Alphabet Road Trip | the blog of Iskra Design

Category: Calligraphic Illustration

“The Things We Love” Watercolor Calligraphy and Illustration

A recent illustration and calligraphy project for the Washington Post. I was given a general direction and a list of images to work with, some of which were more workable in my watercolor style than others. The gummy bear, rubber spoon, and trivet were a little bit tricky. Here is the evolution of the process.

iskra design watercolor calligraphy valentine

Iskra Design Watercolor calligraphy

Iskra Calligraphy and icon illustration

Iskra Calligraphy and watercolor




Iskra WAPO calligraphy Illustration

To see more watercolor calligraphy and illustration take a look at my expressive watercolor calligraphy and lettering portfolios.


The New Workbook Portfolio Design | Iskra Design Calligraphic Icons & Logos

I am excited to see big changes at The Workbook, where I have been part of the illustration and design community for many years. They have just launched a dramatic redesign of their online portfolios, and I am very impressed. Take a peek at my portfolios at

Here are a few pages of icon designs I put together for my new portfolios that show how calligraphic thinking can lead to unique ways of looking at archetypal symbols.


butterfly icon by Iskra


butterfly icon process by iskra


Above, a small part of one of my favorite projects, created for Neiman Marcus for their spring fashion catalog. Each butterfly represents a different personal style of fashion.

treble clef icon designs by iskra

When I created a logo for the University of Washington School of Music I did probably 50+ variations on the treble clef. This is one of my favorites, in a set that mixes colorways and media to evoke the experience of music.


Panda icnon development by Iskra


How many times have you seen a cute panda logo?? There are still new ways to visit this little guy. Some of the many approaches I did with sumi ink, showing how personality and a unique line quality can revive a familiar symbol.


iskra design icon process for seahorse identity


This client had a last name starting with S, and a passion for seahorses. These are some of the different ways I looked at incorporating the two elements.


These days when virtually all design and illustration portfolios are shown online, having a beautiful platform to show work in-depth is essential. The platform itself can inspire new ways of thinking. I can’t wait to see how designers and creative directors respond to the new Workbook design.


The Lion and the Lamb Deconstructed: Illustration Development for a Christmas Card


During the holidays an illustrator can lose a lot of sleep over how to do something original. A few years ago I had the “nothing new under the sun, so get over yourself” realization and dared to attempt a holiday card for my own business. For a baseline, it had to avoid offending Christians, Jews, Muslims, Janes, Hindus, Atheists, Mormons, Feminists, etc. etc.– yet it had to be recognizable as a holiday greeting. Ideally it would make even a grumpy person smile.

The idea evolved from looking at a collection of illustrators from the ’50s, including one of my great heroes, Ben Shahn, and just thinking purely about the beauty of different kinds of line. Somehow I got from playing with scruffy lines and curly lines to the lion and the lamb, and eventually they met at the office watercooler under the misteltoe. This is a selection from dozens of drawings, demonstrating some of the intricacies of rendering as well as the design questions that can go into something that may look very simple. I start by working with pure ink and paper, and then test color and reversals and various printing ideas before I go back and revise.




The fluffier the friendlier, but perhaps too cute. And the lamb isn’t really looking at the lamb, he seems to be blinded with adoration for Jessica, in the red satin sheath over by the eggnog.



Kinda like these guys, and how the misteltoe showed up. Not sure about those scrunched up legs. Will this offend someone if it looks like they are about to kiss?



Okay, more formality, more tension. but this looks way too much like the Lion King, or Aslan. Wrong Lion.


Back to pure iconography and brush strokes. In the top one the lion has too much of a bed-head, the lamb is too prim, and in the second one she may be too needy, while the lion looks like a corporate sponsor. How many times am I going to have to re-cut this paint brush to get a consistently inconsistent “mane” stroke?? I think I’m tired already.



Working on relationship. Red? Maybe. Definitely gold.



It’s always good to switch up techniques. Speedball nibs on newsprint. This is a study of the difference between eyes open or closed. They look so peaceful with eyes closed, but the audience is sort of left out. Newsprint, by the way, is one of my very favorite papers to draw on. 100% non archival and very cheap, which means you can do a master-work and watch it turn brown in about a month…..but very liberating.



Many many rounds of refinements later, this was the final card. Gold ink on Karma Cover. Both actors are looking at the mistletoe, which creates the best tension: an elegance and restraint that could lead to something else. Like Universal Love and World Peace.


Maybe we could petition to hang mistletoe at the United Nations. Could it be that simple?


All images © Iskra Johnson and may not be reproduced without permission of the artist. You can see more of my greeting card designs here.