Mariza Ryce Aparicio-Tovar’s “The Gentle Tarot” is a self-created deck of cards inspired by Alaska nature. The deck includes images she gathered and drew during summers spent as a technician in Alaska Fish and Wildlife field camps across Alaska living on the weirs in the summer.
She first came up to Alaska in 2013 to work with Fish and Wildlife, first in Kodiak and then out on the Peninsula, in Sandpoint and Unalaska. She then took a full-time job with Fish and Game with split time between work as wildlife technician and front desk crew.
“I always knew I wanted to come to Alaska and I had a feeling if I came up, I wouldn’t leave,” she said.
Ryce-Tovar was introduced to tarot when she was living in Seattle and about to engage in some big life changes, employment transitions and plans to hitchhike down the Pacific coast.
“I had a couple of friends who were really well-versed in the deck and did a reading for me. Every card was so on point. It gave me chills. It felt like a big convergence of working with your intuition in a physical form and having a way to share it with people. It was a really special, powerful, direct practice. Oracle decks and tarot have been an important part of my life since then,” she said.
She was inspired to create a deck that was similar to the traditional decks but with softer components more connected to nature.
“I never came across another deck I really connected with. A lot of the imagery and the court card names bothered me: the Page, Knight, Queen and King. It just felt very cold and aggressive to me: the colonial hierarchy of it was unappealing.”
Some cards in “The Gentle Tarot” are directly related to Ryce-Tovar’s history with scenery and experiences in the Aleutians.
The Wheel of Fortune card is an image of hands raising a wreath of flowers to the sky.
“That one displays dwarf fireweed and yarrow, out in the field or at the weirs there are different plants blooming all summer, so I would bring my camera when we were hiking and choose images from my photos to draw.”
The Five of Thunder card shows foxes running up a barren hill; the Emperor is a sea lion.
The Flower of Stones card is a brown bear from memories of Kodiak field camp.
Almost all of the cards have images from field season: The moose, the lynx, the salmon in various life stages and all the fireweed, she said.
The expanded, full-size guidebook to accompany the deck was self-published in 2022 and in many cases provides more specific personal stories that served as inspiration for the cards.
For example, the book shares elements of the composed background for the Two of Thunder.
“A week or so prior to this drawing, a couple of friends, Brie and Meghan, took my mother and I out into Unalaska Bay via skiff. There was a moment near Hog Island where I was able to look down into the kelp forest, sunlight weaving through the water, and watch seals at play, further ahead,” she writes in the book.
She talks about her process for the compositions. Sketches are composed with an iPad and an Apple Pencil and a device called a “Paperlike.”
“It’s a screen cover that makes digital drawing feel like using paper instead of a glass screen which is really important for me. I really hadn’t been illustrating digitally before this so it helped expand my skill set,” she said. “I always like to have photos available for references of size and proportions, colors of fur. The sea lion was one of the toughest ones to illustrate; trying to make the rolls of flesh and fur look accurate.”
Creating digitally, “you always want the magical art elements to come out,” she said.
This is different from her field camp experience when she worked more in colored pencil and watercolor.
“The time I had in field camp was so important to my spirit. Being out there was what energized me and gave me life. That was home. Working with the salmon every day was important; it inspired everything. My spirit needed that every year to come back to itself.
“I don’t think I could have made this deck without all my summers living off-grid. Being in Alaska nature is directly tied to this deck. Having that time on the weirs, we were collecting data for commercial work but it also felt really sacred to me, salmon are important to the entire system,” she said.
In Homer, “The Gentle Tarot” can be found and purchased at the Salmon Sisters shop near the base of the Homer Spit or Divinitea on Pioneer Avenue. Decks can also be found online at www.thegentletarot.com.
Emilie Springer can be reached at email@example.com.