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Interview with Tarot artist Egypt Urnash (Part Two)

Continued from part one…

The deck you made, The Tarot of the Silicon Dawn, explores sexuality and gender in (what some might see as) unconventional ways. Most of the characters you have drawn to represent the cards are women, many times in poly relationships with other women or taking up stereotypical male roles such as a coin-collecting fireball thrower, ala Mario. Could you talk about why gender earned a starring role in the creation of this deck?

A lot of this is what’s become a deliberate narrative choice as I do solo comics: Lots of creators, when creating characters, will default to male, unless there’s an explicit reason in the plot for the character to be female.

But me? Give me paper and pencil, leave me to doodle, and most of what I end up drawing will probably be ladies, rather than dudes. I just draw ladies by default, and I made no effort to change this for the deck. I didn’t want to make it an ENTIRELY feminine deck. So for the cards that had a distinctly male energy to them, I kept that.

And as to the triadic relationships and the hints of BDSM scattered through the deck here and there…that’s simply the artist putting herself into the work. I made the thing while I was in a triad relationship with two boyfriends, and, well, I like the spanking and such.

So really a lot of it falls under “I wanted to make a deck I could relate to”. I mean, that 3 of Swords with the monster-lady crying out in twisted orgasmic glee as she sticks three swords through her womb? I’m not into blood play but there have been times where I have been screaming in pretty painful delight. And putting that into that card transforms its meaning and makes it less of a Pronouncement of Doom: some bad stuff is coming up, some stuff may hurt a lot…how can you turn the pain inside out and ride it to somewhere awesome? Because endorphins are endorphins.

10 of swords tarot of the silicon dawnswirling galaxy (back of card) tarot of the silicon dawn99 of wands tarot of the silicon dawn

Your tarot deck also includes a great modern sense of humor which uses references to programming lingo, science fiction and video games. What do you see as the benefit of integrating these new art forms with these older art forms, and would you like to see more of it?

Oh hell yes. Any form that does not evolve and change to remain relevant is a form that will die. I grew up reading science fiction; I grew up playing video games; I grew up fiddling with programming. The “religious” text that moved me the most was when The Illuminatus! Trilogy slid a whole ton of Discordian pseudo-Zen into my mind. This is the language I speak.

I mean, if Tarot wants to consign itself to an ever-decreasing circle of musty enthusiasts, it could do no better than to repeatedly tread the same ground. We all have to read a chunk of The Canterbury Tales in college but who the hell goes on to read any of Chaucer’s other works for pleasure? How many people know Shakespeare primarily through revisionist productions that modernize the situations? A few ancient, alien tales still survive; I’ve read Beowulf voluntarily and have a recent edition of The Epic of Gilgamesh I keep on wanting to work through, but these are curiosities, not vibrant parts of living culture.

Something I think people less familiar with Tarot would wonder about is, speaking strictly from your perspective rather than trying to speak on behalf of the industry, do you view tarot as a tool for divination? Or do you feel it has uses other than the typical mental image we have of a Romany woman with a crystal ball in a purple tent?

It’s…complicated. Let me speak in a few different voices here.

The Skeptic rolls her eyes and smirks and tells you divination is just a happy little dream. But divination or not, it’s a good way to step outside of a problem and look at it from unexpected angles. Here’s a bunch of cards with evocative images, designed to have all kinds of links between them. Deal a few out, say they represent certain aspects of the problem at hand, then start free-associating. What does it mean if the kinda-creepy Hierophant turns up when you’re asking if you should dump your boyfriend? Does it mean he’s kinda domineering? Does it mean he has a lot to teach you? How does it being next to the 5 of Pentacles change it? What incidents does it bring to mind that you’ve been semi-deliberately forgetting?

You could get the same results from any system of divination, the Skeptic says. You could get it from any source of random input. What’s the first thing you hear when you go into a public place and uncover your ears? What comes up when you do the I Ching? These cards, none of them says anything definite; none of them is unequivocally THIS IS BAD or THIS IS AWESOME – some are strongly biased but there’s always a hook, always a way to read it the other way, always a way for the rest of the spread to completely turn something around.

Then the Magician sticks her tongue out and says, yeah, that’s all well and good, and if you wanna live in that reality tunnel, that’s fine. But in the reality tunnel she lives in, there’s this strong suspicion that we’re not as tethered in time as we think we are, and that this is a damn fine way to help get into a state where our consciousness can have a little more of an idea of the potential shapes of the future. Or to get in contact with some supernatural entity that can relay us these sorts of things!

So yeah. If “divination” is the way you wanna think about it, that’s cool! And if you wanna get into stuff about contacting Jungian archetypes, or just scrambling inputs to your brain to see what kind of sense it makes, that’s cool too!

And as the most mundane kind of randomness… well. Do you know the real way to flip a coin? You’re on the horns of a two-pronged dilemma, you just can’t decide. So you assign one to heads, one to tails. And then you flip a coin. Are you filled with a profound sense of relief that it came up the way it did? Awesome. Do what it told you to. But if you’re filled with a deep wish that it went the other way… disregard the coin and act like it came up the other way. Sometimes all you need is a little randomness to tip things one way or another, and let you actually examine your feelings.

