Drawing Cards – Storyboarding the Tarot

Guest Author: Eric Slade Roberson of Shift Your Spirits

A few months ago, Slade was kind enough to invite me onto his site as a guest author, where I took the opportunity to summarize the How to Choose a Religion series. (That summary has things in it that I still haven’t gotten around to here on my own blog!) I jumped at the chance to have Slade write something for the Druid Journal in return.

Slade is an author of tremendous energy and creativity, and an experienced medium and Reader as well. In Drawing Cards he describes a new way of using the Tarot, one that draws directly from the images in the cards — in my opinion, the greatest strength of the Tarot.

Storyboarding the Tarot is an advanced way of working with Tarot decks, doing card readings for yourself, and interpreting the readings in an intuitive manner that does NOT require advanced knowledge of traditional meanings of the cards. Storyboarding is a way of presenting a visual narrative in crude, sketch format – mapping a sequence of still images – frames. Comic books and graphic novels are essentially an intentional, finished, polished form of storyboarding. Storyboarding is used by film makers as an outline or guide for making finished products like movies or television commercials. Storyboards are a standardized development format – you can find sketch diaries and notebooks with pre-printed storyboard pages in better office and art supply stores. Plain, unlined paper is fine.

Sketching Your Readings

The Tarot is a narrative tool – a pictographic story-telling device that lends itself well to this modern work-flow. Storyboarding the Tarot is a universal journaling exercise; the process works with:

  • any deck
  • any experience level

It’s particularly effective for doing solo-readings.

Advanced Concept for Any Level of Experience

I like this reading process because it can work for a wide range of Tarot Experience Levels – from the Beginner, just starting to learn the individual card meanings, to the Old Pro, who may be bored, stuck in a reading rut, or just looking for a fresh approach that allows readings to feel new again.

The creative process of doing Tarot card readings is enhanced, while the “rules” are relaxed.

Throw Out The Book

Storyboarding or Sketch-journaling your Tarot Readings down-plays dependence on the book of card meanings and “canned” interpretations that come along with your deck. I’ve been playing with Tarot cards for almost three decades now, and I’ve run across a spectrum of serious Tarot Masters – some are strict traditionalists who stick with well-known spreads; others have their own quirky methods that celebrate the unconventional.

All Tarot Masters seem to agree that relying on an accompanying book’s interpretations at the expense of connecting to your intuition is a major hurdle to overcome. My personal introduction to reading Tarot cards was a hard-core sink-or-swim event: when I was nine years old, I told my aunt, who read cards, that I wanted to do it. So she handed me her Tarot deck, guided me through the shuffling and a Celtic Cross layout and then said “Okay, read them.”

I’m sure I looked across the spread at her like a deer caught in headlights, with panicked thoughts that all began with “But–“

She was persistent in her tough coach approach: “This is not a test, there’s no right or wrong. It’s a story. Just tell me the story.”

Even Your Inner Child Can Do This

Free your mind from data, intellect, and judgment. When executing your drawings, think Pictionary, Stick-Figures, children’s drawings. The quality of your artistic ability is not on trial here. If you are a gifted artist, and the results are gorgeous – cool, you’ve got a new series for your next body of work; if your drawings look like a 4 year old did them, that’s okay too.

Drawing from the deck is meant to be a process, not a product.

Source for this concept: In the 2006 Llewellyn Tarot Reader anthology, author Mary K. Greer writes about a man who kept a Tarot journal in which he recorded line drawings of the cards (in a Celtic Cross spread), eliminating the card borders so that the intuitive interaction of the images can be more easily discerned.

Drawing your cards:

Start out with 3-card “spreads.” It might be better to think of the 3 cards as simply groups, as opposed to spreads. Move the 3 cards around in composition, or relation to one another, as you wish. You’re looking for Whole Images to emerge. If the composition makes more sense as a single image by a particular arrangement of the cards – go with that.

Once you have a composition that makes sense, record a crude “map” of that composition as a single sketch in your journal. Remember: think Hangman, Pictionary, Stick figures, kindergarten refrigerator art. Use crayons or colored markers as you wish – color is an important intuitive short-hand.

Impose a 20 minute time limit to keep you focused on the end result and free from inhibitions about the “quality” or sophistication of your drawings.

