We got to hang out with the amazing creators of The Fountain Tarot- Jonathan Saiz, Andi Todaro, and Jason Gruhl during a recent NYC visit. We discussed the collaborative process of creating the tarot deck, takeaways from their conversation with Lindsay Mack on tarot, entrepreneurship + the magic of creative energy at Space Ninety 8 last month, and also learn what the trio has on the horizon for the new year!
Tell us more about yourselves, who you are, where you are from, what you do.
Jonathan: I'm a professional artist currently based in Denver Colorado- I like to experiment with all different types of mediums and exhibition installations but I find myself dreaming more of continuing to make work that doesn't lose its potent magic when it is duplicated - The creative publishing world keeps calling me.
Andi: I'm from Aurora, Colorado and now live in Denver, Colorado. I'm a life muse and creative zealot. Creating from a place of authenticity is one of the most difficult things to do, and it's challenging to not be a mirror with so many inputs every day, all the time. My motto, "Nothing earns truth simply by being what already appears to be." is the basis for all thinking and living. Reinvention, confrontation, and humor are the reasons to make art that inspires a world that is potentially better to exist in, maybe even just for myself. My favorite place in the world is probably in the sun at a coffee house or park. Most of the time I spend alone making things, reading, or sleeping. I dream intensely in every different manner, so waking life is often in competition with that. I'm extremely sensitive but I think the most beautiful thing about living is experiencing everything to the extremes and every shade in-between. I've never met an uninteresting person, because everyone is unique and understands their own experience better than anyone, I just love to hear those stories, and so reading tarot gets me a lot of good ones.
Jason: I’d say at my core I’m a spiritualist. I’m interested in all things spiritual and helping people connect to that part of their life. And I love people. I love travel and language and anything that helps me connect with each unique experience of what it means to be a human on this planet. I was born in North Carolina, raised in Minnesota and have lived in Colorado for the past 20 years. My background and schooling are in Psychology, English and Special Education and for most of my adult life, I was an Educator for kids with autism. I founded a school for children with autism and developmental disabilities called The Joshua School, and I was the Director there for ten years. But I had also always wanted to be a writer, and a little over four years ago, I left the school and moved to Mexico with Jonathan (now my husband) where he painted, and I wrote, The Fountain Tarot. That ultimately changed the trajectory of my life and since then I’ve been writing full-time, mostly children’s books but also a few new projects related to The Fountain.
How did the idea to create The Fountain Tarot deck come about?
Jonathan: It's a rare thing to find an art series to obsess over that really is an entire universe of inspiration unto its own. The Fountain Tarot deck kept nudging itself onto my list of potential creations with and finally I trusted the inner voice and allowed it to become my number one obsession.
Andi: I've always wanted to make a deck. It was on my bucket list, but I have a habit of shying away from projects that will take years to complete. Jonathan often would get readings from be between crazy trips away to other countries. He'd ask where his career was going, or whether or not to leave, or whether to stay etc. Those were really sweet moments in our relationship. Eventually Jonathan met Jason, Jason is also a reader. They were asking the tarot what series Jonathan should make next, and apparently the cards dropped all over the floor! I wasn't there for that. So, Jonathan wanted to make a deck, but with a spin, and then brought our three elements together to make it a reality. It was in such an infancy at the very beginning, it grew into what it is as we made it and still continues to change.
Jason: Andi had been coaxing Jonathan to create a deck for years, but I think the final push was a vacation Jonathan and I took to Mexico. He had just come off of a series of large paintings and was craving a series that was smaller, but still cohesive. I had thrown a Tarot deck (Robin Wood) in my backpack for the trip and we pulled it out to “ask the cards”, and before I could even set up a spread, Jonathan gasped and said, “I’m making a Tarot deck…and you’re writing it, and Andi’s designing it.” And as with most of Jonathan’s ideas, that’s exactly what happened. The notion of The Fountain itself is an expression of that force of which everything is a part. Like water in a fountain, it comes from itself and goes back into itself, but it’s whole and complete in and of itself.
What was the creative process like?
Jonathan: I can barely remember actually painting all of the 79 oil paintings- I remember constant passionate talks with Andi and Jason about how important all the details of cohesion and spiritual depth were to us. I remember feeling overwhelmed but energized for the full year it took to create it - luckily, we were able to live in a sleepy Mexican village with few distractions besides vast beaches, whales jumping and endless starry nights for the process so a magical bubble of creativity was built just for The Fountain Tarot creative process.
