The Circadian Tarot

A deck of cards in book form, featuring surreal watercolors by artist Michelle Blade

We first came across Michelle Blade’s surreal watercolors when covering her multi-colored aura scarf, a collaboration with object-based periodical The Thing Quarterly. The LA-based artist mentioned spending the past year researching and painting the 78 classic Tarot cards for a book, and we finally had the chance to see the new hardcover in person. “The Circadian Tarot,” with text by Jen Altman, is a contemporary reimagining of the Tarot. The book functions as the deck of cards itself—one suggestion is for readers to open intuitively to a page each morning, during a quiet moment—as well as a guide for interpretation.

The joy radiating from the Ten of Cups, the fiery energy of the Knight of Wands, the sudden upheaval of the Tower and more are captured perfectly in Blade’s otherworldly imagery. They help convey the Tarot’s message to reach the objective of self-illumination, reaffirmed by Altman’s accompanying text.

“When we began research on the cards I was driving cross country from Los Angeles to Chicago with my partner and newly born daughter,” Blade tells CH on the creative process. “We bought a national parks pass and visited countless amazing places along the way. Having that time to let my brain wander ended up planting lots of seeds for what the images of the cards would become. Other ideas came more from specific moments in my life. The Six of Wands, for example, is a photo we took at the Badlands in South Dakota. It’s a card about celebrating accomplishments but staying grounded and grateful.”

“With other cards I looked to contemporary celebrations, struggles, issues or inspirations,” Blade continues. For example, the Eight of Wands cards depicts two people holding a rainbow banner—a clear protest for gay rights. “It’s a card that symbolizes a path that was once blocked that is now clear,” she says. “When I made the card marriage equality had not yet passed in the US, though it was coming close. Now that the book has been published, time has passed and the law has been changed so it is an image about celebration.”

“Finding the story that went with each of the 78 cards was like solving a puzzle. I wanted to find a way to honor my practice and the visual language I’ve built up in it, but to also bring the traditional understanding of the tarot into a contemporary setting. Striking a balance between those three things was hard,” notes Blade. “Conceptually the Ten of Wands was one of the last cards that came together. I struggled with finding an image for such a haunting card that didn’t feel trite or too specific. Everyone’s horror is so personal. In the end, I came up with an image of a Rorschach test.”

Grab the small hardcover for $17 from Amazon or Chronicle.

Cover image by Cool Hunting, illustrations by Michelle Blade