This article originally appeared in 2006. An additional card graphic has been added since the original article, based on the parameters established in the dream and representing the Hands suit which is not in the original graphic and featuring art by Walter Crane.
The other night I found myself sitting at a table with the crusty old men of the land of dreams, playing poker with tarot cards in the middle of a rundown circus. I suspect the dream was infused with bits of all sorts of memories – Sam Raimi’s film The Quick and the Dead, the extraordinary HBO show Carnivale and the great Hammer Film Vampire Circus, plus even a bit of Dario Argento’s Suspiria. My dreams tend to be cinematic and full of vivid visuals. I’ve been a heavy dreamer for years. I’ve even had serial dreams which have lasted for months at a time.
Dreams are hard to hold onto in the waking world, but I managed to remember the key parts of this one, because of the graphic images. I’m sitting at a table with a bunch of strange characters – including Lance Henrickson for some reason – and we’re all playing poker with a deck of cards which is somewhere between a normal deck and a tarot deck. The cards are unusual. They’re 3 inches wide and 6 inches high and made of a thick, worn bristol card stock, all crimped and rubbed, leading to a lot of problems dealing the proper number of cards, though no one seems to care. The designs on the cards are reminiscent of 60s era psychedelic rock posters, with dominating heavy-weight fonts framing an illustration. Their very stylized design is one of the memories which sticks with me the best. I’m losing for most of the game, but in the last two hands I come back with a small win followed by a major hand which I win with a high flush in Shades – that’s right, instead of Spades the deck has Shades.
On waking I made some notes to remind me of what I’d seen in the dream, with some vague notion of recreating the look of the cards in some way. I’m not at all sure I want to actually do the work involved in designing an entirely speculative tarot deck based on something from a dream, but I did work up some sample cards to see if I could capture the basic look, using fonts similar to those on the dream cards and borrowing some Howard Pyle art which fit the theme pretty well. I gave each suit a signature font. For Stars I picked Butterfield, for Trees I went with Belgravia, for Orbs I picked the recently released Furbelow font, for Shades I used Plowright and finally for the Hands suit Pantagruel seemed like a good choice.
The graphic above shows a finished card and bits of some others. I’m not sure if I’ll ever do more, but it was an interesting exercise, and the result ended up not being all that far from what I remember of the dream. To finish the job properly I’d likely need to commission original art closer to what I saw in the dream than the Pyle pieces I used in these samples, and maybe even design a new font or two, so it would be a big project to take on just to pull something out of the dream world and into the real world.