Mirrors of the Heart : A Deck of Favourable Cards by Lily S. May
Review ©2004 by Judith A. Johnston
UPDATE: Lily now has an Etsy shop where you can purchase this deck as well as some of her other art.
I saw this deck on eBay by chance and immediately knew I wanted to work with it, and have now worked with the cards for two months. I have loved woodcuts since I was a child, when I bought a book of Arthurian stories that was illustrated with numerous woodcuts. The World Spirit Tarot and the Light and Shadow Tarot, which I own, are both done with lino cuts, but I never considered that this was an art technique I could do myself until Lily May and her Mirrors of the Heart deck came to my attention.
It is strange how someone’s work will set you off in a new direction. I was not looking for a deck of cards, nor was I thinking of exploring a new art technique, but this artist appealed to me so much, both in her artwork and her approach to life and teaching others, that I knew she had something to teach me. Lily writes poems, as do I, and Lily creates stories with cards, as do I, and she says that lino cutting can be done by anyone, which piqued my interest. Lily May is also a textile artist and a quilter, as I am, and I really wanted to use these cards and images to do some exploration. I felt so keenly that she had a positive message of work and action highlighted in her cards.
People often dismiss black and white, or in this case, black and tan decks, because they don’t zap your eye with color, yet color is not always needed to detail exuberance and joyful creation. The Mirrors of the Heart deck is hand produced, and some of the cards are trimmed slightly bigger than others in my deck, but for me, this is the enchantment of an item made by hand. The cardstock is a lovely tan color and very light and there is no lamination, so each of the 43 cards feels like an art print. I thought this was pretty special, and the importance of slick lamination fades when another artist is trying to get my attention. Everything about this deck spoke to me of human experience and hardship and pushing through to discover what is important and satisfying in life.
Hands All Around
When I first went through the deck I was struck by the many images of hands on the cards. I went quickly past the Help card and said, “Oh yeah, helping hands,” but then I hesitated and went back and considered it more carefully. One set of hands is extended with palms up, and the other set is reaching toward the other with palms down, and I found this poignant as I remembered that during moments of great emotion and grief, sometimes we can only grab hands and hold on. It is a simple, human gesture when words cannot reach someone or express what you feel. This singular gesture defines humans beyond our fancy conversation and posturing, and Lily’s simple card is like a vignette of the reality we face, and how we face it together. Blindly, blindly, when there is nothing else, there is a hand we reach for.
The Companions card shows a whale with a bird on his back and what looks like a turtle nestled in the bird’s feathers and another bird swimming in the sea next to the whale. This reminded me of two cards from other decks that also pinpoint the fun of being with people you like and getting along in life, of being joyous. Do we understand the concept of companionship as we continually strive for ephemeral satisfaction? We hang around with strangers on the Internet, we betray the trust of others, we gossip, do we actually connect to anyone?
In Brian Froud’s Faeries’ Oracle, the card that echoes this is called The Friends. Support, friendship, respect, and cooperation, but underneath is the joy of opening your heart, and your heart as a mirror of someone else and their joy in you. The second deck is i Tarocchi Celtici by Laura Tuan and the card there is Sorbo – Luis. These companions express delight in being together, and interestingly, we see the negative aspect of friendship, which is such a loss when compared with the happy times of real connection. The literal meaning of companion comes from Latin: co = together, and panis = bread. Share your bread together, eat together, companions are the bread of life, they are what feed us and keep us alive in spirit. We could be having a whale of a time.
The Night card shows a person sleeping under a tree and the night sky of moon and stars, with a sheep lying near keeping watch. Sheep May Safely Graze says J.S. Bach, but the shepherd needs watching too. This card reminded me of a time in hospital isolation when I had a very high fever, and a nurse came to check on me and saw that I couldn’t sleep and offered to sit with me. She was there for a few minutes and when she left, my eyes were closed and I wasn’t asleep, but the comfort of her sitting with me in the dark is still in my memory 30 years later. The night is frequently a terrible ordeal for humans, as time stops and we wait. We deny ourselves peace and rest and endlessly torture ourselves with our minds, and yet I look at this Night card and reflect on peaceful rest.
I am back to hands…making things by hand, the hands around us. These sentiments reminded me of a quilt block called Hands All Around which has a curved shape, diamonds, and set-in pieces, so needs to be sewn by hand. It prompted me to design a digital quilt as an exercise with these cards. For my color theme, I used tan and black as my base and added a bit of gold because the title card on the Mirrors of the Heart box is printed on gold-coloured parchment, and I added some red for contrast. I made the design in the Electric Quilt program, and used several patterns from there as well as real fabric images for coloring the patches.
I drew the hand and whale myself using Lily’s cards as inspiration. The images moved me to create something and use the drawing tools in my quilt program, which I had never done before. The tools are simplified compared to a program like Adobe Illustrator, but I managed to draw my lines and shapes, add points, and use the Bezier tool to adjust the curves. I gathered bird, tree and heart patterns, my hand and whale, a sheep, flowers, and the Hands All Around block, and this is the result. I call it The Favourable Quilt. It took me 10 hours to put together. If you own the Mirrors of the Heart deck, fan it out in front of the quilt illustration and you will see the magic of taking the time to work with a deck.
