One of the things I like about tarot is its consistency. No matter how different the deck, the system outline is always there...seventy-eight cards, twenty-two major arcana, and four suits. I like that I can pick up any deck and have a general idea of its meanings. The other thing I like about it, and one of the things that makes it so very interesting, is how adaptable it is to individual perspective. I like how different decks offer different view points, further expanding the meanings of the cards. Whether or not a particular deck resonates with us, we can appreciate that we are holding in our hands an incredible book of art. This is how I feel about the Tattoo Tarot deck created by Lana Zellner. Not only does this deck resonate with me, but I rather like its plucky attitude and gritty urban flare.
With its bold colors, distinctive lines, and street-smart style, 78 Cards (Tattoo Tarot) is a tarot deck with an edge. Combining age-old symbolism with a deeply colorful tattoo style art, these cards have a personality all of their own. While this deck may borrow from the Waite/Smith system, it clearly thinks outside of the traditional tarot box.
To begin with, the cards come in the order in which the artist drew them, beginning with the Nine of Wands and ending with the Hanged Man. This allows us to see the progression of Lana's drawing project. I absolutely love that she did it this way! I also like that she lists the drawing number at the bottom of each card. For instance, you can see that The Star card was Drawing No 3 in her project and that the Two of Swords was Drawing No 11. How cool is that?!
Not wanting to miss out on the full experience and because I was seriously excited about this tarot deck, I also ordered 78 Cards: The Book of Meanings companion book. Overall this book is well done with glossy pages, large colorful images, and general divinatory meanings of the cards. However, I was surprised to find very little explanation regarding the illustrations and the use of symbolism specific to this deck. Still, it is a beautiful book, as well as a very cool collaborative effort featuring five different writers, each focusing on different parts of the tarot. Kelly-Ann Maddox addresses the Major Arcana, Christy Talbot addresses the suite of Wands, Sebastian Akesson addresses the suit of Cups, Ethony Dawn addresses the Swords, and its Lana Zellner, addressing the Pentacles.
My favorite part of the book, however, is Lana's story, which I found extremely inspiring. I appreciate her willingness to put it out there, sharing her artistic progression, as well as her career transition. I was fascinated by her creative process in general...especially in relation to tarot.
In her book Lana explains that 78 Cards started out as a drawing project, a chance to grow as an artist and push herself in new directions. While frequenting Blaque Owl Tattoo in Missoula, Montana, in the midst of a major career change, she decided to follow her heart and take up drawing again. This led to 'Operation Draw More' where she posted her drawings daily on Instagram. This inevitably led to the 78 Cards project. This is the short version, of course. The book version is a little more personal and much more interesting.
She makes a point to mention some of the notable cards in relations to her life and the project, such as drawing #1, the Nine of Wands, where she gathered her strength and determination to stay the course of the project. Drawing #7, the Eight of Coins is significant to her apprenticeship as a tattoo artist, and also inspired the name of her company, Eight Coins.
Drawing #21, the Page of Pentacles was her first painting. Before that everything was completed with color pencils and markers. Apparently this was a huge development for her as an artist. Again, I find all of this extremely interesting, as well as inspiring.
Attracted to tattoo art in general, I naturally gravitated toward the Tattoo Tarot. But what really captured my attention was the straight up, raw honesty of the cards. Far from pretentious or lofty, the cards read as real. The feeling of authenticity can be attributed to the artist's refusal to edit out the imperfections. As she mentions in her book, the accidents, style changes, and visible development are the story of 78 Cards. The goal wasn't perfection, but rather transition and progression. And this is what appeals to me about this deck.
As it is, the artwork for each card was created by hand with no digital enhancement changes. They were sketched, hard lined and colored. So you may notice that some of the cards include original sketch marks and color bleeds.
