Interview with Calion Smith, creator of the Barkana Tarot

Indie Tarot is excited to bring to the interview seat today Calion Smith (he/him), the creator of The Barkana Tarot, which is currently in the midst of its Kickstarter campaign. In this interview, Calion shares more about the inspiration and creation of this deck, as well as some of the things that he discovered in the process of creating his first tarot deck.

Calion Smith creator of the Barkana tarot

Welcome Calion. First of all, what inspired you to do this project?

I’ve known about tarot for many years, but was truly introduced to it when I heard of several artists I knew creating their own tarot deck. Now I think of tarot as a tool for figuring things out and making sense of this often chaotic world and our lives. It’s not always a direct message, but sometimes more of a gateway to answering questions and exploring yourself and your needs. 

I never pictured myself embarking on such a huge project until someone directly told me “You should make a tarot deck!” Then I thought “I should make a dog tarot deck!” and that really kicked off my journey into tarot, both artistically and intuitively. Back then, this project started as a team of two people, who shared a body due to a condition called dissociative identity disorder. This forms after facing severe childhood trauma, as the brain essentially needs to become multiple people in order to handle the hardship. Later, I underwent a treatment to become just one person, and chose to continue this project the original two had started.

It’s hard not to notice both the enthusiasm in the project and the theme of dogs. This is the first dog themed deck I’ve really connected with. Why did you choose this theme?

There truly aren’t many dog-themed decks out there, so I want to fill in that gap! I think this deck also brings a special charm, as every single card is based off of a real person’s dog and their story (which happens to match the card, too). I also felt it was a beautiful way to explore joy, as dogs are quite joyous, and to raise awareness for service dogs too.

A huge part of my identity is being a disabled person, and this project has a core mission of disability activism. Each deck shipped in my country (the United States) will contain two “service dog fact cards” to educate the public about service/assistance dogs. In addition to this, 10% of all profits (after the Kickstarter) will be donated to service dog organizations. I’ve been assisted a lot by my own sweet service dog, and I want to help make these amazing assistance animals more accessible to other disabled folks. 

What an incredible way to bring awareness to assistance animals. And, the name is just perfect. How did you come up with it?

The Barkana Tarot, it's a dog pun! It’s like “Arcana” but with “Bark” first. It popped into my head one night over dinner, a couple weeks into starting to create the deck!

You mentioned that each card was based on a real dog. Was there a card that you found either rather easy or more difficult to create?

I was actually quite surprised at how many of the cards flowed easily from my mind to my brush. I think a lot of that was because I knew a lot about the dogs who were modeling, their stories and their personalities. So, it was this exciting journey of bringing them to life every time I put watercolor on the paper. I always found a little difficult anxiety was there too though--as I truly wanted to honor each dog, and watercolor isn’t a forgiving medium to work with! 

I don't have a lot of experience with watercolor, so I can only imagine.  Since this is your first tarot deck, I'm curious if there is anything that surprised you along the way?

I think I was surprised by how intense creating a deck actually is. Some part of me thought “Oh, this will be easy, it’s just painting!” But, there were elements of marketing, customer relations, illustration challenges, printing issues, and a huge amount of spreadsheets that went into this too. I truly have a huge respect for other indie deck creators! I was also surprised by how committed I became to this project. I think a lot of people who faced some of the challenges and losses along the way would have given up, but I persevered. It wasn’t easy, but it definitely helped me realize how passionate I am about bringing this deck to life. 

You mentioned that you faced challenges and losses. Would you be willing to share a little more about the challenges of creating this deck? 

Having invested over 4000 hours into the creation of this deck, it certainly challenged me in every aspect of my life. The creative journey was not something filled with monetary abundance and it was a difficult journey, to stick to daily painting while also trying to make a living doing other jobs. That was a huge challenge, especially as a disabled creator dealing with health concerns too! Also, I had initially wanted to print a Majors-only version of this deck...but the printer I had a contract with botched the job and caused us to lose thousands of dollars and have no deck to show.

It sounds like this was an intense and also rich process for you. What are some things that you have learned that will help you in the future? 

Since facing these challenges, I learned two things: the importance of keeping promises (as I committed three more years to painting the deck, just to fulfill the promises I made to the initial Majors-only pre-orders) and the importance of finding a highly recommended printer. I also learned a lot about my resilience, my limits, and where I want to take my own art in the future.  

And, speaking of the future, I know that you are still in the midst of the Kickstarter, but what are you thinking might be next for you?

After this project (which still has many more months of fulfillment work!), I plan on reserving a good year or two just to do personal art. Going with the flow and doing whatever I feel like doing, and branching out from my typical style. I still plan on sharing that art on social media, but without the pressure of needing to build an audience or market my work in any way. It’ll be nice to do some art just for me, after five years of painting this project and doing all the commissions of people’s dogs!

Before we end, is there anyone you want to thank for their support in bringing this project to life?

Definitely my amazing fiancé, Felix! He’s literally been my rock through this project, even with all its ups, downs, and emotional moments. I couldn’t have done this without him.

Selection of cards of the Barkana Tarot

The Barkana is live on Kickstarter until November 11th, 2021! There are extra goodies there, like stickers, art prints, and original paintings too. If you see this blog after the launch ends, head to to find the shop and what pre-orders are available there! The first round of decks should be shipped out around May or June of 2022.

Indie Tarot is also proud to be carrying The Barkana when it becomes available.

Thanks Calion for trusting us with your deck and for sharing your story with the Indie Tarot community!