Friday, August 30, 2013

Mind Body Spirit Artist Interview - Fiona Stolze

Silk painting.  Many have explored this wonderful creative medium, but as you will soon read, for UK artist Fiona Stolze it quickly developed into much, much, more.  Author, artist, intuitive and teacher...what a fascinating interview with a truly creative soul!  Enjoy
                                                                                                        ~ diane fergurson

Spiralling Back To The Source

MBS:    Tell us a little bit about your background.  How did you get started making art?

Fiona:  It was never clear that I would end up creating so much artwork. In younger years I was always very arty and creative, taking every opportunity to draw, paint, make things, think up new ways of doing things. My first clear artistic memory was of me at the age of about 4, drawing little dancers in hula skirts for my friend and her loving what I was doing, telling me that she could always tell after the first few pencil strokes what I was going to draw. I told her that I was going to become a world-famous artist. But I also said that I was going to study and become a teacher, which I did. I never went to art school or did any formal training. So everything arose from my desire to explore different media. I loved sculpting things out of clay, playing with watercolours, doing intricate pencil studies of fascinating objects.  I always found it easy to present things in an aesthetically beautiful way, loving giving great attention to detail - the colours, the layout, the overall look.

It wasn't until I had completed my studies at University, done the teacher thing, gone through a few different jobs abroad in Germany including translating, working in a bi-lingual kindergarten and other things, that I turned my gaze to mandalas. They sort of magically entered my life, in a very unexpected way. I attended a workshop where we created coloured pencil designs, enjoying the symmetrical nature of the mandalas and letting our innermost come out to play. It was not long after that encounter that I started to play with my first pieces of silk and taught myself to use liner to create designs that would contain the flowing colours. And after some practice I ventured into the arena of the mandala, constructing my very first one using compasses and a ruler, totally geometric and so unlike what I create today. And I started large-format, braving it out onto a large silk canvas and constructing the design on a very unforgiving fabric. I was pleased with the result but quickly turned to the freehand method which I have retained to this day. Someone saw my first organic mandala and bought it on the spot, telling me to keep painting. Which I did.  And it has really been quite an adventure since then as countless mandalas have spilled out of my brushes in the process. I have now progressed to creating wearable silks, scarves and individual pieces of clothing as well as yardage.
I have many strings to my bow and so don't just do the silk painting but it is funny to see how it just squeezed its way into my life when I was least expecting it.

MBS: For those who do not know, what is a Mandala? Also, why do you think you are so attracted to the form?

Fiona:  A mandala is a sacred form. A circle. The word comes from the ancient Sanskrit language and has many translations. But 'sacred circle' is the one I resonate with. They are not tied to any particular religion or thought system and can be found throughout the ages in many different cultures. There is a central point, concentric circles moving outwards to an outer periphery.
In Buddhism, for example, different meanings are attributed to the various colours and forms inherent in the design and those who create the sand mandalas receive an extensive training. The mandalas are created for a specific purpose and afterwards the creation is 'destroyed' as it is released into the nearest body of water. This signifies the impermanence of life.

My mandalas are not based on any system or thoughts that arise. I have experienced them as a life force arising from within. I sometimes have an idea of what colours will be involved and perhaps of the shapes and motifs that appear. But on the whole I have always thought that I had very little to do with them. I don't think and plan them out beforehand and just let them emerge as they want to.
I don't think I ever consciously chose to take the mandala form as the main focal point for my artwork. It really just turned out that way. I can read a lot about what others may have written about mandalas in books and on the internet, but most of it doesn't resonate with me, as it is not something I know to be true.

What is true for me, is the process of creating the mandala. Starting from centrepoint, that point of stillness deep within and moving outwards through different experiences which are the circles. Moving as that centrepoint on any radius until the outer periphery is reached. At this point, the innermost is seen as the outermost.
The important part of the spiritual journey for me is not getting lost in the experiences but being guided by this still point, the innermost. Which is true and real.

Metamorphical Reflections

MBS: There really is an unconsciousness that takes over when an artist allows themselves to be "turned over to the artwork". With some work I almost feel that the mandalas never make it to that point, that the artists are still involved in the exercise of color, definition and form. Can you talk a little bit more about being "guided" when creating spiritual artwork? Is this something you grew into, or did it just happen one day!  

