Tarot Tales with creator of The Somnia Tarot, Nicolas Bruno

New York-based artist and creator of the exquisite Somnia Tarot, Nicolas Bruno reveals what the cards mean to him and how they fuel his creative work.

By: The College of Psychic Studies.   Posted

Nicolas Bruno's Instagram feed is spectacular. Feast your eyes upon visceral dreamscapes that reveal Bruno's own suffocating night terrors. Among these are photographs from his stunning Somnia Tarot - his personal tarot deck in which we see familiar themes revisioned through the lens of Nicolas' camera. Here, he reveals how the tarot has inspired his journey as an artist...

What's your favourite tarot deck?

"My current favourite tarot deck is Terra Volatile by Credo quia Absurdum. The imagery within this deck transports the viewer to an ominous dreamscape of raw emotion and rich symbolism. Each composition contains awe-inspiring scenes of the divine and macabre. I was particularly struck by their ability to marry themes of melancholy with an ethereal display of colour. I discovered this deck after creating my series, The Somnia Tarot, and I certainly wish I had found it prior. The creators of Terra Volatile are incredibly kind. We have traded our own decks to experience each other's world of tarot."

What first sparked your interest in the tarot?

"When I was around six years old, I discovered my Yia Yia's tarot deck in the basement of my grandmother's home. My grandmother kept all of Yia Yia's antique possessions in a storage closet, and I loved spending time looking through the treasures. Because of a superstition, my grandmother took the cards from me and hid them on a high shelf. I grew up in a Greek Orthodox family, where superstitions governed many of our ways of life. This memory stayed with me until adulthood, where I re-experienced tarot through watching my friends read cards for each other. The imagery from the Rider-Waite-Smith deck always struck my curiosity, and many of my friends often suggested that I should try recreating one of the images through my surreal photography. During the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, I embraced this suggestion and created 78 photographs for The Somnia Tarot series."

Where did you get your first deck?

"I obtained my first deck in sophomore year of college - the Rider-Waite-Smith. I sought out the deck for an art inspiration device, rather than to read the cards for myself. I thoroughly enjoyed browsing through the compositions of each card. Each time I explored the deck, I became inspired to incorporate visual symbolism into my artistic practice. The alluring nature and mystery behind the cards drew me deeper into learning about historical decks and the artistic history of tarot."

What do you remember about your first ever tarot reading?

"When I was 16 years old, my girlfriend's older cousin performed a reading for us on the floor of her living room. As she placed each card onto the carpet, I remember being perplexed by the imagery that appeared before me. Her ability to call forth prompts and insight was fascinating. I often wish that I had a photograph of what cards were revealed. It would be interesting to reflect on the information that the spread might have contained."

Which tarot card most represents you?

"I have always resonated with The Hermit and the symbolism behind it. Because of my sleep disorder, I find an immense pull to dive into my dreams and spend hours trying to interpret them through art. My art studio is my refuge, and if it was possible, I would spend every hour there planning out my next creation. In my teens, the effects of my sleep disorder pushed me to self-isolate. I often felt like a Hermit without a lantern. Once I started transforming my nightmares into art, I created a metaphorical light for myself, which has been guiding me forward ever since."

What are your favourite tarot rituals? 

"I primarily use tarot to evoke inspiration for new artworks and costumes that I create. With my small collection of decks, I enjoy comparing and contrasting how each artist chose to render a specific card. I particularly enjoy studying how visual symbolism can appear simple, yet convey such complexity. My favourite tarot practice is to compare my dream journals to the archetypes within the tarot. Tarot has become a supplemental tool for me to understand what I experience in each sleep paralysis experience, nightmare, and dream."

What do you love most about the tarot?

"I am enthralled by the artistic history and meticulous architecture of archetypes within the tarot. The system creates a blueprint for how an incredible story can be told through the most simple of mediums - an image. The imagery transcends all language barriers and reaches deep into how the human mind operates behind the scenes. Although I may never uncover the deepest meanings behind the tarot, I certainly will enjoy the symbols that reveal themselves to me throughout the course of my life."

