Sacred Artist Interview: Stacy Wills

I met Stacy Wills through my blog, and as always, was absolutely delighted to come across a talented artist who weaves a spiritual vision into her creative work and my special interest in bringing the arts to spiritual direction.

Stacy’s mandalas are beautiful and a wonderful tool for meditation and centering.  I am captivated by their vibrancy and contemporary interpretation of an ancient art form.

Stacy was so generous with her time and wisdom here, so please read on!_____________________________________________________

Are you rooted in a particular faith tradition?

I was born and raised in the beautiful coastal city of Savannah, Georgia and spent my early, formative years at First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). It was a traditional, formal environment and I found myself thinking, even as a child, “There must be something more.” My quest for that elusive “more” has led me on a faith journey that included a stint in fundamentalism, as well as many years in the charismatic movement. In recent years, however, I find myself exploring the more once again…investigating and gleaning from many different faith traditions and cultures…seeking a more integrated, whole or “natural” approach to spirituality. In 2006 and 2007 I participated in a program called Journey Partners (through The Center for Ministry at Millsaps College in Jackson, MS) which trains spiritual directors. Through my involvement in that program, a fire has been kindled in my belly to learn and understand more about how to integrate creativity (in all its forms) with the practice of spiritual direction.

What is your primary art medium?

My sole art form is the mandala. (Mandala is a Sanskrit word meaning “holy or sacred circle.”) True to my “seeker” nature, I find that I love exploring mediums, too! I enjoy the adventure of trying new mediums, and I am always on the lookout for the ones that will allow me to express depth, luminosity and transparency simultaneously – sometimes a tall order! Watercolors such as Twinkling H2O’s and Stewart Gill’s amazing Byzantia paints are among my current favorites. I also like to try working on non-traditional surfaces, and in recent months I have started creating mandalas on old records. They’re great fun to work on, since they’re already round, and 33’s are the perfect canvas size. This year, I also had a unique opportunity, through The Landfill Art Project to paint a mandala on an old Cadillac hubcap!

How do you experience the connection between spirituality and creativity?

For me, creativity and spirituality are one in the same, and there is no distinction, though that has not always been the case. For years, I had a dualistic belief system that divided the “sacred” from the “secular.” But, to borrow from Peter Mayer’s beautiful lyrics, I see that “…everything is holy now.”

What role does spiritual practice have in your art-making?

I would say that art-making, creating mandalas, is my spiritual practice…my spiritual path. This is the way I pray…the way I meditate…the way I experience healing and blessing within myself as well as the way I share that blessing with others. For example, if I have a question or problem or I am carrying a burden of some kind, I take it with me to the studio and begin to pray with a pencil in my hand. First, I draw the circle, which becomes a container of sorts…a vessel…a boundary between me and everything that is not me. Then I find the center…the still point…and go from there. On the other hand, if there is something happening that I want to honor or celebrate, my first inclination is to create a mandala. For me that is the beauty and magic of the mandala…it is both a spiritual practice and a creative outlet. When I decided to take the plunge into the blogosphere last year, I also began adding elements of prose to my images.

What sparked your spiritual journey?

My spiritual journey has been and continues to be sparked by many things…not the least of which is my seemingly insatiable desire to wrestle with the deep questions of life….”Who am I? Why am I here? Why is there so much suffering in the world?” At the same time, I have always been captivated by and attracted to beauty…whether it be the beauty inherent in all facets of the natural world or the beauty I find in the created world of art, music and literature. I think that is how I encounter and understand God most profoundly…in the presence of beauty.

What sparked your artistic journey?

My artistic journey can best be summed up as one of “baby steps.” Baby step #1 took place in March, 2004 – which was truly a watershed year for me. I was introduced by a dear friend of mine to a remarkable woman and life coach, named Beverly Keaton-Smith. The three of us got together one Saturday to create vision boards. This was a totally new concept for me, but I found the process exhilerating. When we finished making our boards, we spent some time in reflection, and Beverly looked at my vision board and said, “Stacy, you are an artist!” I was floored…and yet there was something deep inside me that resonated with her declaration. I had always yearned for a creative outlet, and at that point in my life (my mid 40’s), I still had not found it…but a seed of hope was definitely planted that day.

