Hearts Like Vessels: An Interview with Mary Elizabeth Evans

by Marianne in ,


People, I am super jazzed today - like, spirit fingers level jazzed - for two reasons. Firstly, the Spirit Speak Tarot and the Vessel oracle deck are now live and ready to ship in my little shop! Huzzah! I love both of these wonderful decks and I'm so happy to be able to share them with you through Two Sides Tarot.

The second reason for my spirit fingers is even more exciting, if you can believe it possible! Today on the blog, we are visited by the creator of Vessel and Spirit Speak, Mary Elizabeth Evans. The woman herself! Mary very kindly took the time to share the story of her new oracle deck, the ins and outs of her creative practice, her favourite deck recommendations, and some tips for working with Vessel - not to mention, some unmissable insights about creativity, judgement, and artistic freedom. Pull up a pew, make yourself a cup of tea, and dive in to the world of Mary Elizabeth Evans!

First of all, congratulations on the publication of Vessel, your new oracle deck! I know I'm not the only one who has been eagerly following its development and waiting for publication! Could you tell us a bit about where the idea for Vessel first came from?

Thank you so much Marianne! It’s interesting, after all of the work to make and self publish Vessel, it came out and felt like a dream. Almost like I didn’t make Vessel, it used me to make it. Haha.

At the time when I decided to start working on an oracle deck, I had been very influenced by Doreen Virtue’s “Magical Unicorns Oracle Cards”. I really look up to Doreen Virtue and her oracle decks had become a big part of my practice in teaching and with my clients. Spirit Speak had been the soul focus of my artistic practice and I was applying all of my creative energy into it for around five months. And then after, I was learning how to self publish for the first time. Once the dust settled, I knew I wanted to start working on a new project.

My creative work is truly the most important thing to me. I need my work to process my life experiences, to calm down my anxiety, to ground myself, and to reflect. So, little time goes by before I am itching to start on something new.

I knew soon after making Spirit Speak that I wanted to make a second tarot deck. However, I wasn’t quite ready to jump into that undertaking right away. With a tarot deck, everything is somewhat laid out for you. It has a specific traditional form that it upholds. With oracle decks, they can be wild cards, a free for all. When I decided to start working on an oracle deck, I wasn’t sure where to begin. I did know I wanted them to be easy to understand so people could feel their meaning and intention quickly upon pulling cards.

I feel like Vessel reflects emotions and experiences that I had been going through or mediating on during that time of my life. Looking through my drawings after I was finished, I was a little concerned that they didn’t reflect enough about the human experience being incredibly vast. But, they reflect my own experience, and as that grows, I can continue to make works that show that.  

The name “Vessel” came after the cards were all complete, just like with Spirit Speak. The idea is that our hearts are like vessels that contain our emotions and feelings. Looking at it that way makes me feel less consumed by one feeling because there is space for them all. Some feelings or emotions just need to be acknowledged or worked through and call for our energy.

As my readers are probably aware (because I'm constantly going on about how great it is!), you are also the creator of the Spirit Speak Tarot. How was the process of developing Vessel different - or not! - to your tarot deck?

The process was a little different in ways. Spirit Speak was truly such a gift to me as an artist. It was a way for me to accept my work for what it is. To use my art to make a tool, to connect with others. During that process, I tried my best not to fuss over my drawings, not to re-draw, but just to feel the meaning of the card and let it come out as it may. Looking at my drawings then was like hearing the sound of your own voice. My naive line work, lopsided drawings, the wiggly odd-ness of my forms, honestly made me cringe sometimes. But with making Spirit Speak, I tried to let go of that, to focus on it being a tool, not a “fine art” piece that was going to be under strong critique. That made all the difference because I forced myself to accept the way that I draw. It’s a little sad writing about this now. My art gives me so much, and it’s disappointing that I was so mean and unloving to it for so long.

Anyways, I was going through some deep work with myself as an artist with Spirit Speak. When it was time to make Vessel, I felt much freer from that heavy self judgement. I think you can feel that in Vessel’s attitude too.

As far as my actually physical process went, it was fairly similar. Even though I feel like a free-spirit and my work is wiggly and wild, my process as an artist is very organized and timely. I work best when I make a timeline for my work and a schedule. I like to decide how many drawings I want to make total, how many a week, how much paper will I need?, What kind of pens?. Maybe this is in result of my art-brain being this crazy thing that I am trying to communicate through the tangible world, implicating order keeps balance.

I know you've also been using both decks in your own tarot work with others - how have you found they differ when put to use in readings?

