Interview with Ed Matuskey, Tarot of Brass and Steam, Part 3

Welcome back to the conclusion of our chat with Ed Matuskey, creator of the Brass and Steam tarot deck.

Part one can be read here.

Part two can be read here.



Image by Alec Boca

Airship Ambassador: The completed artwork so far is pretty amazing, and the completed kickstarter ensures there will be more. Are there any plans for a sequel or spinoff?

Ed Matuskey: Funny you should mention that—as part of the design process I realized I was essentially creating a whole world, with all sorts of interesting themes beginning to show themselves (ie, corporations vs small businesses, mass production vs handmade, etc). I think there’s enough here to produce a companion volume that could be used as a game setting book or simply extra flavor for the deck that I think people might enjoy. And I just happen to be friends with a couple really talented authors who have written a variety of game books over the years…As for another tarot deck, I’ll just say that the Tarot of Brass & Steam was the /second/ deck idea I had all those years ago—my first idea is patiently waiting its turn!


AA: For the aspiring producer, what lessons did you learn along the way on this project? Anything you would or will do differently going forward?

EM: Start slow. Work up what you want to do, then execute a portion of that, to get an idea of the process. Learn as much as you can. And be willing to invest your own money until you get a product you’re happy with—only then consider going to others for funding.


Image by Alec Boca

AA: Most of the people I’ve talked with have some type of day job and that their project is their other job. What has that situation been for you and how has it helped/hindered creating this deck?

EM: That’s totally the case for me—I have a day job that finances my creative endeavors. On the one hand, it’s great to not have the pressure of having to produce something right away that generates income, and to not stress about whether I’ll sell enough at a convention—on the other hand, sometimes when I get home from work, the last thing I want to do is design another card, or promote the project, or hunt for artists. However, I very much appreciate the stability of the day job, even when it cuts into my creative time—but it helps that I enjoy what I do.


AA: Looking beyond steampunk and tarot, what other interests fill your time?

EM: Lots of reading, especially science fiction and fantasy (big surprise, I’m sure). Watching classic Doctor Who (though I do enjoy the new stuff)—I have a respectable 4th Doctor costume I wear to Norwescon. Anything related to Sherlock Holmes (I visited 221b Baker Street when I visited London a few years ago—so awesome). Playing lots of board games with friends. And going to the local club at least once a month to dance, drink with friends, and play pool.


AA: Three quick fire, random questions – what is your favorite vehicle, dinner food, and historical event?

EM: The TARDIS, pasta with spicy meat sauce, and the Moon landing.


Image by Alec Boca

AA: Any final thoughts to share with our readers

EM: If you have a big dream, go for it—but be willing to put in the work. Everyone has ideas for something that might be awesome—the people who get beyond the idea stage are the ones who show their commitment to it, especially when they need other people to make it come to fruition. Don’t expect people to give you their work in exchange for the promise of future reward (unless you already have a partner who’s just as onboard for the idea as you are!)—figure out a way to make it worth their time now, or wait until you can. And don’t be afraid to learn how to do some of it yourself—the tools for making amazing things have never been more available for us to learn. Remember the Empress!



Thanks, Ed, for sharing your deck and your thoughts with us!

I’m greatly looking forward to the finished artwork for all of the cards.

Follow Ed and his progress on his website and get your prints in his shop.

Published in: on May 14, 2015 at 5:44 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Interview with Ed Matuskey, Tarot of Brass and Steam, Part 2

Welcome back to part 2 of our chat with Ed Matuskey, creator of the Brass and Steam tarot deck.

Part one can be read here.


Airship Ambassador: Let’s talk about some specific cards in the Major Arcana, starting with The Hanged Man. What can you share about the symbolism and the process of creating this image?

Ed Matuskey: The card, for me, is all about transition—the moment between danger and safety, between action & inaction, between the surface and the depths, when anything can happen. I was also intrigued by the idea of making a card that would look right whether it was right-side up or not. Having the Hanged Man be suspended in water was a natural step once I’d arrived at that core concept, and the old-timey, super-evocative diving suit was another obvious element. I worked with Brooke to make sure one end wasn’t lighter than the other—I didn’t want the viewer to have any clear indication which way was up. Is the diver reaching for the tentacle, or is the tentacle reaching for the diver? Is it to pull the diver up to safety, or down into danger? The result is a very popular piece—the colors and composition are amazing!


Image by Brooke Gillette

AA: And the Queen of Cups (The Orient)?