Quickfire round:

Dominant colour in your wardrobe? Mostly subdued, such as tan, grey, brown, navy, burgundy, and sage green. I enjoy natural fabrics such as linen, cotton, and wool. My interest in historical costuming draws me to these raw materials, and I love to display them in the clothes that I wear.

Dog or cat? I have been a dog person my entire life. I have a five year old German Shepherd named Ganon. His name was inspired by The Legend of Zelda series, which is one of my favourite video games. I enjoy taking my dog to the field near my home and throwing my boomerang with him. He loves to chase it around while it flies through the air. We often take late night walks through my town and explore the local nature preserves together.

What's on your bedside table? 
I normally have my dream journal, sketchbooks, candles, a diffuser, and whatever trinkets that I am toying with at the time, such as antique keys or Somnia product prototypes. I reserve the night time for introspection, idea development, and setting intentions for my upcoming creations.

Last movie you watched? I recently rewatched The Lord of The Rings Trilogy to conjure some nostalgia and inspiration. Even watching this series in 2022, I am still blown away by the costume and prop design. After studying tarot over the past few years, the archetypes within the films practically jumped off the screen at me. Tarot has helped me analyse and understand the architecture of the film's story. The symbolism of the tarot enables me to dive into the nature of each character. From an art perspective, I always found interest in how the designers made the fabrics and weapons seem battle-worn. I try to emulate these weathering techniques to create more immersive costuming elements within my photographs.

Guilty pleasure? My guilty pleasure is playing Nintendo games from my childhood, such as Dragon Warrior Monsters, The Legend of Zelda, Pokemon, and Fire Emblem. While video games are often seen by others as a distraction or waste of time, I find an incredible amount of inspiration within each series. From their stories, settings, props, and costume designs, I can always find an element from a game that might aid the creation of my next photograph.

Breakfast of champions? While I enjoy cooking, I try to make my breakfast as efficiently as possible to save time. I will generally make a protein smoothie with fruit, or scrambled eggs with a toasted bagel. I will make coffee or tea and enjoy it throughout the workday. I have a large collection of loose leaf teas that I love to cycle through.

Favourite time of day? I feel that I can be most creative once the sun has set behind the horizon. There is that magical period of time where the environment becomes cloaked in a soft blue light. This comforting time is a catalyst for me to begin my process of introspection, research, and idea conjuration. The responsibilities of the day are no longer a disturbance, and I can find a moment to ponder what I will create next.

Where did you grow up? Northport, New York, which is a small harbour town located on Long Island. I spent my childhood exploring nature with my friends, where we would slay imaginary dragons with wooden swords and tablecloth capes. Now, as an adult, I return to these woodlands and marshlands, where I set the stage for my surreal self portrait photography. The positive energy from these environments fuels my creativity and helps me express the imagery inspired by my dreams.

Last thing that made you laugh? My dog Ganon is the comedian of my household. He is always up to something, whether it be watching squirrels from the window, zooming around the house, or making funny faces. Because he is a German Shepherd, he is very vocal, and often tries to communicate with us in his own language. He is the most bizarre dog that I've ever had, but he is definitely the most comical.

Have you ever seen a ghost? While I have not seen a ghost in my waking life, I have experienced countless encounters of apparitions during my sleep paralysis experiences. At the foot of my bed, shadow-like figures appear before me as I am stuck in a state between sleep and consciousness. The figures are often faceless, or appear as archetypes of The Old Hag or The Hatted Man. As I continue to see these entities, I try my best to find out what their intentions are, or what causes them to exist. Documentations of these entities span across all cultures and time periods. In my lifetime, I hope to discover what connects these experiences to humans across the world.

All images of The Somnia Tarot and of Nicolas Bruno © Nicolas Bruno. Enjoy Nicolas' Instagram here.

Watch our interview with Nicolas Bruno as we chat more about his sleep paralysis and how it inspired his Somnia Tarot.

Nicolas Bruno spoke on The Somnia Tarot: Born from Dreams & Nightmares at our Tarot Weekend in November 2022.

Join our newsletter to receive updates on our events.