Thursday, September 25, 2014

Pretty Pictures and Strange Prose

I am pleased to report that I am at a point in my computer graphics skills where I can turn a poorly lit photograph of a pencil-on-lined-paper sketch into this...
...which I can then turn into...

...a beautiful, full-color, fully-scalable vector image!
I know I'm tooting my own horn, but I feel pretty proud of myself.
Besides, who else's horn would I toot?

All this is over one of the textbooks I'm writing for the Three Sisters Learning Path, and my bad decision to start formatting it even though I'm only halfway through the content. I do tend to get carried away with formatting, which is what happened here. Any book needs a title page, so I looked up sample book title pages, only to find that they all had the publisher's logo displayed at the bottom! I knew I would be self-publishing, which meant... Three Sisters needed a logo that would look good on a title page. Well, here we are.

So now you know my secret. I'm writing a word family reader! But not a gross one... I hope.
I'm kind of disgusted by most of the word family readers out there. They all seem to be full of strange themes and garish pictures. I want this one to be fun to read, and without too much to distract from the words. Plus, I can't turn down thirty-something prompts for fun poetic exercises.

I know you're just itching to here some of the things I've written for the book. I'm not sure whether these are prose or poetry--I think they're something in between--but they're fun to write and read (at least I think so). Here are a few of my favorites:

Once there was a cat called Kate. Kate went on a date with a rat. The rat was late to the date. When the rat came, he sat on Kate's plate. Kate the cat ate the rat.

A sailor called Bill told a whale of a tale. He said he got his ship on sale and ate nothing but stale bread, kale, and pale ale. He sleeps on a bale of hay.

The Monster Mash is quite a bash. It's a bash I'd like to crash! Monsters flash and gnash their teeth, and all wear clothes that clash! They thrash on the dance floor and splash in the punch. You've never seen monsters act so brash! It's a mad dash to pay cash for a ticket to the Monster Mash.

I just hope my sense-of-humor is appropriate for first graders.
You'll be hearing more from me soon.

Three Sisters Learning Path

I've stated before that I'm writing a curriculum for private and home school whether Rainbow Spirit Academy happens or not, but I've been doing a lot of thinking on it lately and wanted to share my work with you.

I wrote a bunch about it a while ago, but just kept it to myself. Here are my original thoughts:


In a garden, weeds creep in to steal the nutrients the gardener gives to the plants he planted himself. The weeds must be removed so that the plants can grow. Many systems of education treat the arts as a weed which must be removed from the garden so that the intellect can flourish--or, at best, as an unnecessary luxury which drains resources from more important things.

At Rainbow Spirit Academy, we like to think of the arts as one of the three sisters--the three plants (corn, beans, and squash) which Native Americans often planted together to take advantage of their mutualistic relationships. The corn provides a trellis for the beans to grow on, the beans fix nitrogen in the soil, and the squash's big, floppy leaves shade the roots of all three, providing a living mulch for the soil in which its sisters grow.

The core curriculum most schools teach is merely the beans--just the facts, with maybe a sprinkling of practical experience and creative thought. At Rainbow Spirit Academy, we like facts--but they do not constitute a complete education. To really be prepared for life beyond school (and not just for the next tier of school!), you need a strong moral, spiritual, and creative backbone for the facts to grow on, as well as a thorough foundation of practical know-how to protect and make use of all that information and creativity.

The Three Sisters Curriculum and Educational Philosophy stems from that idea, so we focus on all three aspects of human learning and development. Each aspect is symbolically linked to one of the three sisters from Native American agriculture:

In a system where each of these aspects is treated as a crucial and inseparable part of a whole, individuals are encouraged to blossom into happy and productive members of their community.


I've decided to call it the Three Sisters Learning Path, though, instead of Three Sisters Curriculum. It sounds friendlier, more welcoming, and I think it's evocative of trailblazing, exploration, self-motivation, and self-guidance, whereas the word curriculum is so harsh. It IS a curriculum, but it's also definitely a way of learning... a learning path. 

More on 3Sisters soon.

