When artist Caroline Clarke first began designing her own deck of tarot cards, she initially thought several years would pass before she held the finished product in her hands. Astonishingly, Clarke completed all 78 cards in less than six months. With her illustrations taking after the traditional Smith-Waite deck, Tarot by Caro, now in its second printing, is enchanting, otherworldly, and adorned with the most regal color palette.
Having studied art history and dance at UC Santa Cruz, Clarke draws inspiration from medieval art, children’s book illustrations, and surrealist visionaries such as the late British-Mexican painter Leonora Carrington. Nevertheless, Clarke’s style is distinctive in its own right.
What is most striking about her artwork is that your eyes, rather than being drawn to a singular focal point, dance between her use of negative space and over every contour, wiggle, and intricacy in her clashing patterns, whether celestial or floral. With something new to notice in every glance, her attention to detail naturally lends itself well to tarot, which mystics and newbies from all corners of the world turn to in an effort to decode the woes and wonders of life.
Clarke originally intended to create a design for each of the 22 cards in the Major Arcana, starting with the High Priestess. For those unfamiliar with tarot, each deck is traditionally divided into two categories: the Major and Minor Arcana. Cards in the Major ― such as Death, Temperance, the Lovers, the Fool, or the Tower ― signify critical events or changes in one’s life, while the Minor cards highlight smaller subtleties and often day-to-day insights, and they coincide with the four natural elements. Once Clarke got the ball rolling on the first category, she harnessed the willpower to see the project all the way through.
Clarke gives partial credit to the pandemic in providing her the time and circumstance to accomplish “what otherwise would have continued to sit on the back burner.” From not being able to go out at night, to raising a family with her husband, Andrew ― who is also an artist and who works under the pseudonym Digital Sunsets ― the couple’s similar passions, aims, and skill sets allowed them to balance caring for their two young children and honing their respective crafts.
Of the 78 cards in a traditional tarot deck, Clarke is quick to answer the one she currently identifies with most. “The card of my life right now is the Fool,” she laughs. “I think a lot of people look at the card and think, ‘Oh, the Fool, the dumbass.’” But there is an optimistic significance behind it, she said, despite what the traditional imagery may suggest.
The card features a jester-like individual who is being held back by a dog from inadvertently stepping off a cliff. Represented by the number zero, the Fool reflects the fleeting liberation of a new beginning and the accompanying joy and ease of not knowing what is to come.
“We’re all fools,” Clark says. “You have to be a fool going into things; otherwise, you’re never going to get them done. It’s sort of the perfect metaphor for parenthood as well ― you just sort of jump into it. No one can really know how hard or how wonderful it is until you jump off that cliff.”
While creating art digitally has allowed for a larger distribution of her work, and with this ambitious endeavor now out of the way, Clarke is looking forward to going back to the basics and picking up a pen and paper for her next project. “I just love the feeling when you give someone a piece of artwork that you made,” she says. “There’s nothing quite like it.”
Even with the recent success under her belt, Clarke is still new to learning the teachings tarot has to offer. A small but grand discovery she made was realizing that while not everyone has the living room space or resources to be a fancy-shmancy art collector, something as personal as a tarot deck can be a wondrous way of incorporating art into one’s daily life.
“And if I can complete a project like this in less than six months,” Clarke says, with a cheerful gleam in her eye, “what’s to stop me from doing anything else?”
To purchase your own dreamy deck of tarot cards and view Clarke’s mesmerizing work, visit quierocaro.com, and for a daily tarot card pull, follow her on Instagram (@quiero_caro).
Every day, the staff of the Santa Barbara Independent works hard to sort out truth from rumor and keep you informed of what’s happening across the entire Santa Barbara community. Now there’s a way to directly enable these efforts. Support the Independent by making a direct contribution or with a subscription to Indy+.