Andi: Whew. It's been a really long and wonderful and crazy ride. We started talking about it in July of 2013, logo was solidified Nov 2013 after Jonathan and Jason had already moved to Mexico, they had been there for 8 months writing and painting when we all created and launched the Kickstarter in July of 2014. Almost half the paintings were completed and about the same of the booklet at this time, still were deciding on the box, but the typography and the backs I created in Mexico at the same time. After the paintings were done, we completed photographing only a few them in Denver, and laid out the completed edited book, and designed the box. It was sent to print in March, proofs in April, and then production and shipping. Launch party July of 2015. Every bit of the project was a collaboration, we all had input on every aspect, but each of us had final say in our respective roles, but it's an enormous undertaking not just creating it, but then managing the business of it. Thousands of orders, emails, thank you notes, interviews, pictures, marketing, meetings etc. And then, when we licensed the work to Roost Books, it became a different kind of process, they're handling the mailing of packages, which maybe leaves a small hole in our heart to not speak directly to the people using our deck, but they've been wonderful making sure that we preserve the spirit of what we grew from the ground up with the intentionality of a DIY project, just magnified for the main stream.
Jason: One of the most magical, eye-opening, and labor-intensive experiences of my life. Both Jonathan and Andi are incredible forces: Jonathan for his vision, optimism, and all-around “outside the norm” view of the world, and Andi for her appreciation of beauty, high standards, and insanely meticulous execution of anything she works on. The writing and painting began it all, of course, (though Andi created the logo very early on so we could pray to it daily – haha), but very quickly, we worked together to make sure that the visuals and text informed each other, and we made changes based on what the other was doing. When we had enough created, Andi came in and we did the whole process all over again making sure the art, text and design balanced and played well together. Over time, it became its own thing, something distinct from each of our individual contributions, and at that point, we were able to let the deck itself guide the decisions.
Did you start with more defined ideas of what each card would be or did things happen more organically?
Jonathan: Jason was the architect of information and meaning - I would take what he created and allow all of the paintings to grow at the same time so it was a clear and cohesive world with nothing more or less important that the rest.
Andi: Jason could answer this better, but, I think it's more interesting to say how they came about. The deck is based on some of the symbolism and structure of the Rider Waite deck, but distilled. The process of getting to that though explained easily by saying Jason wrote the book and Jonathan painting from those descriptions was that there were meltdowns, and complete revelations in every step of this process. You can start with something in mind and have it teach you as you get there, only to find that you got to where you were going but you took a completely different path. I've never felt more sadness or joy than during the making of The Fountain Tarot. Most of those experiences didn't directly have to do with the deck, more to do with the relationships around it. You really have to trust and love the people you're collaborating with when you're working on something as spiritual, meaningful and aesthetic as this. People have different opinions and different tolerances. I think it's the same story for most deeply meaningful creative projects with friends. And, stress- the stress of not knowing where you're going, the stress of putting all this time and love into something you appreciate deeply but no one may pay any attention to at the end, the stress of each other and our neurosis. And, almost every card in there between the written word, the painting, and the conversations about all of that, probably is at least a full week each of our lives.
Jason: The beginning of this process was pretty intense, but the initial legwork allowed it to be more organic as we went along, and for The Fountain to take on its own voice. I created some matrices, one for the visuals and one for the meanings, and compared various decks across time, from the earliest Italian decks, to the Marseilles and Rider-Waite, to many popular contemporary decks. Then, I distilled each card to its essence, comparing what had remained constant across centuries, what had varied, and what was the overall feel or vibe of each card (0% = sheer dread, 100% = sheer joy – a system created by Jonathan). Using that essence, we set about creating The Fountain’s version of that essence in today’s world. Jonathan then started painting from that distillation. The text was created through a similar process and then Andi’s design brought the whole thing to life. Our goal was that anyone could access the deck and relate to it on a personal level, whether they were a seasoned reader or someone who had just heard about Tarot for the first time.
How did your respective backgrounds help shape the deck?
Jonathan: For an undertaking, this vast you need a real obsessive love for creating - my journey as a full-time artist over the last decade has taught me to allow myself to stay committed even when the creative process feels empty or confusing. The three of us trusted each other’s talents and voices so we created a pretty special magical triangle of interconnected talents.