EM: Man, you’re going way back in my memory for this one—it was one of the first cards I commissioned. I took inspiration from the Thoth deck—the companion book has provided a lot of inspiration as I look for the meanings behind the cards. In that book they refer to this card as the “watery card of water;” the Queens represent water, and Cups is the water suit, so the Queen of Cups is, essentially, a double-water card. Naturally she’s surrounded by waterfalls on all sides, with her chair and outfit also decked out in blue shades. She looks into pools and gains insight from what she sees. For me that translated into a woman who sits in the middle of a vast network of lenses, with images projected onto sheets of water like a camera obscura—a steampunk take on a video screen. On one hand, she’s watching over her people—there is an image of a warship projected to one side. On the other hand, we all live in a world where the question of state surveillance is on a lot of minds. Who watches the watchers? Who watches over she who watches her people?


AA: How about Mother of Invention (The Empress)?

EM: Where my High Priestess (Librarian) is the custodian of knowledge, and my Emperor goes out to acquire it, my Empress is about putting that knowledge to use, turning it into real-life applications. She is surrounded by books and the tools to turn what she knows into designs, and then to actual products (I am especially proud of the pin-dot table, by the way—I know exactly how it works and how it can turn her drawings into printed blueprints). In a way, this card embodies everything I’m trying to do with this deck—reaching into the ether and creating a product through application of knowledge and will.


Image by Alec Boca

AA: What can you tell us about the Minor Arcana cards? It sounds like you have something in mind from the blurb on your home page – “… where steam and clockwork technology flowed from the New World to the Orient, and from the Old Country to the Dark Continent”?

EM: Good eye! My (admittedly ambitious) goal with the minor arcana is to have each suit represent a different geographic area—Wands/Fire as the New World, Swords/Air as the Old Country, Cups/Water as the Orient, and Pentacles/Earth as the Dark Continent. With each of these suits I want to examine what a Steampunk industrial revolution would look like across the globe. Even if I’m not able to get all the minor arcana done, my bare minimum deck will have unique art for the Aces and all the Court cards, so we’ll at least get a glimpse of what, for example, African steampunk might look like in this world!


AA: Have any cards started out with one design in mind but became something completely different, or have the images really reflected what you had in mind originally?

EM: The core concepts have remained more-or-less what I envisioned, but the details have sometimes caught me off guard. When I go to the artists with a card concept, I have a pretty good idea of what the card should look like, in broad strokes—but several times, the artists have blown me away with how they interpreted my designs.

Going back to the Knight of Wands, for example, my broad strokes description was of a lawman on a mechanical horse, with indications that this was the “fire” suit, and so the colors should be evocative of that. What I got back was a man on a rearing mechanical steed that belched flames, the chain that was its bridle grasped in the man’s gloved fist. It was a much more powerful card than I’d originally envisioned, but I certainly didn’t complain!

Another example is the revised Magician card—Alex did an earlier one that had a slightly-smiling Tesla, and some warm colors. When I went back to him for a new version, the Tesla I got back was much more intense—almost angry. /This/ was a guy I could see going toe-to-toe with Edison—and winning!


Image by Alec Boca

AA: What kind of research went into creating each image? Were you looking to blend steampunk, art, and history together in any particular way?

EM: I have over a dozen tarot decks that I’ve gone through (though I’ve steered clear of the other Steampunk-style decks for the most part), and almost as many books on the subject as well. My usual research method is to go through them all looking at different interpretations of a particular card, trying to isolate a core concept I can use. Once I’ve identified some possible meanings, I then look for inspiration through historical and steampunk resources, looking for the right image to match to the concept. Then it’s a matter of writing it all down for an artist to interpret into a piece of beautiful art!


AA: You’ve been displaying prints at various conventions and events; what kind of memorable reactions are you hearing from people?

EM: People /love/ Tesla and Edison as the Magician and Devil—the concept really resonates with folks, especially in the Steampunk community. I also really like how people have latched onto the Librarian (High Priestess)—as someone who went to library school, I’m heartened to see the lady get a lot of attention! I also like hearing people discussing the cards and their meanings, sometimes finding symbolism that I hadn’t even considered in the designs. Those moments, when the cards inspire that kind of contemplation, are really special to me.



We’ll pause here in our chat with Ed.

Join us for the conclusion where Ed discusses some lessons learned in this journey.

Until then, follow Ed and his progress on his website and get your prints in his shop.


Published in: on May 13, 2015 at 8:01 pm  Comments (1)  

Interview with Ed Matuskey, Tarot of Brass and Steam

This week we are talking with Ed Matuskey, creator of a new tarot deck, which recently completed a Kickstarter campaign.


