• Charlie Claire Burgess

Transcript: Tarot & Oracle Deck Creation PART 2 with Coleman Stevenson

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Episode 22: Oracle and Tarot Deck Creation, Part 2, with Coleman Stevenson of The Dark Exact


Coleman: (Preview clip over theme music.) I get to do what I want. Every decision is mine to make. Flip side of that: every decision is mine to make.

Coleman: (Preview clip over theme music.)You wouldn't make your kitchen faucet design without going and turning on and off a bunch of kitchen faucets!

Coleman: (Preview clip over theme music.) You're not just making art. You're making a tool that is going to potentially have a major impact in someone else's personal wellbeing.

Charlie: Hello and welcome to The Word Witch Podcast, where we talk about tarot, magic, and belief, and try to bust our thinking out of the binary through conversations with folks making magic from the margins. I'm [00:01:00] Charlie Claire Burgess, and I'm the creator of Fifth Spirit Tarot, the witch behind The Word Witch, and your tour guide on this queer hayride to tarot town.

Today we have part two of my interview with Coleman Stevenson, the creator of The Dark Exact Tarot, the Personal Oracle, the Vitriolic Tarot, and the Fairy Tale Oracle series. In this second half of our conversation, Coleman and I get into some of the aspects of being independent deck creators and micro business runners. We get into some of the really helpful, I hope, logistics of what all goes in to creating independent decks and carrying them from start to finish.

If you haven't listened to part [00:02:00] one, I highly recommend that you go ahead and do that first, because Coleman shares some wonderful, wonderful stuff about the actual creation, like the concept, the art, the organization of tarot and oracle decks.

And in this episode, we get more into the practical side of things and talk about production, talk about the responsibility of the decisions that you make when you're creating these decks. We talk about, uh, I talk about opinions that I have about certain deck features! (Laughs) It is a fun and enlightening and I hope helpful conversation for anyone who is curious about making their own deck, or who is just a fan of indie decks and wants to know more about what goes on all the time on the back end.

Coleman also stuck around to answer a couple more questions for me that will be, or that already [00:03:00] are available on my Patreon page, patreon.com/thewordwitchtarot, where you can support the podcast, because it’s a free podcast with no advertisers, and you'll get some cool, free, exclusive things there. Also, I am starting to offer transcriptions of all of these episodes. I'm starting with the new ones, newest ones first, and I'm going to try to keep up with them as they come out while working backwards to transcribe the backlog of The Word Witch Podcast episodes.

You can find the transcriptions that are available so far, which are literally just of these two episodes with Coleman at the moment, at my website-- it's under the podcast tab, you'll see transcripts there -- in order to make this offering more accessible to people who are hard of hearing, or people who just, you know, [00:04:00] don't like podcasts and would rather read things.

And so if you would like to support that effort because transcription costs money -- like literally, like I use like a software to do it because doing it all by hand is even more time consuming, so we use a software, the software costs money, and then I have to go through and edit it, even with the transcription software, because no transcription software I have ever found yet can ever transcribe the word "tarot" or the word "divination" for that matter.

So in transcribing these episodes, It's spelled “tarot” as anything, uh, anything from, you know, just T A R O, just “tarot” without the T on the end—that’s easy. But then like really weird hilariously troubling ones like "terror" instead of tarot or "desperation" instead of divination. So I have to actually go back through and read the thing [00:05:00] to make sure that it all makes sense and the correct words are there.

And so if you want to support that effort, please, just, yeah, join my Patreon. You can do it for two bucks a month. It's less than a cup of coffee. It's probably less than what you should be tipping your baristas. So thanks so much!

And without further ado, let's go ahead and get straight into part two of my rich conversation with the incredible Coleman Stevenson of The Dark Exact. Please check out the show notes for the places that you can find Coleman and buy her decks and see her artwork and read her poetry.

Here you go!

(Transition music plays.)

Charlie: Okay. So this leads me into questions about being an independent deck creator. So [00:06:00] Coleman and I are both independent deck creators. Coleman has way more experience with it than I do-- I don't even know how many. Is it half a dozen, a dozen? Like, I don't even know how many decks you've created.

Coleman: I mean, it's the little Fairytale Oracle decks are so small that, you know, they don't have a lot of cards in them, although that doesn't really change--the whole production process is exactly the same if you have 13 cards or you have 79 cards. So yeah.

Charlie: And so I was thinking that it would be nice to talk about what it's like, what all goes into being an independent deck creator and the process of that. And then running your own business, shipping these things, just all of the parts. Especially cause people don't know. They don't know what goes into it. And so to share that for the folks out there and for anybody interested in making their own or publishing their own decks.

So I was wondering, Coleman, what are some of your favorite things about being an [00:07:00] indie deck creator, and what are some of your least favorite things about it?

Coleman: You know, I was thinking about this to prepare for today, and everything I thought of, I realized, it's both good and bad. Right? So for instance, doing it all myself. It's great because I get to do whatever I want. Well, I mean, within reason and resources, but I get to do what I want. Every decision is mine to make. Flip side of that: every decision is mine to make.

So the, just the fear involved in making the wrong choice, or having a typo, or just anything like that, getting something wrong. The fear over, you know, cause I ship every deck myself. Right? I don't have helpers. Like my company is me. I work with a production company--a printer, for the books. I work with a printer for the decks. I worked with a [00:08:00] box company here in Portland for the box this time, for the new edition.

But like when it comes to putting them all together and sending them to people who order them, I'm doing that myself. And so every time one of those goes out in the mail, I'm just like, oh my God, it's not gonna make it. Oh my God.

Charlie: And that does happen sometimes.

Coleman: Oh, it happens. Yeah.

