Interviews, Reviews, Tarot

Interview with Artist Em Holloway: Doodle Tarot

Like many tarot readers, my penchant for collecting decks borders on obsession. I have tiny decks no bigger than a matchbox, and giant decks that I use when I teach classes. My collection includes a vintage French Marseilles deck, a trippy 1960s set, cards with art nouveau illustrations, and the campy Zombie Tarot. I gravitate toward the dark, gothic, or classical.

But recently, an image of a — well — freakin’ adorable card popped up on my Instagram feed and I did a double-take. The illustrations were bright, and colorful, and playful… stick figures on a ruled notebook paper background. The style was not at all my usual dark & brooding witchy aesthetic, but I was completely captivated.

Doodle Tarot court cards

I immediately followed Doodle Tarot on Instagram, and eagerly waited for each delightful new card to be revealed. The scenes were clearly an homage to my go-to deck, the classic Rider-Waite, but the artist had interpreted Pamela Colman Smith’s work in such a way that the meanings jumped off the screen. I had to know more about the artist and the inspiration behind Doodle Tarot.

I reached out to Em Holloway (who is just as delightful as their tarot deck, by the way) and asked for an interview. Here’s what Em told us about their art, inspiration, and more.

Q&A With Artist Em Holloway

About the Doodle Tarot Deck

WT: What is Doodle Tarot all about?

EH: Doodle Tarot is about having fun with tarot! Its fun and colorful imagery is intended to take away the intimidation for new readers and new querents. Its nod to more modern events, more recognizable symbols, and over-exaggerated emotions are to help younger readers feel more connected and more at ease when reading for themselves for the first time. Our mission is to beat the stigma that Tarot is an “evil” or “taboo” practice that only a small group of people are able to master. Tarot is for everyone!

WT: How did you come up with the concept?

EH: This idea came to me a few years ago after my wife began to read tarot for people. We had asked a couple of friends if they would be interested in a reading, and I was surprised by the reaction. Many people were scared, others were unsure and skeptical. One man even kicked us out for bringing “devil’s work” into his event! Along with the skeptics, there were also others that would get readings, and marvel at the idea of being able to read on their own. When asked why they don’t, I would normally get the answer of “Oh, you have to be a master to know tarot, right? It’s too intimidating.” I knew then I needed to make a deck that would take that fear and intimidation away.

WT: How long have you been working on the project and how has it evolved from your initial concept?

EH: I have been working on this project for 3 years! My original concept was going to be the same idea of cartoony and more fantastical, definitely more complicated. But every design I would try seemed to be too much. Eventually, I made an unfinished sketch into a stick figure honestly out of frustration that nothing was working, and it dawned on me! School inspired drawings with stick figures and doodles!

Doodle Tarot major arcana cards

WT: What media are you using?

EH: I drew a rough draft with pencil and ink, then drew on digital using my Galaxy Note 10 and a free drawing app!

WT: What has been the biggest challenge in this project?

EH: I took a very long time deciding if I wanted to use skin color on the figures, but skin color didn’t read well on the stick figures and I did not want to end up having an uneven amount of skin color. I want the reader to be able to project themselves onto the doodle figure. But, I decided to color in the Aces to give a nod that any and all can be a tarot reader!

Our mission is to beat the stigma that Tarot is an “evil” or “taboo” practice that only a small group of people are able to master. Tarot is for everyone!

Artist Em Holloway, creator of Doodle Tarot

WT: What has been your favorite thing about this project?

EH: My favorite by far has been letting my friends who have never read tarot before attempt to read the imagery. Despite knowing nothing about the card, they were able to pick up on symbols! I loved how nervous they usually were initially to read, but then so excited and happy to know they read a card correctly. It really confirmed what I was doing was something special.

WT: Who is this deck for?

EH: This deck is for anyone and everyone that has been ready and willing to try Tarot, but had heard bad things about it, or were too nervous to try it alone. It can also be for experienced tarot readers who have new clients that are nervous and worried about being read tarot. This deck is to put newcomers of all kinds at ease and bring joy to a community that has been otherwise written off as “bad”.

On Witchcraft and Tarot

WT: What is your connection to witchcraft, and which path(s) resonates with you?

EH: Witchcraft had always been an interest of mine as a young person, but it wasn’t until I was older, and went through a very mentally distressing year of depression and panic attacks, that I began really practicing and becoming a witch. I am a pagan omnist witch who leads a moon ritual coven and helps at a local pagan temple.

WT: How long have you been reading tarot, and how do you use it in your practice?

