Deck creator forum — Pearls of Wisdom by Roxi Sim
The following is a new entry in my blog’s “Deck Creator Forum.” I occasionally do deck reviews on this blog, but in this feature I have asked various deck creators to say a few words (or paragraphs, actually) about their Tarot deck.
By the way, you too can contribute to this discussion. If you have this deck and have experience using it, please leave comments about your use of it. (Note that I will be moderating the comments.)
Roxi Sim’s art has been exhibited through shows and galleries in Canada and Grenada, and her art work has been sold all around the world. The creation of her Pearls of Wisdom Tarot deck was a seven year long healing journey after she had suffered several profound personal losses. Through dealing with that pain, she created this beautiful deck, her own pearl created around a grain of sand.
You can see some of the card images from this deck, as well as find reviews and forum comments about it, on Aeclectic.net.
James: I’ve read about how your creation of the Pearls of Wisdom Tarot deck was a seven year long “healing journey through the tarot” after you had suffered several profound personal losses. I’d like to ask you a few questions about that if I may.
First, was your original intent as you painted these cards just that this deck would be a personal therapeutic exercise or did you always intend (or at least hope) for it to be published eventually?
Roxi: Prior to my getting sick, I had studied Art and Dance Therapy, and I was working towards my Masters in Counseling. I had also taken a Jungian painting workshop with Roberta Sutherland, where I painted a series from the fairytale “Thumbelina”. This is where I learned how to create a painted story “out of my head.” I found this art therapy helpful in my understanding that I needed to leave my career and focus on getting well.
After the loss of my health, I lost my nine year old son Shea, my mother Margaret, as well as both my parents-in-law and grandmother, all in the span of ten years. I needed a project to bring me back from the depths of grief.
The Medicine Woman Tarot was gifted to me by a friend. After my mother passed away I read the workbook and saw the tarot as a path to healing. I became intrigued with the subject matter. Knowing that art therapy worked, I embarked on the Tarot as a subject to learn, and to research. I love symbolism in art, and saw the connections to Jungian psychology.
My hope was that I would heal my spirit, and perhaps if I could do that, my health and wealth would follow. My friend Jade introduced me to the tarot, and did a reading for me. I wish I had written it down, but I just remember that it was all positive, so, like the Fool, I trusted that some day it would be published. I also admit that I was also hoping to find a wider audience for my art work.
“Pearls of Wisdom” is such a common phrase that we don’t usually think about some of its connotations. A pearl is built around a grain of sand, which is an irritant for the clam, and from that problem (for the clam) comes a beautiful pearl. Similarly, in your case, it was through dealing with your suffering that you created something beautiful of your own. However, misfortune doesn’t always compel people to create beauty. Sometimes it just moves them to a state of painful bitterness, sort of like a clam that doesn’t create a pearl but just sits around moping or bitching about that damn grain of sand stuck inside it. So I’m wondering what caused you — or helped you — to have such a positive response to your personal tragedies?
The day before Shea passed away, he made me promise him, with a “double pinkie swear” that I would not commit suicide. So in order to keep that promise, instead of focusing on my loss, I turned my focus to painting.
On Shea’s birthday we received a rare opportunity to go to Grenada West Indies for a year. I took down 200 ft. of canvas and a suitcase of paint and made my way through all of it. I found painting bright, brilliant colors, healing and the tropical foliage and people inspirational. I learned to paint through the pain, to take the “pain” out of painting and just do lots of “tings Mon!”
My mother’s name, Margaret, means pearl. She was a very positive person and she encouraged me in the arts all my life. I created the deck to honor my wonderfully positive son and mother. Some artists paint their angst, I painted what I needed to see, bright, happy, optimistic images. I needed to see the light rather than the darkness.
Creating this deck helped you get through a very difficult period in your life, and I’ve read that you used this avenue (painting Tarot cards) because you saw the tarot as a path to healing. How did it do that for you, and why did you create a Tarot deck and not something else?
I had several friends who told me my paintings were like Tarot cards. They showed me some decks and I became intrigued. The Medicine Woman Tarot was my first deck. The deck is atypical, but with beautiful illustrations and a wonderful workbook. (Having grown up in BC Canada, and as a former Social Studies teacher, I have an interest in Native Studies).