In May of that year, my father passed away. Though his death hit me hard, it also contained a gift…the impetus, and the “permission” to finally begin to deal with some things in my life that had long been simmering beneath the surface. I had been in a low-grade depression for much of my adult life, and I finally found the courage to seek treatment. In late summer of that same year, I read an article in our local paper about an upcoming conference on dreamwork sponsored by a group called “Journey into Wholeness.” I have always had very vivid dreams, and often wondered about them, so I decided to attend…baby step #2.

Turns out, the conference was more like Jung 101 and I felt as though I had been thrown into the deep end of the swimming pool – I was in way over my head! Still, I tried to absorb as much information as I could, and it was there in that conference that I learned about Jung’s practice of drawing a simple mandala each day. Baby step #3 happened in the fall of 2005 when three friends and I decided to read Julia Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way, together. I was still searching for my creative outlet, and in reading Cameron’s book, I remembered Jung’s practice of drawing mandalas, and thought…”Well, if it’s good enough for Carl, it’s good enough for me. At least I can draw a circle!” So in December of 2005, I drew my first mandala (Genesis), and all the color I had bottled up inside came pouring out. For the next several months I drew a mandala almost every day and a whole new world opened up inside and around me. I began sharing my mandalas with a small group of friends and family who encouraged and supported me in my fledgling artistic endeavors…and still do. I have learned it is so vitally important to have people in our lives who believe in us until we can begin to believe in ourselves.

Do you have a particular process you use when entering into your creative work?

When I am working on a mandala, I like to listen to lectures, books-read-aloud, interviews (I love Krista Tippett’s program, Speaking of Faith!), sermons, poetry or other forms of “spoken word” communication. I find that as I listen, a word, phrase or idea will capture my attention and imagination. Suddenly, one side of my brain is occupied with what I’m hearing, while the other side seems to become a conduit through which a creative intuition flows.

Or if I am creating a personal mandala for someone, I will listen to a playlist of that person’s favorite songs while I work. I’ve been amazed at what comes through – things that end up in those mandalas that are meaningful to that particular individual that I am not even aware of on a concious level. It’s hard to explain how it works, because I don’t fully understand it, and perhaps that’s a good thing! My approach to creativity tends to be spontaneous and organic, and yet my mandalas are typically very structured and intricate – so there’s definitely a paradox at work there!

How does your art-making shape your image of God?

I think, in some sense, they inform and shape one another. As my image of God continues to expand and deepen so does my art-making, and vice versa. My constant prayer these days is one that I learned during the “Journey into Wholeness” conference and was written by George Appleton:

Give me a candle of the Spirit, O God as I
go down into the deep of my own being.
Show me the hidden things. Take me down to the spring
of my life, and tell me my nature and my name.
Give me the freedom to grow so that I may become my true self –
the fulfillment of the seed which you planted in me at my making.
Out of the deep I cry unto Thee.
Amen

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Art from Top to Bottom: For the Beauty of the Earth, Byzantine Cross, Hubcap, Genesis, Asana, Peace Like a River

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A huge thank you to Stacy Wills (make sure to visit her website where you can order reproductions of her beautiful art and her blog where she posts new work and accompanying poems.) 

I absolutely adore the idea of using recycled materials in art and vinyl records and hubcaps make perfect surfaces for a mandala, reminding us that the sacred is right in the midst of our everyday life.  I am also moved by the image of the mandala as the sacred vessel and container that is able to hold her awareness in the present, help her rediscover her center.  Her description of listening for a word or phrase as she is creating is essentially a form of lectio divina, a very contemplative dimension of the creative practice.
What is resonating for you this day?

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© Christine Valters Paintner at Abbey of the Arts:
Transformative Living through Contemplative & Expressive Arts

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