Also, in the spirit of artistic progression Lana leaves the first two drawings uncolored, the Nine of Wands and the Three of Cups. While I appreciate the artist's decision to follow her creative vision, if I'm honest, aesthetically I find the uncolored cards a little boring. Especially when the rest of the deck is so dynamic and color rich. At the same time, it really is part of what makes this deck so intriguing.
Standard size, measuring 2.75 x 4.75 inches with a 130 lb quality card stock, and a dull finish, the deck is easy to handle and shuffles remarkably well. So well, in fact, that I have to remind myself to stop shuffling them and layout the cards!
It may have been the bad lighting, or that I wasn't wear my glasses, but to begin with I only noticed the white geometrical design in the center of a soft black background on the back of the cards. However, upon further inspection I realized there is also a lovely and very subtle rose design on the backs as well. The affect is simply elegant.
Instead of a box, the deck came inside a simple black velvet, draw string bag, which I am currently using for something else entirely. And even though I decided to go with something different for my deck, you can never have too many draw string bags!
In any case, one of the fist things I do when I get a new tarot deck is group the cards together according to their numerical and court card type. In this way I am able to compare the differences and see what sets them apart. The goal is to easily recognize the cards without having to read the titles every time...especially if I plan on using a deck professionally. In doing this with the Tattoo Tarot deck I could see that the court cards do not adhere to any particular uniformed style. While some of the cards have a traditional feel to them, others do not. Such is the case with the Knight of Swords and the Knight of Pentacles, and the King of Swords and the King of Cups. Comparably the Pages are very dissimilar in style as well, as are the Queens. All this really means is that it might take a little longer to get acquainted with them.
Style changes are probably most noticeable in the Court Cards and Aces. For instance...the King of Cups and the Ace of Cup have a very similar look, and I think the Page of Pentacles could easily be mistaken for an Ace. Nevertheless, I had no problem using this deck at the local psychic fair last weekend.
One of the dilemmas a tarot collector faces is cost. Unless money is of no object, you can't always afford to purchase every deck that catches your eye in the moment. This probably won't be an issue if the deck has been mass produced by one of the larger publishing companies. Chances are it will still be there next pay check. But if you are like me, and find yourself drawn to the indie decks, you know very well that not only are self-published decks significantly more expensive, but there are fewer of them, which means time is of the essence, so you had better get it while it's hot! The Tattoo Tarot deck is a perfect example of this.
Another dilemma a tarot collector faces is not liking a deck once we've attained it. Not a huge deal if you've only paid between $18 and $25 for it. But when you've paid at least $50 (plus shipping) for something you don't really like, the disappointment has a bit of a sting. So it may be a bit of a gamble at times, but when a deck turns out to be everything you've hoped for it is so worth it. At least, for me it is. The experience of a new tarot deck priceless. It opens up a world of fresh ideas and new perspectives. Perhaps it doesn't happen every time, with every deck, but fortunately for me it did happen this time, with this deck. Needless to say, 78 Cards was definitely worth the risk.
Unfortunately 78 Cards is currently out of print. But according to her website the deck has been picked up by US Games Systems and should be available again in 2017. I am curious to see how the deck transitions from an indie to main stream publisher. Either way, I plan on picking up a second copy when the time comes. In the meantime, you can follow Eight Coins on instagram for updates regarding when and where the deck can be purchased in the future.
Lana Zellner is an artist and designer, living in Missoula, Montana. Pulling from her experience as an arechetect, Lana's artwork is heavily focused on line work, bold color, and detailed ornamentation. For more information about Lana and/or to purchase her wonderful artwork you can visit her website at www.eightco.in.
The Book of Meanings, companion book for Lana Zellner's 78 Cards Tarot Deck, is sold separately and currently available for purchase through Lulu.com.
As I mentioned earlier, I decided to go with something different than the draw string bag the deck came with. As it turned out local artist, Ashley Washam happened to have something that matched my deck perfectly. So if you are looking for a vehicle for your deck, you will find a variety of unique tarot pouches and other handmade items on Etsy at the Divine Vestage shop. So far I have three, which match three different decks.