My Experiences with Making A Handmade Oracle Deck

I’m very into O.O.A.K. items, especially personal creations. I had a phase where I was into making strange muslin dolls (mostly mermaids) that slowly glided into creating jewelry artifacts from some of my fiction. This latter one was fun because I was mostly recreating my cursed shears from a Snapdragon Tea short story. (The shears pictured at the end of the article for the curious.) Then I was into making custom boxes and versions of my various decks. After seeing the beautiful creation of my friend Kate’s Isis Oracle I decided it was about time I made my own handmade oracle deck just for me.

I was very eager to get this project started. I called it my Sunday Affair because I don’t get a lot of personal time to work on things I would consider a hobby. However, on Sunday I set aside a few hours that were devoted to me working on my deck. For the first many Sundays this work amounted to figuring out–not what I wanted the deck to be like–but what to even get started with to make the deck out of. First things were first: What was I going to use for my cards?

I love handmade papers. Love them. I love how they feel under your fingertips and their various textures. So I was going to pick a nice, sturdy handmade paper for my oracle deck, but still somewhat soft to the touch. The problem I found with this is how I had to transfer my artwork onto the paper. I figured I would draw out my basic card art as a stencil, scan it, add a few digital details, and finally print it onto sized/cut-out pieces of my paper. Well the paper I choose did not want to be printed on this way. It was a bit too thick, soft, and full of dried flower bits. The image once printed was not crisp and did not adhere to the paper’s surface well enough for me to finish it with detailing ink and paint. Plus there was a glop of excess printer ink in any place a larger bit of floral bit rose from the paper’s surface. That wasn’t so pretty. I knew I could paint out some issues and then use a coat of spray varnish to hold everything in place when I was done, but I didn’t want to add that chemical texture and smell to my cards. What would be the purpose of that beautifully textured paper if I gave it an unnaturally smooth feeling surface layer? So I researched.

There are quite a few methods for transferring an image onto all kinds of other things. The Graphic’s Fairy (I love her site) has a nice collection of links/tutorials for transferring methods. I recommend giving that a read. With my deck, after doing a little research I was introduced to different material ideas. I ended up swapping my handmade paper idea for a thinly cut wood based idea. I knew it would make the deck more than a simple card deck, but with only twenty-four cards that wasn’t an issue for me. I also delighted in the idea of being able to have my gent make me a nice, old-timey looking hinged box to store them in. I just had to select the method to put my stencil on the wood.

I ended up going with a very quick and easy method for transferring images onto a wooden surface. I scanned my ink outline onto the computer, made a mirror image of it, and printed it out. Using a mixture of glue and water I coated my wood surface then applied my image, rolled out any creases, and let it sit for a day. Lastly I applied a little water to remove the paper. My ink outline was left on the wood. I was able to touch this up where need be and add my paint details, so basically using the print as a stencil. Of course I decided to give each wooden card a finishing coat to seal the surface, but given it’s not the paper I originally desired it wasn’t as big a deal. I went with a very light weight varnish. To remove the chemical smell I let each card sit in an airy place for a few week. I also keep cedar in the deck’s box that adds that light fragrance to my cards. This was my preference. I’m sure nearly any scent could be used in the same way.

For the backs of the cards I opted to give each a nice, pale gold metallic wash. It’s light enough to look as though there’s not a heavy paint finish to it and yet thick enough that should I need to touch up the paint at some point it won’t leave a noticeable color contrast. I found a nice circular and uniform Celtic stamp that served as the center icon for the backs of the cards.

One thing I worried about was the wear or friction on the cards as they come and go from their box. The deck is only halfway done at the moment so at the moment there are done cards at the front and blank wood cards on the other side. There’s a little wiggle room between them. Still, to be on the safe side I took that very nice handmade paper I originally wanted to use (that is soft to the touch) and wrap the individual cards in a piece of it to give each card a little protection. I’m not sure my cards will get the use that other decks get, so my style of packaging may be a bit impractical for people who make a deck like this for everyday use. Plus there is that feeling I always have with wanting things to seem like an artifact. Like… if one day this handmade wooden oracle deck of mine was found hidden away somewhere by a grandchild of mine or a any of my great nieces/nephews (I’ve got quite a few of them and no kids of my own at the moment) they would be overwhelmed by the mystery of it. This how I felt when I found a box of my grandmother Eva’s priced things. Her family were Rosicrucian and I remember the first time I held one of those very old books in my hands and saw all the many names from generations back that had one had it in their possession. It’s an incredible feeling.

Before I start getting too misty, I’ll bring this article to a close. I have no photos of my oracle deck online as of yet. It’s a personal project and thing for me and in that way I like keeping it to myself. I have been putting together a video tutorial though, as I work on the most current card in the deck. I hope to post that sometime next month. It depends on how much free time I can get in on my Sundays! I’d love to see photos of your handmade decks! If you feel like sharing just contact me and let me know if I can add them to my cartomancy scrapbook. 🙂