Before my mother passed away, I had shown her the deck of cards and she asked me to do a reading. I declined because I didn’t really know anything about it. After she passed away, I spent time reading and studying the deck and saw it as a path to healing, and the Tarot as a perfect project for art therapy, research and spiritual growth.
The coloring of these cards is bright and cheerful. They remind me of illustrations for a children’s book, which I hope doesn’t sound like a put-down. I love the illustrations in children’s books (usually) and I love the art in this deck. Also, this deck has been called “the most optimistic tarot deck out there,” which seems quite remarkable given the deck’s genesis. Based on all this — the fact that your deck is bright, cheerful, and optimistic — I’d like to ask how it creates balance. To some people it may seem like it merely avoids dealing with the darkness in our lives. Can you address that issue?
My work is childlike. I grew older, but the child in me is very much alive, so my art work is childlike. I developed my style while living in Grenada, with all the bright and amazing colors of the tropics. After that, I could never go back to pastels.
Regarding balance, after losing my health, son and mother, I was very much thrown off balance in my life. I needed to find some balance again so I painted what I needed to see. The Pearls deck deals with balance in design using formal and informal balance both, figuratively and literally. I paint many items/people precariously balanced, to illustrate that balance is not a static state, it is something you must work hard to maintain because it can be lost at any time. (See, for example, the Two of Pentacles and Five of Wands.)
With the bright, cheerful colors I wanted to bring a little light into the darkness. In doing so, the darkness is actually addressed directly rather than avoided. When I was depressed I saw in black and white, so painting bright colors helped me recover from this dark state. It is my hope that these colors will reach out to others and brighten their lives a little.
I have also illustrated fifteen children’s books, with my “childlike style”. I use the books to help organizations to fundraise. My books “The Story of Bonnie Prince Shea” and “The Rainbow Garden” both deal with the loss of a child. Once I have my art website up, I will offer the books for sale there.
Creating this deck helped you, but how do you think using it can help other people with their own healing journey?
Others have found [my story of] optimism and overcoming hardship to be inspiring and uplifting. I have received many postings and positive reviews from people who have found the deck helpful in their journeys. The Pearls deck is and was Art Therapy. Even though it was me who painted the deck, it can still work as art therapy for others. Art therapy is a wonderful tool for counseling; you can’t censor art therapy. Ask questions like, what is the first thing you notice in the card, what colors do you relate to or conversely dislike, which symbols/images attract your eye, which cards do you have an emotional reaction to? These kinds of questions can elicit responses that you can’t get by talk therapy simply because it can’t be censored. The reader’s knowledge of the meanings of the symbols, colors and cards can help to bring about meaningful readings and real change.
I painted every card with a “way out”, so hopefully people will find their own “way out” of their situation.
The Nine of Swords is a good example. I was resistant to painting it, because it was about depression and I was almost through the deck and feeling pretty good. Instead, Susan, a close friend of mine, (also the Eight of Pentacles) went through a depression. I was able to step back and view the card in a detached manner, and yet remain personally attached because of our friendship.
This gave me the insight to paint the figure in the background (the depressed person) in the shadows holding on to dead flowers, her string of pearls broken on the floor. Then there is the same person, dropping her flowers, (letting go of her pain) following the broken pearls, lighting her own way up the stairs and out of depression.
Susan put her life in order and came out of her depression. She is doing very well. So, I am hopeful that the cards will guide other people to see their way to helping themselves.
How did you create the artwork for your deck? What would you like to say about that process?
First of all I knew very little about the Tarot. Friends had told me that my paintings of Goddesses, Earth Divas and Tree Spirits and my International Doll series looked like Tarot cards. So after a positive reading and some coaching and encouragement from my friend Jade, I jumped into the unknown.
I deliberately tried not to look at other Tarot decks. I worked from the 1JJ Swiss deck, to pull and choose the cards to paint. This deck was gifted to me by my friend Bob who showed up as the Emperor. The Minors in the Swiss deck are not pictorial, so I didn’t have many clues from it. I also used the Medicine Woman Tarot deck and workbook which was not a traditional deck either.
I took an academic approach to the subject and researched each card from an ever growing selection (gifts) of books on tarot symbolism, runes and a book on the language of flowers another friend Cathy, suggested called “Tussie Mussies”. From there I developed a growing vocabulary to depict the meanings in the cards as well as “costumes” for each suit.
