Interview with E. Lubanko, creator of The Lubanko Tarot indie tarot deck
At Indie Tarot, a large part of our mission is to center and honour queer, trans and BIPOC tarot creators. We are kicking off a series of interviews with some of our indie tarot deck creators so that you can get to know and learn from them as they share about their deck creating process, personal tarot experiences and current and future projects about which they are excited.
Today we are interviewing E. (or Emily) Lubanko (they/them or she/her). E. is based in Boston, MA in the USA. Following their Kickstarter launched in 2020, the Lubanko Tarot Deck is now available in E.'s Etsy shop and is available for EU customers at Indie Tarot.
In our interview, E. shares about their inspiration and process of creating this deck, as well as some of their own history with tarot. Make sure to check out the resources that E. suggests for those looking to develop their knowledge of tarot.
How were you introduced to Tarot?
I was 12 years old in a bookstore with my other pre-teen friends and one of my friends bought a "book of spells" and I picked up a tarot deck because I liked the idea of it. I got in deep. Fast forward 20 years later of reading and making, and I’ve made my own deck.
Are there specific parts of your identit(ies) that you feel are really reflected in your work?
My whole self is reflected in this work, so it’s hard to pick just one. I couldn’t exactly cherry pick which parts to leave behind, as the goal was to make a 100% honest body of work. I have described this as a “queer” deck because I am a queer person, but there are many more in here as well. In general I reject binaries of labeling, and I imagine that comes through. I am shy of labels and public over-disclosure, and I like the art to speak for itself, so I instead invite you all to look at the work and see how it speaks to you.
What is the name of the tarot deck that you have created and its origin?
The Lubanko Tarot -- pretty self-explanatory, since I just used my last name! I had a couple of different names going, but declaring it as a deck coming directly from me, the artist, felt the most right.
What inspired you to create this deck?
I have been reading tarot since I was a teenager, and after finding and managing to obtain a beautiful and rare deck (Ayumi Kasai’s “The Moonprincess Himiko Tarot”) when I was 15, I decided that I wanted to make my own. The art was intense and colorful and sensual and it spoke to me, and it made me realize how much I wanted to make my own collection of metaphors and personal stories that could be just as colorful, intense, and sensual.
I didn’t start making my own deck until I felt secure enough in my own artistic voice. I did not want to compromise or feel muffled in any way. In high school, I didn’t feel that my skills were quite there, and in college, I felt that my voice was being muffled both by myself and by the pressure to be a certain way that wasn’t me. So I didn’t start until 2013-2014. By then, I’d been reading for so long and had a good idea of what each card meant to me.
What did you learn through the process of bringing your deck to print?
Everything. I know it’s a broad word, but it really does feel like everything. Deciding that I was going to make a project of this size with the intention that I be happy with every single painting in it meant that there was a lot of planning, a lot of logistics, and a lot of just..intense hard work. It was like crossing a chasm while building the bridge underneath me at the same time.
Planning a multi-year project with 78 paintings, designing the paintings so that they worked as cards, checking accessibility so that colorblind readers could enjoy the deck as well, choosing typefaces, writing a book, typesetting the book, shopping for printers, manufacturers, fulfillment centers, learning how to run a Kickstarter, making my business plan, keeping the finances in line and possible, learning about international shipping, dealing with customs, learning about every possible legal form required to make that happen, setting up a store, finding a way to get the store managed, all the while needing to hold down paying work so that I can keep myself fed while the whole world has been doing what it’s been doing...it’s been a journey.
All while ensuring that I make work that is honest and direct from the heart, and never compromising that...I am quite tired after all of it, I think. Proud, and very tired.
One wonderful thing that happened was that I also solidified my art style while making this deck. I now have a very comfortable process for making paintings. I can and do still deviate from that process as often as possible, as one must to learn and evolve, but I got into a rhythm and found a way to problem-solve artistically in a way that felt really good for me.
How did you create the paintings that are used for your deck?
This deck was a very mixed-media experience. Though the later cards are for the most-part all digital, some of the earlier cards are ink drawings that were then digitally colored/painted in photoshop. I make all of my own digital brushes because I am seeking out a very specific dry brush texture and energy. There is something special about being able to fine-tune your tools exactly how you like them.
What surprised you the most along the way?
I admit I did not expect as many people to be excited about this deck. It’s been a wonderful surprise. When I started this project it was on top of multiple freelance jobs and other paying work--it was very much a personal project in every way. I was juggling so many things that were for other people and I had to make something that was just in my voice and nobody else’s. So the fact that along the way, people started saying, “So, when can I get the deck?” That was wild to me, that people wanted to hear things in my own voice, in my real voice.