Recreation Break, Vespuline Mining Concern

On your site’s bio, you mention that you moved to New Orleans three days before Katrina hit. Can you share what that was like?

Worst couple weeks of my life.

I grew up in New Orleans. This was me moving home to live with my mother and regroup after basically completely burning out on the animation industry. So I was already not feeling very good about things. Then just as I was beginning to get used to being back home, and starting to think about what to do next, blam, it’s taken away. Pretty much like 90% of my possessions were in a shipping unit that ended up in a warehouse in the completely flooded areas.

All I had to my name was what was in my suitcase, and what few things of mine were still lingering around my mom’s house. Luckily I’d pulled the hard drive from my computer so I had SOME fragile thread of continuity. What really hurt at the time was the loss of all the sketchbooks I’d filled up in my adult life; that’s where all kinds of ideas and fragments were kept.

Ultimately I don’t regret losing most of that stuff. Oh no, I lost the pile of boy wardrobe I hadn’t gotten rid of yet. Oh no, I lost the big pile of books I’d been mentally paring down to like maybe 20% of its size as I hurriedly crammed it into boxes when I was leaving LA. Since then I’ve really been aware of the hassle of hauling material objects around, and was glad that I really hadn’t accumulated too much new stuff when we would later pack up everything and move.

Tell us about some of your current projects. Recently, I remember seeing that you did the art for Anna Anthropy’s Duck, Duck, Poison.

Yeah, there’s that! I need to knock out a few bits of finishing art for it, then it should be online soon.

My main project right now, as I mentioned somewhere up there, is a SF comic called “Decrypting Rita“. The elevator pitch is “When her ex drags her outside of reality, the fastest woman ever built has to piece herself back together across four timelines… before the entire solar system is assimilated into one massive hive-mind.” It’s letting me mix the transhumanist sentiments on display in the corners of the Silicon Dawn with some experiments in storytelling techniques.

I’m also working on a collaboration with Matt Howarth, one of my comics idols. He’s been drawing SF and horror comics since the seventies; sadly he’s never received much of an audience in a market dominated by superheroes when they’re something he pretty much categorically refuses to do.

And there is an anthology of short comics that I’m helming. The theme is “Pretty Monsters and Unexpected Friends,” and we’re aiming for a Kickstarter of it near the end of this year. It was born out of my deciding to put up or shut up after starting to go to the local comics store semi-regularly and bemoaning how little of the stuff on the shelves I had the faintest interest in. It’s primarily female creators, and one of the few rules on content is “no superheroes.”

sun 19 and judgement 20 tarot of the silicon dawn early sketches

Finally, do you have any advice for those interested in breaking into the art and animation industry?

Love drawing. Love it a lot. Love it enough that you can mercilessly critique your own work and come back to keep on drawing.

When you think you have done your best piece yet, put it somewhere you can see it regularly. Like your computer’s desktop image. You’ll start seeing the flaws. Try not to repeat them in your next piece. If you manage to avoid them then you have a new “best piece ever” to put in regular view.

If you’re a beginner, you probably think you have “a style”. I’ve got news for you. You don’t. What you’ve got is a collection of shortcuts you’ve swiped from the handful of artists you love, and deployed without really understanding what these shortcuts are abstracting. Take some life drawing classes. And go here and start doing these exercises. Even if you have no interest in the 40s cartoon look – what you learn from working through the Preston Blair book with John’s exercises will quickly teach you to think in three dimensions, more realistic looks are then just a matter of different proportions and more details.

Also don’t just rip off the artists you love right now. Expose yourself to diverse influences. If you read an interview with a favorite where she cites a few of her favorite artists, then go check their work out – maybe what you think is awesome about your current favorite is just a sad shadow of the transcendent bliss of how their influence handled the same thing! When you have a dozen influences you’ve spent time seriously trying to draw like and can do a drawing that casually swipes stylizations from five of them at once, people start calling you “original”. Especially when you can sit this on top of a solid foundation.

Be aware that your chances of making a career of this are low. You have to be good, or you have to be consistent. If you want to get into animation in the US, get your ass to Hollywood and find yourself somewhere to intern. And only quit your day job if you have people to live with who are absolutely cool with working their job and living frugally while you pursue your dream.

egypt urnash peering over her glassses

Learn more about Ms. Urnash and her work here. You can follow her here on Twitter. To learn more about her deck you can go here, and to read reviews and purchase the deck, here is the link to its Amazon page.


Scans of 10 of Swords, Card Back and 99 of Wands made by, but used with permission of the artist. Second image is titled “Recreation Break, Vespuline Mining Concern”. Third image is from a 2007 sketch book of the Tarot of the Silicon Dawn’s Major Arcana. All rights are those of the artist Egypt Urnash (aka Margaret Trauth), Lo Scarabeo, and Llewellyn Worldwide Ltd.

Categories: entertainment

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