My mother, in all her wisdom, put me in tap dance class at Grace MacDonald school of Dance in Vancouver. I had the amazing opportunity to perform three times a year on the Queen Elizabeth Theatre stage. It is a huge stage with many large dressing rooms and an amazing back stage with props and costumes and such. At an early age I was hooked on the theatre. I actually consider each Pearls of Wisdom Tarot card a character in a play on their own stage, set with their own props, acting out their role.
Besides the Medicine Woman workbook, the most influential book for me was Tarot your Everyday Guide by Janina Renee. Janina has a very optimistic viewpoint and offers very helpful advice. She explains how cards relate to a reading, and her book had a nice selection of cards from a range of decks, so no one style dominated. Other authors included Mary K. Greer, Rachel Pollack and Stuart Kaplan among the many.
The paints used are acrylic. The majors are 30×40” and the minors 24×36”. My son and husband photographed the paintings both on film and digitally. I have an art gallery show booked for October 2011 to show the Majors for the first time. I have, in my mind, a unique show for the entire deck, which will happen when the time is right.
I use paints from a small manufacturer, Kroma Industries from Vancouver BC. Their colors are amazing and I layer them, which is why they are so bright and rich. Then I outline everything with a black line which gives the works a 3D quality. Prior to taking up painting I was a potter and sculptor, so I love 3D. I continue to make paper-mâché, and can see, in my mind’s eye, my Tarot in 3D paper-mâché. In fact I have made some of the symbols into paper-mâché sculptures. I could also see the Pearls of Wisdom as a stage play, the Fool’s Journey through the Tarot.
Are there any non-traditional elements of this deck, such as a 79th card, unusual suit names, an extra suit, or something like that? Why did you make that change and what is its importance or significance?
I did paint the back of the card in a spiral design. I am interested in “Spiral Dynamics” by Dr. Clare Graves, and I am very much into the spiral process; they show up in all of my paintings. Spiral dynamics is about bringing people ‘up spiral’ so that is where the rainbow spiral comes from.
The non-traditional elements in my deck would be the Death Card and the Devil Card. Death drops an old, outworn mask and steps out of a dying landscape into a bright, new and vibrant landscape. Having experienced the death of my loved ones, I wanted to show Death as a transformation, which can take place both figuratively and literally. In a sense, it shows a “step into heaven” but it also illustrates how you can die to your former life and move on to living in a new life. The image in Death is my friend Cheryl, who had a near death experience. Afterwards, she completely dropped her old life and stepped into a totally new situation where she found the love of her life and a great career that she always wanted.
The Devil is also atypical. A beautiful woman stands in front of a mirror that distorts her vision of herself. Devil is “Lived,” spelled backwards and I wanted to illustrate the Devil inside ourselves, like when you beat yourself up, or put yourself down. The Devil is what gets in the way of seeing your true self and living your abundant life to the fullest. Turn the Devil around and have a wonderful life LIVED.
There are rune symbols in the frame for some of the cards, but not all. And sometimes there are multiple runes, sometimes only one. Can you talk about your decisions and choices for using runes on the cards and how they work with the card meanings?
As I was working on the Pearls project, friends gifted me books and other decks. One book had Runes in them with the most basic, essential meaning. I saw them as another vehicle to use to illustrate the meanings of the cards. Some cards don’t have Runes because they may have been painted before I received the book and some I just found didn’t have a Rune that seemed to fit. The multiple Runes depict different aspects of the cards, and I have since found that they all “add up” as well.
In addition to runes, there are a lot of objects framing the images, especially in the Major Arcana. Are there meanings behind each object, and if so, where can we find those explained? Or are they intended to spark intuitive interpretations in the mind of the person reading the cards?
Yes, everything has a meaning and yes they are meant to spark intuitive readings. The accompanying booklet has all the meanings in it. The images and symbols became a vocabulary, which I hope that readers will become familiar with. Of course the images, colours and structure of the cards are also fodder for intuitive interpretations. I have had a lot of positive feedback from people who say that the deck lets their intuition sing.