Yes there is an unconscious or inner movement that takes over. When you give yourself over to this completely, it creates space for it to joyfully come out to play. A real ease and joy emerges. It's actually really easy for me to recognize when this is happening. There is no attempt to try to judge or change it as it takes form. There is an instant recognition that this is not from me. I love the colours, the inherent beauty, the shapes, the energy, the flow, the essence of it. I am able to stand back and look at the art and feel such wonder and appreciation arising, as if I had never seen it before. As if I had had no hand in it all. And ultimately there is no 'story' to it. It simply is. I realize that when I created my first geometrical mandala, it arose from the mind. But from the very next piece I knew to stand back and allow it all a free hand. And they just flowed from there. That was 14 years ago.

I know when it's time for a new piece of artwork. I go up into the attic room, stretch the silk on the frame and set the scene. I often paint with gentle, heartwarming music but not always. I sometimes play a recording of a spiritual teacher I follow speaking from a deep, honest space. But I also often paint in the silence these days, just dropping into my heart, becoming still and allowing that gentle movement and guidance to emerge.

Astrological Emanations in Blue

MBS: How has this unguided force impacted your work?

Fiona: I became aware of how this impacted my work as more and more people looked at it and responded to what it moved within them. I used to always do intuitive readings for people and always said that one day I would create a deck of cards myself. I remember how I was literally prodded a couple of years ago to print out all my mandala designs and start to create a deck from them. So I began. It was a long process but I kept following on through as there was a life force to this that keep moving from within and so I couldn't stop. I discovered which mandalas wanted to be in the deck and I birthed names for them all. Next I made a prototype deck which I worked with for a long while, getting to know them. When I announced I was taking the next step and starting to publish them, there was such a beautiful response from all the people who had been following me online. I was accompanied all the way through the journey of getting them out there. People began saying things about them and I could see clearly that this was not something that I could take credit for. I was the 'messenger boy'.
It was so touching to see how people loved the mandala images and were being touched and inspired by them.
Then came the point where I had to attribute meanings to the cards as a tool, a form of guidance for others. I had to really drop deeply to enable this to emerge. I had to give this time, allow more and more silence. This helped to filter and clear out all the mind level energy that might have slipped in.
They were eventually launched, received with much love and appreciation.
Today I know that everything I do is an expression of what resides deep within, of what I really am. And that I have nothing to do with it. So it does strike me as odd when people say - 'What a gift you have'. That personalizes it. I see it as being the gift in motion, being a transmitter of whatever it is that the innermost would love to share with us. And there is great joy in being that.


MBS: The way you created the deck sounds really interesting. I'm curious how you constructed it from more of a intuitive standpoint. I assume that certain mandalas probably resonated certain things with you personally about people or a situation (kind of like tarot cards)...but I'm curious how you knew what to include and what to leave out. Did you follow a form like the Tarot Hero journey or is it geared to something else? Also, when other people use your deck, how are you finding that they are able to relate to your personal system?

Fiona:  I will be writing about my creative process in detail in a planned downloadable ebook soon, but basically this deck isn't formed around a system of any kind. Each card can truly stand on its own.
I regularly get feedback from people who have bought the deck. They send me emails to share their experience of doing card layouts with my deck and seeking guidance. Many have had deep experiences and insights which is lovely.
Many just love having the artwork there in their homes to look at every day for inspiration. Just drawing a card can reveal some hidden truth that you didn't want to look at before and spark of more exploration and willingness to let go what no longer serves.

Magical Healing Colors of Glastonbury

MBS:  Your work as an intuitive - how did that develop in conjunction with your artwork?  Did one come before the other?  Did they develop together?  How do they feed off of each other?
Fiona:  I've always been intuitive and it wasn't until I was teaching English as a foreign language privately in Germany that I found I was doing more 'reading' than language teaching. People gave me gifts as thanks and it wasn't until years later that I actually began receiving money for it. I always found it easy to see things others weren't seeing. Getting a glimpse well below the surface. I'm not sure really which came first, the artwork or this. They seemed to just grow alongside each other. And of course it was lovely to suddenly realise that I was about to create the deck of mandala cards which would mean not having anyone's system to work by.
Of course I wrote a booklet to go with it and this acts as a great starting point for others. However people will realise that I read a bit differently and so the card is just a spring board for going deeper into a space of clarity.

I remember people saying to me - you didn't see that out of this card, did you? Is that what this card means? I guess I always felt more comfortable working behind the cards. People are happy to surrender to what the cards say. They let it all in.

I'm becoming more and more aware of allowing people to interpret things for themselves. It's important after they've picked a card to sit with it and let it settle. They don't have to take on what is written there if there is no deeper resonance. Just tune in to what is in their heart and see if that is true. If it is, then they can go with that.

It's all about bringing in clarity. Seeing past the stories. Dropping what's no longer needed. I would never want to tell someone how to do that. They have to do it for themselves. We're all intuitive but just have to go past the noise in the mind to hear what is really true.