Calavera Quartet

Ace of Spades - spraypaint and acrylic on canvas
Did you know American soldiers in the Vietnam War would leave battlefields littered with Bicycle Aces of Spades? Bicycle made them custom decks and everything, 52 aces of spades in every deck. Psychological warfare, yo. Talk about creepy.

Kishi Kaisei - spraypaint and acrylic on canvas
I took at least fifty pictures of this painting alone in various locations and lighting setups. I played with them in photo editors for HOURS. STILL the red looks too pale and the skull looks too blue, and the blacks are not dark enough.
This is named for the Japanese phrase that is repeated over and over in the background. It means "Out of death, into life."

Surprise Party - spraypaint and acrylic on canvas
I forget who it was that said death is a surprise party, but I liked the phrase enough to name a painting after it. This one might be my favorite of the set, but I think they're all my favorite for different reasons.

Widow Paris - acrylic and spraypaint on canvas
Named for Marie Laveau because the colors reminded me of New Orleans.
The crackles happened because I piled on the white paint super thick and then got really impatient and used a hairdryer to make it dry too fast, but I like to tell people I made it crackle on purpose. It ended up being one of my favorite aspects of this painting.

Project Update (with pictures!)

My rotating mini-gallery.
I call it rotating, but that's based on the assumption that I will make more paintings in this size and want to switch them out, or will maybe decide to sell one of these and be forced to paint something else or endure a gaping hole in the gallery. I've got a few more in this size but I don't like them as well, or the orientation is wrong, or they're not finished, or they just don't go together as well. I'll burn that bridge when I come to it.
It's worth noting that the mini-gallery is separate from the gallery wall in the hall. The gallery wall in the hall is mostly work that OTHER people have done, although it currently includes two pieces by me, both of which are pictured below.

Meditation 1 - wet-on-wet acrylic on canvas - finished
This is what started my whole recent painting binge. I saw this rainbow of colors in my head and I knew I wanted to paint it, so I pulled out my canvases and paints, and poured out a rainbow of colors. I blended them all together on the canvas, and before they had time to dry I painted whatever came to mind over it in white. I love the wet-onto-wet process, because the painter is definitely not in control--the paint is. It makes the whole process really relaxing and freeing. I'm not as happy with the end result of this one as I'd imagined, but I still like it and I want to try more like it in the future. 

Meditation 2 - wet-on-wet acrylic on canvas - finished
It's a shame I didn't get this one from a better angle, because I like it much better than Meditation 1.

Mountain Moon - wet-on-wet acrylic on canvas - finished

The Seaweed is Always Greener (In Somebody Else's Lake) - wet-on-wet acrylic on canvas - finished

Tree in Winter - wet-on-wet acrylic on canvas - finished
This painting and its partner (below) evolved by themselves. I knew I wanted to paint a black and white wet-onto-wet, so I coated the already-white canvas in white paint, got out my black, and started painting. I love the misty swirls that appeared in the air. I don't remember why I thought to do that. I say it's finished, but the crescent moon still bothers me because of how jaggedy it is. I will probably smooth it out, even though that will make it not totally wet-onto-wet.

Tree in Summer - wet-on-wet acrylic on canvas - finished

Squares - acrylic on canvas - finished (but unsigned?)
This canvas had a bunch of smeared paint on it because I was using it as a palette for another painting. Then I started using it as a palette for itself because I wanted to paint some colored squares (I was on a square kick from the black and white trees). I wasn't sure where this was going, but as it developed I fell in love with it. I think it's my favorite piece in my mini art gallery right now. The colors are much nicer in person, I promise.

Magic Hand - acrylic on canvas - finished
This was another one of those canvases that gets a background painted on it because I have a ton of leftover paint from something else, and then doesn't get touched again for several months. When I pulled it out, I somehow knew exactly what to do with it.

Widow Paris - 1 of 4 - finished
I made four beautiful calavera paintings but only photographed the one that's on my gallery wall in the hall. I have photographs of the others from before. Maybe I'll post those next. This one is called Widow Paris because that is what is written on Marie Laveau's gravestone, and the colors in this one remind me of New Orleans, and thus of the queen herself.

