Creating The Portland Tarot

By Theresa Pridemore


It’s said that when you are truly in touch with your divine and creative self that things just flow from you. You are less concerned about the size of the task before you and questions about how to get it done, but are instead in a trusting dance with the medium that allows things to unfold in a natural way.

There was a time when I turned down the idea of creating my own Tarot deck, despite my immense interest. Producing seventy-eight pieces of art is a daunting proposition for just about any artist. I knew in my fantasizing that any deck I created would likely be done in my usual style… A surreal digital collage using hundreds of source photographs that I would have to take myself, and then spend much time putting together. To my mind, the work involved would be hard to make time for, and the endeavor could span multiple years. Not only that, I’d have to find willing models to pose. 

That way of thinking seems so far away from me, now. What I wasn’t accounting for back then is that a Tarot deck — and the spirit behind any creative concept — might just want to be brought into the world. Despite my usual understanding of universal forces of synchronicity and manifestation, I didn’t recognize that I could tap into this force to make the process feel nearly effortless. In past creative projects, I had to push on things nonstop to keep them in motion. What I didn’t realize is that I would someday hold onto the thread of a project that would instead pull me.

And that project is The Portland Tarot, a deck inspired by my own city of bridges — its culture, its spirit, and the quirky people who live here. To me Tarot seems to be a medium that attracts eccentrics and nonconformists. Maybe it’s my own bias… I am an offbeat girl myself, known for my pink hair and free-spoken nature. But it’s the renegade nature of Tarot that made Portland feel like such a natural choice as a backdrop for a deck: my city is full of artists and independent, spiritual souls.

I started the project late in 2012 and am already ten cards in, with source art already gathered for six others. Certainly not the ordeal of several years I had led myself to expect it to be.


While I am now very committed to the deck and to gathering the funds to make it real, starting the project wasn’t a deliberate decision. It began with the simple act of creating a piece for a yearly Tarot art show. As in past years, the tradition was to draw a tarot card to inspire our illustration, and I found myself being guided to create my own version of The Chariot. Looking back at the beginning of this journey — which has been full of magic and synchronicity — I see the perfection in having pulled that card. While it is my good friend and filmmaker Cynthia Lopez who posed as charioteer (and her dog Charlie as paradoxical beast), I, too, have felt pulled along on a whirlwind ride, guided by the divine.

I went into the show feeling less than confident about my own piece, a situation not too uncommon for most artists. What I didn’t expect was to be approached by person after person exclaiming that the piece was their favorite in the show. Between this surprise resonance with the audience there, and my friend Cynthia nudging me to create my own Portland-themed deck, I began to take the idea seriously.

I made a public declaration on Facebook that I intended to make a deck over the following year. Even though I still felt some uncertainty as to whether or not I could pull it off in these early phases, I talked about it as a real thing to many of my friends. Before I knew it, I was on the hook to present my pieces at a local salon (not the hair kind, but the kind with art, poetry, and music). This gave me a deadline and some external accountability.


I started scheduling photo shoots at my studio. I considered people in my circle for various cards and I continued on with an approach I started with The Chariot. I wanted each card to resonate with the subject in some way: who they were becoming, who they already were, challenges they had overcome, or interests they possessed.

I had no idea how much magic this decision would open up for me in the creative process for each card. In some cases I have watched people overcome specific blocks soon after the card was created (as if the card served as a powerful, magical totem for their becoming). I have been told stories about how my own selection of symbols, animals or other elements resonated with the individual in core ways, always after having added these items intuitively and without the model’s input. Very few of my photo shoots have required much advance planning, either: the idea sometimes “downloads” to me in a quiet moment or the model comes in with a core piece of information that guides us on the perfect journey.

In some cases, the model and I have received some sort of spiritual reinforcement of our chosen direction: like seeing a Facebook feed image of Carl Sagan with his quote about how how science and spirituality are compatible, the day after we decided to use Carl Sagan as our inspiration for The Hierophant as a way to merge the ideas of study, scientific/religious establishments, and spiritual pursuits in one card.

The quantity of synchronicities I have encountered on this journey are too immense to be retold in one sitting. Every day a new message or helper steps into my story, usually with some funny connection to me or the project.  And of course Tarot has been an ever-present advisor on my path. It is my trusting of my own readings that led me to launch my Kickstarter for the project in late April, before I thought I was ready. And already things have fallen in place that might not have otherwise, had I not begun it when I did.

This deck is more than a passion project. Sometimes I feel like it is an entity hanging out in the astral, sticking its thumb out on the great highway of creation and simply asking for a ride into this world.


I have had so much fun brainstorming ideas, taking photographs, collecting props, and making the art. But I’m just taking the cues from the great beyond. It’s this pull from the universe that makes me fearless about hopping over a median on a busy highway exit and stepping over hypodermic needles to get the perfect shot of the Vista bridge; about being bold in the name of my own desire to maintain the integrity of the project and ask for a bigger budget so that I can print it locally and sustainably; about letting go of worrying how I will support myself during this project, and trusting that everything I need will come to me.

While the journey is a flow, there are some things I know about the deck that I have come from my own well. In addition to veering away from the usual Rider-Waite imagery, I am intentionally stepping away from some of the obvious alignments for the various sexes within the deck. As I see it, sexuality, chosen relationship styles, and the archetypal feminine/masculine can occasionally be more amorphous in this day and age and could use some shaking up in the Tarot. For instance, my Lovers depicts an LGBT couple, one of whom is a lesbian and the other of whom is transgendered. 


The tone of the deck is deliberately playful at times, though not devoid of mystery and a mood of introspection. While Death herself has a serious expression, her face is painted in the decorative makeup of a Dia de los Muertos sugar skull (something that suddenly came to the model in the middle of a shoot), and she is riding a unicorn instead of the usual white horse (something I deliberately chose in advance, and later discovered was a huge totem animal for my model).

In essence, I wanted to create a deck that worked with modern ideas, while maintaining a sense of the arcane. Not a new notion, perhaps, but I was excited to put my own take on this direction into the mix. The deck might have Portland origins, but has proven to have a farther-reaching appeal.

Aside from creating the art itself, I love telling all the stories of synchronicity and joy this deck has brought to my life and I hope to share this crazy adventure with some new friends!

My greatest wish in sharing my journey is to show others that they, too, can tap into this infinite source of creativity and support for their own dream project. The signs that guide us are everywhere: in Tarot, in omens, and in other people — our very own creation angels.

All you have to do is find the thread that pulls.

You can learn more about the project at the Kickstarter page or the official site

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