The design of the deck was inspired by the concept of the night, and the archetype of a single string that connected all things within the universe, threading images in a murky unknown.
Tina Gong, illustrator of the Golden Thread Tarot and founder of Labyrinthos Academy, was the focus of an episode of the Side Hustle School podcast. After listening, I immediately looked her up and was tickled to see such cute, compelling, and well-composed designs. The cardstock, which is gold foil on matte recycled plastic, also looks awesome.
Her philosophy of Tarot as a tool for self-knowledge and self-development matches my own:
We don’t believe in divination.
Tarot is your mirror.
What you read and interpret is a reflection of your own inner world.
Like the International Icon Tarot, this deck’s simplicity enhances the symbols and meanings of each card. The geometric style could have easily felt too modern or techy, but it just doesn’t. From a design standpoint, it’s very well done. I love Gong’s use of repeating lines and how she often breaks the rectangle frame and takes lines to the edge of the card.
I have to say that, while I love to look at all of my featured Tarot decks, this one really touches me on a subconscious level – the designs tap deep into the basic symbols of primarily-Western cultures and hit me right away. Tina Gong, you nailed it!
I’m not one to download apps, but I may just download one of the free-forever Tarot apps to learn card meanings. There are three apps and they all look great, especially the Golden Thread one.
Along with the deck, I got the Map of the Universe altar cloth, which is a four-foot square silk cloth featuring the Zodiac signs, night and day, above and below, and the center. You can use the cloth for spreads, but I’m going to wear it : )
There is so much going on with the gorgeous, intriguing I Tarocchi di Vetro by Elizabetta Trevisan. Today I’ll talk about:
The Art Itself
Names of the Deck
The Art Itself
This is one of the most distinctive, beautiful, and well-composed decks I’ve ever seen. Rendered in tempera and pastels, the effect is that of stained glass. The overall style, in my opinion, is a blend of Art Nouveau and Art Deco – the human and animal figures are realistic and have soft shadows as in Art Nouveau, but the rest of the elements are geometric and sharp like Art Deco. The pip cards (1 through 10) have no people and so emphasize geometry more. You will find yourself tracing the dynamic lines and swirls over and over with your eyes.
While you are doing this, you will discover the clever ways zodiac symbols and the symbols for the suits fit into the compositions. I especially like how the Queen of Chalice’s throne is a chalice.
One of the first things you’ll notice is that the suits have unusual elemental associations. Typically,
swords = air
cups = water
wands = fire
coins = earth
In this deck:
swords has primarily water imagery with air as a secondary element
chalices (cups) seems to suggest both water and air – like a lake environment in the summertime, with lily pads floating on water while dragonflies zip above the surface
wands feature fire but tree imagery frequently overtakes the fire in prominence
pentacles are earth (no change there)
These differences exist because the Minors of this deck are based on designs by Eudes Picard. Many of the Majors are influenced by Oswald Wirth’s Arcana of the Cabbalistic Tarot, which is itself a modified version of the foundational Tarot of Marseilles.*
The Minors (pips) may at first look like they’re devoid of meaning, but if you look closely, you’ll see helpful symbols.
Also, you may notice that the kings age as you progress through Swords, Chalices, Wands, and Pentacles, which is pretty cool. I don’t know what it means, but I like it.
Names of the Deck
This deck has been marketed as “The Crystal Tarots” but that’s an inaccurate translation of the original Italian “I Tarocchi di Vetro”. I’m learning Italian and while I’m no expert, I have learned that “vetro” means “glass” – not “crystal”. Maybe a marketing person thought “crystal” would appeal to the New Age audience.
“Tarots” in the plural sounds weird to English speakers but is accurate because “tarocchi” is plural in Italian. There is also a singular word, “tarocco”, and I admit I’m not sure which to use. There are many decks out there called “Tarocco Whatever” and “Tarocchi di Whatever”. If anyone has some insight on this, please leave a comment!
The deck started out Majors-only, possibly as early as 1987.
According to Albideuter.de, images from the Majors-only deck appeared on the covers of Lo Scarebo’s catalog from 1987-1994, but I haven’t been able to verify this.
At some point, Lo Scarebo published an Edizione d’Arte (Art Edition) on large cards with only Italian labels, which was one of many in a series. I don’t know how many cards this deck has. It may have been the first edition.
1995: Lo Scarebo published the 78-card deck, with labels in several European languages; the High Priestess image is reversed for some reason.
1996 and 1998: U.S. Games Systems published the 78-card deck.
2002: Lo Scarebo published 78-card deck with five Majors printed in reverse (High Priestess, Hierophant, Chariot, Judgement, and the World) – the World being kind of a problem given that the four corners have specific symbols for them. There’s no explanation for this – it was probably a mistake.
