Tuesday 25 April 2017

Art in focus: 'The Magician'

'The Magician' is the very conduit between the Universe and Humanity. He has the ability to channel the power of the world through his actions and being. This card is all about skill, concentration and creativity. A time is upon you when you can achieve your goals with your own skill, initiative and determination. Focus your energy and actions, trust the message of 'The Magician', draw on the power of the universe and it will aid your own creativity to achieve your desires. Commitment, concentration and creativity ensure success.

Depictions of 'The Magician' vary from deck to deck but many similarities are often maintained, such as the suggestion of supernatural, magical powers and a mysterious atmosphere. Most depictions of the Magician show him holding a wand, dating back as far as Marseille Tarot, and include a table of significant objects referring to the suits of Tarot. In the Rider-Waite deck 'The Magician' maintains many original elements, but is enriched with further symbolism such as the red roses and white lilies at his feet representing duality, his red and white clothing symbolising purity and knowledge and the eternity symbol, which is hinted at on the brim of the hat in Marseille Tarot, but is here shown more obviously above the Magicians head.

While I was sketching ideas for my Magician I went on a short post-Christmas break to York with my partner. In a Church there I was struck by a stained glass window which had some striking similarities to my preliminary sketches back home. At that point the only decision I had made was that my Magician would be holding a flaming Chalice, all other elements were still open to development. The window figure was holding a chalice with snake emerging from it. I photographed the window, thinking it a stroke of fate that I had stumbled across Something so similar to my sketch, and decided to go with the timely suggestion made by fate and incorporated some other elements from the window, including the deep blue clothing and fair hair.
The Magician is one of my designs with the most separate symbolic elements. His elemental study/studio is full of objects symbolically referring to Tarot. Upon the Magicians workbench are items representing the suits of Tarot; a wand, a pentangle in the form of a wax seal stamp, the Magician holds the cup, and two swords are displayed upon the wall. Other items within the scene also have symbolic meaning, with the books representing knowledge and learning, the quill and parchment expressing creativity and the hourglass reminding us of our mortality. Within a glass cloche on the very edge of the image sits a specimen of a Crow. The crow is a recurring element in my series which I decided to include in this piece for continuity and also to symbolise knowledge.
The chalice held by the Magician burns with the flame of knowledge, but also represents his powers of alchemy and the possibility of his skill and knowledge. Other elements on his bench hint to alchemy, such as the glass bottle and notes, but his experimentation is left deliberately mysterious to the viewer.
As 'The Magician' is the card is numbered one it represents new beginnings, I chose to express this through the hint of the new dawn through the arched window, which frames the magician. His laboratory is purposely humble and modest, with a flagstone floor and lime washed walls, excess is of no concern to him, and would only serve as a distraction from the real importance of his existence and purpose. His eyes stare with a haunting knowledge and depth, hinting at his relationship with the universe and the power it channels through him. His headband is another recurring feature in the series, an ouroboros, representing infinity and eternity.
I wanted to give the impression that the viewer is looking into the magicians private, personal life and space, and witnessing an important, seminal moment in his existence, which is only being shared between him and the universe, we are simply spying in on the scene of his skill, dedication and concentration come to fruition.

Tuesday 18 April 2017

Art in Focus: 'Strength'

'Strength' is the card of courage, control and compassion. 'Strength' reminds us that strength is not just a physical attribute but an important part of our inner selves. The 'Strength' card contrasts with 'The Chariot', which reflects physical strength and will, while 'Strength' represents the power of human spirit and the strength and courage within us. This card teaches that within us we have the power to control our impulses and temper, to create an atmosphere of trust and calm and tame our demons within. Ultimately: The bravery in your heart is worth far more than the muscle in your arm.

Dating back to the Marseille Tarot 'Strength' in many decks is largely unchanged. Typical imagery shows a woman holding open the mouth of a lion, demonstrating her control over the beast, which does not come from physical strength but from inner strength. The lion represents our primal, animalistic side; our passions, desires and urges. The lion is happy to submit to the woman, and her love has in theory tamed the beast. Rider-Waite added imagery such as a garland crown representing nature, the infinity symbol above the woman's head and the phallic symbol of the distant mountain to enrich the symbolism of the original imagery.