Tiger - Acrylic on Canvas - finished
At first I didn't like this one but it's been a few months and I've changed my mind. This was all wet-into-wet and all painted with one HUGE flat brush. I painted this a few months ago before my recent painting binge, and I remember sitting down with a photo of a tiger, a square canvas, some paints, and a paintbrush, thinking "I'm gonna paint this. I'm gonna paint this now, and I'm not gonna use any other brush, and I'm not gonna take a break. I'm going to do the whole thing right now." That was my challenge to myself. I had hoped it would have a little more texture, especially above the nose, but it bothers me less now than it did then.

Altered Bridal Ad - black and white acrylic paint - finished

Dr. Camelton - acrylic on canvas - unfinished
This one merits some explanation. This is a picture of an unfinished work (which is now finished but unphotographed) that is a commission for a text-based video game which is currently in development. The game is called Dinosaurs in Pakistan and you should play it on your iPhone when it comes out (and tell me all about it since I don't have an iPhone). This character is called Dr. Camelton, and he wears dual monocles. If you think the camel in the painting is crazy, you should see the written description I had to base him off of. For that, you'll have to play Dinosaurs in Pakistan. 

Goat Skull with Celtic-style knotwork - gold and black acrylic on bone - 3/4 view - finished

Goat Skull with Celtic-style knotwork - gold and black acrylic on bone - side view - finished

Goat Skull with Celtic-style knotwork - gold and black acrylic on bone - top view - finished

Deer Skull with Paint - peach, green, gold, and white acrylic on bone - finished

Monday, September 15, 2014

Tarot Deck Review - Mystic Faerie Tarot by Linda Ravenscroft & Barbara Moore

I am not the sort of person who usually likes the lighter Tarot decks on the market (lighter in mood or in color); I am also not the sort of person who ever buys a Tarot deck without having researched it and read thoroughly its reviews on However, I bought the Mystic Faerie Tarot deck and book set by Linda Ravenscroft and Barbara Moore on total impulse (before I realized it was a full moon!) and I could not be happier with my purchase.

First let me say that the colors on my printed set are richer by far than the washed-out colors I see in the scans on this site. Don't get me wrong, the art is watercolor after all, but the scans to me look to be overexposed, and the card art is stunningly beautiful. The borders are gold ink, which I thought was a really nice touch.

The box seems pretty solid for a folded paper tarot box, but I don't know yet how it will hold up over time. The gold organza bag for the cards is lovely and the perfect size--not so small you can't properly draw it closed or easily get the cards in and out; not so big the cards shuffle themselves around or get bent in it. The size of the book was a very nice surprise--I hate having to flip through the tiny booklets that come with most decks, and they're a pain to keep open when you're trying to read them. The Mystic Faerie Tarot companion book is the same size as the big box the whole set comes in, I would guess (but haven't measured) about 8x5 inches. It's a sturdy paperback with a nice, shiny, color-printed cover, and the text inside does not require a magnifying glass to read. Each card is printed at fully size or nearly full size before its accompanying text in the book, but they are all in black and white.

This purchase was a bit of a leap of faith for me, because (like I said) I hadn't heard of the deck, read reviews, or researched it at all, and the pictures on the box only showed major arcana cards, so I was a little afraid that the minors might not be fully illustrated. It felt right, however, so I bought the set, and was beyond pleased to find that not only are the minors fully illustrated with scenes, they might be my favorite thing this set has to offer. Let me explain.

Each suit of the minor arcana is designed around a faerie tale specific to that suit. The suit of Wands (represented by actual wands) tells a tale of enterprise, two faeries who embark on an adventure in search of a phoenix; the suit of swords (represented by rose thorns) tells a story of a magical blue rose and the faeries who care for it; the suit of cups (represented by water lily flowers) follows a nymph and an elf (two fae of different races) through their trying romance; and the suit of pentacles (represented by actual pentacles) follows a fae woman who, unable to find her village after getting lost in the forest, starts over on her own and is befriended by mice. The four stories do not all have strictly happy endings, which I did not expect from a faerie deck, but they do all have pretty much universally applicable morals, and they can be applied to the world of humans realistically. Sometimes it seems as if the meaning of a minor lines up with the Rider-Waite meaning of that minor, but I do not think this is the case across the board.

