Initially I was opposed to using an existing collections of artistic works, but over time I've accepted that it's a viable option of creating artwork, tarot or otherwise. Public domain work which is free for everyone to use is more a means to an end, a way of visually bringing to life the ideas of those who perhaps don't feel confident enough to create their own work. Why not have one of the masters work on your behalf? A bonus which comes out of this, or, in some cases, maybe the real reason this practice is undertaken, is that an existing collection of art from a famous name has instant recognition. The fame has been created over the years long before you came along, and in many ways it makes sense to model a work of art on these famous works for that reason.
Recreating/digitally manipulating an-existing collection of artworks, usually from an already established but deceased artist, differs from that of taking random photos and digitally manipulating them into a digitally created photo montage or mixed media type of work, the process which I talked about above. Even though neither usually employ new illustrations, they are still quite different in the sense that one deals with manipulating photographs, perhaps creating a collage or mixed media work, while the other uses artwork, usually from the aforementioned usually well known, much loved "deceased artist". Anything in the public domain can essentially be used to create an oracle, lenormand, kipper or tarot deck if one were so inclined.
I feel that recreating/digitally manipulating a pre-existing collection of works (i.e that of a famous named artist) has its pros and cons, in the same way traditional art does, mainly because the "digital manipulator" must rely solely on the pre-existing works from the (usually) now deceased artist. In other words don't hold your breath for that chosen artist to bring about a new piece that you may be able to make use of.
The traditional artist in this case has the upper hand in that he can draw, right on the spot, a pose, a background or a facial expression into existence while the "digital manipulator" cannot. Another downside to being a "digital manipulator" is that you cannot truly "own" the work, or be credited with the work. Mucha will always be Mucha, and Rossetti will always be Rossetti. At best you are an editor of sorts, but if that's good enough for you, then all power to you, and we wish you every success.
My personal view is that while the works of the masters will always remain loved, the imagery was never explicitly created with tarot in mind and often it is very evident. Such images demand a lot of manipulation i imagine. That's not to say that pre-existing works of art from the likes of Rossetti, Mucha, Schulz or Rackham and many others, cannot be recreated to "become" tarot imagery if the tarot creator knows what he or she is doing. It's certainly a good option if you cannot illustrate your own tarot deck, collaborate with, or afford to hire an illustrator to work on your deck for the best part of a year. I believe picking up a public domain collection of artwork and reworking it has grown in popularity due to its accessibility. Almost anyone with a digital graphics package can find public domain work and, with a little tarot knowledge, put something together.
Yet one cannot discount the accomplished feeling to having their own work of art finally in print. Perhaps it doesn't really matter in the end if one cannot be fully credited with the artistic work in their tarot deck should they choose to create a deck around an already established, yet deceased, artist. I must admit though that there is something satisfying about creating an artwork that you built from the ground up and seeing it finally in print. This is why i would encourage everyone to at least attempt hand drawn illustration, not because recreating pre existing work makes a deck lesser in nature, but because with a few reference photos on standby, a pencil, an ink pen a few colouring pencils and a scanner, one does not need to rely on the artists of yesteryear to convey their magnificent concepts.
James is the artist behind the illustrations on this site, maintains the website, writes the blogs and puts together the newsletter.