When it came to beginning work designing my depiction of 'Strength', I had no clear cut idea about the piece and really struggled with approaching the piece from a totally new angle. It's one of the few cards I left until last to work on as no matter what I sketched, researched and tried I wasn't happy with the results. The only reasonable concept I had been able to think of was to have a woman, instead of holding open the mouth of a lion, riding a lion. In a tribal, primal sort of manner. Showing the woman's strength and courage clearly, and also giving her a suggestion of supernatural power and connection with nature. After weeks of sketching bears, wolves, mythical beasts such as griffons and all sorts of mighty beasts I still had no ideas that worked as well as the fearless lion rider concept. As time pressures began to mount and my indecision was beginning to hold up the completion of the series I decided to bite the bullet and do a full size line drawing to form the basis of my lion rider idea and see if I felt the idea could work or not.
Once I had finally got the posture of the woman right, no easy task as I wanted her to appear strong, stern, confident and proud, all while riding on the back of a lion, I felt far happier with the pieces potential. One of the main reasons I wanted to keep the symbolism and imagery of the lion as the lion typifies wildness, ferocious beasts and nature. The lion is one of the few animals we still genuinely fear, and I believe the fear is an inbuilt, primal response. I chose to portray the woman riding the lion as fully nude. I felt this was really important as it represents her confidence and freeness in the world. She is as free and wild as the lion, unhindered by materialistic possessions, and she is far closer to nature for it. She has no shame or concern of her natural state, just like the lion. I approached the woman with the idea of her being a mighty Amazon, or woman of some mystical Tribe with the skill and power to not control nature, but cooperate with it and be totally at one. The lion is not her slave, or her unwilling transport, their union is a mutual one, with respect, courage and inner strength at its core. I really wanted to capture the cards message of soft control, and felt the idea of the woman's compassion and courage taming the lion and earning it's respect was the most important element to project. Looking at the completed piece now I am satisfied I achieved this message; love and courage can tame the fiercest beast.

Tuesday 11 April 2017

Art in Focus 'The Chariot'

'The Chariot' card is all about challenge, control and conquest. Through your strong will, dedication and determination you will be successful and victory will certainly be yours. The challenges which you face will only serve to increase your strength and willpower. 'The Chariot' ultimately pushes you down the path you are already pursuing, there is no room for doubt and the stamina needed is immense. You must commit to your cause with unquestioning dedication, drive and confidence, and then you shall triumph. Ultimately 'The Chariot' is the card of hard control, of ego, confidence, anger and self discipline. The card tells us that it is time to be firm, determined and direct, but all in the correct measures. 

Traditionally the imagery of 'The Chariot' was rather simple and as you might imagine featured exactly that. A chariot, usually horse drawn, and a strong male figure riding the chariot. Many Tarot decks continue this interpretation, often with subtle changes. The Rider-Waite deck maintains the basic principles of the cards imagery, while enhancing it with symbolism such as moons, stars, symbols of alchemy, rejection of civilisation and most notably replaces horses with sphinx. 'The Chariot' is one of the cards that I felts name alone left little room for reinterpretation, so some consideration was required to put my own mark on the imagery of the card. 

When designing my Chariot I wanted to maintain some elements of the traditional imagery of the card, such as including an actual chariot in some way, and quite liked the Roman imagery the word alone evokes, but I also wanted to give the card a quirky twist to make it unusual and different. I feel compared to early Tarot, Rider-Waite did exactly the same thing with this card by adding a lot of deep symbolism to what was originally a quite simple card in its imagery. I decided to deliver my twist through the use of a recurring element in my series; the Crow. Having previously used the image of my favourite bird to deliver messages of wisdom, knowledge and faint mockery, I now decided they could be a symbolic mode of transport (well the engine at least) as well. I liked the thought that rather than having horses like an actual chariot, and the early imagery in Tarot, the concept of being drawn by giant Crows was rather interesting, as they provide the possibility to travel both on land and in the air. This gave the piece the semi-surreal and fantastical atmosphere which I was aiming for. The giant Crows also represent positive and negative, yin and yang, as one of the crows is Albino, creating balance between the pair. I chose to include a Crow in the design of the Chariot itself, suggesting that the figure is not enslaving the Crows, more worshiping and respecting them. Though the Crows are bound to the chariot with a golden harness and rope (which was intended to suggest magic and mystery) the Chariots rider is not holding the harness, it is guarded and entrusted to the chariot itself and its crow mascot.
The Chariot's rider was intended to look vaguely like a Roman solider, with his red cape representing anger, his strong physique representing strength and his golden laurel representing knowledge, however I realised after drawing the piece I had unintentionally made him look vaguely like Jim Morrison, so I quite fittingly now call him 'The Rider on the Storm', which worked out in a strangely apt way. It can be bizarre how these things come together.
I wanted to keep the landscape of the piece quite plain as the main focus was intended to be the Chariot itself, however I did use the sky to increase the sense of the scene being set in a strange, magical place. The sunset and full moon was intended to give the impression that what is being witnessed is important and a momentous moment is just about to occur as The Chariot rides on the storm.

