I’ve been in love with letters since I was small. The first time I saw the Printers’ Tarot I felt the same sort of magic that you feel when you open a package of magnetic letters, or buy a new pen, or contemplate a new notebook. Nicole Em began birthing the Printers’ Tarot in November of 2017. As much as we love this deck, and all the magic that went into it, we love Nicole’s method the most. I, personally, love that she used a union print shop in Maine for the production of this deck.
IDR: What was your Gateway Deck?
Nicole: The Universal Waite deck that I got in the late 90s. It had more muted colors than the Rider-Waite deck and that drew me to it.
IDR: What about that deck made you want to stick with tarot?
N: That deck was kind to me—it was a sweet way to begin to learn about tarot.
IDR: How did your Gateway Deck influence your tarot preferences and reading style?
N: I learned to do a celtic cross spread with that deck, and that is a spread that I still use. I have overwhelmingly saved tarot readings for times when I need to do some deep, concentrated reflection—that’s just how it’s been for me. In the last several years I’ve begun to do three card—past, present, future—readings and those also work well for my life.
IDR: Do you still read with/have that deck?
N: Sadly, no.
IDR: What are the pieces of you that you’ve imprinted in your cards and/or book?
N: My nerdiness about typography, for sure, and my love of puns. You’ll also find my belief that tarot should be unintimidating and accessible as a tool if people want to use it: you won’t find long card interpretations and the images aren’t gendered. It feels important to me that people can find their experiences reflected in the cards. I also tried to bring a simple but powerful magical aesthetic to the images; I’m definitely a proponent of making big magic with what you have easily accessible. #kitchenwitch
IDR: If your friends were tarot cards, who would they be?
N: My friends would be the suit of cups: generous and loving. I feel so grateful to have a community of fierce organizers and tender souls around me.
IDR: What is your favorite/most learned from/most drawn to deck?
N: The Wild Unknown deck. It’s so powerful and gorgeously illustrated, and it feels easy to see one’s self reflected in the cards.
IDR: What prompted you to create your own deck/book?
N: It kind of found me, honestly. I’d had the idea for a typographic tarot deck but hadn’t done anything with it—and then I sat down one afternoon and almost the entire Major Arcana came out in a rush in a number of hours. I still kind of can’t believe that it happened. It felt very magical and very special. I finished the Major Arcana over the course of the next couple of days and then spent the next several months working my way through the suits.
IDR: What is your favorite thing about your creation?
N: Watching people react to it. It’s like we’re both in on a magical secret—letters aren’t supposed to be used like this! Folks have, overall, been pretty delighted to flip through it and have talked about being really drawn to it and excited about it, which it so humbling.
IDR: Where do you go for inspiration?
N: Pickwick Independent Press! Pickwick is a collective printshop that I belong to in Portland, Maine, made up currently of about 21 members doing all types of printmaking. That community—organized and loved on by our fearless leader Pilar Nadal—is a source of endless inspiration and encouragement. Everyone is so generous with their skills and knowledge and is genuinely invested in each other’s work. It’s a very special place.
IDR: Tell us about your favorite card, please.
N: The Death card. This is one of the cards that I didn’t edit at all. The way I originally designed it is the way that it stayed. It feels like an optical illusion in some ways: my eye goes back and forth between seeing the letters and seeing the image. And it made sense to me that such a powerful card would have such a striking image. I think often about death and dying—both the literal death of the body and the metaphoric death of ways of being or circumstances. So many of us don’t really talk about death, yet many of us are walking around grieving so much of the time, and remembering that’s true is such an important lens. In Dane Kuttler’s The Book of Solace, they say, “And when you ask, ‘How are you?’ make sure you ask more than once. Once is a courtesy. Twice is a welcome.” I think about that a lot.
IDR: What deck is at the top of your wishlist?
N: The Collective Tarot. I know it’s out of print but I think it is one of the most beautiful decks I’ve ever seen.
IDR: If a Deck granting Magic Being appeared at your door, what is the deck you’d ask them
N: Answer same as above! The Collective Tarot, for sure.
IDR: What is the most difficult card in your deck, and what is the most difficult card for you
to read for yourself?
N: The Ten of Swords is my answer for both—it’s usually an indicator of depression, I find, and that can be a challenging reality to face. It’s a reminder that we have pain that needs tending in ourselves, and I find that taking care of yourself can be much harder than taking care of other people. But I think the strength to be drawn from this card is that it often indicates a time for surrender—to let what is true be true, and then to use that truth to find a way forward.
IDR: Which card do you most identify with?
N: I’m a little shy to say this, but the Star card has been the card that’s showed up as my self-representation card for years. I’m an empathic creature and was obsessed with astronomy from an early age. There’s something about knowing the life cycle of a star that can give some helpful perspective.
IDR: Do you find that tarot pops up in unexpected places?
N: Yes! The Major Arcana feel like they are around always—in the full moon, in a night sky of dazzling stars, in every rally and protest, in the stories and archetypes that thread their way through our lives.
IDR: What is your favorite part of the creation process?
N: The feeling of “flow” when I’m creating, and I lose time because I’m so engrossed. That has to be among the most satisfying feelings I’ve ever had. Also, the process of sharing the work with other people. This was a big project, and I have some wonderful supporters who cheered me on along the way when I got stuck or when I doubted the process. My partner was especially encouraging, and I’m not sure I would have finished this project without their steadfast belief in me. I’m a lucky Pisces.
IDR: Where do your interests lie outside of tarot?
N: I’m a letterpress printer who makes a lot of Left movement art. I’m really interested in the power of art and cultural work in movement-building. I’m also the creator of the anti-capitalist love notes series—since the “you are worth so much more than your productivity” card went viral in 2015 it’s been amazing to connect with people all over the world about that sentiment.
IDR: What are things you’d like us to know about upcoming works?
N: Stay tuned for letterpress prints of some of the cards in the deck, altar cloths, and other pretty things!
IDR: Anything else you’d like us to know?
N: Thanks so much for helping to put this work out in the world! I’m so, so appreciative.
—You can get your own copy of Nicole’s creation, The Printer’s Tarot, at her Etsy shop.