Mariza Ryce Aparicio-Tovar on loving the land & creating the Gentle Tarot

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An upbringing in ceremony and indigenous practice solidified my relationship to the spirit world and to the earth at an early age. When honoring and respecting our natural environment we also honor our ancestors and future generations. Through the use of specific animals and conveying the flow of energy in the illustrations, the Gentle Tarot seeks to reconnect and remind us of the unconditional love found in that infinite cosmic space. There, I believe, lies our healing and power.
– Mariza Ryce Aparicio-Tovar

Inspired by our natural environment, indigenous artist Mariza Ryce Aparicio-Tovar explores issues of mental health and self-love with hopes of advocating care for our planet and ourselves so that collectively we may experience our full potential.

Mariza reached out to me a couple of weeks back to introduce her in-progress tarot deck, the Gentle Tarot. As I read her email and looked through the beautiful images she shared, I felt the gentleness of this project, its groundedness in compassion and connection to the land.

In her email, Mariza wrote:

“The Gentle Tarot has been the strongest journey of my illustration career. As an indigenous woman, it has been natural for me to incorporate people of color and the indigenous spiritual values that I grew up with into my work. The Gentle Tarot is for anybody wanting some gentle, loving support. The art is directly inspired by Alaska’s Aleutian islands, where I live.”

I reached out to Mariza to talk more about the Gentle Tarot, her creative process, and the spiritual values that that shape her work.


Hi Mari! How’s it going today in Unalaska?

Hi Beth! It’s going great! Been busy with sketching The Gentle Tarot and enjoying another glorious overcast day. I’m a sucker for the low-lying fog, hugging the treeless rolling hills. Plus the salmon need rain to get home and the blueberries need it to fatten up! Very thankful to be here.

I looked up the Aleutian Islands on a map… wow. What an incredible landscape – no wonder you are so creatively inspired. Can you tell us a little about your relationship to the land you live on, and how this comes through in your art?

I first arrived to Unalaska Island in 2017 for summer fieldwork and then moved here permanently at the end of 2018. The fieldwork involves living remotely for two months, basically camping with one other person on the edge of the Bering Sea, collecting data on wild salmon. I had worked in many other remote locales in southwest Alaska, but never a place so healing as this. Without knowing the town (60 miles away) or the small community at all, I knew I needed to experience all four seasons on this sacred land. Unangan people have lived here for 9000 years. The energy is felt.

When you live this remotely, it’s inevitable – you form an intimate relationship with the flora and fauna and this heavily influences my work. We don’t have many paved roads here, walk in any direction for a few minutes and you’re in wild tundra. The land provides so much – wild greens, berries, medicinal herbs, and countless wild flowers. Nature has always been my guide and council. I feel that living in the Aleutians has allowed me to be in constant contact with my source and this has fostered growth, both creatively and personally. (And she sure breathes and shakes here! Lots of volcanic and seismic activity, but that just adds to the experience.)

You mentioned incorporating Indigenous spiritual values into your artwork – how do you express your cultural heritage in your work?

An upbringing in ceremony and indigenous practice solidified my relationship to the spirit world and to the earth at an early age. When honoring and respecting our natural environment we also honor our ancestors and future generations. Through the use of specific animals and conveying the flow of energy in the illustrations, the Gentle Tarot seeks to reconnect and remind us of the unconditional love found in that infinite cosmic space. There, I believe, lies our healing and power.

The innocence and strength of the animals I portray are my attempt to spark familiarity, respect, and humility. I believe we are one big family – plants, four-legged, feathered, and finned. Heal your self, heal the earth.

You wrote: “The Gentle Tarot is for anybody wanting some gentle, loving support.” The name of this deck – the Gentle Tarot – will feel like a soothing balm to many. What’s the philosophy behind your deck?

Tarot is literally magic to me. It’s a portal, direct access, a conversation with your spirit guides. Spirit, like mentioned above, is unconditional love. Readings lift you higher and push you deeper. The relationship you form with your tarot practice feels like a relationship with a very close friend. My tarot friend has always felt gentle, feminine, warm, and patient. I hadn’t come across artwork that portrayed this kind of relationship, so I decided to go for it and make one myself.

Ultimately, we are all held and supported, but it is too often that we forget. I would like the Gentle Tarot to be a loving refuge of gentle reminders and nudges with colorful art that lifts the spirit. I hope to illuminate the direct relationship we have with our natural environment, allowing us to feel supported, but also connected to its wellbeing. The figures are mostly nude because I hope when we approach this deck we can strip free of our reservations and expectations. Naked the way we were born, in full dialogue with our spirits’ source.

I’d love to know about your creative process. What medium do you use, what’s your workspace like, and how do you approach working on your art?

My creative process is generally to meditate on a feeling and allow it to manifest. I have been revisiting individual cards and letting them soak in, giving the image enough space to surface on it’s own. I see specific colors or the start of compositions in my mind and then let them create themselves. The process itself has been healing and motivating in different ways with each individual card.

Lately I have been working digitally with an iPad Pro, relatively new to me, as I was mostly pencil, watercolor, and digital with Photoshop prior to summer 2019. My workspace tends to be the coziest spot I can find, needs to be warm. I am preferably in sweatpants and a hoodie. Starting after breakfast is best, although the majority of my work is completed very late at night. My punk a** cat, JoJo, and supportive husband are also essential elements of my workspace.

For two months, I was working on the remote salmon river. While out there I was able to make much more time for my art, versus being in town working the full-time office job. It is my ultimate dream to take time off of work to focus on my art.

Part of my process has also been to get feedback from loved ones, including my mom, husband, and my summer salmon co-worker (all fellow artists). They’ve actually been pretty instrumental with details, like anatomy and proportions, that I would have missed.

Is there a card that’s particularly special to you at the moment?

The Moon card has been my favorite. It happens to be the first card I illustrated. However, the Tower has done something special for me that I don’t have words for yet. An androgynous person sits on the tip of an Aleutian island, long grass is wind blown, tsunami waves hit the sides and fire climbs. They sit on their own coals from burning what they no longer need, enlightened by the lightning strikes. Maybe I just love upheaval or really want drastic change in this moment.


When ready, there will be a Kickstarter for this deck! Meanwhile, you can follow Mariza’s journey with the Gentle Tarot on Instagram @mariinthesky, and check out her Etsy shop Mari in the Sky. We’ll also be sure to mention the Kickstarter in our #Decklust newsletter.

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