Airship Ambassador: Hi Ed, thanks joining us for this interview.

Ed Matuskey: Thanks Kevin, great to be here!


AA: What was the motivation for creating the Brass and Steam Tarot deck?

EM: Sometime in 2007 or 2008, I came to realize I was in a bit of a rut—I wasn’t doing anything but going to work, and then going home to consume media (internet videos, DVDs, books, etc). I wanted to break out of that pattern—I wanted to create content, not just consume it. And I realized that it was now very possible to both design something, and find artists to bring my designs to life. I was struck by the realization that there was nothing stopping me from doing something bold—and so when I had some money saved up, I started designing a tarot deck and looking for artists.


Image by Brooke Gillette

AA: Why use steampunk as the aesthetic for the imagery?

EM: I had always had a fascination for the steampunk aesthetic, even before it was called that (ie, Dark Crystal, Myst and Lighthouse computer games, the Disney 20,000 Leagues movie, etc). I just love brass and clockwork, the craftsmanship of the time before everything was mass produced. I was also starting to get involved via friends with the steampunk crowd through Steamcon. As I started to think about designing my own tarot deck (something I’d toyed with for years), I was struck with how visually evocative steampunk was—and my favorite tarot decks are one with a strong, clear, visual style. The idea of a “steampunk tarot” came soon after.


AA: What were your guidelines in creating the deck as a whole?

EM: First off, I wanted this to reflect a whole world of steampunk—not just have it based on the traditional environments of England or the Wild West. I also wanted a very vivid art style—a full range of colors, and bold imagery, where it was clear what you were looking at. And finally, I wanted to keep it science-based, and avoid anything occult or supernatural–which was harder than it sounds, since I love Victorian occultism! Granted, I wander into the territory of “super science” in some cases…


Image by Alec Boca

AA: The artwork so far is certainly bold and expressive! What are your goals in creating this deck?

EM: To finish it! To be able to point at the finished product and say, “I did that!” To have people contact the artists who did the individual cards and tell them how much they love their work. To try on the role of “producer” and see if it’s one I’d like to pursue as a career at some point in the future.


AA: What will readers find similar and different in using this deck as compared to other decks?

EM: What I hope for is that they see the idea of the card behind the imagery I’ve put up. This isn’t a Rider-Waite or Thoth clone, though I took inspiration from both styles of deck. What I’m trying to do is distill the cards into a core concept that might be recognizable to a regular tarot reader, and interpret it through my designs. I definitely consider my deck on the simple side when it comes to symbolism, but also think of it as a little more than a pure “art deck.” I’m really looking forward to seeing what people have to say when it’s finally out!


AA: While you are the designer and producer of the deck, you are contracting out the artwork for each card to other artists, such as Alex Boca and Brooke Gillette. How do you go about finding and selecting those artists?

EM: First, I tried to get a good idea of the visual aesthetic I wanted (color vs monochrome, cartoony versus realistic, etc). Then I went to DeviantArt and gave the general outlines of what I was looking for, and that I was able to pay. Even with the modest rates I was offering at the start, I was amazed at the responses I got.

Alex was one of the first artists I worked with, and the first piece he sent me was the Knight of Wands—an Old West lawman on a fiery, mechanical horse. Even just seeing the colored rough draft I knew I’d made an incredible find. I gave Alex more work over the next couple years as I raised the money, but there were times when he wasn’t available.

One time when that happened I really wanted some new pieces for an upcoming convention, and so I went back to DeviantArt—and this time I had some finished pieces I could point to for the art style I wanted. I was again amazed at the responses—and when Brooke turned in the Librarian Priestess (High Priestess) art, I again knew I had been wildly fortunate.

What was great was that people didn’t immediately realize that it had been done by a different artist—while I love the idea of having different artists working on the deck, I do want a consistent visual style, and it was awesome for people to not be jarred by the different artists’ work.


Image by Alec Boca

AA: With multiple artists on the project, are there commonalities in their styles, or is the intention to blend multiple styles in the deck?

EM: Alex really gave me exactly what I had in mind with his first pieces—ideally any additional artists I work with will complement that style. I’d given some thought to having different styles (say each suit of the minor arcane being done in a different way), but I think a more consistent visual style makes for a better experience.


We’ll pause here in our chat with Ed.

Join us for part 2 where Ed discusses the artwork and symbols in specific cards in the deck.

Until then, follow Ed and his progress on his website and get your prints in his shop.

Published in: on May 10, 2015 at 9:02 am  Comments (2)