I am fascinated with artists. I love watching them work and witnessing their creations taking shape. One of the young artists that has me riveted these days is Shaniqua Leach, the creatrix of the upcoming Afro Drip Tarot. (You might remember Shaniqua from a previous Tarot Bytes podcast.) I’m enjoying seeing this deck come together – and super intrigued with her method (she shares the work in progress on Instagram).
Shaniqua took time recently to sit down and share her creative process and inspiration. Check out our interview:
Q: What is your inspiration for That Afro Drip Tarot?
Shaniqua: To be honest, That Afro Drip Tarot was inspired by the lack of representation I felt in tarot. Now, more than ever, we understand the importance of seeing ourselves reflected back to us in all areas of life, art and spirituality included. When I started reading cards, there were scarce options for people of color looking to see themselves as the central feature in tarot decks. Inclusive decks are nice to have, but having only a few all-black decks to choose from felt like intentional erasure on the part of tarot creators to me. I know there’s more nuance than that, but eventually, I realized I could be the “someone” I was thinking about every time I thought to myself, “I can’t wait until someone makes a black deck with art I love.” So, I just decided to go for it!
Q: Can you share how you’re creating the deck (ex: digital, how you make the images, painting by hand, etc)?
Shaniqua: My plan is to do all the cards in order, starting with the Major Arcana, then the Wands, Cups, Swords, and Pentacles. When I start on a new card, I look at the Rider Waite Smith depiction and ask myself what each card means to me, and what symbols from the Rider art I want to carry over into my own.
All of the art for the deck is created in a digital painting app called Procreate, which is only available on the iPad. I start off with a very rough sketch, just figuring out what elements I want in the card and about where they will be placed. Then I refine the concept until I have clean line art. From there I fill in the flat colors, add some textures where appropriate, then add highlights and shadows to create a semi-realistic look without losing the cute and cartoony element that comes from having clear line art.
Q: On average, how long is it taking you to create each card?
Shaniqua: Typically my cards take about 30 cumulative hours to complete, spread out over a few days to a couple of weeks. It just depends on how much time I have in the day to dedicate to the art and whether or not I’m taking a break.
Q: Are some cards easier to create?
Shaniqua: Definitely. Some cards don’t require as many elements and some compositions are just easier to color. To date, I think my fastest cards have been the Wheel of Fortune and The Star, which took seven hours and seventeen hours respectively.
Q: Which card has been the most challenging to create so far? Why?
Shaniqua: Without a doubt, The Tower! There were two reasons for that. First, deciding on a modernized version of the scene on the Rider Waite Tower card was really tough. We don’t exactly have nobles wearing crowns living up in towers in the suburbs. But the second reason was more spiritual/internal. While working on the Major Arcana, it felt like I was living the lesson of each card in some way. To me, The Tower is about being forced by Spirit to have something you’ve built up and put energy into stripped back down to the foundation to force you to see that it was unstable. I was too attached to the idea of people approving of my designs before they were even done. And when several people openly voiced their dislike and disapproval of the concept I chose for The Tower (one person going as far as declaring they would not use the card if they purchased the deck), I honestly doubted I would finish the deck at all. But my desire was stronger than my self-doubt and I forced myself to go with the design/concept I wanted instead of seeking anyone else’s approval. It was a very difficult lesson to learn, but totally worth it in the end.
Q: What is your advice for anyone who wants to create a deck?
Shaniqua: Definitely, get clear on your reason why. This kind of goes back to the answer to the previous question, but if you aren’t clear on the reason behind why you would take on such a huge project, the inevitable hurdles you’ll come across may actually stop you in your tracks. Seventy-eight is not a small number. When you take into consideration that deck creators also have to think about packaging and whether or not to include a guidebook, your reason for doing so should be strong and meaningful enough to you that you’ll be able to keep going, even when willpower is low or running out and you aren’t getting the responses you want or expect. The first person who should fall in love with your deck is you. Full stop. Anything less, and it’s just not worth it.
Q: What is your hope for this tarot deck? What impact would you like it to have on the tarot community or folks who want to learn to read tarot?
Shaniqua: I would love for That Afro Drip Tarot to become a deck that new and seasoned tarot readers of color are drawn to and feel comfortable working with. I tried to modernize the imagery while still drawing elements from the original Rider Waite Smith cards to keep some of Pamela Coleman Smith’s amazing magick. Even before I knew anything about the meanings of the cards, I could tell the pictures I was looking at were important and special.
I hope my art can inspire the same feeling in others. Ideally, That Afro Drip Tarot will be a deck that folks come to know as fairly easy to learn to read with, while still packing a strong enough punch for vets to enjoy using as well. And I hope other artists of color can feel empowered to add their own visual interpretations of the tarot archetypes in future decks. I think the language of tarot can only become richer the more voices and perspectives we have adding to it.
Q: Of course the big question: when are we going to be able to grab a copy?
Shaniqua: There will be a Kickstarter campaign to fund the deck in early August 2021! You can follow the progress of the deck as I create the cards on my Instagram, @What_Shaniquas_Into, which is where the announcement of the launch will take place as well.
About the artist: Shaniqua Leach is a tarot reader, writer, digital artist, YouTuber, and an all-around creative individual. She discovered her love for the tarot in 2015 and has since made a name for herself in the online tarot community with her occasional collective readings and posting the artwork for her upcoming deck, That Afro Drip Tarot. You can connect with Shaniqua on her website, WritingWithTarot.com, or through social media, where she goes by What Shaniqua’s Into (YouTube), @what_shaniquas_into (Instagram), and @whatniquasinto (Twitter)
I’m so honored Shaniqua took the time from her busy life to share her work. I am sure I speak for most folks: I cannot wait for this deck to complete! Yay!
© Theresa Reed | The Tarot Lady 2021
images provided by Shaniqua Leach