Monday, August 12, 2013

How a Mystical Cat Becomes a Card

I've had many people curious about the process of creating tarot cards for a deck.  It's actually a very interesting process.  

To show you the steps, I'll take you through step by step of the Queen of the Sea Cats card from my upcoming deck Mystical Cats Tarot.  The first step is to determine the vision for the card.  On this project, I'm working with author Lunaea Weatherstone, so I get my initial direction from her.  Usually we have a phone discussion about the card and I get a written description for how she wants the card to look, the feel she wants to convey, and any specific elements she wants to be included in the card.  We modeled the cat for the "Sea Queen" after a beautiful real life cat as well, a cat that Lunaea knows, so she sent me several photos of the cat so I could see the markings, eye color, body type etc.  

I take all of the information and visualize it in my head, and then I draw a rough sketch.  
This is the very rough sketch, mostly to show placement and visual concept of everything
to Lunaea in case any changes need to be made, this is a very small sized sketch.
This brings all those ideas floating around into sharp focus.  For this card I found lots of inspiration looking at classic fountains, especially ones with mermaids on them.  Since this is the world of Mystical Cats however, it seemed obvious to me that it should be a mer-cat instead!  Once the sketch was complete, I emailed it off to Lunaea to make sure it fit her vision.  Then upon approval, I was ready to start creating the finished piece.

The next step is to transfer the sketch onto a sheet of smooth hot press illustration board.  Once I have all the details I need in place, I use a liquid frisked to cover up all of the areas of the art that I wish to remain totally white.  These are the areas that I will be working in colored pencil. Right now I'm using Art Masking Fluid by Windsor & Newton, although Grumbacher makes a good one as well.  It's kind of like a very thin rubber cement.  I recommend using a very cheap brush to paint it on, I use kids throw-away brushes with brightly colored plastic handles and trim the bristles as needed.  This stuff will ruin your good brushes, so don't go there!

Next  I mix up my special herbal wash.  I've chosen herbs for each card to correspond with the suit, card, and general feeling of the card.  This is how I add magic to every piece of art that I create.  It helps me to raise the appropriate energies of the piece so that I can make it vibrate with the correct intention and purpose.  In this case I used catnip, lady's mantle, kelp and a drop of water from the chalice well at Glastonbury that was given to me by my friend Shea, who traveled there.  This magical infusion is the water that I use for my watercolor wash, allowing the herbs I've chosen to work their magic and get the creative juices flowing. 
The finished sketch covered with liquid frisket after I've painted it.

 As I work with the paint, the frisket repels the paint from the areas to remain white, so I paint right over he top of it.  
The reveal: peeling the frisket from the painting, all those white areas will be layered with colored pencil.

Once the paint is completely dry, I peel off the frisket and the tape that marks the edges and I get to work with the colored pencils.  I work each section, usually adding the shadows first and working out towards the highlights.  I use Berol Prismacolor pencils, I love the variety and blend-ability  of them, I've been working with them for over 25 years.  As I work, I sometimes use a colorless blender, which is like a pencil that has no pigment, that helps blend multiple odors together and fill in darker areas so that less of the white paper shows through while it bumps up the color.  I work across the board bit by bit creating an entire world from the tips of very sharp pencils.  
A long way to go...

Really getting into the mosaic!

When I'm totally done with the colored pencil step which can take several days to complete, I look over the area and sometimes layer more watercolor over the top of the colored pencil.  I do this in order to fill in any areas where white shows through due to the texture or "tooth" of the illustration board and to make the colors "pop" a bit more.  
The Queen of the Sea Cats, complete!

Then I carefully add highlights to the cats eyes and whiskers, and the card is complete!  I scan it and email it off to Lunaea and then on to the next!  This is the process by which all 78 cards for Mystical Cats Tarot are (and will be) completed.  Then the original art for the cards will be whisked away to Llewellyns art department where they will do their magic to design how the finished cards and packaging will look.  This spring watch your local bookstore and you can pick up your very own copy of Mystical Cats Tarot.  I the mean time, why not pop over to the Mystical Cats Tarot Facebook Page and hit the "like" button so that you can see all the sneak peeks as they are released!

Brightest Blessings,

Mickie Mueller


  1. Thank you for sharing your artist process with us! I love these cards! Where can I buy them!?

  2. Thanks Anna Meow! They will be in bookstores everywhere spring of 2014! Check Barnes & Noble, Amazon and Llewellyn's website. I'm actually still finishing up the cards. :)

  3. Thanks very much, I'm so glad you're enjoying it!

  4. Absolutely amazing process - thank you so much for sharing! The smallest details are wonderful. I know I'll be among the first to purchase this deck! I'm so in love with this particular card; just can't help staring at it. I'm very connected to water and this is so calming to me, which is definitely needed now. Just lost my beloved kitty to cancer last week and I'm missing her dreadfully. This card is showing me a peaceful feline spirit. So grateful I could see this! Blessings to you, Mickie, for your beautiful craft!

  5. Vielen Dank Lieber Sankt Expedite Ich Danke Dir von ganzen Herzen


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