Interpreting your drawings:

Tarot has always been a narrative divination tool. Journal, write, record the story you see. Again, think of how a child might explain “what’s going on in this picture.” This isn’t a police report – let your imagination run away with you.

Don’t embellish the picture by drawing detail – embroider the story you tell about the picture.

1 – Describe the picture

What’s happening in your drawing? Tell it in story form, as you would to a child.

2 – Note the following and possible significance:

  • Choice of color –
  • Energy flows
    Are there a lot of overall circular forms, straight lines, jagged or pointy shapes, repetitive patterns?
    Are there dominant groupings of objects and figures that emerge?
  • Direction of movement
    How does your eye travel through the drawing?
    What do you look at first?
    Does anything stop your eye – feel like an interruption?
  • Distance between objects and figures
    What’s close together?
    What’s set apart visually – isolated?
  • Relative Size
    of people, shapes, figures, objects
  • Accidents
    Did you draw something wrong?
    Did you erase, or want to erase, something?
    Did you exaggerate something in particular?
    Did you add something extra to your sketch that wasn’t in the cards?
    Did you leave something out or pass over it quickly?
    Did you labor over a particular part of the drawing more than another?

3 – Find the main focus

What stands out?
What do you keep returning to stare at?
Where is your eye most strongly pulled?
What does this suggest about the focus of your concern?
What’s at the center of your drawing?
What and where are the major interplays of energy?

4 – Where, What, or Who are YOU in this picture?

What are you doing?
How do you feel?
Where do you want to go or do next?
What do you want or need?

5 – Where, What, or Who are the Other figures?

Describe them as you did yourself.
Ask: what if they are all you, or parts of you, or representing various aspects of you?

6 – What are the problems

Where is the energy stuck?
What is the conflict or drama?
Does anything feel wrong about the picture?
Is anything acting as an obvious barrier between the various shapes, forms, and the energy flowing between them?

7 – What is missing from the picture

What’s happening “off-camera”?
What happened before and/or after the moment the picture reveals?
Did you leave anything out of your drawing? Why?
Is something suggested by the picture that’s not visibly present?
Is there something in-visible going on?

8 – What is the task or opportunity in your picture

What happens next?
Where does this story go?
What action/s would change the course of this story?
What might fix the problem or provide a solution?

Journal Entry Summary

Note the following:

  • Date / Time of Day / Place / Circumstances surrounding your reading
  • Deck used as reference – especially if you have multiple decks or styles you like to play with
  • The 3 Cards Pulled
  • Title the Drawing
  • One Sentence Summary – write this in first-person, present tense
  • Suggested Action Step – record an action, task, or ritual suggested to you by the reading that you commit to take in the next 48 hours

Journaling your Tarot Readings is also a good way to keep an on-going record of the greater, long-term story the Tarot is revealing to you. What patterns emerge from your Tarot Readings over time?

About the Author: You are already everything you’ve ever wanted to become. Your Creativity is Your Divinity. Medium and author Eric Slade Roberson explores the ways you can shift the human experience you’re already having into the creative, powerful, spiritual mission you know it’s supposed to be – ShiftYourSpirits.com


More: Slade written a companion piece to this article on his own site, The Invisible Hands in Divination. It’s the first of a series on divination, something he’s had long experience with and has done professionally.

24 responses to “Drawing Cards – Storyboarding the Tarot”

  1. This is excelent stuff. I’m goign to have to find time to sit down and really give it a spin. I bought a tarot deck not too long ago, and I’ve been wanting to use it more.


  2. I agree. Great idea! I look forward to using it (especially as I read for myself and noone else).


  3. Thanks for the kind words, folks. My wife and I tried this a few days ago, and it led to a major breakthrough for us. I’ll be posting on that soon.


  4. Very interesting, Jeff. I have absolutely no tarot background to speak of, so to sit down and work with the cards in the traditional fashion would require a bit of learning for me. If I sat down with a deck and no book to guide me, I think I would instinctively draw from the images, especially if words were written in as part of the picture (like a title or something), since I tend to visualize most of the words I read or hear.

