This Vancouver Artist Just Made an Oracle Deck Out of Her Paintings

The Vessels and Muses oracle deck features highlights from Zoë Pawlak's 16-year painting career.

Artist Zoë Pawlak’s Vessels and Muses oracle deck is a tool for reflection and conversation, but it’s also a 16-year retrospective in a box. Forty paintings from across her career, selected the year she turned 40, are paired with words intended to inspire contemplation. Pick a card, any card, and you’ll be faced with something bold, beautiful and (ideally) a little bit mind-bending.

For the uninitiated: oracle cards offer the opportunity to perform a sort of free-form tarot reading, one focused more on self-reflection and intention-setting than predicting the future. They’ve been around since the 19th century, but have made a resurgence in a time of renewed interest in all things witchy. (“It’s bougie woo-woo!” laughs Pawlak, lovingly.)

This isn’t Pawlak’s first venture outside of the canvas; she’s designed furniture with Jeff Martin Joinery, and collaborated with Burrit Bros on colourful rugs inspired by her works. But spotting other contemporary tarot cards on the market sparked an idea for a product that would make her art even more accessible and affordable to the public.  

Photo: Niko Myyra

Pawlak has never owned a box of oracle cards before this one, but from her own experience as an artist moving through the world—someone who has relied on intuition and offered service and ministry to others—creating the deck and accompanying guidebook felt perfectly comfortable.

“When I designed my first line of rugs, I had no idea what rugs really were made of. I was going in blind,” says Pawlak. “But I like it when an artist creates something with naiveté. I think it’s bold to not be an expert; there’s sort of a daring hopefulness to it.”  

She’s been writing informally since she was a kid, and saw the guidebook that accompanies the deck as a chance to combine words with her artwork. “I really listened to my intuition, and thought about the relevence of these cards right now,” says Pawlak. “The word ‘Tenacity,’ for instance, really matters, but I don’t think that a lot of people sit there with their morning coffee and really think about how to be tenacious.” 

Photo: Yohan Kim

Despite the magical connotations of an oracle deck, Pawlak ultimately hopes it can be used as a pragmatic tool.

“I thought a lot about what people are missing, and what might actually assist them in their lives,” she says. These are words and images that can be used as journal prompts, or to help set intentions for the day.

Photo: Niko Myyra

But whether you believe in their powers or not, there’s something to be said for taking a moment—whether each morning or after a few glasses of wine with your friends—to consider what a word or image means to you. Each card represents a distinct word (Pause, Discernment, Justice) intended to guide you towards some insight on a problem, or inspire you to move through the day.  

A launch party in the fall brought out some 200 people to bust out cards and celebrate Pawlak’s career highlights, but it’s really the quiet moments that touch Pawlak the most. “Someone just sent me photos of themselves with their cards on vacation. She’s using her deck to heal and reflect, and that’s powerful to me.”  

Vessels and Muses cards are $64 and available at Kou StudiosTurf, The CrossLewellyn ShoppeNeighbourhood and Walrus.

Photo: Niko Myyra