Rough draft of an Ibsen/Schopenhauer ambigraphic

February 23, 2010
Henrik Ibsen’s side-whiskers make him look like an upside-down Arthur Schopenhauer.

So I’m working on an ambigram/ambigraphic double portrait. Here’s a very, very rough draft.

It’s still got a long way to go, but I think this basic structure will work.


February 22, 2010

A 100% natural ambigram which I’m sure I’m not the first to have noticed.

Ideas for reversible tarot cards

February 22, 2010
I like the reversible Pendu/Danse card, but the Dancer isn’t a recognized tarot card. I’d like a design which is instantly recognizable as one of the 22 Major Arcana and, when reversed, is instantly recognizable as another of the 22 Major Arcana. I don’t have anything yet, but here are some possibilities I intend to explore.
Magician / World:
In the RWS design, the Magician’s wand is clearly the same as the wands held by the figure in the World card, but while the Magician is raising his wand above his head, the World figure is holding hers down at hip level. In both cards the wand is being held next to some foliage. The Magician’s lemniscate halo also matches the binding on the wreath in the World.
The other details of the cards don’t match very well, so I’m thinking here of a minimalist design: just hand, wand, foliage, lemniscate. Executed well, it should still be instantly recognizable to anyone familiar with the Rider-Waite-Smith deck. (The goal here is recognizability, and RWS is the iconic tarot deck in the English-speaking world.)
An ambigram title should be pretty easy to pull off. That upside down “WORLD” already looks a lot like “MAGUS” and should require very little tweaking.
Temperance / Star:
This one is almost too obvious to be interesting. Even an extreme bare-bones design — water pouring into a cup, or pouring out of it when inverted — would be recognizable. The biggest challenge would the title, making a word as long as “Temperance” invert into something as short as “The Star.” It might be doable with the archaic spelling “L’Estoille,” though.
Papess / Moon:
This is the one that’s got me excited. Whereas with the others all I think I could pull off would be an ambigraphic that alludes to both cards, with this one I think I could make a complete reversible card, including all the important details of the two RWS images. Even the overall color scheme is reversible. The moons match, the papess’s sky-blue robe matches the sky, the two pillars match the two towers, the green tree-of-life backdrop matches the green grass, and the blue bit above the papess’s head matches the blue water. With a little tweaking, the papess’s headdress can be turned into an upside-down lobster*, her face and neck can become the path, and the two dogs can be worked into the tree of life. I don’t immediately have any ideas for an ambigram title, but a numerical ambigram of TWO/XVIII should be a piece of cake. I can do this one.
It turns out that the traditional divinatory meanings of these two cards also mesh well. According to Etteilla, the High Priestess represents “Silence, Tenacity,” and the reversed Moon stands for “Silence” and “Patience.” Mathers makes a corresponding connection between the upright Moon (“Deception, Error”) and the reversed Priestess (“Ignorance”).
*Actually it will be a eurypterid, not a lobster. Every Moon card I’ve ever drawn has had a eurypterid instead of a lobster, and I don’t want to break with tradition.

Pendu/Danse tarot card

February 22, 2010
In his book on tarot cards, The Path, Whitley Strieber writes:
In many of the older Tarot decks, the Hanged Man is printed in an ambiguous manner. If you look at him as a Hanged Man, then the number is upside down. This is not true of the [Jodorowsky-Camoin Tarot de Marseille] deck we are using, but it doesn’t matter, the effect of turning the card upside down is the same.The Hanged Man becomes the Dancer, and the secret knowledge contained in this card lies in understanding the way the positive Dancer and the negative Hanged Man may come together in a greater, harmonious whole.
The idea of Hanged Man as Dancer inspired this twist on the Rider-Waite-Smith Hanged Man card. Depending on which way is up, the title reads either Pendu or Danse (French for “hanged man” and “dance,” respectively).

Except for the title and the inverted number, this is just the original (public-domain) Rider-Waite-Smith card. Maybe later I’ll try my hand at redoing the whole card.

Nephi vs. Laban

February 22, 2010
I’m on a roll with ambigrams these days. This one references an episode in the Book of Mormon (1 Nephi 4) in which Nephi decapitates his enemy Laban while the latter is passed out drunk.
This is an illustrated ambigram, showing Laban’s jug of booze on the left and his severed head on the right.