Earth Wisdom Tarot Sacred Art

Gettin’ My Artist Mojo Back!

in Art, Creativity, Gratitude, Spiritual Practice, Yule

Lucia Bride by Joanna Powell Colbert 2010

Lucia Bride by Joanna Powell Colbert 2010. Gouache, colored pencil, gold pen.

Longtime readers of this blog know that I spent nine years making intricate, photorealistic, time-consuming colored pencil paintings for the Gaian Tarot. And you may have heard me say in the past year or so that if I never pick up another colored pencil again, it will be too soon.

Well, that may be an exaggeration, but sometimes you just have to do something radically different to get the creative juices flowing again

Last spring, I took a week-long class on encaustic (painting and collage-making with beeswax) and had a fabulous time. However, I have not done any more work in that medium since returning home.  I like the process and the results, but I am not so crazy about the elaborate setup and dealing with the fumes (especially in winter, when fresh air means frigid air).

Rose & Labyrinth

Rose & Labyrinth by Joanna Powell Colbert, 1995

So . . . I decided to try yet another new medium, gouache (opaque watercolor), and combine it with colored pencil and metallic pens on black illustration board. The black board hearkens back to a technique I worked on some years ago. I started with white colored pencil on black paper, then built up layers of color on top of the white. The result is luminous.  (“Rose and Labyrinth” at right is a piece I did around 1995 with this technique. It’s still one of my favorites.)

Working with gouache on black board, then adding details with colored pencil and gold pen made my hair stand on end (in a good way!). That old excitement started flowing through my body, that spiritual “charge” that told me I was on the right track. I’ve been having so much fun again, making art!

I was flipping through a book on Byzantine icons recently and another one on Mexican folk art, and found myself very drawn to the flat color and exaggerated features and bodies that are so characteristic of both. My sketchbook is full of faces from both of these books, plus my renditions of Victorian stained glass windows and Pre-Raphaelite art. I’ve been trying to develop another drawing vocabulary, one that is less photorealistic.

“An icon is a window into the [Spirit] world, a privileged point of contact between the viewer and the subject of the picture that communicates a living, power-filled presence.”

Before I worked on the Gaian Tarot, I did a lot of pen-and-ink Goddess art.  I even called a collection of my earliest pieces “Goddess Icons.” This new work is another return to my roots. My heart still sings when creating images of the Goddess, the Divine Feminine, She Who Hears the Cries of the World.

The difference between icons and other kinds of illustration is expressed nicely by Linette Martin in Sacred Doorways: A Beginner’s Guide to Icons. (She is referring to eastern Orthodox Christian icons, but the principle still applies.) “An icon is a window into the heavenly world, a privileged point of contact between the viewer and the subject of the picture that communicates a living, power-filled presence. Its purpose is to convey or mediate spiritual realities rather than merely to show a saint or to describe a scene . . .”

Many Tarot images certainly have a quality of the numinous to them, and are icons according to this definition. Others, not so much (even in my own work) — but that’s another topic for another time.

I’ve set myself a goal of doing two iconic images in the gouache-on-black-board medium for each of the Eight Holy-Days of the Wheel of the Year. I started with Yule, or Winter Solstice, and my first piece is (what else?) our beloved St. Lucia.  Or, as I’ve named her here, “Lucia Bride.” (See her veil?)

I took photos of the process along the way, just for fun.  And I’d love to hear any comments or questions you might have. (My friend Elaine said the new piece looks like a cross between Lucia and the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland. I love that! But it was the last thing on my mind. The checkered heart is a reference to the woven paper baskets that are ubiquitous in Scandinavia during Yuletide.

What do you think?

Lucia Bride Sketch

Pencil Sketch

White pencil on black board

Color study and white pencil transferred to black board

White gouache

Laying down white gouache

Adding color gouache

Adding color gouache

Lucia Bride by Joanna Powell Colbert 2010

Final: Gouache, colored pencil, gold pen.

Thoughtful, sparkling comments. . .