Charlie: And then we have to deal with that.

Coleman: And it just, I just live in fear of all of that, because it's up to me to handle it every time. And I want people to be happy. I want them to like what they got, or at least have a good experience in getting the thing, not have there be any kind of impediments because you know that these things are not inexpensive. They're not cheap products.

And I respect that people are finding ways to participate in this thing that I am doing as an artist. I really appreciate that. So I want to do a really good job with customer service [00:09:00] because, one, I know what it feels like when that doesn't happen. And two, you know, I just really, really mean it. I am making this thing for you and you and you and you, so you actually wanting to have it? I need to make sure that that goes as smoothly as possible.

You know, I also worry a lot about the longevity. Like what is the lifespan of any one of these deck projects, right? Like, is there a point at which these cards become irrelevant. Like they're not what people need anymore, you know? So every time I print, it's this question of, okay, is this last printing? How many should I get? I don't want to get too many because what if they don't sell?

Also, I can't get too many because I literally have no place to put them. I live in a small apartment. Where are they going to go? I mean, you're like, you built furniture out of your boxes. Our friend James from Pixel Occult, oh my God, like a path through the boxes in his place. Like it's -- mine are all stashed very cleverly. [00:10:00]

You can't see them. Can you?

Charlie: You're looking at the closet, so I'm thinking--

Coleman: They're not in there.

Charlie: Are they behind all of your books?

Coleman: They're not.

Charlie: Where? They are.

Coleman: No.

Charlie: Where are they?

Coleman: I don't know.

Charlie: Are you sitting on them?

Coleman: Uh-uh. No.

Charlie: Did you put them in the wall? (Coleman cackles gleefully in background.) Do you have to, like, punch secret holes in your wall to like get them from behind? Are they up there?

Coleman: Mmm-mm. Nope. (Coleman cackles again.)

Charlie: Coleman.

Coleman: So anyway, to illustrate the point that like it's an issue!

Charlie: You have to get clever!

Coleman: So it's-- yeah. So the good and bad, like every bit of it, too, like, so the outreach even, the positive of that is that, when I'm doing marketing for lack of a better word, when I'm getting the word out about these decks by myself, it becomes this communal thing in that I'm building community through doing that. I'm reaching out to people, I'm collaborating with people, we're helping each other out to [00:11:00] spread the word. I really love how that feels.

However, that's limited scope. So if I was working with a publishing company, they'd have a whole marketing campaign. Also just their distribution is massive. I cannot possibly touch that as an independent maker. I can't also, I don't like the sales aspect of any of this. I just want to make these things, right? But I also have to make a living because this is the only way I live. This is how I survive. You know, I teach also here and there. But this is my life.

Charlie: Same. All of, all of my, I mean, I have a partner and he has income, but all of my income comes from the sales of the deck and the book and the altar cloth. And then a little bit also from teaching. But like, that's the bulk of it.

Coleman: What people don't realize, too, I think is that we're not just saying, like, okay, I'm making these things, this is my job, so how much can I possibly mark this thing up [00:12:00] so that I can make a living? That isn't what we're doing. And the unfortunate truth is that when we're operating at the level that we are, so that we aren't walking on decks because we've got so many to get the price down, right? We're doing small batch printing, which means the decks cost a lot, several dollars more per unit. Like they--

Charlie: Oh, not even several, I would say like at least $10 more per unit. Like, the base price of deck would have to be in order to sell it for $20? Like you can get a lot of decks from large publishers?

Coleman: Yeah, you'd be ordering like six to 10,000 at least.

Charlie: Oh, at least! I think probably more than 10,000.

Coleman: I've not even looked at those kinds of numbers because it's so out of the realm of possibility for me.

Charlie: I would have to have a warehouse.

Coleman: Yeah. Also just the, so yes, it makes them less per deck, but still, the amount of money you'd have to have upfront to order that quantity in the first place? Is like--


Charlie: Astronomical.

Coleman: It's unknowable to me. I mean, I don't, you know, that's not my life.

Charlie: It's “pay for your house in cash” money.

Coleman: Yeah, right? Exactly. Yes, yes, yes. So trying to keep it small, trying to keep it under my control means that printing costs are high. And then, you know, I want to have a nice box instead of a tuck box that falls apart after you open it twice.

You know, the new edition, the box for this was a real treat. Like I waited six years to get to have this box, this ultimate beautiful, incredible box. Right? And I found all the other ways to cut corners to not do that up to this point so I could keep prices down. But at this point I wanted to see what I consider to be the ultimate version of this deck. It's my baby.

So anyway, it's just all the things, the printing costs, making sure that it's actually good quality. So, we're not wanting to just simply reproduce these. We want to make them feel like [00:14:00] cards. We want them to be heavy enough, but then they've still got to shuffle, right? So like, my newer addition is on the thicker side, but I can shuffle it. I mean, I shuffle it and still do a bridge with it, but it shuffles good with a side shuffle, you know? So yeah.

Charlie: All of these things are considerations that like, I mean, from what I've noticed personally, just for myself, is that most of the indie decks that I own, the card stock is better. And I'm not talking about super-duper thick card stock, because there is a line where the card stock gets so thick that it's unusable. And like, you know, sometimes you buy a deck and you're like, I don't think that the people who made this actually have used it. Because it's really hard to use. It's either really thin card stock or it's super-duper thick or it's made out of a material that's just like weird--

Coleman: Right, like or it feels too plastic or it just feels like a piece of paper. [00:15:00]

Charlie: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Coleman: No, I don't like that.

Charlie: Or it's like a piece of cardboard or something? Like I've had that, too. And I'm like what? It's like a particle board or something.