Thursday 6 April 2017

Major Acarna

After over 155 hours of drawing and painting, countless hours of research, planning and conceptual work and an awful lot of scanning and photoshopping I'm hugely pleased to say that my Major Acarna is complete. The series has been a mammoth undertaking, but after months of hard work my Tarot Series is finally complete. I'm so pleased I chose to take this epic journey and create my largest artwork series to date.

The entire Major Acarna is now available to purchase as prints from my etsy store ...

Tuesday 4 April 2017

Art in focus: 'The Hermit'

'The Hermit' card is all about seeking the truth and walking a difficult, but rewarding path. In his soul searching solitude the Hermit had gained incredible wisdom, knowledge and awareness. The Hermit card suggests that through introspection, contemplation and meditation you too can achieve new heights of wisdom and spirituality. What you seek lies within you, and though its discovery may be a lonely path, it's seclusion leads you to ultimate understanding of yourself, the knowledge within you and the deeper meaning of our existence.

In many Tarot decks the The Hermit is portrayed in very similar ways. As an elderly man, who may be searching for something, usually holding aloft a lantern, which symbolises wisdom and guidance. In Rider-Waite Tarot the lantern contains a 6 pointed star within, which is the symbol of the seal of Solomon and represents wisdom. Usually the Hermit will be cloaked or hooded, and holding a staff, representing power and travelling along a narrow but ultimately rewarding path. He is alone, showing the isolation he has chosen and which gives him his power and knowledge.

When designing my Hermit I wanted to focus on his solitude and knowledge as the main themes within the piece. Initially I found it quite difficult to decide on the physical traits of the Hermit, I knew I wanted him to be cloaked and hooded, but beyond that I had no set idea of what I wanted my hermit to look like. I began to consider the symbolism of the hermit and what he meant to me, and realised I drew large parallels with the Hermit and Gandalf the Grey. Every time I thought about him that's who I saw, so a lot of Gandalf was put into my final portrayal of The Hermit. Another inspiration was 'Light of the World' by Holman Hunt. The imagery of this beautiful painting guided my illustration, though to compare it to my completed piece you wouldn't really know it.
The landscape serves as the main method of emphasising the Hermits solitude, as he stands alone in an infinite, unwelcoming mountain wilderness. He urges you to follow his path to ultimate wisdom, however it is not an easy one to tread. The stream is a recurring element in my Tarot landscapes, beginning with the fool, and symbolises the continuing story and narrative throughout the Major Acarna from start to finish.
On his staff rests a crow, revisiting the crow who first appeared in 'The Fool'. Crows are incredibly wise birds, yet are very misunderstood and have a reputation of being an ill omen. The crow represents the Hermits wisdom and how it guides him along the path of his life.

I used a very muted, nocturnal colour palette to emphasise the warmth of the Hermits lantern which represents the Hermits inner spirituality and knowledge. I chose to maintain the use of the seal of Solomon from a Rider-Waite Tarot to give my lantern a supernatural, powerful appearance. I wanted it to inspire awe and wonder on all those who look upon it, suggesting the incredible power of wisdom and knowledge.
The grey of the mountains and the hermits cloak shows his connection and oneness with the world. His appearance is like his existence; simple and honest. He has rejected the material world and the temptation it brings, instead trusting a higher purpose and his own potential in life.
I chose to set the piece at night, as I liked the notion of the Hermit romantically toiling along his path come rain or shine and even in the darkest of night. I also wanted to the pitch blackness and tiny crescent moon to emphasise the power of the Hermits inner light, which shows that with wisdom you can illuminate the whole world.