Joanna Elizabeth Read

climbing photo joanna.jpg

Joanna Elizabeth Read
Artist, educator, yoga teacher & adventurer

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I was lucky enough to spend my first 14 years living on a farm in northern MA. I spent my days building forts and fairy houses in the woods, sinking my hands in soil, and visiting the wildlife and farm animals. Today, I’m grateful to live on the outskirts of Providence, RI. There’s something quite magical about being able to hike in the Appalachian Mountains and surf in the ocean in the same day.

Just this year, I launched into full-time work combining my passions as an artist, educator, yoga teacher, and adventurer. I get really excited about exploring the intersections of my passions and interests, crafting and co-creating products and experiences that inspire courage and creativity. Most recently, I developed a line of power-animal yoga mats, based on art that I’ve created over the past ten years. I’m in the process of bringing the product line to life, and am so excited to share it with the world!

These past few years, I’ve really allowed myself to open up to the vibrancy that lies in stepping into the unfamiliar, which, to me, is the essence of Howl Often.

From rock climbing to dancing, surfing, slacklining, and scuba diving, there’s no end to what inspires and feeds my soul. And helping others tap into and rediscover the creative and courageous parts of themselves brings me such deep fulfillment.

I’ve been drawing and journaling since I was old enough to hold a pencil. By the time I was 10, I had filled so many composition notebooks that my parents ran out of room for storing them. I was recently looking back at a journal from second grade, and came across a rather auspicious drawing titled “This is me in the future, painting.” It’s a full-color image of me standing in front of an easel, painting a sunny landscape filled with animals and lush vegetation. On the next page, an accompanying journal entry, titled “What I want to be when I grow up”:

“I want to be an artist; to make beautiful paintings, and write beautiful songs. I want to make people feel really happy and make them well - the same with animals...I’m going to work it out so I can do most of it at home.” 

I had to laugh at the specificity of the vision at eight years old, and how it’s manifested 24 years later. One of the first drawings I remember creating was that of a tiger. She had piercing emerald eyes: intensely focused, hypnotizing. There was a felt quality, almost as if she were about to leap out of the canvas and unleash a roar that had been carried for thousands of lifetimes. I was 11 years old, and my parents had put me in an after-school art program- one that, I'm certain, powerfully shifted the trajectory of my young, impressionable life. It was here where I first started exploring how I could tap into the energy of my subject as a means of navigating, processing, understanding, and expressing my own emotions.

Art became a comforting refuge, and a thrilling, energizing, and inspiring pathway for me to examine the inner mysteries of my own soul.

I re-awakened to exploring nature four years ago, in the Appalachian Mountains. I was 28 years old, and going through a divorce that left me feeling like my entire world had been shaken up and turned inside out. The shattering feeling inside my chest awakened an inexplicable pull to the mountains. Up until then, I had never hiked a mountain - I’d written it out of my life as an impossibility, as with so many other activities that I’ve since grown to love and enjoy.

For my first trek, I decided to go all in with the Franconia Loop, since summiting three peaks sounded more appealing than one. I’ve made it a ritual ever since - returning back to the same trail every Autumn for potent solitude, inward reflection, and a renewed connection to soul.

One of the most potent wild woman experiences I’ve encountered so far was through the soul-clarity that came from my first solo backpacking adventure in the Cascades and Rockies this summer. Having this time off of the grid to really push my comfort zone out in nature helped me to examine my motivations and anxieties on a deeper level, inspiring me to make some challenging life decisions and face my deepest fears head on:

Earlier in the year, I had dreamt up a 77-day trip around the globe, one that was slated to begin this Fall. Returning from the mountains with a stronger connection to my wild woman, it hit me that my underlying motives for taking this trip weren’t aligned with the narrative I’d created on the surface - that the real journey I needed most was a journey inward.

On the surface, I’d believed that traveling would take away all of the pain and fear from recently losing my job, and losing myself in a toxic relationship. But in stepping back, I realized I had already found the perspective I was so deeply craving: I could see that I was running away from the deeper work. And I didn’t want to run any longer. It was right then and there that I realized there was no better time to face the very fears I was running from, and that I could do so by focusing on showing up fully for my art, my dreams, my career, and my community. This was the perfect opportunity to look my fears in the eye and really go for it!

Wiping the tears off of my face and swallowing my pride, I took out a pad of sticky notes, and mapped out a new plan: a plan to follow my soul’s deeper calling. Interestingly, within hours of committing to changing courses, opportunities of my wildest dreams started unfolding: playing music with an artist/environmental activist whose work I’ve long admired from afar; co-leading an adventure retreat to Everest Basecamp this April with Driftwood Adventures, and some really, really exciting art and community engagement projects, including this opportunity to collaborate with Howl Often, for which I am so grateful!

This has been an incredibly powerful lesson; one that I’m still very much swimming in - how empowering it can be to approach fear head-on with compassion and curiosity, and how faith, and attunement to the inner voice, can steer us toward dreams bigger than we’ve ever dared to imagine.

When I first discovered Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ underground classic “Women Who Run With The Wolves” I was deeply inspired by the concept of the Wild Woman, The One Who Knows. While I had an understanding of what I was reading cerebrally, art felt like a necessary component to begin to unpack and embody the learnings and messages on a deeper level.

This led to a series of mixed media paintings exploring the wolf as Wild Woman archetype through bold, visceral marks, chance splatters of ink, and smudges of fingerprints mixed with tears. The process became a vehicle for journeying deeper into the psyche, a moving meditation. As I was moving through the art and the reading, I began to notice a shift in habitual thought patterns and behaviors. It felt like a rumbling just beneath the surface; multi-layered, vibrantly raw, and as illuminating as the full moon depicted in the painting.

I’ve been eagerly following Howl Often for a few years now, and when I learned about the art contest, I knew I had to take a chance and submit some of the pieces that resulted from this exploration.