Creating a Tarot Deck: An Interview with Artist Matt Hughes

Creating a Tarot Deck: An Interview with Artist Matt Hughes October 24, 2016

A few months ago my wife came home and “asked” if she could contribute to a new Tarot deck on Kickstarter. She doesn’t need my approval for such things, I think she only asked me because it was an excuse to show me the art! Just like her I was blown away by the Tarot deck in question and enthusiastically told her that this was a project we should support.

My wife and I both love Tarot, but this was the first time we’d ever seen a Tarot Deck created right before our eyes. As I watched each new card being created I became more and more intrigued by just how an artist creates something as magickal, inspirational, and personal as a Tarot Deck. In order to satisfy my own curiosity I reached out to the artist in question, Matt Hughes to talk about his Ethereal Visions Tarot Deck, the future of publishing, the artistic process, and his upcoming coloring book.

Artist Matt Hughes
Artist Matt Hughes

If you’ve ever wanted a sneak peak into what it’s like creating a new Tarot Deck, this is for you. And thanks Matt for taking the time out of your busy schedule to answer my questions.

Jason: How did you get started in the art world?  Was it something you stumbled into or what is planned? 

Matt: I have always been involved in the arts in one form or another. When I was younger I was involved in many forms of art such as music, sculpture, and visual arts of any kind. As I grew older I became more involved with traditional mediums for the visual arts such as oil and graphite and have never looked back. One of my earliest memories if creating work for my Great Aunt as she cooked dinner. They were drawings of Elvis Presley on notebook paper with crayons.

Jason: My wife contributed to your Kickstarter campaign for the Ethereal Visions Tarot Card deck, and when she showed me what you were working on I oohh and ahhed right alongside her.  What was the impetus for creating a tarot deck?

Matt: Thank you so much for the support! For years my wife, Hope, has been involved in the tarot. Periodically she would show me cards and decks that she would immediately follow with “you could do this”. After years of seeing these cards I decided to produce one for her. The response from social media was so great that I decided to explore the idea of a full deck. Once the Kickstarter was funded I knew it was a project that had a passionate audience which, in turn, gave me an incredible drive to produce it. This tarot deck is definitely one of the largest projects I have ever worked on.


Did you have every card planned out before you started or have you been making it up as you go along?  Where does the inspiration for each of the cards come from?

When I first started looking into this project I did have several of the card ideas immediately form. I took an afternoon and drew all of the thumbnails that were swimming around in my head onto a piece of paper. Since then I have used about half of them (roughly 10) and the rest have developed as I researched each cards meaning and symbolism. They tend to either pop in my head immediately or take several days to mull over. As an example – I had the idea for the Death, Temperance, and Devil cards from day one but the idea for the Wheel of Fortune was painful taking weeks to finally hatch.

Each time when I begin work on a new card I do a sensory overload using several of my Art Nouveau books. I go through each book page by page until an idea sparks. I guess it is more of an “idea alphabet soup” that I pull from.


Have there been any decks that have been particularly inspiring for you as you create your own?  Did you have an extensive background dealing with the Tarot before starting the project?  

Honestly I have had very little exposure to decks other than what my wife has shown me. I’m approaching this deck and similar projects like the Coloring Book as an artist rather than a tarot reader. Each card is treated as a single art piece with a predefined list of symbols and meanings that have to be addressed. I feel this is actually helping me to produce a more unique deck.

Speaking of influences, what artists have had the biggest influence on your own work?   And just how often does your work get compared to that of Alphonse Mucha?

My work is compared to that of Alphonse Mucha on a daily basis. Although his work has been a major influencer for me it has certainly not been the only one. If I were to suggest a short list of artists for people to explore it would be Henri Privat-Livemont, Otto Wagner, Alphonse Mucha, Koloman Moser, Gustav Klimt, Josef Hoffmann, Victor Horta, René Lalique, and really any artist from the Ver Sacrum publication. Their work was so inventive given the printing process limitations of that time that an artist cannot help but be inspired. More recently I have found a great amount of inspiration in the form of Art Nouveau jewelry – particularly that of René Lalique whom I have mentioned earlier.


You’ve been featured in numerous magazines over the last ten years.  Is there anything that really stands out in your mind?  

I’m not sure I have any good stories in regards to being in magazines but there was a time when I worked in the comic book industry producing covers. My wife and I use to travel the convention circuit attending all of the major shows. Once we were in San Diego at ComicCon when a gentleman approached the table asking if I was the same Matt Hughes that had produced a Lady Death cover called “River of Fear”. When I acknowledged producing the cover the gentleman leaped across the table hugging me and explained over and over how he loved my work. That was a first for me.