Perhaps I get your thoughts on just one particular card, the Strength card, to give us a feel for what you’re doing with the cards’ borders. On this card we see a couple of kinds of fruit (oranges and pears?) and two types of flowers (roses and gladiolas). There is also a vine and a bee, along with several runes. Can you comment on how you chose those particular additions to the card and how you see them relating to this card’s meaning?
Strength is my growth card for this year. It is one of the most popular images in the deck. The pear has a few meanings. In this card it represents hope, and I use the pear again in the Justice card where it means benevolent justice and again in the Emperor where it represents wise administration. The other image is garlic which stands for courage. The red rose represents love, passion and harmony, while the gladiolas signify strength of character. The ivy vine symbolizes trust and growth and the bumble bee is about perception, seeing things from different viewpoints. The Runes I used in this card are Teliwas which means the spiritual warrior and victory, Mannaz, the self, a positive relationship with self. It is what allows other relationships to flow. Uruz means strength and Sowelu means wholeness.
I felt that Strength personified hope, love, passion and harmony. In order to tame the ego one would need courage, strength of character and the ability to see things from different viewpoints. It is the spiritual warrior who gains victory over the ego. The relationship with the self and trust in one’s own growth and strength leads to wholeness. The ego is thus tamed.
There is one other specific card I’d like to ask about: The Hanged Man. You obviously had a bit of fun with this one in that the background scenery is upside down too, which is not immediately obvious. Can you tell us how you came up with that idea and what you feel it means?
A woman once told me that she looked at one of my paintings for twenty minutes and loved it. I asked her if she saw the three bumble bees. Shocked, she said “No!” and then looked back at the painting again and they appeared to her! I wanted the Pearls deck to be like that — each time revealing something you didn’t see before. The background in the Hanged man is reversed, sky and water. It is actually his upside down viewpoint. It puts you into a new perspective. A lot of people automatically turn the card upside down, to put the sky at the top and then they realize that it is now upside down. It causes them to look closer and then they see more. The Hanged Man was/is a bit of fun for sure and is another reason why the deck is so optimistic.
I know that your Page of Cups and Magician cards both feature your son Bram, your King of Cups is your father, and you used a friend for your Ace of Pentacles. Are all the people in your cards modeled after people you know? And how did you choose which people to put on which cards?
The interesting part about this is that the only card where I intentionally used a model was for the Magician. My son Bram posed for this card in his Jedi Knight Robe. The rest of the people in the images just “appeared” in the paintings. Some of them I instantly recognized, some like the Wheel of Fortune morphed from one person into another. My husband turned up, totally appropriately, as the Hermit, my mother the Queen of Cups and my father the King of Cups. I am so fortunate to have a lot of support from my family.
Other images turned out to be new people I’d never met. My good friend Frances brought her friend Judy over to my studio. I had just finished painting Justice; I had hoped it would have been Frances with her long braided red hair, but somehow it just wasn’t right. Judy too, had long red hair worn in a braid; she took one look at the painting and declared, “That is me! I even worked for the Justice Department!” I am sure I have many more characters in my cards to meet. Please let me know if you see yourself.
I wanted one painting, the Sun, to be a certain person, I painted it twice since it wasn’t turning out to be that person. Instead, each time the same person appeared. Look at the Sun’s eyes (two different colors) behind the mask. You will see it is me!
I’ve read that the Ace of Cups is your favorite card because you love the way the woman in the card loves herself. Is that right? Can you expand on that a bit? Why does that make her your favorite? Is there a story behind that?
I resonate with this card because painting the Pearls of Wisdom was about healing. The first step to healing is to care for your body and spirit. The Ace of Cups is a naked, rose-pink colored woman, joyously pouring water over her body. The water nourishes a circle of narcissus at her feet, representing wholeness and self-respect. She wears her necklace of pearls and rose quartz, meaning wisdom and self-love.
I lived in the Pacific Northwest Interior Rainforest for twenty-five years which gave me a profound connection to nature. In the background we see an Earth Diva in the mountain, connecting her to nature. The pine tree is a bridge between heaven and earth. The robin, baby birds and blossoms represent spring and rebirth. The ever flying bumblebee (which, according to 20th century folklore, should not be able to fly) shows us to look at life from new and different perspectives.
To me, the Ace of Cups is the heart of the Pearls of Wisdom Deck. Healing comes from loving yourself first. When you take care and nourish yourself, you will be better able to nurture others.
