Grief & Hidden Places: Dan Francis on creating the Hide Tarot

Great news! The Hide Tarot has now been published, and is available in the Little Red Tarot shop here.

I quickly realised that, with each card, I was actually healing myself in a sense. I’m now so happy that I can hold this deck in my hand and say “here’s what I went through and here’s a physical embodiment of what I learnt”.

Dan Francis

The Hide Tarot is a new tarot deck currently in production, created by Dan Francis.

Hand-drawn and painted, this black and white deck will resonate with those who love the purity of simple symbolism. Each of the seventy-eight cards bears a single symbol – an animal, an object, an idea – that corresponds to the meaning of the card. In this way, the Hide Tarot can be used as an oracle (it reminds me of Stasia Burrington’s Empty Cup Oracle), as well as a traditional tarot. Even the court cards, so often gendered in traditional decks, follow the same ‘one symbol’ system, allowing total freedom to the reader.

This deck has an intimacy, a simplicity, that feels so personal. I loved noticing which symbols Dan chose for each card, often nodding my head as I found that the illustrations expanded my understanding of the cards’ traditional meanings.

The deck has another layer of meaning, in that its creation was a healing process for Dan as he moved through immense grief. Following the death of his father last year, he threw himself into an art project in the hope of ‘filling the void’ – unsurprisingly, creating these meaningful images became in itself a way of healing and returning to what felt most present and important.

…Seeing the way my dad’s life changed as his health deteriorated made me understand how we truly cannot ever be ready for what the future holds. Before my dad’s diagnosis, I didn’t really think that much about the overall journey of life or worry about the future, but now I do. And that is why I enjoy tarot so much. It helps me, for a brief moment, feel like I can simplify and understand my life.

Below, I spoke with Dan about the healing process of creating this deck, and the philosophy and symbolism behind it. Meanwhile, if you like the Hide Tarot as much as I do, you can view and support the deck on Kickstarter now! And follow the deck’s Instagram page for updates and artwork.

BM: It’s such a gift to be able to channel grief, loss, and of course love, into an artistic endeavour, and it’s such a generous thing to create something others can use too. I wonder if you could share a little about the healing process you mention – at what point did your changing perceptions of life and death start to become a tarot, and how did that feel?

DF: Well, firstly, the period of dad’s illness was not only excruciating but also incredibly busy! I was either kidding myself that I could still go to university or at home looking after him. So, after he died, I found myself with a massive void in my life, with an overwhelming feeling that every second I wasn’t doing something was time on this planet wasted.

However, I was also grieving and, as anyone who’s gone through the grief process knows, it can really limit your capabilities; I felt so tired all the time, I had little to no patience, I found even tiny jobs incredibly difficult and stressful. But, I’ve always loved art and, as a stereotypical Virgo, I love having projects and checklists to work my way through. So I thought that a big art project would be a good way to kill a few birds with one stone. I thought it would give my brain somewhere safe and constructive to go during the time I had off, thinking about the advice and wisdom in the cards. As I was planning what would be what, I quickly realised that, with each card, I was actually healing myself in a sense. I’m now so happy that I can hold this deck in my hand and say “here’s what I went through and here’s a physical embodiment of what I learnt”.

I really appreciate that you’ve named this deck for the quiet, secret places we go to spy on birds and wildlife! Could you tell us about what hides mean to you and how this relates to the deck?

So, there are some birdwatching hides near where I live that my friends and I like to go to. They’re really nothing special, just wooden huts with little windows. However, we visited the other day and my friend and I said to each other that it’s our favourite place in the world.

I think, now, for me, it’s become a symbol more-so than an actual place. Yes, I love to go and sit with my friends there, talk and feel like it’s our little corner of the world. However, that idea of withdrawing and observing has become intertwined with how I felt last year, seeing life from a new angle. And so, when it came to giving my deck a title, I loved the idea of this collections of ideas, images and memories actually in some way belonging to the hide itself. Like, I wonder if other people go there and feel the same way I do.

The Hide Tarot is unusual in that each and every card is presented as an archetype, even the pip cards. Did the symbols come easily to you, or was it a slow process deciding on each one? Do you have any particular ‘favourites’, and if so, which one/s and why?

Deciding on the subjects of the cards was a really fun process. The ones that came the most naturally were the ones based on things in my own life: For example, I wanted to loosely base the Empress and Emperor on my parents. However I swapped the genders because I wanted to bypass the gendered nature of traits like authority, beauty, creativity and logic etc. I’m also really interested in symbolism and mythology. So, for some cards, a Greek myth or a well known symbolic connection came to mind. However, I also wanted to use images that aren’t cookie-cutter tarot symbols so that people can react instinctually and intuitively to each card. Two people may look at a mushroom, for example, and have completely different emotional reactions. And, both of those reactions may differ wildly from the textbook reading of the Five of Cups! But, arguably that’s what makes my deck quite unique. I think it can be used on a variety of levels!

In terms of my personal favourite card, I would have to say, right now, I really like the Sunfish which is the Page of Cups in my deck. I’ve played a lot of Animal Crossing in my time and that’s where I first learnt about the ocean sunfish. When you see it in the ocean, you see its fin, poking, like a shark, out of the water. But when you catch it, you’re surprised to find a cute, awkward fish and say: “I caught an ocean sunfish! My day is brighter already!” Now, to me I think that really fits the ideas present in the Page of Cups but in a way I haven’t really seen in other decks!

I’d love to know about your creative process! How were these cards created, how do you design them, what materials do you use and where do you do your creative work?

I would say the main part of my creative process, generally, is editing. I find it really difficult to produce but I find it much easier to edit! I’m very critical and I can spot flaws very easily. So, I usually do a lot of versions of each card and return to them several times before I can sit back and say I’m finished. For this project, it has been an almost entirely traditional process with some minor exceptions. I mostly used pencil, pen, inks and watercolours. I also created a bunch of textured papers which I used for backgrounds and collaged elements.

Because the deck is black and white, I knew I had more room to experiment with style and media without risking the deck looking too fragmented. Despite the eclectic nature of the subject matter and the processes, I think it still looks cohesive with a distinctive overall look. As for where I like to work, I do a lot just at home or in the garden. I have some really fond memories from last summer, spending whole days outside in the sun, just drawing and painting. I actually only drew one card actually in the hide itself and that was the Parrot! At least it’s a bird!

Anything else you’d like to share Dan?

I’d mostly just really really like to thank you, Beth, for your genuine interest in my project and for the amazing opportunity you’ve given me to share my work with your audience. I’m also really excited that you have a specific section on your site for works by the LGBTQ+ community. I think that’s so important and cool! Oh and I’d also urge people who are interested in my deck to check out my Instagram (@hide.tarot) because I post behind-the-scenes pictures and new art everyday! Thank you!

If you’d like to support the creation of the Hide Tarot, head over to Dan’s Kickstarter page now, where you’ll find a range of supporter options!