  • Cari Ferraro Fri - Nov 26th 2010 1:31 pm

    Joanna, this looks lovely! Gouache is a wonderful opaque medium to work with. I have a large collection of colors because gouache can be made thin to go through a pen and write with on black paper. Then I learned the double palette method and really only need six colors to mix any color you need. Of course buying a new tube of gouache in a yummy color is one of life’s little pleasures!

    Glad you are “in the flow” again.


  • Joanna Fri - Nov 26th 2010 1:34 pm

    Cari, that was fast! 🙂 Thanks! I didn’t realize you use gouache. Where can I learn more about the double palette method? You do such gorgeous work!

  • Otter Fri - Nov 26th 2010 3:50 pm

    I love Lucia! She is wonderful! What an interesting medium. I tried colored pencils but couldn’t get the hang of layering (at least not without intruction). You have come up with a very beautiful and interesting use of color and light. Can’t wait to see more!

  • Joanna Fri - Nov 26th 2010 5:57 pm

    Otter, I took a lot of classes and workshops from Ann Kullberg back in the 90s, on colored pencil technique. She’s a great teacher and has a few books out. And (I think) DVDs. Her site is and she is on FB too. If you ever wanted to try it again, you might look at her stuff. Or take a class locally from someone. I agree that it is hard to get the hang of it without someone giving you feedback and pointers.

    Anyway – thanks for the encouragement. I’ll be working on another one this weekend. 🙂

  • Lu Fri - Nov 26th 2010 5:58 pm

    Joanna, this is great! The image, and the description of the work. Reading it, I was reminded of how some icons are painted on wood, and contained within little box-like thingies that open to reveal the icon. I also wondered: If *someone* (ahem!) were to create brand-new, 21st-century icons to promote peace and healing of Mama Gaia, what might those look like?

  • Joanna Fri - Nov 26th 2010 6:42 pm

    Thanks Lu, that is a great idea! I’ve seen Goddess shrines, assemblage pieces, and I even have a couple of books on how to make them. I’ve been thinking it would make a great art workshop. I do love your idea. I will cogitate on it . . . 🙂

  • Diane Sat - Nov 27th 2010 2:16 am

    Joanna, just lovely! So glad to see you at work again and the work looks so different from previous so it’s nice you are expanding in your self-expression. P.S. I might be able to see a Lucia procession at a Scandinavian church today if I get there in time 🙂

  • Carey Sat - Nov 27th 2010 5:36 am

    Oh Mojo indeed! She’s terrific! (I really like the black/white stage as well!) Its her red/white basket weave skirt that evokes the memory of the Queen of Hearts – brings to mind the checker board.

    Must feel sooooo gooood to ignite your creativity in a new stream again!

    Blessings Joanna!


  • Joanna Sat - Nov 27th 2010 6:58 am

    Diane – thanks! Have fun at the Lucia procession!

    Carey – it does feel good to be swimming in the creative stream again. Thanks, so glad you like her!

  • Theresa Haislip Thu - Dec 02nd 2010 5:17 am

    I know I’m late commenting on this, but I just had to tell you how much I love this piece! And what a great idea to do one for each of the Wheel of the Year holidays. I always appreciate when you share about your creative processes.
    I have barely been online since the fabulous Weekend Workshop in Raleigh, this Autumn was a whir of divine-sent opportunities, and tomorrow we leave for 9 days in San Diego. But I couldn’t let yet another beautiful inspiration from you, go without comment. It is such a JOY and honor to have access to someone who shares so many of my great loves: Art, Tarot, Mama Gaia, and who knows words like cogitate! 🙂

  • Joanna Thu - Dec 02nd 2010 5:43 pm

    Theresa, it was such a joy spending time with you in NC. Thanks for letting me know how much you liked the piece. And have a great time in San Diego!

  • Theresa Sat - Dec 04th 2010 7:27 am

    I had a great flight- I downloaded Craig’s new album and was listening to Midwinter Moon as we approached right at sunset. Lovely beginning to December and this New Moon weekend~~~

  • BlackBirdie Tue - Dec 07th 2010 6:35 pm

    I love it !
    and i recognize that woven heart…