Tarot of Trees

Whimsical Tarot Deck by Dana Driscoll

Artistic Process

I have had many people ask me how the Tarot of Trees has been created, so I developed a short overview of my artistic process. All of the Tarot of Trees cards are painted at 4 x 5.5" and are mixed media watercolor, acrylic, and ink paintings.


I use the following materials to create the Tarot of Trees:

  • Watercolor paper: Canson 128 lb rough. I buy this in sheets of 22x30" and cut it to size. Although it claims to be rough, it actually has a very smooth texture that works well with watercolor and ink.
  • Watercolors: I primarily use Shin Han Professional artist watercolors to paint. These are a Korean artist-grade watercolor and I like them for their vibrant hues and transparency. I suppliment these with several colors from the Winsor and Newton line.
  • Acrylics: I use a number of white acrylics for higlights, usually a mix of Liquitex and Van Gogh.
  • Inks: Although I am a large fan of the traditional pen and ink, I decided to use the Faber Castell Medium point artist pens for this project becuase I wanted no drips and a very consistent line.


The Process

Here is my artistic and creative process for creating each card. I have created a walkthrough with images of the steps of painting (#4 and onward). I didn't really think anyone wanted to see pictures of me meditating or buring incense :). I have used my Three of Swords card as the example piece in this walkthrough.

1) I start with reading and researching the card I plan on painting extensively. This includes looking through my own tarot deck and library about the card.

Then I go online and look at other artists' renditions of the card, read on the symbolism, etc.

2) At that point, I write a list of meanings and symbols I'd like to convey and do some small sketches (maybe 1.5" x 2.5" high). Just to get the creative juices flowing.

3) During this stage I burn some incense I specially crafted for divinations and then meditate for a bit on the design, painting the card in my mind.

4) Now I'm ready to start sketching more seriously. The sketch comes together, and finally, I am ready to trace the whole thing out on Canson 128 lb Rough watercolor paper. I trace it very lightly, knowing that I have my concept sketches to rely on for the final design. Now I know a lot of watercolor artists tape their paper down--and for most larger work I do too. But for these tarot cards, I've developed a background technique actually relies on the warping of the paper. As the paper is drying, I often will pick it up and make the watercolors run in a certian direction.

Usually a bit later, I come back and look at the sketch and then if I'm satisfied, I start the watercolor layer. I have painted the entire deck with mostly Shin Han Professional Artist watercolors, with a few Winsor and Newton colors thrown in. I love the Shin Hans for their brilliant colors! After deciding on a background color scheme, I usually work pretty quickly to put the background down so that it doesn't dry. As it does dry, I flick it with water to get intersting effects.

Here I've started with the yellow background. I started the yellow at the bottom, and as I develop the background I will add in darker and darker colors.

Here i've started to add in the orange, flipping the piece around to get the best angle to paint.

Now I've begun ot add in the darker oranges and vibrant reds. To tie the background together, you can see that I've added small dots of red and orange into the yellow. That gives the background a nice varied look.

So here is the final picture of the background. I've added in some fushcia and purple to the top. As the background starts to dry, I've taken a brush with clean water and splattered it slightly to make the colors bleed in interesting ways.

5) Now its time to move on to the foreground of the piece. In this case, I'll be painting the swords, a heart, and a tree trunk as per the design I sketched earlier. In the image below, I've layered the heart with fushia and then added some purple along the edges while the fuschia was still wet.

6) I contune to paint the foreground layer. I've given the heart and the trunk a basic layer; the trunk will take many more layers of varied brown, and eventually, acrylic and ink. Watercolors can be layerd if you are careful and start with light enough layers--as in what I did with the trunk in this piece.

7) At this stage, the watercolor portion is done. But this card is nowhere near from complete! You can see the layers of watercolor I used on both the bloody areas dripping from the sword and also the trunk.

8) Next, using a white acrylic, I go over many of the layers and give them additional texture and interest. I don't use the paint from the tube--I water it down quite a bit first and use a very thin brush.

9) I then go back for my third and final layer--with a Faber Castell medium point waterproof/india ink pen. I define areas, add detail, and so forth. Here is the final card. I scan it in at 400 dpi, and occassionally do some touch up in photoshop if necessary.

The three of swords card.