Interview with Zach Wong
When laying cards into a Tarot spread, a different interpretation is sometimes given to cards that turn up ‘reversed’ or up-side-down. People give inverted cards a ‘reversed’ or opposing interpretation to an upright one, or they say that the impact of the card’s usual meaning is lessened. Not all Tarot readers use ‘reversed’ interpretations, some simply make sure that all cards are placed upright and give interpretations according to the basic nature of each card. But if you like using reversed interpretations, you’ll love the concept devised by Australian deck creator Zach Wong.
Llewellyn Publishers have just produced his Revelations Tarot Deck and I was fortunate enough to catch up with Zach recently. In this deck he’s overcome the problem of deciding whether to read ‘reversed’ cards or not. Zach has presented different symbolism on the bottom part of each card, so that the inverted image is easily interpreted. These cards are based on the traditional Rider-Waite images, but he has blended this with his own unique, quirky and colourful style.
Mister Tarot: What motivated you to create your own Tarot designs?
Zach Wong: My interest in Tarot originated as an attraction to the art present within the medium. From a young age, I explored the imagery associated with it, by copying the art of various decks which were published in books. As I grew older I found myself at odds with the existing decks which were available in the late 90’s. While some of them were aesthetically stunning, they failed to resonate within me. Eventually, after graduating from Architecture and running away from home, I found a lot of time on my hands to explore Tarot with less distractions. After revisiting my previously mentioned frustrations, I decided the only logical thing to do was to create my own deck. The reasoning seemed fair: it would have a personal connection and it would give me a canvas to explore the symbology as well as introducing aspects which were important to myself.
The important thing to note though, is that from my exploration of decks online, and various publishing catalogues, there was a obvious lack of decks which had imagery for the reversals. I decided that my deck would incorporate reversed images, if only to make it easier for me to understand each card as a ‘whole’ instead of just one part. At this point it is also important to note that I was working in relative isolation. I had no contact with the Tarot community as it was a personal project that was never intended to see the light of day outside my circle of friends and family.
Mister Tarot: Is your work background related to your creative activities?
Zach Wong: My current work life is a fine balance between the melancholy of administrative work, and the self indulgent development of my artistic creativity. Splattered somewhere in between is sporadic attempts at love, life and a healthy exploration of cooking. I do have a degree in the Bachelor of Architecture, from the University of SA. However, I have at this point in time, chosen not to go down that avenue.
Mister Tarot: Was it always intended as a deck and book set, or were you just fulfilling a creative urge to draw a new version of some Tarot cards?
Zach Wong: The deck was never intended for mass publishing, as it was more a personal journey of the Tarot. I did consciously adhere to dimensions for publishing purposes, but this was primarily for the intent of self publishing. I figured it would be better to stick to convention, to make the process less daunting if I ever chose to self publish. I was very lucky to have Llewellyn accept my submission. They made the process very seamless, and were helpful every step of the way. I was very reluctant to produce a companion book for two reasons. Firstly, after five years of university, I hated the idea of writing another ‘report’. Secondly, I would have preferred to define the images with text, if only to encourage the users of my deck to come up with their own definitions, based on what they saw. Llewellyn encouraged me to produce much more than my initial submission of a paragraph for each card, which resulted in a 216 page book. In retrospect, I can see how the book has helped many people bridge the gap between starting as a beginner to approaching as novice reader.
Mister Tarot: Why was the concept of creating ‘reversed’ images so important to you?
Zach Wong: Reversals are important because we, as a community, talk about it and acknowledge it’s there. To me, it is the ‘elephant in the room’. Many avoid it, others embrace it. By creating a deck which gives it equal visual footing, it forefronts, the different aspects of the card.
Mister Tarot: What’s your way of describing the quality of the reversed images, as compared to the upright ones?
Zach Wong: Unfortunately, there’s never an easy way of classifying a reversed card. I’ve always viewed it as the ‘other’ aspect of the card, whether it be an opposite meaning, a lesser one, a shadowed aspect, or simply another point of view of the same theme. What it does do, along with the upright image, is encourage us to consider the bigger theme of a card, instead of a simple go-to meaning.
Mister Tarot: How long have you been working on this project?
Zach Wong: The deck itself took three years to produce. The majors were all lined up within three months, but the minors took two years, off and on, due to the interference of life and the pursuit of happiness. After a series of personal events in my life, I decided to finally invest time and money to finish off the deck. There was a furious two months of three to six hour days, on top of my standard 8 to 5 job, that went into the completion of the deck.
Mister Tarot: Which images from the Major and Minor Arcana were the easiest to design?
Zach Wong: The Aces—because the lack of complexity in the imagery required to communicate their pure aspect. Most of the design was actually done on the computer, as opposed to the line work which was usually an additional 3 hours worth of work.
Mister Tarot: Which images from the Major and Minor Arcana were the hardest to create?
Zach Wong: The Tower went through three revisions before the current one came to pass. The original tower was a building unfolding as the winds slowly tore it apart, but the static image failed to grab me. The second version had more movement, but was anchored by a built structure. Eventually, I realised what I wanted to communicate was not the tower itself, but the destructive force—thus the final and current image.
Mister Tarot: In the Major Arcana, why have you drawn each of the characters wearing masks?
Zach Wong: I believe the Major Arcana to be part of The Fool’s Journey, with each card representing a lesson to learn along the way, until the completion of the circle at The World’s end. Masks are used as part of my own personal symbology as they hide the true intent of the meaning/being, either encouraging you to explore further, or to accept what is presented before you.
Mister Tarot: Which is your favourite image and why?
Zach Wong: The Moon, only because it surprised me when I drew it, and it surprised me again when I finished colouring it. It was not what I imagined it would be, or ever intended it to be. It is a personal example of pure subconscious flowing out on paper.
The 216 page book that comes with this deck is called, The Revelations Tarot Companion. It has a brief introduction about how and why Zach created this deck, and gives the meanings of the cards and three simple spreads.
More examples of the cards can be found at: www.zachwong.com/tarot
Name of deck: Revelations Tarot
Publisher: Llewellyn Worldwide