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.