Monday, October 6, 2014


This has apparently existed since 2010 but I only just learned about it from the Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque site. Jack has been posting about Ravenloft this month and in one of them he featured a gorgeous Tarokka Deck by artist Eleanor Ferron (here: Beautiful Tarokka). I recommend checking out Jack's posts on the demiplane of dread because he makes several insightful observations but also puts up lots of gameable material. The Tarokka Deck he featured is noteworthy because it is very well done but also because Tarokka decks are pretty hard to acquire these days (the cheapest I've seen the originals is 80 dollars). I was so intrigued I decided to do interview with Eleanor about the project. 

BD: It looks like you started out with a background in History. How did you get into art and illustration?

To paraphrase a quote I once heard, "when someone asks when you started drawing, ask them when they stopped." I think a lot of people draw, it's simply a question of whether they themselves consider their work to be art, or whether they think of it as just doodling. Art and illustration has always been something I did. When I was young I used to draw comics for my friends, with weekly issues, ongoing storylines, the works - they were about as sophisticated as you would expect from a pre-teen, of course. However, for a very long time I considered my interest as just a hobby, and as a result I tended to put it off to the sidelines. Eventually, I realized art was something I wanted to do, and whether or not it ended up the primary focus in my life, I needed to stop dismissing it. I'd say I began to seriously focus on my artwork few years after graduating from college.

BD: Did your History Training have any influence on your artwork?

I would say everything has an influence on my artwork. That's not a very helpful answer, I'm aware! But when it comes to creative endeavors, such as writing or drawing, I feel that's really the case. Artwork is an expression of ideas, even if those ideas are simply "what someone looks like", and the only way to get ideas is to go out and look for them. My background in history teaches me to pay attention to things like which domains - countries - are in contact with which other domains, and how they'd influence each other culturally through that contact. These are things that would come out in their appearance.

BD: Judging by your portfolio page you have a broad range. There are many different kinds of images and a variety of mediums from comics to plush toys. What is your favorite medium to work in?

These days I usually work digitally, which has a number of advantages. There's no mess, no set up, I can imitate a variety of styles with different brushes, and the Undo button is a godsend. All that said, when it comes to results, nothing can compare to a simple pencil or micron pen on sketchbook paper. 

BD: How did you get into plush toys?

My mother quilts as a hobby, and taught me how to use a sewing machine - she used to sew me clothes when I was much younger. I never had the patience for either quilts or the precise measurements needed for clothing, but sewing is always something I've known how to do. I started experimenting with moths as plush toys because they weren't very complex in shape, and because almost no one else makes them. It was one of those "if you want it done, do it yourself" scenarios.  

BD: Which artists inspire you the most?

One of the wonderful things about the internet is that I can find thousands of amazingly talented artists to look at, to the point where there's far too many to name or even remember. The two I will always name off the top of my head, however, are Talon Dunning and Tony DiTerlizzi, who captured my imagination as a kid and never let it go. I would also name Lissa Treiman, Alexandria Neonakis, and Claire Hummel, although in a different way - they were all former classmates of mine, though not always in art classes. I still look up to all three of them a great deal.

BD: You’ve done your own Tarokka Deck (a kind of Tarot Deck for Ravenloft), I saw some images online and they look very nice. Why the Tarokka deck? how did this project come about?

My deck is actually a Tarokka Tarot deck, which takes some explanation. Tarokka was a fictional Tarot analog created to be a companion to the Ravenloft campaign setting. There's been several decks of it printed, including a lovely one by Talon Dunning. It's a fine product, but the problem I have with is two-fold. The more practical problem is that the decks are nearly impossible to find, as neither of them are available for sale anymore, and both seem to have had very limited print runs. Talon has noted that his Tarokka Deck goes for around $350 on sites like eBay. My other issue with the Tarokka deck is a personal one, in that I simply prefer using Tarot. A part of this comes from the childhood inspirations that got me into the Ravenloft campaign setting in the first place - there's a game called Quest for Glory 4 that ranks among my all time favorites, and the Tarot imagery used in that game had a huge impact on me growing up. That being said, I always felt the Tarokka deck was less robust than the actual Tarot, which always aggravated me when I attempted to use it. For instance, there's no card in Tarokka to symbolize the concept of "love", which strikes me as a rather glaring omission.

