The Chibi Tarot
Hi readers! As promised, I have had the honour of interviewing another Tarot Deck Creator: Adam Blodgett! Adam’s Tarot comes from a place of pop-culture interest and has delight and charm reminiscent of graffiti artists and dunnies. I can’t look at his work without imagining incredible vinyl toys. What really amazes me about Adam, though, is the dialect he has opened in his blog about the Tarot. The heterogamy between occult and contemporary art he has created is accompanied by a narrative of cultural play that is witty and pensive.
The generous answers Adam has given me are relevant to any and all contemporary tarot. It is so important to acknowledge our modern influence whether wearing it proudly in the Chibi Tarot or relying on subtle cues like Ostara.
Those Happy flowers!
The Chibi Tarot features such a great play between pop culture and the rich history of the Tarot. What are your contemporary influences and what made you decide they could be brought into the realm of divination?
Adam: Visually the Chibi Tarot’s influences come from two distinct places: toys and video games. I’m a huge vinyl toy collector, and I think the way that vinyl toy culture creates an interplay with pop culture really set the bar for me. The way that Ron English’s toys parody kids’ breakfast cereals, the way that the Sucklord makes bootleg pink Stormtroopers, the way that Frank Kozik makes a gangsta yeti, the way that Kidrobot has crossed so many of its own figures with various licensed properties, from Street Fighter to TMNT all really point to an artform that’s in conversation with pop culture as its driving what’s artistically possible and that self-awareness resonates with me. Secondly, the DIY ethic that powers a lot of the culture always made me feel as though I could do it myself, and then I did with the Chibi Tarot. My hope is to eventually create a series of toys from the Chibi Tarot, but that requires at least one more kickstarter, and I don’t have the energy for that yet.
The other influence is 8-bit video games, specifically ‘80s and ‘90s Nintendo games, primarily Super Mario Brothers. That game has so totally infected popular culture that its effects can be seen everywhere. Its heroes, villains and even background props have become deeply infused in our modern visual vocabulary. SMB is a visual touchstone not just for a generation of American kids, but for a generation of kids worldwide, from Japan to Europe.
“Quest games” (RPGs) also had a huge impact on the way I viewed the possibility of visually interpreting medieval period. The original Dragon Warrior on Nintendo and then games like Secret of Mana, Chrono Trigger and Lufia and the Fortress of Doom all gave me a taste for that Asian flavored middle ages that began in the original Final Fantasy and carries through today in all the Zelda games, as well as in World of Warcraft and League of Legends. Probably the biggest direct video game influence for tarot was the SNES game Ogre Battle. An amazing game itself, I wrote about the influence that its tarot cards had on me here: my introduction to tarot
Which side of this dichotomy did your inspiration first come from?
Adam: My inspiration came from the pop culture side of the dichotomy. I’ve always been looking for a framework on which to hang my work, a loom for my weaving, if you will. I’ve created and abandoned more half-baked ideas than I care to admit. The idea immediately previous to the Chibi Tarot was a comic called “Uncanny Valley” which included cute animal characters with pun names: An adorable wolverine named Logan, a bird named Larry and a pandrilla: a panda-gorilla hybrid. It never really took off, possibly because I hated drawing comics. The idea for the Chibi Tarot came when I was trying to capture the essence of a character called the Hanged Man from the comic book ‘Astro City’ in a chibi way when I suddenly connected the Astro City character to the tarot card. Once that connection was made it was a small leap to drawing tarot characters in a chibi style. I doodled up a death character and found him instantly adorable. I did a quick Google search to see whether or not chibi style tarot had already been done and it hadn’t.
The next step was to see if I could quickly reproduce the sketch I’d done on the computer. I really didn’t want to get too involved with the digital illustration if I could help it because I’m an incredibly lazy person who thinks people should just throw money at me because I’m awesome. So I quickly whipped out a death card on Adobe Illustrator and it was a breeze. Ironically it was the one of only two easy cards in the entire major arcana. All the rest of them were much more involved.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of being a creator with a full family life?
Adam: I think the disadvantages are probably the most obvious, so I’ll start with those: Time and energy. Running my own design business (pixelsmithdesign.com), having three kids under 6, an interesting, sexy wife who I want to spend time and have conversations with, as well as a love for volleyball and golf makes it incredibly hard to carve out the necessary space for quiet isolation that, for me at least, is at the heart of the artistic process. As soon as I sit down to sketch both of my kids are instantaneously next to me asking, “What’s that papa? What are you drawing?” which makes it difficult to simply let the idea emerge. And then simply having enough energy to push through something at the beginning or end of the day is tough. Right now my art, both writing and illustrating, are secondary concerns and that can easily contribute to my feeling of being a disappointment as an artist.
The advantages are more surprising to me. One is the sheer innocent enthusiasm for everything. My boy is 6 and he’s already picked up his parents’ sense of ironic over-it-ness, but my 3 year old girl is excited about EVERYTHING. Her excitedness is so incredibly infectious that I want to capture it and bottle it so when I’m burned out on the world I can take a sip of her energy and be renewed by the awesome freshness that is always surrounding us. I get to watch Adventure Time?!? YAY! I beat this level of Kingdom Rush!!! YAY! She’s just incredibly positive about new ideas and new things and new people that it’s hard not to be renewed myself by it. And to be honest, once the 6 year old starts playing that veneer of experience disappears and the bright-eyed child shines through and he’s SO excited about whatever intergalatic spaceship or turtle dragon he’s just brought to life with his Duplos.
Their effortless creativity really reminds me that all the hard work I put in harboring these skills from the intensity of “real life” (think John Mayer’s ‘No Such Thing’), and staying committed to my own desire to create, no matter how disjointed and fruitless it felt for many years, has paid off in spades just watching them sit down to draw and listening to the powerful thrum of their imaginations as they inundate me with idea after idea of how they’re going to shape the world.