EH: I have been reading tarot for about 4 years now. I’m not as gifted at it as my wife is, so I had to find other outlets to help give to the tarot community, and this was my outlet. I use it whenever I find myself having a difficult decision, and need answers. I also do my best to read and understand what possibly is in store for me on full moons and new moons.

WT: You’ve said that you have found solace in tarot, how so?

EH: Tarot gave me the hard answers to my depression and mental illness that everyone else was unable to say because they didn’t want to hurt my feelings. It got me to buck up, get back on my feet, and try again. It’s a comfort knowing when I don’t think anyone can help me, these magical cards can.

The Artist and The Art

WT: How long have you been an artist, and what are your mediums? 

EH: I have been an artist my entire life. It’s been an outlet and a comfort of mine for longer than I can remember. I mainly use traditional mediums such as paint, ink, markers, and even clay. Doodle Tarot is actually the first time I have ever used digital media!

WT: What inspires you?

EH: Emotional connection is what inspires me. If I can connect to someone through an emotion that I have brought them, then I have achieved my goal.

Doodle Tarot cards include keywords for upright and reversed

WT: How does being someone with autism inform your work in general, and this project specifically?

EH: Because of my autism, I had to actually learn and study people’s expressions, as it was not something that came to me naturally. I had to know and understand body language and facial cues to know how a person was that day. And I also find bright and bold colors very relaxing. I added these factors to my deck because I see so many decks that lack emotion or expression, despite the cards normally having a general feeling. 

Emotional connection is what inspires me. If I can connect to someone through an emotion that I have brought them, then I have achieved my goal.

Em Holloway, Artist

WT: I’ve been reading the Rider-Waite deck for 35+ years and have been really moved by your interpretation of Pamela Colman Smith’s classic work. For example, the 4 of Swords: So many new readers interpret that as “a dead guy” but your card makes it clear what that card is really about. Did you consciously illustrate the cards to simplify/clarify interpretation? 

EH: Thank  you! 4 of Swords was one of my favorites! Pamela Colman Smith was a HUGE inspiration. I actually bought a commemoration deck to be sure to carefully and consciously interpret each card, as I have always believed she has the best artistic interpretations of them. But like you said, some of the cards are lost in translation. So yes, each card is carefully thought out in order to bring an easier understanding.

The Rider-Waite Tarot vs. Doodle Tarot

WT: There’s a playfulness and humor to the illustrations, but also a real poignancy. For example, the addition of Band-Aids on the 3 of Swords, or the hearts on the Knight of Cups. How did you decide which elements to add to each card? 

EH: It took a lot of time and research! One of my biggest goals was to soften the “scary cards” like Death or the Devil. If I add humor to them, then a person’s first reaction isn’t going to feel as threatened by the title of the card. All the added symbols in my deck are to aid the reader as much as possible when they interpret. Even though I give them keywords to help, they should be able to pick out what the card means by just looking at the picture.

Doodle Tarot features graphic elements to facilitate interpretation

WT: Any words of encouragement for other artists?

EH: I would like to say, if you have a project you believe in, don’t give it up, no matter how silly you think it is. I had so much support from my wife, my family, and my friends, but it was really up to me to get this project finished. So many times I thought “why on earth would anyone want a deck made out of stick figures?”. I pushed that doubt away and, with the help of my pagan deity, Hermes, persevered! Now I have a project that so many admire and are as excited as I am! No dream is silly!

WT: Anything else you’d like to share?

EH: Thank you to my wife, to my mom, to my sister, and to my friends for pushing me through this. Their constant support, patience as I showed them every new picture I did, unwavering enthusiasm despite it taking 3 years, was why it is still alive today.

How to Get The Doodle Tarot Deck

Doodle Tarot is a Kickstarter project

WT: Why did you decide to launch a Kickstarter project for the Doodle Tarot deck and what has the response been? 

EH: I didn’t have the income due to nearly losing my business and also losing my home last year because of the pandemic. I also wanted to have a bulk amount of cards to be able to go to local occult stores and have my deck become something that was well known and frequently used later down in life. The response of Kickstarter has been phenomenal. We are over halfway to our goal and are on a steady path to meeting it before the launch is over. We were also handpicked by Kickstarter for ProjectWeLove, which features our deck for all to see!

About Em Holloway

Em is a local native to Atlanta, GA. They have been interested in the occult and withcraft nearly all their life. They sell candles, tarot readings, crystals, and other art at local art markets in the city. When they are not selling at markets, they are doing fx makeup, singing at bars, or practicing rituals with their coven.

Artist Em Holloway, creator of Doodle Tarot

Connect with Em

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