Denver Printmaker Emi Brady’s Obsession With Tarot Drove Her To Make Her Own Cards

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Stephanie Wolf/CPR News
Emi Brady’s deck of Tarot Cards features 78 hand-colored linocuts.

For more than a decade, Denver artist and printmaker Emi Brady toyed with the idea of her own tarot card deck. She “wasn’t ready” until more recently.

“Technically, I wasn’t ready and I think emotionally I wasn’t ready,” Brady said. “I was definitely still learning a lot of things about myself and I think the Tarot is about having a depth of knowledge and compassion for yourself and for others. And I just wasn’t there.”

Her introduction to the Tarot came at the age of 13. Initially, she was taken with the visuals of the deck. But she soon became hooked, even obsessed with, “all the different ways that [Tarot] can speak to you and all the different ways it can help guide you.”

Many academics and historians say tarot cards were initially used to play games and then evolved to hold mystical significance in their vivid imagery. Artists who create decks, like Brady, bring their own visuals and even interpretations to the cards. People can come to a reading with specific questions or general curiosities that address broader aspects of life.

Photo: Brady Tarot Obsessed 2 | Emi Brady - SWolf
Denver printmaker and artist Emi Brady outside the Colorado Public Radio studios, Jan. 22, 2019.

Her own deck, The Brady Tarot, is a set of hand-colored, linocut cards that she released in 2018. The imagery features nature, particularly fauna and flora native to North America. One of the most important things she wants is for people to realize that animals also “have rich inner lives and we’re not alone on this planet.”

Brady purchased her first deck of cards in college; the Haindl Tarot by late German artist and author Hermann Haindl. She used the Haindl cards for more than a decade both personally and artistically.

“I use the Tarot to almost get permission sometimes to not make work, which I think is just as important as making art,” Brady said.

Photo: Brady Tarot Obsessed 3 | Tarot Deck Cards - SWolf
Another view of the variety of the Brady Tarot Deck's 78 hand-colored linocuts.

Her self-readings helped her “reevaluate myself and reevaluate what’s happening in my life and the best ways that I can move forward from here.” Brady dispels the notion that the Tarot predicts the future. Instead, she said, it can help you better understand yourself and realize that you have the “power to make positive changes in your life.”

☽ Watch Emi Brady Give Arts Reporter Stephanie Wolf A Tarot Reading ☆

For her Brady Tarot, she drew inspiration from her beloved Haindl deck, opting to use family names — daughter, son, father and mother — instead of the court cards. The deck is “maternal forward” and weaves in elements of indigenous mythology and folklore.

“One of the interpretations that people have about the kings [or fathers] is that they are a true mastery of whatever suit they represent,” Brady said. “I feel like the mothers or the queens are the true masters because they understand something intimately and also have an aspect of nurturing.”

Science fiction writer and Tarot expert Rachel Pollack wrote the book that accompanies her cards — Pollack also wrote the book for the Haindl Tarot and the tarot deck of Salvador Dali.

Photo: Brady Tarot Obsessed 4 | Linocut Close Up - SWolf
A close up of one of Brady’s linocuts.

The process to make The Brady Tarot became as much of an obsession for the artist as her initial fascination with the occult practice that drove her to create it. It was the biggest undertaking she had ever taken on as an artist. For about 16 months she worked nearly every day to hand carve the linocuts, and then print and color each card. She crafted the linocuts by using specialized tools to etch intricate images into sheets of linoleum. Linocuts are a printmaking method similar to woodblock printing.

“I love how I can lose myself in it,” she said of the work. “And I find the process of carving to be very meditative.”