Andi: I'm usually working so hard and fast that there isn't any time to prepare for it, it's just already happening. I've always wanted to spend more time in contemplation about what has already happened, in a way, that's preparing for what will come next, but never seem to have that fortitude. For divination, it's spontaneous, I get hot flashes, like it's time to read now! Or, you have to take a bath and light candles and just let it all flow out all the imagery and energy of what's trying to come up out through you. Waking dreaming, I don't know if that's a thing, but seems to be a practice of mine. I casually study numerology, palmistry, and I love phrenology and graphology- more of the pseudo-sciences. I haven't really ever combined them. I was really just a casual reader before we made The Fountain Tarot and now I do readings all the time. Creating something that would give someone else the feeling of support and calm that I know I need a lot of the time really informed the design.
Jason: Andi describes this really well, but in general, Jonathan is the dreamer, Andi is the voice of reason, and I’m the spiritual compass and communicator. I think without all three of those aspects, it just couldn’t have happened in the way it did. And it has re-iterated to me the importance of collaboration in being able to get out of our own way sometimes. We all brought certain skills, but more importantly, it was our ability to let each other shine and to surrender some of our own ideas, etc. when the project called for it, getting our egos out of the way, that really made the difference. And we are all really strong-willed creative people, but we trusted each other, and watching that process evolve over time was beautiful…maddening at times, but ultimately beautiful.
Tell us more about what your takeaways were from your conversation with Lindsay Mack about Tarot, Entrepreneurship + the Magic of Creative Energy.
Jonathan: The world is difficult to navigate - there are SO MANY voices coming from all directions - the real key to unlocking your personal magic is to create a bubble for yourself where all you hear are your own true voices of inspiration and optimism. There are no real existing structures for what your unique magic can become - so you have to jump in and create it all for yourself with no permission given from the outside world. It was inspiring to hear Lindsay Mack talk about trusting that kind of singular inner voice and following it to unknown places.
Andi: I was so humbled that people were taking notes. It's sincerely such an honor to be respected with someone else's attention, showing with their body how they wish to hear your point of view. I believe in helping, in musing, in showing people to a place with no lies. Lindsay Mack is doing the same and I'm astounded by her mind. She's so easy to talk to and made me feel really comfortable. I like people one on one usually, a big crowd like that is somewhat overwhelming. We were just glad to be there and talk to everyone. And, everyone we met was so nice.
Jason: Well, what can you say about being with Lindsay Mack for a night that isn’t just pure gratitude? She’s one of the most interesting, fun and authentic people we’ve had the pleasure of working with, and whatever she’s involved with seems to just go really, really well. The biggest takeaways from that evening for me were around competition and the paradox of believing in yourself and your voice while not taking yourself too seriously. New York is this intensely competitive environment, and we had a lot of people come up afterwards with this feeling of a weight being lifted, or at least a new view being possible because we talked about focusing on quality, authenticity, voice, and impact rather than ego, competition and strategic maneuvering. Those things aren’t inspiring, and they end up killing ideas, and the world keeps regurgitating the same old tired “successes”. You have to be willing to take chances and look foolish, to create what it is that is there for you to create. It may be crap, or part of your process towards something else, but it might also be beautiful and worth sharing. And I think people appreciated being reminded of that.
What projects do you have on the horizon for the upcoming year?
Jonathan: A collaborative painting project with artist Wes Magyar called "7000 Reasons" (@7000reasons on instagram) where we are trying to paint 7000 oil paintings that express only pure joy, optimism, silliness, love, happiness and anything that is the opposite of cynicism. We want to change the collective energy of the world by focusing on positivity in our work and we think this 7-month project and subsequent book made from it can do that in a small but powerful way.
Andi: A puppet show commercial for a theater, a few more surprise gag gifts, dancing on the street more, The Fountain Tarot Journal, continuing the development of the Fountain Gem and Mineral deck, and selling as many copies of Cats, Sharks, Unicorns and Laser Beams coloring books as I can.
Jason: The Fountain Tarot has a journal coming out next year through our beloved publisher, Roost Books. We are working on a gem and mineral deck that is going to be knock-your-socks off gorgeous. Personally, I have a number of kids’ books that I’m working on, one (soon to be published by Shambhala Publications/Bala Kids) that shows how we are connected to all things on our planet and in life. I’ve got a picture book about a boy with autism on a quest in the big city, and I’m in the midst of writing a vegetarian kid’s cookbook, with an incredibly talented foodie friend of mine in Denver (Rebecca Treon), that connects kids back to their food and has a ton of delicious multicultural recipes from around the world.
Purchase a copy of The Fountain Tarot
Photos: Heidi Lee