Authors & Thought Leaders

Exploring The Wild Unknown With Kim Krans

Published on November 11, 2016

Article by Steffie Nelson for Bodhi Tree

According to the artist Kim Krans, the deep psyche is always trying to tell us things; tarot is just one way to tune in and listen. Best known as the creator of The Wild Unknown tarot deck, the Portland, Oregon–based Krans has earned a cult following for her mystical yet grounded images. These drawings have attracted a new generation to the world of tarot, and now Krans is poised to reach an even broader audience with a special edition deck set published by Harper Elixir.

Popular Tarot Decks

Many artists have tried their hand at reinterpreting the 78 cards in the major and minor arcanas, but if you’re a tarot fan or practitioner, chances are you’re most familiar with the iconic Rider-Waite or Thoth decks, both of which were created more than 50 years ago (illustrated by Pamela Colman Smith and Lady Frieda Harris, respectively). Krans received the Rider-Waite deck years ago, but never strongly identified with the symbolism or imagery, which is why she felt compelled to start drawing the tarot herself.

The History of The Wild Unknown Tarot Deck

Living in a renovated church in Philadelphia, Krans began drawing the deck December 2011, during a time of deep introspection. She had just left New York City, where she had lived since attending college there, and was figuring out the next phase of her life. “That made for a cool climate to draw,” she notes. “Kind of ego-crisis, self-reflection time…in a church.”

The resulting deck is a fresh and modern take on tarot. “When you read a description [of a card] that’s intimate and profound, I think the artist’s natural inclination is to reinvent that image,” Krans explains. “I would look at that description and think, man, this image doesn’t resonate in the way that this concept [does].… Even the language of the “king” and “queen” is not exactly the language that I felt was reflecting my world.”

The Wild Unknown’s Tarot Universe

Krans’ resonant world is one of creatures, nature, color (or lack of it) and vibration—not royalty. And although she sticks with the standard suits, there are no human families in this realm: wands are snakes; cups are swans; swords are owls; pentacles are deer; the lovers are two geese flying in unison; the high priestess is a tiger; and judgment is a white dove ascending.

photo of Kim Krans
Photo: David Paulin

Raised on a farm in Michigan, Krans admits she’s not fond of drawing people. In May 2016, she published an Animal Spirit Deck and Guidebook. “I feel like animals are so much more open in terms of getting to the heart of the symbolism,” she explains. “It doesn’t matter what your age, race or gender is. You can delve right into the psychic realm of a creature, whereas with a person you have an immediate identification—they are me, or they’re not me. Creatures let us into the story, whether it’s a fairy tale or tarot cards.”

And these beautiful creatures are speaking to a new audience of tarot readers. Her Animal Spirit and Wild Unknown illustrations have become such popular tattoo inspirations that Krans started a Tattoo Karma Fund, asking her fans to donate $25 to re-create her art in permanent ink (with all proceeds going directly to charity). In fact, there are so many people who want to wear Krans’ artistic depictions of their spirit animal on their skin that there’s even an Instagram account and hashtag devoted specifically to The Wild Unknown tattoos.

The Strength Behind Each Stroke

An avid yogi and meditator, Krans approaches her art as a spiritual and intentional practice. She traces this back to her time at a boarding arts high school, when a drawing teacher taught her that a line itself can contain and tranmit energies. “I think of her when I look at the line work,” Krans reveals. “I feel like the deck moved through me through line work, and I think people can pick up on those kinds of energies.”

How to Use the Cards

Instead of offering definitive answers, Krans believes the cards create “a doorway that you can move through.… I think they kind of bypass the intellect and the rational, practical side of us and remind us of something that needs to be seen or remembered.” She recommends starting simple, with a one- to five-card reading, and taking some deep breaths before starting. “It’s helpful to realize where you’re at before you start a reading,” she says. “How’s my anxiety? Am I scared? Am I excited?” For those who might be trying out tarot for the first time, she offers reassurance: “In my experience, I haven’t had the cards show me something I wasn’t ready to or didn’t need to see.… I do trust them in that way.”

Krans adds that whenever she gets caught up in the cards as a business or doubts their metaphysical qualities, she’ll receive some kind of message, or “I’ll look back at a year-ahead spread I did, and it will blow my mind.”

The Future of The Wild Unknown

But even the cards didn’t alert her to the journey that lay ahead in “the wild unknown country”—the Bob Dylan lyric she named the project after. “I definitely never imagined it would grow and expand in the way that it has. That was never the plan,” she says. “And in a way, it’s taken over my creative life—for better or worse.” She compares the experience to being a musician with a new album, when fans are more interested in hearing the songs they already know. So when the opportunity came along for Harper Elixir to release the deck with mass distribution, packaged as a box set with her hand-lettered Guidebook, Krans says, “I had to, in some ways, allow the deck to grow into what it wants to be.”

Its creator, meanwhile, has just begun a program at Pacifica Graduate Institute near Santa Barbara, studying psychology and the creative life. “I’m trying to understand where creativity comes from, and how it’s related to the unconscious side of ourselves,” Krans says. “That is an endless source of questioning and inner search—how to be an artist in the world, navigate the world and also be in touch with my deep self.” She considers the enormity of this question and laughs. “I’m in there wondering what it’s all about, like the next person.” And she can always count on the cards to help guide her.

Published on: November 11, 2016

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