficult to choose, since I spent a lot of time on each picture. I like my version of the Ace of Cups, since I think that in this case the lyric I used (“sun pouring wine . . . “) fit particularly well with the temple-like cup from the Marseille pattern.
We are living in such crazy times. How has the pandemic affected your creativity?
I’ve heard that the pandemic and lockdown has been giving people stranger and more vivid dreams (or at least the chance to remember our dreams better), which is certainly helpful. The generally hectic atmosphere made taking the time to draw difficult, in the beginning. The positive side of things coming to a halt was that it gave me time to slow down and work on the deck more deliberately. I was initially planning to finish early in the year, but instead I went back and redid the majority of the trumps, which I think made the deck a lot more cohesive.
What have been your challenges in creating this deck?
The most difficult part of making a themed deck like this is avoiding two extremes: either making the deck a dressed-up redraw of an existing tarot, or taking images from the source material with little connection to tarot tradition. I hope that this one doesn’t fall into either trap. When I started, I was using exclusively the Tarot de Marseille, as a standard base. You can see the Marseille compositions in many of the cards still, particularly the court cards, and trumps like XXI. But some of my remakes felt dead no matter what I did, so I ended up looking elsewhere drastically rearranging the characters to bring them to life. Some I remade after an initial attempt, some like X and XVI gave me so much trouble visualizing that I left them for the very end. For these I knew there was something there relevant to the meaning of the symbol, but contorting it to fit the “traditional” image felt impossible. For X I took inspiration from the Mantegna Tarocchi, and for XVI from the Florentine Minchiate.
The other more mundane difficulty for me is writing a guidebook. Some people are blessed with an internal monologue, but my process is distinctly non-verbal. Going back and explaining things clearly is a challenge!
You have translated the medium of music to a visual medium. Did you find it an easy process to create images from music?
Drawing based on music is no easier or harder for me than drawing anything else. To draw each of the pictures, I’d put the corresponding song or album on loop to help it take shape. The goal was to make it look as if each card could itself sing, or hum, or whatever sound an inanimate object makes. Joanna Newsom’s lyrics are mostly very detailed and gave lots of imagery and characters to incorporate into the pictures. The lyrics as well as the overall mood and sound palette of the songs guided the colors I chose: bright and hollow, or warm and muffled. There’s music that gives the feeling of open space and air, and music that is dense and deep, and this affects the visuals too.
The challenging part was lyrics about more abstract concepts. For example, this deck’s version of The Empress is based on the song “’81,” which is short and sweet. The trout in the card is mentioned in the song, but to fit lyrics like “I believe in innocence . . . I believe in everyone,” I had to add other images like the vines on the tree and the stork (an unintentional similarity to the Thoth tarot).
How will you celebrate when the deck is finally published?
By moving on to the next project! I’m taking a bit of a break now to work on the deck’s guidebook, and after the campaign is ended it will be time for making the rewards and shipping, so it will be fun to start on something new.
What is on offer for people who pledge?
In addition to the deck itself, I’m offering prints of the artwork, as well as commissioned art, or a hand-embroidered case for the deck.
To be one of the first to get your hands on this beautiful, whimsical deck, pledge here:
Kickstarter - Anecdotes Tarot