“And this same flower that smiles to-day,
To-morrow will be dying.”
The line is by Robert Herrick from his classic poem of centuries past, To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time. One memory I have is of a local teacher, artist, and friend who was always saying he would reclaim his art after he retired from teaching and had the time. He died at the age of 58 from prostate cancer. The last time we saw him, he came over to the house and would not stay inside, he wanted to be out in the sun and air. He was dying by steps as he carried his morphine pump around his waist. We lost an individual, an artist, and a unique human who will never create what he wanted to. He is gone, there is no sun and air, it is too late for his vision.
Something else this deck reflects is a mirror of how we spend our time. We have no time seemingly, and yet if we choose, we do have hours here and there to make art. One of my favourite books is called Making Room for Making Art by Sally Warner. It is for those of us who miss our art that was shunted aside for “real” life, and how to bring it back and think of ourselves as artists, how to find the time. Three years ago I started to buy tarot decks and suddenly I was writing again as I responded to the art in the decks and tied them into words and poetry that kept my imagination sparkling. I started drawing again, seeing color, sewing; I was messing around with paint and paper and I was happier than I had been in a long time. The artistic expression of a deck like Mirrors of the Heart is a doorway to my own mind and creativity. “Hello,” it says, “Have you forgotten something important?” Yes, I forgot, and it was like living in a desert of lingering, stultifying restriction.
So, while I was waiting for the Mirrors of the Heart deck to arrive, I bought some lino cutting supplies. These supplies are readily available at art supply or craft stores, and you can buy interchangeable lino cutting blades that screw into a handle much like changing drill bits; water soluble or oil-based printing inks; the lino blocks themselves in various sizes; fancy papers; a Plexiglas sheet for rolling the ink out, and a small brayer to spread the ink on the block. You can start for about $20, and after that, you spend your imagination.
I wanted to put some effort into learning a new technique and developing my abilities. I wanted to work with this deck using the technique the artist had used, and that was all it took: my will to work, the choice and the will to start, to attempt, to try. I have years before I retire; think of what I could accomplish in those years. Or not, there is that awful choice we face, and time will hold us accountable.
Last summer I became interested in drawing mandalas in response to some of the artwork on my tarot and oracle decks, but also in response to events in my life. I had purchased a full set of Prismacolor coloured pencils several years ago, but I was afraid to use them because my work did not have the photorealistic quality of other pencil artists. Oh well, we can’t have that, better put them high up on the shelf so you don’t get the urge to actually draw something that looks like folk art! I finally gave up and did what I wanted, which was to use the pencils and create things, regardless of how they look to me or anyone else.
I approached lino cutting the same way and combined my first print with a mandala that I drew with my coloured pencils. I was keen on combining the two art techniques as a study exercise with Mirrors of the Heart, and a way of slowing myself down to see the symbolism and details in the cards. Awareness is often a reality we avoid by fitful attempts to keep busy. It’s the slowing down, the taking time that is hard for us, but for the mind to flow and create with freedom, you need to do that.
I chose a bird motif because I love birds and they are scattered throughout this deck. I call this fellow Favourable Bird or F.B. for short. My printmaking techniques are rather crude, there is an art and skill to this that I have no experience in, but that was the point, to try and connect with what the artist experienced when making this deck. I used a couple of motifs from the cards to fill in and I drew a lily from a gardening book. The plant in front of the lily was inspired by the Sexuality card and the roots go very deep and are aflame.
One of the lino prints I did was on the rough side of pastel paper and I turned it into a collage, and used some clip art of a globe because Lily also has that symbol on her Peace card.
Then I added symbols about journeys, maps, illuminated manuscripts, lateral thinking, and added a few of the quilt motifs from my digital quilt. As well as providing visual appeal and integrating the colors I was working with for the exercises, it says something to me about spontaneous effort and play and opening the world with your own hands.
My Motif Made Me Do It
During a trip to a quilt shop to find fabrics that matched the Mirrors of the Heart colors of tan and black, I bought two beautiful prints. Part of the marvel of working with the deck was using colors I don’t normally use. F.B. insisted that he be printed on the lovely, pale marbled fabric. He also insisted that some embellishment was needed for him to attract a female bird he had his eye on–notably a lovebird in a certain wreath on The Favourable Quilt. Much discussion ensued about crests and flowing paradisiacal feathers and such, so I gave him a few flowers to echo the red flowers in the lining. They also match the red highlights in the aforementioned digital quilt; what female would not want a gentleman with such an eye for color coordination? Plus every deck needs a suitable bag and now I have one, although the resident motif seems a bit opinionated and prone to flirtatious comments about lovebirds.
These exercises propelled me to learn about a deck that I came across randomly, and they funnelled my mind to free my artistic expression. I found these cards to be truly mirrors of my heart. I think of several tarot artists and my artist friends and the positive influence they have had on my well-being and outlook on life. I see artists creating and I want to do THAT. We live in hopeless deserts of passivity, longing for expression and the action of our own hands and minds. Sometimes chance grabs our attention, as it did for me with this deck, and perception alters, action creates, and the world changes. The world is not always about perfection and photorealism, or competition and conventional archetype. If we choose, it can be about being creatively active in an individual way. It is about energy and the hand of the artist, and there are hands everywhere in the Mirrors of the Heart cards.