Oh yes! That is the most fun part of a project like this. It is a little indescribable how it feels to read with your own deck. It is such an amazing feeling. How it communicates with you, how it communicates with others. It’s something that is so deeply from you, but also becomes it own little creature at the same time. To me, when I use my own decks, I feel like I am connecting with something very deep within me, and not only seeing a reflection of myself, but having that resonate in my spirit and body. Using them in readings gives them life and I think they appreciate that so much :)

I am having a lot of fun using Spirit Speak and Vessel together. I realize, that each one is like a spiritual portrait of me at the time. I like to see how they are both different but still cut from the same cloth and that they communicate with each other in a really lovely way. 

Backtracking a little bit, could you tell us a little about your artistic background, and how that has informed and influenced the way you envisioned and created your decks? Are there any other disciplines or practices you enjoy that you see as related to your work with tarot and oracle decks? What does your art practice look like, day-to-day?

I have been drawing since I can remember. I drew on my baby dolls, on myself, on my parent’s walls and furniture (which was not always appreciated, haha). My parents kind of let me do my own thing, they gave me art lessons, bought me art supplies, and even gave me dedicated areas to paint on their furniture and house. Making marks is something I have loved since the very beginning. I continued to focus on art through high school and college. Although, I did try to do other things that I felt like might be a more responsible career choices. But, I was never able to convince myself to continue any of those educational avenues and was miserable when I wasn’t making art.

I grew up being a rather unpopular weirdo in a very conservative and religious town. I think a lot of my work comes from this pull. Being in an area that is so highly spiritual has a particular feeling. I went to church growing up, but never felt acceptance or love from the church. I think its grand stories of miracles and its rituals influenced me regardless. What I think now as I revisit these ideas, is that deep down I probably wanted to participate in something spiritual, and it was frustrating that I felt pushed out by my difference in opinion or the fact that I believe in feminism. I don’t feel like the church itself is directly responsible for this, but perhaps the communities it created at the time. Exploring my own spirituality through art has been a positive way for me to heal my past.

I love to explore other mediums. I majored in printmaking and it is one of my artistic passions. I also like to paint and sew. Painting was something I put a lot of energy into during my high school years. Currently I have been focused on metal smithing. Working with gems and metal to create wearable art has been such a joy. In the past year I have been working with the majorly talented and multifaceted artist, Lise Silva. Amongst her many creations, she makes lux and elegant fiber jewelry. We combined her Sacred Knots collection with the brass pendants I had been making at the time to create bold and intricately made art-to-wear necklaces. Each piece had a particular meaning inspired by our mutual love for mysteries of ancient rituals, and for films like The Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal.

This year I will be acquiring my bench jewelers certification, learning how to properly work with gold, platinum, and, fine gems. I can’t wait to further explore how my work translates through these mediums & can’t wait to share what I come up with!

My day-to-day art practice changes with what I am working on and what my schedule looks like. But I have little artistic rituals that I do everyday. Costuming and adornment are ways that I honor my creativity every morning. Currently, I have started a new project with a new schedule and have been trying to make 1-2 drawings everyday. It a loose schedule though, it doesn’t align with a certain time of day. Sometimes after I make my tea, answer emails, and send out orders, I will continue to draw. Other days, I will work in the morning and in the evening when I wind down I will start working on my drawings. It makes me the happiest when I have completed at least one drawing for the day. Sometimes I will do a short meditation before I start drawing, other times I will just close my eyes and ask for an image to appear. Other days it’s not so spiritual and I am eating pizza and watching bad TV dramas while I doodle. I mean, who ever said that eating pizza wasn’t a spiritual experience? (Can I get an "Amen", people?)         

As much as you feel comfortable sharing it, what role does tarot have in your own spiritual practice, and how has working with your own art - both making the decks and reading with them - in this setting influenced and shaped your personal journey?

Tarot is a huge part of my spiritual practice. Being a visual artist, working with images through tarot and oracle decks has been so helpful for my own self discovery, healing, and reflection. Working with my own art and decks has brought me to a place of power within my spirituality, to have authority on what it means for me. Before I made the Spirit Speak deck, I kind of felt like the meanings of tarot cards were like a special club. That you needed to study, and be taught, and learn for years before you could practice. And also I felt like I wasn’t able to hold that knowledge for myself, I needed permission or confirmation that I was correct in my understanding of the cards. When I made Spirit Speak, it opened up the idea that my own understanding of spirituality and tarot is just as valid as anyone else’s. And that I could honor other’s opinions and also include mine as well. Not only that, but that all of our understandings could work together to create a rounded view of these cards that illustrate the story of life.

