Today’s interview highlights the work of Doug Thornsjo, creator of Tarot and Oracle decks at Duck Soup Productions. If you are familiar with any of DT’s decks, you know he draws on images from long ago. I’ll be sharing a couple of the decks I purchased from Duck Soup Productions next week. Please enjoy getting to know Doug, (and his beautiful cat, Hunny). If you like his work, or know someone who might, please consider supporting his current project on Kickstarter. www.kickstarter.com/projects/1911920092/crooked-way-gothic-tarot
- One of the things I love about your decks is that you connect both readers and sitters with images that are from bygone times. What draws you to these images? How do you keep creating/finding them?
That’s just who I am. My mother was an artist, and a collector and dealer in antiques, folk art, toys, all sorts of memorabilia; and my dad was a lawyer who was constantly reading and bringing home books, so I grew up surrounded by these things. And I’m still surrounded by these things. I suppose some would say that I live a life that’s elegiac to an unhealthy degree. I live in the past and I live in dreams and fantasy. In a larger sense, I don’t believe that we can find meaning or context in the present, and the future is mystery. So what’s left to us? By definition, connection is about attaching ourselves to something that’s stable while the uncertainties of life roar past us. What’s stable? Well, not even the past, but it’s more stable than anything else we have.
- I stumbled on your decks on Etsy while browsing there several years ago. The one that caught my eye and the one I first purchased was the Arthur Rackham deck. How did you decide to create a deck using Rackham’s art? What draws you to it?
From a purely cynical point of view, Rackham’s is a style that a lot of folk are attracted to, including myself. But the main thing that helps in the context of creating an oracle deck is that Rackham was an illustrator, not a pure painter like Cezanne or Monet — neither of whose art is suitable to the needs of an oracle deck in my opinion. And what did Rackham illustrate? Fairy tales, the great fantasy plays of Shakespeare and Ibsen, where the subject matter is huge and profound and already symbolically and thematically connected to the great questions of life. Why are we here, where are we going, where does it all end up, what are the things that make good and evil? That’s a deck that practically created itself. What is the image saying to me and what are the keywords that I can apply to help bring out that meaning? All I had to do was make connections.
- What is your first memory of being interested in divination?
Oh, that goes back to my very early childhood when the slightly older kids had learned how to make those paper fortune-teller-flipper hand-toy things; you know, they present it to you with closed face, and there are numbers on the flaps, and you pick a number and they flip it back and forth that number of times, and eventually there’s a flap on the inside that you lift to get your “fortune,” and it’s generally something insulting or inane. This fascinated me. I don’t know why. A few years later, they came out with the Magic 8 ball. And even as a kid you know that it’s complete bullshit, but there’s just something so compelling about the “presentation:” the words floating up at you out of that black liquid. I don’t think there’s ever been a time when I wasn’t interested in it, although you’re taught early on to put such things aside and concentrate on more “serious” things….
- For me, the name Duck Soup evokes the Marx Brothers. This may or may not be where you got it from, but could you share why you chose it? Why is it significant for you personally? If it is the Marx Brothers, do you have a favorite Marx Brothers movie? Which one?
It’s an expression that pre-dates the Marx Brothers, and it means exactly the same thing as “Easy-Peasy.” Back in ’79 I opened the very first comic book specialty store in my state, and it was called Duck Soup. And although I was a rotten businessman and although that business only lasted about four years, I’ve just always kept variations of that name every time I try to make a living off my own creative work… which has been anything but easy-peasy.
However, I do not mind the Marx Brothers connection. My favorite Marx Brothers movie is not Duck Soup but A Night In Casablanca: because of two scenes, both involving Harpo. The first is the one in which, yes indeed and in fact Harpo is holding up the whole damn wall. And the second is the one in which Harpo discovers a hidden room full of wonderful things that everyone else has forgotten. And of course one of those things is a harp.
- Of all the decks you’ve created, do you have a favorite? If so, which one is it?