What’s a day in your life like?  How many hours do you spend painting a week?  

I work on art every day. I have a corporate job that is also in the arts producing video so my days are really art from the moment I wake up to the hour I go to bed. The visual arts are my passion, though.

You recently started a Kickstarter campaign for a coloring book based on your Tarot Deck.  Was that an original idea or something requested by fans?  Why do you think coloring books are so popular right now?  

I’ve been asked several times in the past year to produce a coloring book. The idea of doing one based on the Major Arcana from my deck just seemed natural. I begin each card at the most basic of elements in order to focus on the composition first. Those line drawings are the basis for these coloring book line drawings. After looking at the coloring books on the market (especially the Art Nouveau themed books) I decided to create a coloring book whose pieces could stand on their own merit as black and white pieces. I feel that is one aspect that makes this coloring book unique – it could easily be seen as a collection of finished monochromatic works. The idea that the end user can also apply their own take on the color scheme is very intriguing to me. I can’t wait to see what is produced!

I think the allure of coloring books right now shines a light on the absence of art in our everyday lives. We are all born with a need to express ourselves visually but we tend to lose that as we get older and go out into the world, collect credit card debt, and deliver on our 9 to 5 promises. Art is essential for happiness. It doesn’t matter what your profession is or the location of your backyard – we all need to express ourselves visually in the form of color and line. I think the outlet of coloring books allows everyone to feed this need without the cumbersome steps of designing the work to be colored. I think the new trend is fantastic!


Your last two projects have been on Kickstarter, do you think that’s the way going forward for artists?  Do you think you’ll ever produce a Tarot Deck for one of the majors in the industry, such as US Games or Llewellyn?  

The Kickstarter platform is a very difficult platform to work with. It is certainly not an easy venue to utilize and literally requires hours and hours of research, marketing, and promotion. The artist literally becomes a marketing team whose time before, during and after the launch is consumed to nearly 80% of your waking day. I can’t stress enough that if you are planning to launch a Kickstarter you MUST begin laying the foundation for not only your campaign but your marketing plan months in advance. That being said I think it is a wonderful way for creators to connect directly with investors in order to fund and create projects that otherwise would be too risky for larger companies to consider. It is also a great way for creators to connect with their audience and develop a relationship with them that will help support future projects funded through Kickstarter.

Another great aspect to doing your own crowd funded project is the attention you can get from larger companies such as Llewellyn and US Games. A successful campaign is an easy way to show the growth potential in your project. The more funded it is the more appealing it can be to larger publishers. Regarding my deck – I’ve signed an agreement with US Games to produce a mass market version of the ETHEREAL VISIONS: AN ILLUMINATED TAROT CARD DECK that will be released probably in 2018. This will only make the Kickstarter version of the deck more collectable as it will have the 2 extra cards as well as a unique box design. I also have several other projects planned that they and another publisher have shown interest in so hopefully there will be more decks of my work in the future!


What’s the thing that would most surprise us about your artistic process?

I would say the most unique thing for me that may surprise others would be the fact that I deliberate limit my exposure to current art and focus more on being influenced by artwork of the late 1800 – early 1900’s. This is especially true when it comes to Art Nouveau and what has become of this movement. There is a very small number of artists today actually practicing true Art Nouveau. Just like any other art style or movement there are techniques and thought processes that originated in Art Nouveau and that require consideration by the artist when working in this style. I’m afraid Art Nouveau artists today tend to grab elements from traditional Art Nouveau, puzzle piece them together with no knowledge of their meaning or origin, and then utilize a computer to create the final work. That in itself is against the ideals of Art Nouveau and its original intent.

How can people find your Kickstarter campaign?

They can visit the website for the campaign at There is a link at the top of the page which leads to the Kickstarter page. The Kickstarter ends at midnight EST on November 2nd so we are getting close to the wire!

Do you have any new projects coming up after the tarot deck is complete?

We are working on an art book that will delve more into the process of making the cards as well as my take on Art Nouveau. I have been writing my own Art Nouveau book for the past 3 years that is more from the perspective of the artist rather than the Art Historian. There will also be a “how to” section included in the book. Also in development are a few ideas for a playing card deck as well as an Oracle deck based on sea mythology (including mermaids) but approached in an Art Nouveau style.

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