Our latest interview is with Yousef Bushehri, the creator of an architectural themed tarot deck. Each suit of the deck is inspired by a landscape theme and the cards of each suit can be lined up to create a single panoramic image. The combination of architectural imagery with the soft visuals of watercolours creates a deck that blends reality with fantasy.
Kickstarter - The Architect's Tarot
Where in the world do you call home?
That’s a complicated question for me. I was born and raised in Kuwait, which is where my entire family lives. I moved to the United States when I was 17 and have been here for 13 years. Right now I live in Atlanta, Georgia and I feel very settled here and have put down roots. I live the majority of the year in Atlanta but need to go to Kuwait at least once a year for a few weeks to be with my family. I guess I would call my home both Kuwait and Atlanta simultaneously.
What was your first experience with oracles and / or tarot and when did you fall in love with it?
2 years ago I was having a hard time sleeping for a few months and a dear friend brought me an amethyst and told me it would help. Even though this wasn’t anything I had ever explored, this was a person I trusted deeply and so I trusted her offer as well. The amethyst helped and it opened me up to a world that I hadn’t explored which included oils and crystals and herbs and, eventually, tarot.
I’m a big time gardener and I love giving and receiving seeds and plant cuttings and plant knowledge. it feels so anti-capitalist and empowers people’s independence and self-reliance. I think for that same reason I fell in love with tarot and the democratic nature of it. Unlike many large organized belief-systems, where the rules are passed down from established authority, this world of magic wasn’t owned or controlled by anyone and was open to everyone and however they choose to participate in it.
What made you want to create your own tarot deck? What was your inspiration?
I’m a trained architect and designer and my aunt taught me to paint as a child so visual art has always been a part of my life. After discovering tarot I began searching for an architectural tarot deck – one that plays with architectural themes like scale, procession, path, and entry – and wasn’t able to find one. At the time I also began exploring watercolour. One day while laying on the couch watching TV it occurred to me that I could practice watercolour and illustration by creating architecturally interpreted tarot cards. I did maybe 5 or 6 and I posted them online and people asked me when the deck would be complete because they really wanted one. Keep in mind I was only doing this as an exercise and did not intend to create a whole deck. But here we are.
I’ve drawn inspiration from lots of places - Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and Through the Looking Glass, Greek temples, significant buildings around the world that I’ve visited, specific moments of my life, dreams I’ve had, videogames, literal representations of what the card is meant to signify. All sorts of places. My phone’s photo gallery is mostly images I’ve collected to base my cards on (as well as photos of my cats of course).
Aside from your own deck, do you have a favourite deck? If so, which one?
I have a copy of the Ethereal Visions Illuminated Tarot and I think its my favourite that I’ve come across. The level of detail is amazing and I continuously discover new things in each card.
I feel like there are 2 types of movies (this is relevant, I swear): in one type, when a character coughs, their cough will be relevant to the plot, in the other type of movie the characters cough for no reason other than to flesh out the world and detail it and make it realistic. I prefer the second type. I feel like the Ethereal Visions tarot fits under the second type if it were a movie.
Do you have a favourite card (either from your deck or just the card in general). If so, why is it your favourite?
Oh this is a hard one. From my own deck I have 2.
First is Temperance. I love the way the colours turned out and the way the world of the card bends on itself. I didn’t know what the word meant and when it was time to work on it I asked my friends to define it to help me understand the word.
Second is the 6 of swords. In most decks this card depicts a boat with one or two people, one sitting and one standing and pushing the boat forward. When I first came across the card I wondered where they were and so in my version of the card I zoomed out to understand their surroundings. In my version you can see the boat with the 2 figures in the bottom. This theme of zooming out of scale to understand the context is reoccurring in The Architect’s Tarot.
We are living in such crazy times. How has the pandemic affected your creativity?
I draw a lot of energy and creativity from my social life which of course was really hit hard by the pandemic.
