After weeks of literally no progress on Temperance, I’ve decided to put that card back into the deck, so to speak, and start on a painting I know I can get some forward motion with: IX The Hermit.
This is a card about introspection; about withdrawing from society and coming back out the other side with a more thorough knowledge of oneself. I feel that this corresponds to what I’ve been doing with these paintings: I withdraw into myself, and when I come out again, I have gained not only a painting and another step toward completing my deck, but also a more complete understanding of not only the Tarot, but of my relationship to it. For me, painting these cards is a way of meditating on their symbolism, and deepening my understanding of each of these cards in a way I would not be capable of through traditional meditation techniques. In order to create these paintings I have to truly understand my subject matter. In fact, I feel that my confidence in my reading last week is due in part to my painting of the first card in the spread, XII The Hanged Man.
All in all, I think that I can now definitively say that these paintings have paid off not only in the satisfaction of having completed some artworks and in the thrill of learning a new medium, but also in helping me figure out what I’m doing with the Tarot and how it relates to me and my life in direct, specific ways.
I’d like to share a little bit of my process with you now.
It starts with some preliminary research; usually a combination of Google Image Search, Pinterest, and deviantART. I’ll find some reference materials and inspiration, and then start sketching. Sometimes (like with The Hanged Man and II The High Priestess) I’ll make preliminary thumbnails. Other times I’ll just start drawing. In this case I had a pretty clear idea of where I wanted to go with the composition, so I marked the approximate dimensions of my card and started drawing.
Once the pencils are down and I’m satisfied with the composition and forms, I’ll start inking. I’ve made a little template on a sheet of plain sketch paper that marks where the title banner will be placed on the card, in order to keep at least a little bit of uniformity and regularity to the cards. I noticed between the first two paintings that I hadn’t really standardized my placement of the title banner, and I think once I’ve finished the Major Arcana I’ll go back and repaint both XVII The Star and XVI The Tower, in order to make the whole set a little more cohesive. Anyway, this template has been used on the last three paintings and I’m going to continue to use it on all the Major Arcana, at least.
After marking out the borders of the card and the banner placement, I’ll start inking over my pencil lines. This is where the final product really begins to take shape. Pencils can be kind of messy and loose, which is great at times, but sometimes the graphite can obscure the forms a little bit. I like to put down ink and then erase most or all of my loose, sketchy pencils so I can get a feel for how the blocks of color might interact, without any distracting incidental shading or texture.
The ink step exists solely to make transferring the drawing to the watercolor paper a little bit easier. I don’t have a light box, so instead I use this super-fancy high-tech setup:
Masking tape and a glass door. I use super low-tack masking tape to attach the inked drawing to the sliding glass door in my living room, and then tape the watercolor paper (Canson Montval 140lb cold press) on top of that. The light shining through the window provides enough illumination for me to trace my lines lightly onto the heavy watercolor paper. It’s important that these graphite lines be dark enough to see, but light enough that they won’t show through the paint. Once the paper has soaked for stretching, the graphite won’t come out, so these lines are more or less permanent.
Now that the drawing has been transferred to the watercolor paper, it’s time to soak and stretch the paper so it lays flat on the back board instead of rippling and curling when wet. To do that, I first soak the paper for 10 minutes or so (or half an hour, whatever) in lukewarm water. This allows the cotton fibers to fully expand as they absorb the water. When the paper is fully expanded, I attach it to a backing board (in this case, a solid pine shelf from IKEA) using the method described here. The mat is scrap I’ve had laying around the apartment for a year or two. The staple gun is an inexpensive model we picked up at The Home Depot.
I’ve used water-activated adhesive tape for stretching paper as well. It took a few tries to figure out the proper execution of that method, and while it’s effective, it’s certainly a lot easier to just punch a few staples into some strips of mat board. I feel that using the staple method results in a painting that is more evenly stretched and more solidly secured to the backing board than with the tape method, and I don’t have to worry about scrubbing adhesive residue off my board when I’m done.
Now that the paper is stretched and stapled, it’s time to paint. I like to put in some of the base colors while the paper is still wet from soaking. First, I’ve pushed in some of the grey-green mountain, then the blue and violet of the evening sky. I’ll continue to add layers of paint until the forms have the proper color and texture, and then I’ll let the paint and paper dry so I can observe the final colors and make the necessary adjustments.
The last step is painting the banner and lettering before removing the paper from the board, trimming the painting, and scanning it into Photoshop for some minor color and level correction before posting it to the interwebs.
Et voila, a watercolor Tarot card is born. I should have the final painting ready to post in the next day or two, and then I begin the next painting: The Fool.