I recently stumbled upon Charissa Drengsen's fanciful 78 card deck on
and was instantly intrigued by
the incredible imagery. The unusual characters, costumes, and settings peaked my curiosity and
drew me into its bizarre world. This deck speaks to my own sense of alienation from
the mainstream culture and an existential angst mixed with desires to revolt in creative ways.
The collage imagery is an alchemical brew of modern and Victorian era attire, mad science fiction
visions and contemporary attitudes, with a dark sensual streak running through
Ms. Drengsen describes the deck as
a digital collage tarot deck for navigating the gear-driven apocalypse. A blend of post-modern and
tribal, ancient and contemporary, traditional and subcultural. The Steampunk Tarot builds a rusty
metal bridge to the edge of your subconscious.
She offers the deck in a few different sizes and formats depending on your personal penchant and
pocketbook; such as a poker deck size, large version and limited, signed and numbered special
editions printed professionally on 120lb Italian pearlescent quartz cardstock.
Being a starving artist while also wanting a grander view of the cards,
I opted for the
basic large edition
, which is a 3.5 x 5.5 inch (8.9 x 14 cm) deck;
professionally printed on white glossy card stock with
archival four color inks.
While anxiously awaiting its arrival I downloaded the
new Droid app
that Sir Aron Price designed for this
unusual deck and have had a blast playing with all the fanciful imagery which was backlit so brilliantly
by my cell phone (technology and digital art can create such gorgeous offspring!) The Droid app
is very reasonable at around five bucks and makes it fun to do readings on the fly. It offers 6 types of
Tarot spreads and a method to share or save readings online.
Ordering the deck directly from the artist, who also resides in California it arrived in
about a week's time. The cards were shrink-wrapped and packaged in brown tissue paper, tied
with black twine. I had heard rumors of collectors receiving their
decks in vintage jacket pockets, or shabby coat sleeves sewn up to loosely resemble Tarot bags
and was mildly disappointed that mine did not
come in such a fun, funky manner but understand that some did not appreciate the presentation the
artist may have been trying to convey with this unconventional approach and so
she perhaps has given
up on this clever concept (tho it may have suited the nature of this particular deck's
ambience). Not a big loss though, as I was most eager to absorb the wild imagery into my
This deck is a trip to the past and future all at once. A treat for the eyes and
imagination! The print job was nicely done, however a thicker cardstock would
feel a bit more sturdy and resistant to wear and tear.
Though truth be told, I don't plan to read with this deck; I have plenty of
others in my collection for that. I wanted it solely for its
magnificently construed collage imagery.
Being a collage artist of a few decks myself (both hand-cut & digital styles;
published & handmade) I'm always on the
lookout for fresh approaches to collage imagery and new twists on blending traditional symbology
with unconventional combinations.
The borders of the deck are an
original Art Nouveau design with Steampunk elements incorporated in warm sepia tones. The backs are
printed in full color (view the card back directly below).
Perhaps someday I'll bite the bullet and
splurge on a special edition 3.5 x 5.5 deck (which is a thicker cardstock).
Traditional symbolism associated with the Tarot can be found in the cards
albeit sometimes in mysterious and unusual ways and as might be expected; it is also often
'tongue in cheek'. The cards have standard Tarot titles with Strength being card 8 and Justice
(following the Waite-Smith model). The Major Arcana numbering system
does not use Roman numerals. The 4 suits are the familiar wands, cups, swords and pentacles and the
court cards are page, knight, queen and king.
There is also a
Pictorial Key to the Steampunk Tarot
Charissa's Etsy site,
that according to the description, is beautifully printed as a 52 page, 4-color glossy book measuring
9 x 7 inches (22.9 x 17.8 cm), bound with soft cover. It contains images of each of the 78 tarot cards,
and an intro,
with a Steampunk definition, a discussion of how the Kaballah relates to Tarot, interpretations for
each of the cards, and special pages describing the four Minor Arcana suits and their symbology
within the Steampunk genre, a couple sample card spreads, and an outline of the Tarot basic
While this all looks fabulous from the examples, personally I was hoping it would also
share the artist's creative process and
perhaps a listing of the main imagery used in the collage work. While much of it is
are instances when I'm familiar with an image she's incorporated into her work, but just enough
that I can't quite identify it, which of course drives me nuts; like a
fleeting memory just out of grasp.
Ms. Drengsen also offers the book as a
(viewable on computers, smart phones, iPad etc). The PDF booklet comes burned on a CD with a thematic printed label, in a
protective sleeve. The PDF book on CD ships from her Petaluma, CA studio.
And I noticed on that Etsy page, Charissa writes a side note that she does intend to do some more writing
about the origin of the images, and the process used in creating each of the 78 designs so that's
something to look forward to certainly.
I am thrilled with the fabulous imagery and bold, bodacious style of the large format deck and
recommend it highly to Tarot collectors, especially those drawn to well designed, clever, cheeky, art.
The deck is reasonably priced, and the artist produces it in small editions
while experimenting with different formats and keeping up with the demand for this
imaginative work of
Incidentally, someone on the Aeclectic Forum found this definition of Steampunk online and kindly
posted it for those of us unfamiliar with this subculture:
Steampunk is a sub-genre of science fiction, alternate history, and speculative fiction that came
into prominence during the 1980s and early 1990s. The term denotes fictional works set in an era
or world where steam power is still widely used, usually the 19th century and often Victorian era
Britain. It has prominent elements of either science fiction or fantasy; and it often features
anachronistic technology or futuristic innovations as Victorians may have envisioned them. Based
on a Victorian perspective on fashion, culture, architectural style, art, etc., this technology may
include such fictional machines as those found in the works of H. G. Wells and Jules Verne or real
technological developments like the computer.
A few favorite cards from Steampunk Tarot
And you can see
more imagery on Aeclectic Tarot
where Solandia gave it 4 gold stars.