When the pandemic started I focused a lot of my anxiety and confusion into working on the deck, but about a week or 2 into lock-down I felt overwhelmed by the world and felt like my creativity was blocked. Social media was being littered with toxic posts like “if you don’t finish writing that novel/writing your thesis/etc during this quarantine then it was never a problem of time. You’re just lazy” and I was very irritated by that mentality. People were flexing their “I’m making good use of this time at home” muscle online and it felt so disillusioned to me. So instead of feeling guilty about not having any creative energy or trying to force it I let myself rest and spent time reading and gardening.
A few months in I felt a surge of creative energy one night and I got right back to it – without realizing it I finished the minor arcana. While I still had the energy, I planned out what all the major arcana cards would be. I think by then I had come to terms with the state of the world. A few months ago I bought my first house and I think that helped my panic calmed down – It helped me feel safe – and by accepting that “this is what its going to be like from now on” I was able to tap back into my creativity or at least overcome the block.
What have been your challenges in creating this deck?
Mostly motivation and juggling responsibilities. Over the course of the year and a half of working on the deck it wasn’t a continuous exercise. It would be 2 weeks of focus where I would create 10-12 cards and then a month or two of art-block and the cycle would repeat. Of course I’ve also been working on my PhD as well as teaching, on top of having a garden and robust social life (which of course suddenly changed). It was a lot to be doing – but painting and illustrating is my alone time and what I like to do when I need to quietly recharge.
Another challenge that I hadn’t anticipated was that as I developed the deck I was also developing my artistic style and skills. I was getting better at painting and water-coloring and I would go back to the first few cards I made and remake them. It felt like as I continued the marathon toward the finish line I would come up with ways to improve the earlier pieces and the finish line would move a little further away.
One of the most unique details I have found about this deck is that you can line up the suits of cards to create one panoramic landscape. Where did this idea come from?
This is one of my favourite things about my deck and something that a lot of people have been really excited about. The idea comes from how I approach my architecture work.
On top of working on my art I’m also a PhD student and I teach first year architecture studio at Georgia Tech. I realized that most students, when creating their graphics for their projects, cut their images into rectangles and tile them, as one would for a PowerPoint presentation. This makes the image very static. I would encourage students to not think of their presentation as a series of images and to ‘break the box’ by pulling certain elements past the edges of the image. This makes it somehow come to life. A class-mate and good friend of mine told me this funny story: during finals week another student asked him for some feedback on her final presentation and he suggested that she “break the box to make the images more dynamic” and she said to him “wait…did you get that from Yousef?” (spoiler: he did).
In most tarot decks that I’ve come across the characters depicted are established. They usually are presenting a specific race and gender, you can tell about how old they are and what they are doing, but you aren’t given much context (re: 6 of swords). I was more interested in their story and where exactly these figures were so I focused heavily on narrative. I removed gender and race and age from the images and instead show you where they are, where they might have just come from, and where they might be going, so to speak. I also wanted to create a story for people who are using the deck – let them place themselves into the suit and follow along the story and maybe they’ll answer some questions for themselves.
How will you celebrate when the deck is finally published?
I have no idea. The whole experience since starting the Kickstarter campaign has felt like a dream – like I’m going to wake up at some point and it never actually happened. I think my way of celebrating would be to accept that people like my art and connect with it. Maybe I’ll have a bonfire and cook a delicious meal and let a feeling of accomplishment hold me for a while.
What is on offer for people who pledge?
Right now on the Kickstarter as a base pledge people can get a copy of The Architect’s Tarot. For a higher pledge people will get a signed copy of the deck as well as a signed large print of a card of their choice from the deck. At the next tier up, people who pledge will get 2 signed decks and I will recreate an original large scale version of a card that they can pick. I had a few extra pieces of 20”x30” watercolour paper laying around my studio last year and I thought I would experiment with large scale illustrations for a change. I recreated the 3 of swords and I absolutely loved how it turned out and thought it would be a special thing that people could have in their home.
The campaign does have 2 more stretch goals that I am very excited for and hope we reach – the first one is for an enamel pin and the second is for a tarot reading mat. I’ve already finished their designs and have contacted the people that would manufacture them. If we reach the goals, these will only be available for Kickstarter backers and each deck will be shipped with them and will not be available after the campaign is over.
To be one of the first to get your hands on this unique architectural deck, pledge here:
Kickstarter - The Architect's Tarot