Again, any insights you can provide about the printing history would be great for comments, thank you!
This deck is gorgeous and a wonderful addition to any collection. If you’re used to Rider-Waite-Smith or its many derivatives, though, you may have initial difficulties with the pip cards. But it’s worth it because they’re so beautiful!
*Interestingly, the Universal Wirth Tarot, by the same publisher (Lo Scarebo), used this same Wirth + Picard combination over a decade after I Tarocchi di Vetro was produced. I wonder how many decks are out there with this combo.
I think the thing to keep in mind when doing tarot cards is always to let the tarot itself remain in control of the art. If the art style or the artist’s personality becomes the star of the show, with the tarot taking second place, the deck and its usefulness are compromised.
I really like Robin Ator’s International Icon Tarot, which is based on the classic Rider-Waite-Smith deck. Its simplified design and faceless figures make it more accessible and emphasize only the most important symbols of each card. For example, somehow I missed there are pomegranates behind the High Priestess – I never noticed them until I saw the card from this deck!
Ator conceived of the idea to use the isotype style of figures while working on an ad campaign employing those figures. He had also been exploring how to draw the human body in the simplest way possible.
At first, he created the Major Arcana by hand, experimenting with cutting out shapes from painted paper and plastic before deciding to learn Adobe Illustrator to make them digitally. You can read more about his process in this interview at Tarot Garden.
Robin Ator also made the cute Ator Tarot and the Prairie Tarot. His non-Tarot work includes character design for commercials and film. Please visit his website, Glow in the Dark Pictures, to see all of the tarot cards and his other artwork.
Below are my favorite cards from the International Icon Tarot:
You may be surprised to know that Tarot Nova* is the only deck I actually own, despite all my Tarot Features. My mom bought it for me many years ago, and at first I didn’t like Julie Paschkis‘s simple, Medieval woodblock style. But it’s really grown on me and now I like it quite a bit. It’s whimsical and fantastic – just looking at the Knights, you’ll see that three of them have pretty non-traditional mounts.
The cards are small – good for small hands, and almost square. The corners are rounded (love it) and color-coded: purple for Major Arcana, red for wands, yellow for swords, blue for cups, and green for pentacles. On the downside, they are too thick and smooth to shuffle normally, and their shininess makes them hard to photograph.
I would also not recommend the Tarot Nova for beginners, as its imagery departs somewhat from Rider-Waite-Smith and can be confusing. For example, the IV of Swords represents rest, but Tarot Nova’s boxed-in person projects a feeling of confinement and being trapped and uncomfortable. So sometimes I ignore the imagery altogether, but other times it can help.
In general, though, Tarot Nova is a charming deck and great for petite-handed readers.
*It’s not actually called Tarot Nova – it’s sold in several (?) versions: I’ve seen a super-tiny deck, a “Fortune Telling Kit”, and a “Tarot: the Complete Kit” (the one I have).
I love Dana Driscoll’s Tarot of Trees – so vibrant! Also I love trees.
Driscoll says that she started the project because she couldn’t find a Tarot deck that really spoke to her, so she decided to make her own. She painted the images in watercolor, acrylic, and ink – you can definitely see the watercolor in the winter skies of the pentacles. The original paintings were four by five-and-a-half inches and took a bit over a year to make. Head on over to her Process page to see several in-progress photos of the Three of Swords – I like how she builds up the background.
The deck comes in two forms: a physical one and as an app made by The Fool’s Dog, an app company specializing in Tarot.
I love Stephanie Pui-Mun Law’s Shadowscapes Tarot so much! Actually, I already wrote about it in 2014 but I wanted to bring it to your attention again because it’s lovely. (This post has all-new images, so be sure to look at both.)
What I notice this time around the “scapes” part – the landscapes and how many of the cards show two or more “worlds”, like sea and sky, and how the main figures on the cards often occupy the space between. Click on the images to see the details at Pui-Mun Law’s website, Shadowscapes.com.
Tarot of the Magical Forest, by Leo Tang, is a deck featuring cute animals. The animals’ wide eyes have a touch of creepiness to them, but not so much that it’s off-putting (to me, anyway).
Strength is my favorite, and is my favorite Strength card of any deck I’ve come across – so cute and really only possible in an animals-only deck.
The Hanged Man bat, likewise, is clever.
The Major Arcana show several kinds of animals, but the Minor Arcana have just one type of animal each:
pentacles = foxes
swords = cats
cups = rabbits
wands = frogs
Below are some other cards for your perusal. You’ll notice that there are two editions – the one with the swirls is the 2005 Taiwan printing and the one with six languages is the 2008 Lo Scarabeo edition.