    Something I’ve done with cards for years, and this is just a standard deck of playing cards, is I play solitaire – as I play, I focus on a yes / no situation (or a more complicated situation that I distill to simplicity in my mind while playing). I play three games, and judge the situation by the results of those three games. It’s something I’ve been doing since I was a kid, not long after I first learned to play solitaire, but quite a while before I learned what tarot cards were. When I use the Runes, I have a tendency to visualize similarly to how I would with playing solitaire – yes / no, or simplified situations, and I cast three times … the only difference is that I have an associated meaning with each Rune, where I never worked with playing cards at that level of precision.


  5. Wow, I just found your blog via Adam’s Peace and I LOVED the first article. I have been reading tarot for a number of years and have definitely been stuck on relying on an intellectual understanding of the cards, rather than allowing my internal guidance to tell the story. I have a set or cards I love, Osho Zen, and rather than draw my own, am going to take the essence of this article and apply it to my next reading.
    Thank you for sharing this in such an intelligant and articulate way – it helps people to understand that the tarot is not an external ‘power’ or the occult, but a way of connecting with our internal knowingness, our intuition, creativity and divinity – which in essence are all one and the same.
    (I’m adding your blog to my blogroll too – beautiful work)
    Much joy,
    be conscious now


  6. Bernulf: Slade is working on a companion piece to this article which he’ll be posting on his own site, in which he descibes his ideas about how spiritual entities guide your efforts at divination. The article should be applicable to any divination of this sort — cards, runes, tea leaves, you name it. I’m looking forward to what he says!

    I had an interesting experience with the runes when I was in high school. At that time I used runes, and rune cards (just cards with pretty pictures of the runes) pretty frequently. Since I was not a strong young man, and I frequently felt powerless, I took to meditating on the Strength rune (Uruz, isn’t it?). But one day I found that I’d left the Uruz card in my pocket as my pants went through the wash, and the card was ruined. That same week — it might have even been the same day, I don’t remember — I discovered that the small stone Uruz in my rune bag had snapped in half. None of the other stone runes were damaged.

    I tried not to let it bother me, but I never found out what it meant…


  7. Kara-Leah, welcome! Thanks for the high praise — though of course the praise for this article should go to Slade. It sounds like you, too, will be interested in his companion article when it goes up on his site. I hope you’ll let us know how your next reading goes!


  8. […] I was invited to return a Guest Blogging spot for Jeff Lilly’s Druid Journal with an original article you won’t find here called Drawing Cards : Storyboarding the Tarot. Jeff is one of the coolest people I’ve never met – we collaborate behind the screens – his intelligence inspires and challenges me. […]


  9. Strength is one interpretation of Uruz, it’s not an interpretation I support. Considering that your problems with Uruz began when you left the card in your pocket and let it go through the wash, you might find my interpretation not only interesting, but even amusing, and it might help you find out ‘what it all meant’ 🙂


  10. Bernwulf,

    Thank you for sharing your Solitaire divination game!

    I have “invented” a lot of simplifications of Tarot readings that actually do work as easily with regular playing card decks. I also always do readings and divination of all kinds contained in groups of 3.

    I would like to stress that developing your own language, associations, meanings, patterns, system of interpretation is so much more powerful than “looking up what someone else said in the book.”

    When working with any kind of ritual, the power of the tools involved are not in someone else’s recipe – the willful creative act of defining what a word, object, or image means for YOU is the missing magical ingredient.

    For example, people who have approached me about spellwork over the years seem to get hung up on following an author’s details to the letter, to the exclusion of personalization – which is why those details are significant triggers in the first place.

    I’ve seen people fret over trying to find a fuschia candle, as opposed to the purple color they love and have on hand, thinking they can’t move forward or alter a ritual to suit their personal experience. They’re afraid they’ll “mess it up” – when denying their simplest intuitive and creative perspective IS the most likely way to ensure you get an impotent manifestation.

    With color symbolism and ancient imaging systems, a lot of what we believe and feel is more intuitively similar than it is ever that different. BUT, when “changing the recipe to suit your taste” a bit here and there results in a bulls-eye of emotion and meaningful association – I say Go For It! There’s the short-cut to what you’re after, anyway.

    Language requires a translation process of pure multi-media, multi-sensory information formats into a more limited form. When you can get a feeling, bypassing translation or consensus, you’re accessing a more powerful, multi-dimensional message.