“You can explore the universe, looking for somebody who is more deserving of your love and affection than you are yourself, and you will not find that person anywhere.” — Buddha
Speaking of that ace reminds me that the aces in your deck have taken a departure from the traditional “hand of god” imagery. Instead you have a joyful person holding the suit icon. Can you tell us how you decided to make that thematic change?
Since the aces are the beginning, I felt that each ace would joyfully start out in their element. I wanted to personalize the minors, so people can “see themselves” or recognize others in their life, in the cards. I have found that the tarot acts like a mirror reflecting back to you what you need to know.
I also wanted to make the minors as rich as the majors. In learning Tarot I found that an image of three coins or six of wands didn’t tell me enough information to read without going to the booklet. I wanted to have more “clues”, more meaning in the image so that the visual vocabulary is easily learned. I also wanted images to pop out or come to the surface, allowing for those amazing intuitive readings to happen.
What is the most interesting discovery you made about your deck after it was done, either through your use of it or from comments by other people, etc.?
A pleasant surprise is that the deck goes 3D when you look at it under a magnifying glass! It is quite a cool effect caused by the opacity of the paint in the printing, as well as the 3D imagery and the black line that I paint around everything.
The neatest comments are from people who have found the deck uplifting and inspiring. Here is a recent review from Amazon.com –
I was so excited to receive my Pearls of Wisdom Cards. I listened to Roxi being interviewed and immediately appreciated the energy that went into creating a Tarot Deck. I had to get one! But I had no idea they were going to be this amazing! Each card is overflowing with narratives and truth! It’s amazing what a true artist can achieve! As a bonus, the 3D effect captured by a magnifying glass, will fill your journey with excitement and adventure as you fall into the depths of such thrilling artwork and brilliant translations.
The 3D effect and the positive resonance and acceptance by other people were an unexpected gift, gratefully accepted.
Is there a companion book for your deck? Who wrote it? How is it available?
Yes, both editions of the deck come with books. The second edition has a full color booklet that was color coded to the suits. I wrote the meanings of the symbols used and a “Pearl of Wisdom” for each card. Caeli Fullbrite wrote the meditations for each card and a few spreads. Caeli has many years experience with Tarot. She came into the project when I was over half way through the paintings. She took each painting home to live with them. In another capacity, Caeli also encouraged my art therapy and introduced me to my spiritual warrior, the Ace of Swords. Also, Caeli is the Queen of Swords in the Pearls deck.
Is there anything else you want to say about your deck?
The Pearls of Wisdom deck was a 7 year project which was published in 2007 by 7th House. It is in its second limited edition. The first edition is already a collector deck as is the very limited self-published edition of the Major Arcana.
The Pearls of Wisdom deck has been featured in Tarosophist International Magazine, on the cover of the American Tarot Association Journal, Mosaic Magazine, Branches of Life Magazine and Issues Magazine. The Pearls of Wisdom deck is also featured in the book Tarot Magick by Kelly Danann.
I am currently creating a workbook/journal for the Pearls of Wisdom Tarot Majors. It will include 8×10 full color images of each card as well as a detailed description, meanings of the symbols, a journal and spreads. Bonnie Cehovet and Alec Satin have both created healing spreads for the workbook so I am very excited about their contributions and support. It is my hope to develop Pearls of Wisdom Tarot workshops and workbooks/journals for the minors as well.
Thank you James, for this wonderful opportunity to showcase and talk about the Pearls of Wisdom Tarot Deck. I would also like to thank the readers and fans of the deck, for their interest in the Pearls deck and story behind it.
Besides Amazon, where can people go to buy this deck?
http://www.azuregreen.net/Pearls-of-Wisdom-Deck-and-Book/productinfo/DPEAWIS/ — They are an international distributor for wholesale purchases. (5 or more decks)
http://www.7th-house.com/pearlsofwisdom.html — 7th House (ships in the US.)
Also for sale:
For 8 1/2 x 11” full color Art Prints, 4×6” Post cards and 5×7” Greeting cards (all suitable for framing and we will ship anywhere.) Go to:
Publisher: 7th House Publishing Texas USA
Publication date: First edition 2007: Second edition 2008
NOTE: If you have a deck that you would like to have featured here, contact me about it.