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).
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?