My inbox has been so full of love lately.
So many cool tarot people have been reaching out, sharing their projects with me – it’s overwhelmingly awesome. A couple of weeks back, Jen Kruch emailed to share her new deck, The Frau Grand Duchess Tarot…then Dolores Fitchie dropped in with her Gorgon’s Tarot (more to come on this one!) …and this week, the lovely Jason Gruhl dropped me a line to tell me about his new project, The Fountain Tarot.
This is a stunning new deck, hand-painted in oil by Jason’s partner, Jonathan Saiz, and put together by designer Andi Todaro. It’s still in progress, but the team have already got their Kickstarter campaign up and running to raise the funds for production. I’ll share that at the end of this post.
Jason and I hit it off right away, so I thought it would be fun to interview him and the team about the process of creating a new tarot deck.
Firstly, what inspired you to create a tarot deck?
JONATHAN: I was searching for a painting series that would overwhelm me with it’s quantity and complexity. I wanted to get lost in it and the idea of creating a Tarot deck happened organically at just the right moment for me personally and professionally. And the chance to work with two of my favorite people was inspiring in it’s own special way!
JASON: Jonathan and I were on vacation in Mexico last May and we were playing with a Tarot deck and Jonathan literally said, “I wish I could paint tons of miniature paintings and have them all be related. Let’s ask the Tarot what that might be.” We pulled it out and started laughing, and that was the beginning. Jonathan asked Andi to be involved immediately, knowing that if we wanted fresh, gorgeous, NOW design, she was the one.
ANDI: As Jonathan says in our Kickstarter video, “it’s an opportunity to experiment 79 times”, a really incredible exercise for not only making a cohesive series of paintings but also requiring that you embed meaning into each one. It was Jonathan’s baby and he came to us for the missing pieces, but it’s become our baby through and through. Everyone is contributing equally to this. Yeah we are all close friends, clients of each other, lovers 🙂
So can you describe your creative process? How did you come up with the ideas for each card?
JASON: The beautiful thing was that each of us individually really informed the others along the way. We wanted this deck to be accessible. Not everyone today relates to swords, kings, etc. – but we wanted the painting, writing, and design to feel relatable to people, so they could see themselves in it.
There was an initial phase at the beginning that required a LOT of research. It was important to capture that thread that has been consistent throughout the tradition of tarot (from the early cards/decks of the 1400s, to the iconic Marseilles and RWS, to the quirky and cool modern decks) while contributing something new to the canon. After that, it was literally communicating back and forth, cross-referencing, honing, and refining over and over.
ANDI: The process was an organized and organic one, meaning that some of the cards were imagery first, meaning second, and vice versa. Jason did most of the research, identifying what icons and symbols could or could not be in each card. Jonathan has this gorgeous sketch book with one card on every page, an indicator for how ‘dark’ the essence of each one is, and other ways of quantifying the unquantifiable character and nuance of each card.
We worked closely from the beginning giving each other feedback about how they were all communicating with each other, the meanings and the design. I had created 50 initial treatment designs and the logo had gone through 3 almost final iterations before we decided on one, but all of this really influenced the rest of the deck, the imagery and the writing.
So – did you follow a straightforward sequence in creating the cards, or do them randomly, or what?
JONATHAN: We definitely didn’t want to give all of our best energy to the Major Arcana and then fizzle out somewhere in the middle of the Minors so we purposefully chose random “seed” cards to develop first that would inform and inspire its neighboring card. It felt like a thoughtful and unified randomization, like The Fountain Tarot grew out of one idea, one voice and one inspiration rather than 79 different perspectives from different times.
JASON: Jonathan was very careful about painting cards from each of the suits and Major Arcana, so that the “style” of the painting didn’t fall into a “beginning of the series” set and an “end of the series” set; he wanted coherence. He also attempted to cross reference with numerology, and other cards and associations, for example: giving a certain vibe to the wands, making sure that the Aces all work together, and that the High Priestess really feels like she rules over the twos, etc. It’s thoughtful, and people will see that.
How did you choose the small team? Were you all into tarot beforehand?
JASON: We knew we wanted the smallest number of people possible, but with enough expertise in each of the areas to do it well. Art, writing, and design seemed to work for us, and each of our levels of professionalism and drive were a match as well.
