Vanessa Ives’ tarot cards has been an important character and storyline tool on Penny Dreadful. Here, we talk to its designer Anaïs Chareyre, about her craft, how the tarot cards came about, working with John Logan and meeting her fellow Frenchwoman Eva Green.
How did you get started in art and illustration?
I started as a child, my grandmother Francine used to teach me drawing and painting, she is an amazing oil painter herself. For a long time I only drew animals actually, which revealed to be quite useful for Penny Dreadful Tarot cards! I always had this in my life, I was a shy little girl and I preferred to draw rather than play with other kids.
Who are some of your favorite artists and/or illustrators and why? Who or what are some of your influences right now?
Tough question, my favorite traditional painter would be Caravaggio, and his today-incarnation that we call Roberto Ferri. Their paintings never fail to amaze me! I have a huge list of artists that I follow constantly, it’s quite hard to pick just a few: Zbigniew M. Bielak, Vania Zouravliov, Noah Bradley, Cyril Rolando… As an absolute Photoshop nerd I am also a big fan of Dan Luvisi.
What are three words that describe your work?
I’d say “personal” as I always translate my personal emotions to whatever I create, “unpredictable”, as I never know what my final artwork will look like, I have a first idea, then it can evolve to something completely different, the emotion always staying the same, and “adventurous”, for I always want to explore new techniques, new ways, new softwares, new styles…
Do you prefer working digitally, traditionally, or both, and how has this influenced your work?
I completely mix both, I love to do this! I think I get my best results when I start a drawing/painting traditionally, to work digitally with it afterwards. All techniques have their pros and cons, it’s just a matter of knowing your tools.
Could you describe your creative process? What helps you be more creative?
My emotions definitely… life events and music would be the two main triggers for it. And sometimes, just sometimes, certain people can direct me and help me to push my work to the next level, it is rare, but John Logan was one of those persons.
How were you approached by John Logan & Co. to design Vanessa’s Tarot Cards for Penny Dreadful? How easy was it for you to decide on taking on the challenge of designing the Tarot Cards?
I was called to Ardmore Studios by my friend Damian Byrne who worked there himself. They needed someone for this project and they called a few artists to bring their portfolio, I was chosen. Before this I actually had a full time job as graphic designer, and I had just bought my first house by myself, which is why it wasn’t easy at all! I had to give up the security of a full time job, give no notice to my colleagues, hear my family screaming at me to not do it, and get to work. Without the few friends who supported me I don’t know how I would have managed! But when your life’s dream is being offered to you, this is what you have to do at all costs.
How does it feel to know that Vanessa’s Tarot Cards were so in high demand that Showtime had to get more manufactured? They were the number one selling item in the store in June! Congratulations!
Thank you! I heard about this actually! Someone on Deviantart told me they were sold out at some stage, this is really a fantastic feeling. I hope people enjoy it as much as I enjoyed creating them!
Vanessa Ives' full deck of tarot cards
How did you find the inspiration or the idea for Vanessa’s Tarot Cards? Did you do any kind of research? Did you know exactly what you wanted? Did you try on other choices? What’s your favorite Tarot Card out of the whole deck?
Oh of course there was a lot of research involved, and I looked in many directions. For two weeks I was looking for the right style, I would gather a lot of different pieces of art and different traditional techniques, tarot cards designs or not, and show them to John who would point out the ones he liked, and I would try to make something out of it. The style I came up with ended up not looking like any of the art I brought him. But I have to say, John gave me the best art direction possible: he didn’t know what he wanted the cards to look like, but he knew what he wanted them to feel like. He told me exactly what I needed to know: the cards had to be a reflection of Vanessa, they had to be mysterious, scary, animal, sexy… No violence or no actual sex in it, but the feeling, that precise moment when you are cornered by a wild beast, and you know it’s going to jump at your throat in the next few seconds, and you wait for it, you can’t scream, you can’t move… Or this moment just before you touch or kiss someone you irresistibly desire, your lips burns already, before the contact happens… This incredible tension, this is what John wanted. He also wanted it to be something never seen before, which was definitely a challenge!
My favorite card, it’s hard to say… I love The Empress, The Lovers, The Strength for the drawing, but my favourite is probably the one that holds my heart, the Queen of Wands, that I drew just after my grandmother passed away, with her beautiful face.
Have you ever worked on any other Victorian era and/or Gothic projects before?
Those are very precise styles, but being into black metal and heavy metal in general I did developed a dark style over the years, that could relate more or less to gothic. I haven’t been part of another big project like this before, but I hope the opportunity will come again!
Did you keep in mind that Tarot Cards have a very strong and important symbolic meaning? When we look at the history of Tarot Cards, the symbolism is something we can’t exclude or be without. This is why the size of the cards matter. In fact the size is probably the most important factor in the design of the cards, apart from the symbolism of course. When you use your Tarot Cards, you will have to be able to see clearly the images and the cards have to be easy to shuffle. That’s why the cards cannot be so small that it’s difficult to see or read the symbols on them, or so big that they’re difficult to shuffle.