Other great things are watching my kids play with the Chibi Tarot cards. Hearing them easily talk about the visual influences of the card as well as their esoteric values is really powerful medicine for me.
Of the High Arcana cards you have created, which speaks to you the most. Conversely, do you find there is a card that is a favorite of your audience?
Adam:I don’t think I can pick one that speaks the most. All of them speak to me, which is a wonderful blessing. I’m in the process of writing a book on the deeper occult influences of the cards, trying to bring them more powerfully into our day to day lives in the same way that I tried to do visually with the chibi style. The exploration of each card’s meaning and its relationship between their symbols and their diviniatory significance has been insightful and inspiring. I’ve had that journey with each of the cards so far, so all of them have had their own powerful, insight deep into my own understanding of myself, my power and my place in the world making it impossible to choose a favorite.
Audience favorites are almost always either Death or the Tower. Death especially if the person is a Dr. Who fan, simply because fezzes are cool. Death and the Tower are two of the least approachable cards in the deck, and my intention with them was to make them as easy to relate to as possible without abandoning their central themes, so whenever somebody laughs at the Tower or grins at Death it’s a great feeling for me.
What made you decide to complete this deck in a mostly digital medium?
There are a number of reasons, but the biggest one is probably that I’m just super lazy. I really dislike the process of bringing artwork into the digital realm and then processing it and trying to make it look its best. I think that’s a lot of hassle. I’d rather create in the medium that most people will see it in (which is ironic since I ended up actually printed this deck out). Also, much of the inspiration for the deck is digital, so it seemed a natural extension of something so deeply influenced by video games to be a primarily digital product.
Plus, I’m not a great traditional medium guy. I don’t have a lot of art supplies, don’t know my paper weights, don’t have a great collection of pens or a process for producing work. And, because I am not naturally inclined toward color, working in Adobe Illustrator drastically speeds up the coloring of these little guys for me. Where I’m at as a traditional illustrator I’d basically have to teach myself to color from the ground up. With AI I can hop in and really have much more control (and significantly less frustration) than I would if I were working with markers, acrylics or pastels.
There’s still a LOT more that I can do with digital illustration techniques, I’m sure I haven’t even scratched the surface. Textures, blends, collage, perspective. The tools available on the computer are pretty incredible. But my art isn’t terribly sophisticated and I don’t think it ever will be. I love the simplicity of the cartoon. I enjoy the bright bold colors of comic books. And I think sophisticated ideas can be conveyed in simple packages.
I know I sacrifice a lot by working almost exclusively digital. There’s little texture here, and I can’t hold the piece once I’m done, but the instantaneous ability to share it across mediums makes up for that. There are dangers there too. Piracy is a huge concern of all artists, and making my work digitally increases the ease of piracy, but artists in traditional mediums have their work, style and ideas stolen all the time.
You have a keen eye on up and coming tarot decks leaning in both spiritual and artistic directions. Do you think there is a strong divide between these kinds of deck?
Adam: Thank you! I try and keep abreast of the overlap between the art world and the spiritual world, and tarot obviously has a personal significance for me, not just the art that’s produced, but the literature and I do think there’s a strong divide between the the two. As a business person trying to establish a demographic for my deck what I found was that there is very little overlap. Although the art folks tend to embrace the tarot from an aesthetic perspective, they (and the anime folks and the video game folks) are still pretty suspicious about anything that’s got the devil on it, and the tarot folks tend to be pretty critical of anything that doesn’t have a feudal or medieval influence, possibly because it appears less “magical”.
I’m a strong believer that the energy represented by the tarot is useful today (and actually, that we’re unconsciously using that energy day in and day out without recognizing that we’re doing so), but that its iconography is stuck in the middle ages. Many of the symbols are still relevant, but they’re stylized in medieval (and often mediocre) ways, leaving us to speak a visual language that’s the equivalent of Shakespeare. Shakespeare is amazing; he changed the way we speak in a drastic and powerful fashion, but it’s difficult to use that language to buy groceries or get a pedicure. Finding a way to translate the energy of the tarot into a contemporary dialect both visually and esoterically, is a big driver for me. Finding a way to help both the tarot AND the artistic worlds learn to speak together, to harmonize is really important to me, because they both had a lot to offer one another.
Adam:Why do you think there is such a strong pull for artists to the Tarot?
First, I think a big draw is the framework aspect of the tarot. At the very least there are 22 really interesting characters to flesh out, characters with a 500 year history who have been tackled by some of the greatest artists in history. Second, it speaks a symbolic language that can easily be understood across the western world, and one that is powerful to play with and explore as an artist, giving us the ability to try our hand at something and compare our results to what other folks have done. Third, I think there’s a mystical allure. There’s no shortage of authors hinting at the idea that the tarot contains the keys to unlock the mysteries of the universe. That’s a big claim, and I don’t think they’re wrong, but I do think they enjoy being misunderstood.
I think most esoteric folks know that the keys to the universe are in fact simply the keys to understanding ourselves, and I think that’s the last big reason the tarot has such a strong pull for artists: it’s theraputic, both as a creator and as a consumer. Any tool that gives us the ability to be introspective, to move past the traditional stories we tell about ourselves and create new narratives, unlock new doors and open new pathways to being fully ourselves in this world, free from the detritus we’ve collected over the years is a tool that will attract attention, and that tends to go doubly for artists who are often using their skills as part of an introspective exploration, and the tarot can shift that journey into hyperspeed.
Be sure to check out Adam’s adorable work at The Chibi Tarot!