Reading cards for clients as well has very much shaped my spirituality and my personality. Being able to deeply connect with someone you might have just met, to take time out of daily life however crazy or peaceful, to hold space for someone, to listen and to talk. It has given me a wider view on people in general,a less judgmental, more compassionate, and peaceful way of looking at the people around me. Not just the people I love and often interact with, but strangers too. I understand that everyone is here trying to navigate what it means to be them, what it means to walk this earth. It’s not always easy, so I try to give grace to people as much as I can. I think I was a lot more angsty and impatient before I started using cards.

Apart from your own wonderful creations, are there any other decks that you love to work with? Have they been an influence on your own tarot and oracle art? We always love a good deck recommendation around here!

Yes!!! I have a large collection of cards and I love using other decks in my practice. In fact I feel like getting to know other decks has been completely instrumental in my learning of tarot in general. I have a few decks that I am really fond of at the moment and have been using frequently. I have a lot of love in my heart for The Starchild Tarot Deck, by Danielle Noel. Not only is Danielle a huge sweetheart herself, but her cards give a very soft and dreamy interpretation of the tarot. They are able to show you the deep truths and ancient themes of the tarot in a way that feels serene and calm. The artwork itself is also super beautiful. It means a lot that Danielle and I have been able to show each other support as deck makers. Supporting and feeling support from other woman owned, created, and self published works means the world to me. Danielle is coming out with a new deck soon called The Moonchild Tarot and it’s intention is to be the shadow side of the Starchild, I can’t wait to play with that deck as well!

 Two very special Bay Area makers also recently came out with oracle decks. Both are beautiful and unique and I have enjoyed getting to know and play with them recently. The Moon Angels Oracle Deck by Rebekah Erev and Visions: A Crystal Oracle Deck by Jessika Fancy. The community of readers and makers in the Bay Area is so strong and wonderful and I was really happy to meet both of these angels while I was there and acquire their decks. The Moon Angels is unlike any deck I have seen before. Rebekah’s artwork seems very intuitive and her interpretations of the cards are poetic, the deck leaves a lot of room for me to develop my own spiritual understanding of the cards. The Visions deck consist of stunning water colors picturing crystals from Jessika’s own collection. Her voice in the descriptions of the cards feels so warm and encouraging while also confronting the hard stuff. I just feel really lucky to know the makers of these decks and also be able to apply them in my own practice.           

One of my all time favorite decks is The Secret Dakini Oracle by Penny Slinger. I have turned a few friends onto using this deck as well. It was actually the deck that the first person to ever professionally read my cards, Dreamy Eves, the owner of Psychic Sister in Olympia Washington, used in my first ever reading! My mind pretty much exploded that day, and the artwork really affected me. In my experience with the deck I have found that it works from a more cosmic point of view, eliminating the material and humanness, and working from a karmic and deeply spiritual place of reference.

Finally, do you have any advice, guidance or insider tips for working with Vessel?

Vessel has changed the way that I use oracle decks. Before, I would just pull one or two cards, either after a tarot reading or by itself. I still do that, but with Vessel, I started doing 5-10 card readings with them. I think I am always being shown, to play, to experiment, and have fun!            

I think my best advice, and what I am always telling my students, is that you know best what the cards mean to you. Look at the images, what do they make you feel? Are you hearing any words come to mind? Is there something about that image that brings up an event or emotion? Before you grab the booklet, ask yourself first.

There are things that someone who just picked up the Vessel Oracle could say in their understanding of the card that could blow me away and be so accurate and I’m the maker! But that is because their understanding of the card means just as much as mine. Hearing their experience with the card can educate me on what that card wants to say.

The Vessel Oracle wants to help, love, and heal, and you are the one guiding it <3

***

Mary, thank you so much, to the power of a zillion, for sharing all of this with us! I really hope, dear reader, that you've enjoyed finding out a bit more about Mary's art practice and the behind-the-scenes adventures of The Spirit Speak Tarot and Vessel. I think you can see why these decks pack such an energetic punch, coming from the mind and pen of such an intuitive and thoughtful creator!

Both Spirit Speak and Vessel are available from Two Sides Tarot now, and shipping is free within Australia! If you're in the UK or Europe, you can now purchase The Spirit Speak Tarot and Vessel from Little Red Tarot. Readers in the US can find both of these wonderful decks at Mary's websiteMary also has one of my favourite instagram accounts - if you're looking for some beautiful photographs and more images of these decks in action, I recommend following her

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