I would say Tinker’s Damn Tarot, because it’s the most personal. It’s the deck where I basically threw Pamela Colman Smith out the window and went my own way; keeping her meanings, but finding my own symbolism to present those meanings. The style of it is antiquarian, as all my decks are, but it’s also specifically eccentric to me and my way seeing the world. It’s the deck that I’m proudest of especially when combined with the Tinker’s Damn Mantegna, which — I really see those two decks together as one huge project, same as the Zirkus Mägi when combined with its sister deck, the Midway Arcana. When you put the two Tinker’s Damn decks and the two Zirkus decks together, that’s something that no one else has done, to my knowledge — and they feel significant to me, they feel powerful. All together they occupied four years of my life, so it’s nice to be able to look at them with some level of satisfaction.
6. Where do you find inspiration for your decks?
I could be wrong, but I think it was the writer Robert Bloch (who wrote Psycho) who said that there was a store in his town where you could get ideas for a dime a dozen. Maybe I’m wrong; I think maybe that was someone else who said that. Bloch was the one who said that he had the heart of a little boy — which he kept in a jar in his office.
But really honest and for true, inspiration is not the hard part. The hard part is putting your butt in the chair every damn day and working to make those 78 cards come to life.
7. Can intuition be honed? How has accessing your own intuition helped you create your decks? Does intuition assist you in the creative process? If so can you share a little bit about that?
Absolutely intuition can be honed. But it’s something that you have to work for. It isn’t always there. And really, what’s more important than the intuition is being able to recognize something good when it bubbles to the surface or throws itself in your path. Being able to recognize what you need and are looking for and say “Hey! That works! I’m keepin’ that!” The popular wisdom is that you open your soul, or you open your window to the collective unconscious, or you open a vein, and just let everything flow while putting your sense of judgement on hold — but that’s not how it works. From a creative point of view, just being intuitive is worthless if you set aside your critical faculties. It’s counter-intuitive, but you need both. Sometimes one or the other isn’t there: and as a result I turn out a crap design.
8. I’ve heard you love cats. Do you or have you had a cat that you think of as a familiar – (Or one you have a special connection with?)
I tell my little Hunny I love her a million times a day. I live in terror of losing her. We have a special thing going in that I saved her life, and in so doing she saved mine. We came to each other at the worst time of our lives. She sleeps in my arms every night just like a teddy bear, and I do sometimes imagine that she’s somehow aware of what I was dreaming about just before waking up. It’s terrible to be so attached to a tiny little pussyquat like that, but what can you do? I would never use the word “familiar” with its kind of pretentious connection to witchcraft, but we absolutely have a powerful connection.
9. Thank you for creating both Tarot and Oracle decks. When deciding on which type of deck to create, do you prefer one over the other?
Not at all, they’re different and complementary, and I often work on a Tarot and an Oracle at the same time. Tarot has rules, and if you break the rules it’s not a tarot deck; but an oracle creates its own rules, and the rules can be different every time. They use different muscles!
10. Currently, which card in the Tarot speaks to you? Why?
Temperance / Art is my birth card, and probably the one that I will still be working on the day that I die. I love Pamela Colman Smith’s drawing for Temperance. I think the concept is fascinating to me because its purity lies in the fact of impurity.
11. I believe you are a movie fan. Is there a deck based or influenced by some of your favorite movies in your short or long range plan?
Yes, but I can’t talk about them right now; they’re so far out in the future that talking about them now would only kill them. But the answer is also “No,” in the sense that no single movie or TV show is deep enough to sustain a tarot deck. Maybe an oracle, but still I think not. I can’t take things like the “Game of Thrones Tarot” or the “Marvel Superheroes Tarot” seriously, and frankly the people who make them don’t take them seriously, either. These things are published as a form of “product extension” in order to soak more money out of fans and to milk or stripmine a creative “property” for all or more than it’s worth. And so when I do get around to creating an oracle or tarot with a connection to film, it’s likely to be based on something broader in range than just a single film or series of films.
12. What would you like people to know about you and/or your work?
I think I’ve already blathered more than anyone could possibly want to know about both things!