“I hope my images help create a culture of strong and gentle women and men, working together to create a beautiful, peaceful and just planet.”
~ Joanna Powell Colbert, Journey through the Gaian Tarot
As you all know, my passion and my calling is the Tarot. I bought my first deck in 1972, and it was love at first sight. In fact, that original Rider-Waite-Smith deck of mine is the same one I use here every Monday for my Card of the Week.
But while, like all first loves, it has a permanent place in my heart, a century has passed since Pixie Smith created those images, and the underlying European sensibilities of 1909 are sometimes very hard to relate to in 2011.
My collection, therefore, has expanded, thanks to a lifelong restless (but happy!) quest to find decks more relevant for myself and my clients.
It was that searching that, several years ago, led me to Joanna Powell Colbert’s Tarot deck-in-progress.
Over the years, I have watched the deck mature, from a collector’s edition of the Majors only (which I have and adore still!), to the collector’s edition of the entire deck that was released last year (there are still some left and I would urge you not to miss out on having at least one!).
And now, at last, the beautiful, completed deck is available to the world, thanks to Llewellyn Publications.
I could rave on and on about it; in fact, if you want to see my official review of the deck, visit here.
But today, I am so honored to have Joanna herself as my blog guest to talk about The Gaian Tarot in her own words. I had a chance to ask her a few questions, and she graciously took the time to be interviewed.
Beth: Welcome, Joanna! It is such a pleasure to have you as my guest today. As you know, I’ve been following your creative progress via your website. In fact, you’ve probably been the first Tarot artist to share the entire creative process, starting way back in the Fall of 2003, with your fans through blogging. How would you say that influenced the final deck?
Joanna: It’s one of the main reasons I was able to finish the deck, even though it took me nine years. It was so important to me to get feedback early on, and to know that my ideas and my artwork were resonating with so many people. That was incredible validation.
There were also several times, when I posted a card in progress, that blog readers gave me feedback on how they thought the card could be better. In several cases I listened to them and actually made the changes. So they also became a kind of critique group!
One I remember in particular was the revised Child of Water. In the first version, her entire body overlapped the borders of the card and we could see her bare feet. After getting feedback from people, I made her body smaller and put her feet in the water. They were right — it made for a much better image visually, plus now we had her actually touching and interacting with the water, not just looking at it.
Beth: One of the things I constantly hear from my clients when I use your decks is how they are sure they are seeing people they know. Indeed, that quality of familiarity, of feeling you are among friends is one of my favorite things about the Gaian Tarot. Can you tell us a little about how some of your actual models feel about the final product?
Joanna: I think they are all pleased to be part of this project. It really did grow out of our community and our love for each other, and our friendships. When my models use the cards, there’s an extra layer of meaning for them, because they know some of the actual people involved.
For example, I was reading the cards for a friend at a community gathering, and the 4 of Fire came up for him. I said, “Debbie has some information for you — go talk to her!” Because Debbie was the model for the 4 of Fire. So he did, and she did, and he got some insight into his situation through talking it over with her.
My friend Elaine was the model for several cards. She allowed me to change her appearance in each one, so they would not all look like the same person. Her favorite is the Explorer of Fire (she really is a fire spinner!) because it shows her in her power. It’s the image of who she would like to be, all the time. Her best, deepest, wisest Self.
She tells me that when she works with the cards, if one of the ones that she posed for turns up, it has extra added oomph! for her, not unlike a Birth Card showing up in a reading.
Beth: As I mention in my review, you have done away with the whole “royalty” sensibility in the people cards. Can you tell us what went into making that decision, and how you chose the alternatives you have created?
Joanna: I never really resonated with the court card titles of Page, Knight, Queen and King. The only one I really liked was “Queen,” as in “I am Queen of My Life!” But Kings seemed too patriarchal and power-over to me, and neither Knights or Pages did much of anything at all. None of the court cards were very easy to relate to, as (in America at least) they are not part of our everyday lives.
Then decks started to be published that gave the court cards alternative names — like Motherpeace, with Son, Daughter, Priestess and Shaman; or Voyager, with Child, Man, Woman and Sage. Those worked a lot better for me.
As I worked with decks over the years, I started translating the court cards in my head into stages of life. It just made sense to me to do that for my own deck. The stages of life are of course metaphorical — you can be 70 years old and still be a “Child” — a beginner — in some area of your life. You can be in your 20s or 30s and be an Elder in your chosen field.
The titles of “Child” and “Elder” came easily to me — those extreme ends of the life cycle were obvious. I had a harder time coming up with names for the young adult and midlife adult stages of life. I finally came up with “Guardian” for midlife, as in my experience, by the time a person is in her 40s, 50s or 60s, she is committed to a way of life and has (hopefully) found her purpose. We are usually very active in our communities and our families at this stage of life too, so I see the Guardians as taking a stand, and as being woven into many different relationships.
I chose “Explorer” last, and went through many different variations, like “Adventurer” or “Quester”, none of which I liked at all. I don’t think “Explorer” is quite as elegant as “Guardian” or “Elder,” but it does encapsulate the energy of a person in their young adult years, exploring all their options and testing themselves.
Beth: In retrospect, what was the hardest part of your creative process?
Joanna: The technique of photorealistic colored pencil painting, just because it is so time-intensive. I fell in love with this medium and technique in the late 90s, and practiced until I was quite good at it. But I would never attempt another 78-piece project like this, and I honestly don’t know if I will ever do another piece of colored pencil artwork, unless the CP is just the top layer.
These days I am attracted to multi-media techniques like encaustic (painting and collage with beeswax), where there is room for a multitude of happy accidents, and you can finish a piece in one or two days, instead of a month or more.
Beth: And finally, what advice would you have for other aspiring Tarot creators?
Joanna: Listen for the voice of Spirit, and follow your own inner guidance. Come up with a unique vision, and stay true to it. Don’t worry about whether or not your idea is commercial enough for a publisher. You can always publish it yourself. Do it for the adventure, for the creative self-expression, and for the spiritual growth you’ll experience as you create the deck. Don’t do it for the acclaim or the money. And don’t give up!
Thank you so much, Joanna, for your time and especially for this deck.
The Gaian Tarot is a powerful, beautiful gift to the evolution of the Tarot that speaks to all walks of life, all backgrounds, and all spiritual paths that honor the Love that is All.