What this faerie tale layout means for the minors is that, because they are essentially illustrations to a story, they will be pretty difficult to read if you have not read (or do not remember) the faerie tales; happily, the stories are short, sweet, and easy to read. What I'm saying is you SHOULD read this companion book cover to cover, and you should do so before trying to read with the cards, which is not something I recommend with most companion books (or booklets, rather).

The concept of the deck as a whole, and the artist & author's stated reason for creating a faerie tarot deck is roughly this: the fae are in perfect balance with nature, which is (or should be) our goal as humans; but we are humans, not fae, and that is not something we can ever completely achieve. However, the fae can teach us what the ideal is, and how we as humans can come closer to achieving that, how we can live in better (if not perfect) balance with nature. This concept is incredibly well executed.

As the daughter of a doctor and a scientist, I have days where I begin to feel skeptical even about the Tarot (these days are rare and this always goes away, but still, they do come). It speaks to the quality of the concept and execution of this deck and book set that not once in my reading of the book or the cards did I feel the least bit silly taking and giving advice from faeries.

Now for the majors. The majors are also beautifully illustrated in rich watercolor and exquisite detail. There is a Priestess instead of a High Priestess, a Priest instead of a Hierophant, and The Hanged Fae instead of The Hanged Man. The meanings in this deck are slightly different than traditional Rider-Waite, so DO read the book first, but they make an immense amount of sense and will be easy to remember. My favorite cards from the majors in this deck are Strength (numbered 8, not 11), the Tower, The Moon & The Sun, and Judgement. This deck's Strength rides a dragon, which is related to the dragon in the story for the suit of wands. In this Tower, the structure is being taken over by nature in ALL directions, and the book offers one of the best explanations for the Tower I have ever read. The Moon & Sun have a beautiful parallel structure (both are represented by women fae whose hair becomes the orb they represent, and the book offers a beautiful explanation for this parallel structure that may change the way I read with other decks. The same sort of parallel structure thing happens with Priestess and Priest, and it is also really well done). I feel that the Judgement card in this deck is particularly strong because of the description offered with it in the book--judgement is a card that has always been difficult for me to relate to on a personal (rather than a bare mathematical understanding of the meaning), but this book makes it easy. This is the case for the whole deck--the cards are stunningly beautiful, and the book makes them ten times better by fulfilling your other four or five senses so that the meanings are forever linked in your imagination and memory. The slight twists on traditional card meanings which make them more appropriate to the world of the fae make them, I think, more relatable to me as well.

The court cards use Knave instead of Page, so you have: Knave, Knight, Queen, King. These run very true to traditional tarot meanings with each suit governing a particular part of human experience, and each rank possessing a certain level of maturity and experience in that realm.

The introduction to the book provides a really good basic understanding of Tarot and even introduces a few things that were good for me to hear again. At the end of the book are included a few original spreads, and I am especially interested to try Acorn to Oak (designed to show the best way to accomplish a goal) and the Birthday Sunflower Spread (meant to be read yearly and provide a general overview).

Overall, I highly recommend this deck for children and tarot beginners (the symbolism is easy to understand and really well explained in the accompanying stories and descriptions, and the stories will make learning the tarot easier and more fun) as well as for more experienced readers looking for a refreshing new perspective on tarot.

I wrote this review for its original appearance on

Tarot Deck Review - Gilded Reverie Lenormand by Ciro Marchetti

 The Gilded Reverie Lenormand by Ciro Marchetti is a stunningly beautiful, very solid, digitally-painted deck. The cards are 2.75 by 4 inches, bigger than poker size playing cards (2.5 by 3.5 inches), but not by much—and they are incredibly thick. The 36 cards together stack up to almost an inch. I think this is really nice. The cards have enough give that I believe they could be shuffled the way one shuffles playing cards, but I can't honestly say I've tried it—I prefer not to bend the cards I read with, personally. The gilded edges on the cards are absolutely stunning. I've heard some people refer to gold borders on these cards--this is incorrect. The borders are just as shown in the pictures here on Aeclectic: they fade to black. It is the edges of the card, the actual sides of the stock, that are gilded, not the border. That is to say, the gilding is on the third dimension. The gilding is more beautiful in person than I imagined, and is very reflective. The only downside to the gilding is that straight out of the box it is helping my cards stick together a little more than I would like them to for ideal shuffling. I assume this will fade with time (it's gotten better just over the past day or two), so I'm not worried, but I thought I should mention it.