At the same time, the overt Judeo-Christian references in Tarot don't really work in the Ravenloft campaign setting, and there were elements of Tarokka that I liked, such as the many subtle (or none-too-subtle) references to the setting itself. My goal with the project was to create something personal that combined the two, merging the setting I loved with the Tarot symbolism I loved. As a result, my deck is technically a Tarot deck, heavily altered by influences taken from the Tarokka deck.

BD: Did the original Fabian Deck have any influence or was the Talon Dunning your primary starting point?

It was mostly Talon's. I think I've seen the original Fabian Deck all of twice.

BD: You mentioned this is a Tarokka Tarot Deck; was your primary goal to have something for use at the game table or to have something for use at the Tarot table inspired by the gaming table? 

I only really use Tarot in gaming, so the former. Back when my gaming group held a Ravenloft Larp, I had the role of a Vistani fortune-teller who would perform readings for other players. I was using the Tarokka deck back then, I'd borrowed one of Talon's from another player. I don't have the opportunity to do that any more, but I still use my deck for the Ravenloft play-by-posts I'm in.

BD: What has the reaction to the Tarokka deck been like?

Pretty muted, honestly. *laughs*  I actually finished the deck back in 2010, and released a PDF of it for people to print in 2012 - you can find it hosted on the Fraternity of Shadows Ravenloft website. It didn't make a lot of ripples at the time. It was only recently that I made an actual deck using Gamecrafters and posted it up on my G+ account, at which point Jack Shear took notice of it and shared it on his G+ account. He seems to be responsible for most of the attention the deck has gotten.

BD: Jack’s post is how it came to my attention as well. You have been active on Fraternity of Shadows, contributing to resources like the Nocturnal Sea Gazetteer as an artist, but also as an author with articles like The Ocean’s Ferry Men: Dread Selkies of the Nocturnal Sea. What draws you to Ravenloft and how do you try to capture that mood in your artwork?

Summing up what draws me to Ravenloft requires a lot of thought. What originally drew me was the writing, certainly. I think the first product I got my hands on was the Children of the Night compilation, and it blew me away. Jezra Wagner, in particular, was such a haunting character for a young mind. So I suppose I like a touch of darkness and melancholy in my games. But I think the ultimate answer of what attracts me is the broader themes of Ravenloft, along with my other favorite, Planescape - Planscape, to me, is a game about people but more so philosophy, while Ravenloft is a game about philosophy but more so people.

It's hard to explain how to capture the mood, because I think mood is everything to Ravenloft. Certainly, there's a kind of pseudo-Victorian styling to it, but I try to branch out from that in my work. I think the answer is "atmosphere", as well as a feeling of overlap between the familiar (in other words, things from our world) and the fantastical. Ravenloft is an exaggeration of the real world, to the point where emotion has physical effects on the world around it. The best way to capture that is to try and make things as evocative as possible.

BD: How is illustrating cards different from other mediums?

It's not that different from a simple illustration. The major difference, I would say, is I needed to be aware of the border. My illustrations needed to be a precise size, without exception, which meant there were some cards I had to crop or alter to fit within the set constraints.

BD: What is different about your Tarokka deck?

As stated above, it's a marriage between standard Tarot and Tarokka. I also made an effort to incorporate parts of the setting that are often ignored, or which simply weren't as developed at the time when the other Tarokka decks were drawn. I wanted to illustrate the diverse range of characters that could be drawn from the source material. Were I to do it today, the drawings would likely be even more diverse.

BD: What changes would you make if you did started again on the Tarokka deck today?

There are many artistic changes I'd make just to improve the artwork and make things fit better within the boundaries of the cards. I'd also likely change the way I portrayed various figures from various parts of the setting. In addition to my Tarokka project, I also have a personal project to re-write bits of the setting to my taste - as you can imagine, it's a very long running project. It's developed a lot more since I drew the deck, so I would likely incorporate the setting changes I made into the work as a whole. 

Anyone interested in obtaining one of Eleanor's Tarokka decks can contact here at: rinatheelf AT gmail DOT com

Eleanor's Portfolio:

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