Of course I red long texts about every single cards before I started to draw, I wanted to link Penny Dreadful/Vanessa concept to the traditional meaning of the cards when I could, this is why The Fool is about to jump of a cliff not knowing what’s under him, or The Empress is a woman breast and belly, sensually protected by an eel etc… But I couldn’t keep the traditional sense for most of them, they were twisted towards Vanessa character more than anything, John Logan made sure of it by approving all of them one by one. The size and the material of the cards are different in the show, they are bigger, and the paper has a texture, I brought as many options as I could to John, and after trying them on camera he made his choice and we had the final cards! They are definitely different, which is exactly what Vanessa is.
a refused tarot card design
Do you approve of Eva Green’s incredible card shuffling skills? Additionally, are you a fan of Eva Green? What’s your favorite project of hers? Let us know what you think about her, her personality/looks/talent, etc. Being a French young woman yourself, do you feel proud that so many Frenchies are doing great internationally?
The size and the texture of the cards made them a lot harder to spread on the table, I was a bit stressed about it, I hoped she would be ok… I practiced myself for hours the day before and went to the set when the scene was shot, in case she needed help, I told a few tips for the set manager to tell her, but I don’t think she needed it at all, she was incredible! She made a beautiful fan of cards, in a slow, precise movement, and the shot looks absolutely amazing. Eva is definitely a French pride since Casino Royale, and now you see her everywhere! I wondered what kind of person she was in real life, I didn’t get to talk to her much but I did introduce myself and talked about the cards, in French obviously… oh I was so impressed by her, she was so beautiful and smiley haha! She is an incredible artist, infinitely professional.
Are you a Tarot Card reader? Do you belief in the ancient wisdom of the cards? Or are you a skeptic?
I learnt a very basic way of reading it (the Veil), and I did read it to some friends, but I always warn the persons that I am a total beginner in the matter! I don’t like to do this too often. A couple of times, the cards said something really bad, and I couldn’t find any other way to translate, it was just really bad. It was embarrassing!
What do you make of the Aleister Crowley’s Thoth Deck? Any likes or dislikes you want to share? By the way, what’s your favorite Tarot deck, if any, and how did you find it?
I was quite new to the Tarot cards world before Penny Dreadful, I made a lot of researches so I obviously found the Thoth Deck. Each card is absolutely fantastic, you could spend hours looking at them.
How has your online presence helped your work?
Simply by showing my professional and personal artworks on Deviantart and Facebook. This is the way Damian got to know that I was an artist, and he remembered me when the time came. It is crucial for artists nowadays to be present online, even if you feel like it’s ‘showing off’, it’s a lot harder to be noticed without it! I never promoted my page or asked for ‘likes’ and all that, but I show my artworks, definitely!
Is there an online site where people can buy some of your work (other than Showtime’s store)? We’re curious if you get a cut per tarot card deck sold. Is that the case?
You can buy prints on my Deviantart indeed. I do not get a cut from the cards sold, would I be rich by now if I did? Haha, no I just got paid to draw the cards.
Do you have any personal projects you’re working on at the moment?
I am trying to develop my concept art skills and I am learning the 3D software ZBrush. I don’t work within a closed personal project, as I like to change my moods and explore everything. I have had an idea for years that I would like to develop into a short animation, however I don’t feel like I have enough skills or time to concentrate on this project yet. But the time will come soon!
What’s your favorite Gothic novel? And, more generally speaking, what’s your favorite book?
I would say Dracula. More generally I am a big fantasy fan, Tolkien’s Silmarilion is my favourite at the moment. I absolutely loved Game of Thrones books also.
Have you been watching Penny Dreadful? What do you like the most about it? Who’s your favorite character (so far) and why?
Of course I watched it, how could I not! I love Sir Malcolm house, Dorian’s gallery room, the Theatre… I love Dr. Frankenstein and Caliban, but Vanessa stays my favourite character. Eva’s acting as a possessed woman is absolutely spot on, and she makes me believe in her demon.
You live in Dublin, where Penny Dreadful is filmed. Did you get to meet any of the cast? What do you like the most about Ireland?
Yes I met most of them, my job wasn’t to stay around the set so I didn’t get to talk to them unfortunately, except for Eva.
Ireland is peaceful and mysterious, it’s hard to explain. The dark green of the land, the grey of the sky, the cold, the silence and the beauty. Its people are welcoming, and need simple things to be happy. It’s just a different world, I was raised in Marseille, dirty, stinky, dangerous and too-hot city in the South of France. Marseillans are quite like Parisians, they judge you by the way you look first of all. I hated my city and loved it too in a way.
Do you know if any other artist has already painted the “Picture of Dorian Gray” for the show?
Not that I am aware of, this will have to be something absolutely out of this world!
Anaïs Chareyre's portrait of Proteus by Dr. Frankenstein shown in episode 2, "Séance"
Any last words for Penny Dreadful fans who enjoy your work and who bought the Vanessa Tarot deck that you designed?
Thanks, a million thanks, I am immensely humbled by all the sweet messages I get everyday about the cards, I really hoped Penny Dreadful fans would like it!
And finally… Do you have anything motivational to say to artists and/or illustrators or students first starting out?
The would be loads to say: I highly recommend joining an online community of artists like Deviantart, and get to discover as many artists as you can, watch new art everyday, it will build your style and your imagination. Practice as often as you can, and have fun doing it! Do it for yourself before anyone else…
And as I said, show your talents! Don’t hide what you can do!
Thank you for your time and insight Anaïs! We wish you the very best!
Thanks a million, I wish you the same!