There is also gold in the color printing on the cards' fronts (the numbered circle, playing card suit and number, and filigree corners) and backs (the circle and filigree ornamentation), but the gold on the faces of the cards is well-done photoshop artistry rather than gold ink or gold leafing. The whole of each card (front and back) is very glossy, but the gold-colored parts are no more shiny/glossy/reflective/etc than the other parts. In one final attempt at clarity, the gold on the faces of the cards, just like all the other imagery on the faces of the cards, is made up merely of cyan, magenta, yellow, and black (CMYK).This is impressive rather than disappointing.

The card backs are perfectly reversible except for the (C)2013 US GAMES copyright text that appears only in the lower right corner. The backs have a beautiful, deep red, diagonally-checkered design that pairs beautifully with the same design in goldenrod tones on the inside of the box. The box, by the way, is one of the better examples of packaging for a deck (Lenormand, Tarot, or otherwise) that I have ever seen. It's a very sturdy cardboard box with magnetic closure that opens like a book. The paper used to print the box artwork has a smooth, leathery feel that I'm just about in love with. The cover of the box has a version of Marchetti's artwork for the Birds card, and the box (unlike the faces of the cards) DOES have gold foil accents on the birdhouse, lace border, the “G” and “R” in “Gilded Reverie,” et cetera. The box is exactly the right size to hold the cards, the 48-page LWB (Little White Book), and nothing else, which I think is perfect. There's no cardboard support inside for the sole purpose of taking up space, which is good because it means there's no cardboard support to get smushed and let your cards move around all over the place. This is also good because it means the box is small enough to fit comfortably in even a rather small purse or a large clutch.
The included LWB is good enough for most purposes—I'm certainly totally happy to accept it instead of a full-size book, the tradeoff being the beautiful, condensed packaging. It starts with an introduction by Tali Goodwin, followed by a note from Ciro Marchetti. Each card description has a short vignette (some of them with some rather poorly-written rhymes, but I'm willing to ignore that) written in the first person from the card's point of view (by Rana George), followed by a further description written by Tali Goodwin. The vignettes and descriptions have been edited and approved by Ciro Marchetti to reflect his personal feelings on the deck. Here, as an example, is the text for card 1, The Rider:

“I am always bringing news, look around me to see what it includes. I might be coming to visit or bringing you some changes. I am fast and always on the move. If you see a negative card close by, you will probably not enjoy the reply.

“The Rider of the Lenormand brings news. It is the first card and announces new things. In the Gilded Reverie deck, we behold a dreamy female Rider who sits astride a carousel horse; the horse who in fairy-tale stories is the conveyer of messages. She may even be Iris, the Greek messenger of the Gods.

“The fastened messenger bag across her shoulder may be suggestive of additional messages for different destinations along her night's voyage. In her hands she grasps a white envelope, a letter that is out of the bag and ready to be delivered for the current reading. The carousel is the ideal metaphor, as this card is a new cycle being initiated and an ending of the old state. The ups and downs of the carousel also symbolize the magical flight that powers this messenger to its destination. Freed from the ever revolving 'merry-go-round of life,' whose circular motion is also defined by the laws of physics as acceleration, our rider symbolically reflects the pace and speed of information by which our lives are increasingly affected.”

The LWB finishes with three spreads, each with an accompanying sample reading: the “Simple Nine-Card Spread” by Tali Goodwin, “The Fortune-Telling Day Spread” by Tali Goodwin, and “The Chocolate Bar Spread” by Rana George. The Nine-Card Spread is particularly useful for readers just getting used to Lenormand, and The Fortune-Telling Day Spread is meant to help you track and improve your reading accuracy with daily readings each morning. The Chocolate Bar Spread is one of those spreads that seems totally valid and sensical except that I can find not a single explanation for what it has to do with chocolate, so the whole thing ends up feeling kind of odd to me. You may find this useful or endearing—to each his/her own. Should you be unsatisfied with the included LWB, a 140-page .pdf companion book in full-color is available for purchase and download on Marchetti's own website ($1.50, I have not purchased it, but am likely to do so soon.

