A Deck of One’s Own: Ideas for personal decks

I simply adore handmade decks. With a handmade deck you can control all the variables. It’s unique, it’s personal, it’s all yours. Quite a few of the card readers who’ve tutored me over the years prefer to do readings from their own handmade decks. I have my own beast of a wooden oracle deck I add to as time has permitted over the years, but she is slow thus the nickname beast. So these are a few things to consider when making your own handmade deck and some ideas to get you started if you don’t know where to begin.

I think with most tips I give out for deck creating I start by saying get your ideas organized first. I don’t feel a need to be quite so gung-ho with that advice here. A handmade deck is a creature of trial and error to be honest. Even when you have in mind the artistic idea for it you never know how they’ll work with your chosen card materials until you’ve given it a test run. You can read my own experiences with testing materials here. I recommend sampling a few of the materials you’d like to use and see how they hold up to your art, however that art will be applied to it. Every material has its pros and cons just as each one will hold up to better or lesser degrees with repeated handling. This goes as well for the art on that material.

Your art. Not everyone is an artist and not everyone is confident in what they can create. Try not to let this hold you back too much. It’s your deck, you can make it look however you want, especially if it’s one of a kind. If you don’t feel you can draw your work out, collage it. If you do want to draw your own cards but get self conscious about how they look, don’t be so hard on yourself. I’m always giving this advice to my dad. She (here is where I confuse people, my dad is transgendered just for FYI) chokes a little when staring at all that blank space. She gets a little frustrated when she begins and things don’t look immediately right. Art is (I use this phrase a lot) trial and error and the process of getting to what you like is half the fun –for me at least. You might see it as a hurdle to be crossed. I’m just saying, relax, and see where it goes. You might surprise yourself. It’s most important it speaks to you and it can be as sparse or as detailed as you want to make it. Keep in mind a person who is an artist is probably having the same frustrations as you are. I speak from experience. Being the fussy perfectionist that I am I’m always going nine rounds with my artwork. So don’t get too caught up on this. Hit that wee arrow to continue.

Is your handmade deck going to follow an established style of symbolism or are you going personal free spirit on it? Creating your own style of symbolism, reading, or divination I find to be one of the most interesting parts to this whole process. Even if you take tidbits from here and there, when you add your own ideas and beliefs to them you’re creating your own unique system. This is honestly how so many of our established decks out there came into being: Someone took an existing thing and added their own take to it. If you were creating something for mass consumption right out the gate I would advice really working out that system before doing so. You wouldn’t want your card users confused to your deck’s meanings. (I’m was guilty of that with my first deck.) But this is your deck and you can gradually work through your ideas and symbolism as you create it and get to know it.

Setting aside the design aspect, what does this deck mean to you? Do you want it to be as natural as possible? Or are you not so hung up about the materials involved as the final product? Things to think about. When working with modern art materials you are always going to be staring down a laundry list of chemicals used in the creation of your painting supplies. Many mass produced “handmade” papers will have different chemicals in them to help keep the pulp in the proper condition when being handled. Different methods of creating your card artwork, depending on your chosen card material, will need some type of surface finishing product to keep your artwork from fading or chipping away over time. So if you want to be as all natural as possible research your DIY art supply making or look for products that are Eco-friendly. If you’re not worried about these things then hit the craft store and go crazy.

Once you’ve got the business side of your cards done give some consideration to the back side. Traditionally speaking the back of this kind of deck is either blank or has a uniform image that is the same upright or reversed. This is a bit more tricky with a handmade deck. If you’re using a sturdy handmade paper there will most likely be differences in the surface of each card. As time goes on and wear and tear sets in this will get worse. With my handmade deck I went with a metallic paint and stamp. Should blemishes turn up I can touch them up as needed. How easy this is for you and your deck will depend greatly on the materials you use.

Lastly, and my most favorite thing, your deck’s packaging–or home. Even though my deck is half way from done I had my gent build me a very nice box to hold the final product. Half my joy is finishing a card and adding it to the box with the others. I wish I could say there isn’t a terribly silly scene of me playing Rasputina music while I treat my new card being added to my own personal glowing treasure box, but, guilty. What can I say, I love rituals. This aside, do put some thought into what you’d like to house your handmade deck. It’s one of a kind after all and I’m sure you want it to be with you for years to come, so treat it special. You can always go through antique shops or yard sales to find a potential treasure to keep it in. Or if you’re feeling crafty and want to go the whole nine yards of DIY there is always the wood isle at the local craft or wood worker shop. There you’ll find a variety of different boxes or mock books and the like to take home and decorate to match your deck. I have a friend who found a very old book at a used book store that was so destroyed by water damage it wouldn’t open. She aired it out, hollowed out the middle, and gave the front of it a reworking to look like a very old grimoire. She tucks her personal deck inside of that.

I hope that offers a few tips or starting spots for the would-be handmade deck maker. Just keep in mind when you’re doing it for yourself there is no right or wrong, there is just what feels good for you. In the weeks to come I’m hoping to get a few of my friends to share the process they had in creating their own personal decks. I’ve seen some truly beautiful and inventive ideas out there. In the meantime, happy autumn my deck makers and readers.