Is there a card you really found difficult / easy to create? What do you think that's about?
The Magician I actually made twice-- the first version was made before I had really figured out my art style for the deck. I got about halfway through it and realized that it was drawing on old cliches from my old work that I wanted to be done with. The version of the Magician that’s in the deck was painted on only a few layers (digitally) with a drybrush brush that I made myself, and done very quickly and gesturally. Every part of it felt “right” in the way that the old one hadn't. I wanted the Magician to be in motion, full of potential and activated energy, and I felt so much better with that painting.
How has the process of creating this deck challenged you?
Because this is such a personal work, expectation of disclosure has been a huge challenge. Each card was made with as many visual footholds into readable metaphor as possible. Mountains, chasms, fire, water, nature, giving, taking, blood and love and passion --these can be read clearly to some degree, no matter who you are. But there are other visual things too that are very personal to me that may be confusing to others. As the deck becomes more public, I have to decide how much to share at the expense of my own privacy and person.
It is very strange to make a personal series that also is a tool that other people use. It has also been absolutely delightful seeing people interpret the images in ways that work for them. I love to see the way people read with my cards and the range of stories I get to see with them.
What do you hope this deck brings to the world of tarot?
Above all, I want this to be a deck about the complexity and range of emotion as we move through life. This deck is about feeling things with intensity, often all at once. One thing that I have trouble with is the notion or suggestion that any emotion or point in time is simple, or all one thing. With my deck, I am stacking a lot of emotions and experiences on top of each other because that is often how complex life can be. We can laugh at funerals while feeling the worst grief of our lives, we can feel joy and pain at once, sometimes at equal volumes. This work is about looking that difficulty of complexity directly in the eye and acknowledging it.
I want to hold out my hand to those who feel alone in the complexity of their feelings, and give them a tool of reassurance that I have so badly needed myself in the worst of times. I want people to know they are not alone.
What are you currently working on and/or what's next for you?
The best way to see what I’m up to next is to follow my twitter and instagram handles: @emilylubanko. I’m on twitter just a little bit more, and I like to post works in progress, project ideations, and for better or worse, occasional pictures of my cat.
Right now I am just focusing on getting this deck settled and out into the world. I just opened my own shop on Etsy and am working with the fine folks at White Squirrel to keep that moving. I’m working with getting it available more easily internationally, which is its own set of challenges. Staying indie means I am learning to do this myself, so that is a big focus.
I will also be teaching workshops about deck-making. I just taught my class “Making a Tarot Deck” at the Witch City Tarot Gathering, and I imagine there will be many others to come as well.
I have several different projects coming up next, all sort of hovering on the horizon, but first and foremost I need to rest. This has been seven years of work on top of an extremely tumultuous last couple of years.
Once things settle a bit, I am also looking into some seasonal tarot-related pieces to be sold with the decks -- special edition altar cloths, tapestries, and the like. I really enjoyed designing the Kickstarter screen printed altar cloth, and would like to experiment more with putting my designs on fabric objects. These would be new pieces, as I am fond of my cards but I am excited to make some new works too.
This project really has destroyed any remaining fear I have when it comes to constraining myself to any one medium or type at all, now that I’ve tackled something so large. So that is very exciting! The sky really is the limit.
What resource(s) have you found helpful in further developing your knowledge of tarot and how you use it in your own development?
Truthfully, I am somewhat behind the times, looking around at what is available now! I started tarot at a very different time-- my tools were Rachel Pollack’s 78 Degrees of Wisdom, a library card (I took out every book I could find in every library I could get a ride to), and the old internet of the aughts. In that case, it was Aeclectic tarot (they’ve been up since 1996 and still going and it’s incredible) message boards and deck reviews. By the time I started making my deck I wasn’t really plugged in to any sort of community or modern tarot learning experience because I’d already figured out what I was trying to do.
Nowadays, there are so many incredible tarot readers and teachers available on twitter, instagram, youtube--and likely in your local communities. I think if I were starting now, I would look into my local community and see if there are other readers to learn with. Pair up with a friend or a few-- in person or online! Read some books together, compare notes, enjoy the online communities on instagram and twitter and youtube. I have met some really incredible folks who have such beautiful insights about tarot being so generously shared.
Social media can be exhausting, so my general rule to keep yourself sane is: look for the sincere folks doing their thing, not necessarily the loudest or the flashiest. Also, make sure to thank people for their hard work when they do go out of their way to share their insights!
Thank you E. for taking the time to share some of your story with the Indie Tarot community! Watch this space for more interviews that highlight our amazing creators.