One final note on the LWB—this would normally be a note about the cards, but the cards themselves are only numbered, not named, so the names of the cards only appear in the LWB. For the cards that sometimes vary in exact name, I give their names here: card 9 is “Flowers,” 11 is “Birch/Broom,” 20 is “Park,” 22 is “Choice,” 28 is “Man,” 29 is “Lady,” and 30 is “Lilies” (plural). Now for the actual cards!

The art on the cards is absolutely gorgeous. I am not partial to digital artwork, and while much of Ciro Marchetti's other work is objectively beautiful and well-done, I don't feel drawn to it or necessarily like it. This deck is different. There is something more traditional, I think, about the basic imagery in this deck, that makes for something very beautiful when that traditional imagery is treated the way Marchetti has done. The images seem simultaneously to pop off the surface of the cards and to lie behind the surface of the cards, as if in a diorama or behind a window. Someone else said these cards almost appeared to glow as if they were lit from behind. It is true.

A note to those who rely on the playing card correspondences on Lenormand cards: card 18, the Dog, is incorrectly attributed in this deck to the 10 of Spades, rather than the 10 of Hearts. The 10 of Spades is also (correctly) attributed to card 3, the Ship. I am given to understand that future printings of this deck will have this corrected, but if this bothers you greatly, you may want to hold off for now and wait for a later printing. I personally am not bothered by this small error, and I find it rather endearing that the error occurred on the Dog, so loyal and eager-to-please. I have actually let the knowledge of this error color my impression of the dog card and the way I interpret it in readings, and I like that. It could also make for a very interesting interpretation if and when both 10s of Spades show up in combination.

The illustrations on each card are very detailed, in addition to being very beautiful. The Clouds card, 6, is a particularly great example of this, with the bright half of the clouds being dotted with soaring birds, and the dark half broken with lightning striking the tree of the previous card. What this has meant in my readings so far is that while the key to reading these cards is usually in being very literal and reading right off the surface, the layers of imagery underneath can also contribute meaning when the top layer isn't quite enough. For example, behind the Key (33) sits a birdcage which houses a rose; and the Child (13) contemplates a storybook from which blooms a castle, a rainbow, a doll, a ball, a spinning top, and several blocks, which display the letters CM and GRL—standing for Ciro Marchetti and Gilded Reverie Lenormand. You might guess from this that Marchetti has hidden his initials (CM) in every card, and you would be correct.

On top of being very detailed and very beautiful, this deck is very enjoyable and easy to read. I have performed several successful readings for myself and others since receiving this deck, and I look forward to a long journey together.
I wrote this review for its original appearance on

Current Projects

I've started so many art projects lately. I know I do that a lot with little to no results, so it seems important to mention that some of them have come to fruition!

I have painted a deer skull and a goat skull.
I have completed six or seven wet on wet acrylic paintings that I am really proud of, and like three or four paintings that I'm not proud of and need to be painted over, and I'm working on two longer-term paintings because they're not wet on wet and need a billion coats of paint everywhere which is why I gave up on painting the first time around like ten years ago or something, but it actually is kind of therapeutic to do a bunch of coats of paint, especially because I'm working on a few projects at once to break the monotony.
I painted three or four rocks.
I painted a few bridal gown advertisements to look like dia de los muertos calaveras.

I embarked on a strange compositional journey and have written the bulk of the first song. This doesn't sound like much but I'm proud of it and I feel like I did something substantial so that's what counts, right?

I've also done a lot of work on the Three Sisters Curriculum for Rainbow Spirit Academy, about which I am SUPER excited. I'm doing my best to be positive and manifest RSA into my future and my present, but even if RSA doesn't work out I will still have an AWESOME curriculum I can use for other things--teaching my own kids not least among them!

That's all, just wanted to do a mood-boosting boast. Hopefully I will post pictures of some of my completed work soon!
Lovely Wednesday