We’ve all enjoyed and appreciated Tarot for many, many years, but after this project, it’s become intimate for all of us. Even to say that our respect has grown for it, doesn’t really capture it. You enter into a relationship with Tarot, and it’s personal now. I’m not sure if that makes sense, but it’s a part of our lives.
ANDI: Tarot was always casually in our lives, doing readings twice a year, or pulling a card once a month. Jason had the Robin Wood Tarot, and I had the Aquarian. Those images are so embedded in our lives over a long period of time and in such an intimate way that we wanted to be part in creating that for other people. It’s sort of like making a time capsule, a way of recording history that morphs in perception.
And what I really want to know is…what was it like to work with your partner on a long and intensive project like this?
JONATHAN: One of the best experiences I could have imagined. Us sharing ideas constantly, sharing the same dream of holding this deck in our hands and getting to spend so much creative energy together. It was intense, sometimes painful, but so worth it.
JASON: It has been a gift. There are certain days when that’s not the word we have chosen (haha), but any couple that can navigate the isolation of a foreign country, language, and culture, while fostering a relationship, AND working together deserves a medal. It’s incredible because we can be really honest about what we think about each others’ work, but that’s also the problem. It’s just like anything in a relationship – you have to be willing and open to hear the things you don’t want to hear, but also convicted enough to know what you want…and willing to apologize over and over again. Our relationship grew a lot this year through this process.
Did you have any profound experiences while researching or creating the deck?
JONATHAN: Every time I get the chance to introduce The Fountain Tarot to someone who is skeptical of Tarot in general and somewhere in the middle of them hearing Jason’s writings or seeing a painting and they get the “aha” look and realize what a powerful tool it can be. I love that moment.
JASON: I’ve been moved several times in the process just by the power of what Tarot has to offer people. In each card, there’s an image and a few words or sentences that capture a moment in human life. It’s just such so simple, and yet such a beautifully profound tool for reflection, growth and acceptance. To create something that has that ability is humbling.
ANDI: That it’s just as much a revelation to get a reading at a difficult time in your life as it is making each one of these cards. It’s a crazy roller coaster of emotions. We were very concerned with making something lasting, relevant and timeless and one that honored the many, many years that comprise the history of tarot.
Wow, sounds like a truly immersive experience! Did you guys experience tarot overload at all?
JONATHAN: I never imagined I could say “Tarot” or “Fountain” so many times in one year- I can barely talk of anything else… It’s just so hard not to get obsessed with Tarot and want more and more… but yes, I might need a month or two break after this intense last year, just so I can re-set and fall back in love with it from a new perspective.
JASON: Lol. Absolutely. I think anytime you are immersing into something so deeply, intimately, and passionately, you are going to have moments (or days) where you just can’t see another project-related thing. It’s human. You have to really take a break from it and just play, or do something different. The whole point of tarot, to me, is to help people be IN their lives more fully and freely. A walk, a meal with friends, a lazy day with five movies and too much popcorn gets me all filled up again to dive in the next day.
AND: Yes, ha!
Do you have a favourite card in The Fountain Tarot, and if so can you describe it, and why?
JONATHAN: The Eight of Coins for me was a perfect metaphor for the focused craft of building this deck and the relationships between man, his intent, geometry and color are very bold and crystal clear.
JASON: I think the Death card is my favorite. The horse is just incredible. I’m simultaneously afraid and comforted by it. Jonathan captured that feeling of endings and new beginnings flawlessly.
ANDI: The High Priestess or The Moon
Intrigued? You can find out more about the deck and view in-progress cards at fountaintarot.com.
Meanwhile, here’s The Fountain Tarot’s Kickstarter campaign – take a look and if you like what you see, contribute to the project!
I’m a 30-something writer, artist, tarot reader, and perpetual explorer of the space between thought, feeling, and action.
I believe that spirituality and ritual are for everybody. I’m about the journey, in all of its messy, non-linear, chaotic iterations. I am excited by anticapitalist business and living with my whole entire self present. I use tarot cards to bring forth hidden truth, and ritual to affirm my commitment, over and over, to my ever-shifting path.