    Thank you to everyone for responding so positively to this article, and being excited to try it out. I wanted to pass it on because it truly is one of the coolest most liberating approaches to Tarot I’ve ever run across.

    Druid Journal was the perfect home this conversation.


  11. The above trackback to Shift Your Spirits will result in an error page. My bad – I totally goofed and published a post under the wrong title. (Jeff, kill that comment if you want to, or alter the link for me.)

    I’ve started a series of posts about Divination – the first one is here:
    The Invisible Hands in Divination


  12. Bernulf: Vigilance! Oho! I really like your image of the strong herd animal on guard.

    Slade, I’ve put a more prominent link to your companion article above.


  13. Slade, I like what you said about people fussing over every detail of what works for someone else, failing to really give much thought to what works for them … I thought that was a really good point. Perhaps part of the problem is so many of us grew up with images of witches and wizards, poring over their spellbooks and making sure every detail is just perfect, that people assume this is the way it must be done.

    Jeff, I’m glad you liked my interpretation of the meaning for Uruz 🙂


  14. Bernulf, I think you’re right about the images of witches and wizards poring over spellbooks. Certainly, if you play Dungeons and Dragons-inspired role-playing games, the magic in them is extremely formulaic. Even more, though, I think people get this idea in science. Science demands rigor and precision, and people like the science-magic metaphor. And then there’s cooking — when you’re learning to cook, you havce to follow the directions exactly; but when you’re a master chef, you can go with your gut. It may be hard to get into a different mindset with divination, i.e., that you have to go with your gut from the get-go!


  15. Hey Jeff,

    My next reading went very well, although I still have some work to do in letting go of my knowledge of the literal meaning of the cards in the book, and instead allowing my inner creator to tell the story. For this I realise I need to work with a fresh deck of cards, one’s I don’t have any book for… so that is my next mission, to attract a new deck of cards to myself.

    much joy,


  16. I got my first tarot deck at age 14 and Ill be 38 this June …

    I am facinated and intrigued by this unique spin on a tarot spread and will be giving it a try

    Mama Kelly


  17. Kara-Leah: I’m glad your reading went well! I’d be interested to hear more details — are you planning on blogging about it? And do you have anything specific in mind for your new deck?

    Mama Kelly: I got my first deck at 16, and I’m almost 34. 🙂 But I certainly haven’t been using them consistently. I hope you’ll let us know the results of your trial!


  18. This is a cool exercise. I feel like it should be called Un-storyboarding the tarot though because for me, it allowed the characters and images to get out of those white boxes they’re stuck in and interact with each other.

    Lately I’ve discovered a couple cool looking artistic renderings of tarot decks like this one. It’s neat seeing the same symbols drawn in different ways. It brings out meanings and associations. But about halfway through doing this exercise I realized that I didn’t have to render these characters as really basic versions of what I saw on the cards. That I could reintepret them my way the way the artist did. I turned over the cards and finished the drawing without looking at them. After I was done, I discovered I’d colored them pretty much the same way even without looking, but next time…


  19. Rob, it’s true storyboarding calls to mind the little cartoon boxes, doesn’t it? I think the name “Storyboarding” does evoke the core of the exercise, though — infusing the Tarot with character and interaction, as you say.

    It’s great you felt free enough to draw your reading directly from the heart, rather than the cards! I’d love to see what a bona fide artist (are you one?) would do with this exercise!


  20. […] at the meanings. I meditated on them some more. Then, taking everything into consideration, I storyboarded the reading and this is what I came up […]


  21. I picked up John Matthews’ new Grail Tarot book and deck yesterday (quick review: it’s quite fascinating, and I think it will reward deep reflective study), and he recommends this method as an alternate way of reading. It’s particularly appropriate with this deck, because it’s designed so that the Majors, as well as each suit, can be laid out contiguously, as in a frieze. Just thought you might find that interesting.


  22. Thanks for the head’s up, Erik. It sounds awesome!


  23. […] of that part of the deck. This deck fairly begs to be used with Slade Roberson’s tarot storyboarding method of reading, and in fact a variant of this method is suggested in the appendix to the book […]


  24. Hello, Neat post. There’s a problem along with your site in internet explorer, might check this? IE still is the market chief and a good part of other people will omit your great writing due to this problem.


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