Gradual Emergence of Tranquillity
MBS: It sounds like teaching is also an important component to what you do.

FionaI always wanted to become a teacher, even when I was small. When I grew up, I went to university and then did a teacher training. But there was no real fulfillment in it. I continued in life, teaching people outside the school system and discovered meaning in relating to others on heart level.
I love to share my processes in life and work and you will find me spending hours taking photos and blogging about what I am doing. I get lots of questions through my websites, asking for guidance in art and life and I always share what I can from a place of honesty.

I've moved on from needing to do things for others, needing to show them a better way or try to fix things. Now I tend to respond by reflecting back to others what they might not be able to see for themselves but without adding anything to the mix. Without bringing any personal agenda into it. That's why I named my mandala oracle deck 'A Sea of Calm'. It's there as a tool to return to that inner stillness beyond all the stories. And when people reach that place, they know how to move from there.
I know that the best teaching is not really teaching. It's simply about being in your heart, being an example to others. Being true to what you really are. That's what touches others the most. And there's no system or manual that will do that for anyone on the planet.

MBSWhat is a typical work day like for you?

FionaI always smile when I'm asked what a typical day is like for me. There is no typical day in my life. Yes, I create art and document it, I go for woodland walks, I meet with friends, I tend to my websites, I see to my business. But how and when I do that has no scheme or regularity. I tune in and see to what needs seeing to first. Sometimes I get up early in the morning but then there are long phases where I sleep longer and stay up longer at the other end, burning the midnight oil.

I have a great passion for the things I do and so when I get an idea, I tend to just sit down and get started on it straight away. I tend to have that energy of - 'last man standing'. So I can keep going with something and see it through well beyond the point of actually being too tired to do any more.
I used to put lots of energy into eating certain foods but now I have reached a point where I receive great amounts of nourishment from within, from my connection with the divine, and have released the need to give so much attention to what I eat or how I exercise. I feel very balanced physically after years and years of struggle.

Chakra Mandala Greeting Cards

MBS: Good for you! It does make a difference. What are you currently working on? Any specific projects or shows in the works?

I just recently published my mandala oracle deck which was a mammoth task but one which I loved and which seemed to be guided from a place deep within. It never takes long until I start on something new and so I find myself working on a new project.
It's a downloadable booklet with full instructions and photos, showing people how to create their own mandala on silk. A while back I released a DVD with footage showing the step by step process of how to paint on silk, specifically a mandala, using the template I supply. So now the next step is to create a written version of this as there are many people who have expressed the desire to have instructions in a booklet form. I am approaching the end of the writing and will need some time to work on creating the photos to go with this project.

It's always really exciting to create a new project and for me birthing tutorials is something I really love as I'm a teacher at heart. I've been painting again on acrylics over the past week and having a lot of fun in the process. It's so different from the focused, precise art of silk painting. I can feel the movement of my whole body as I move the acrylics over the canvas with the palette knives.
Next month I've been invited by a friend to take part in an arts trail in her part of the city, so I'll be setting up my space, doing silk painting demos and inviting people to create their own silk scarves in the microwave. I've not done one of these weekends for a while so I'm really looking forward to it.

MBS: I see that you sell a lot of your beautiful mandala silk scarfs and wearable art online. How has social networking and being online impacted you as an artist? Also, your work as an intuitive?

I sell almost all of my artwork online. About 3 years ago I took the plunge and signed up for a social media bootcamp with a group that was based in California. It was one of the best things I ever did. It swept away all my misconceptions about online marketing and enabled me to really get out there and become visible in the online world without pushing sales all the time. I was at the point of considering letting go of my online work and to be honest, I'm so glad I didn't.

Today I have built up a really solid following on my Facebook page as well as on my timeline. My blog is well-visited and my newly-vamped Silk and Art website has taken on a life of its own. It really does make a difference to have some know-how and to be able to make a bit of a splash on the social media sites. I continue to receive emails and PM's on FB about what I do and how I do it.

My husband designs websites and we have recently taken the decision to team up and offer a service together. Yes, another project. And no, I never get bored. I am offering social media backup. Individualised Skype consultations for people to help get their sites, blogs and other presence on other social media sites up and running, in conjunction with their personalised website. So I'm looking forward to that. It will be nice to have the husband and wife team after all these years. We will be targeting people in the arts and crafts arena as I particularly understand the challenge that these people face.

The social media aspect did impact my work doing readings. I ran a Blog Talk Radio show for a year and thoroughly enjoyed the contact with callers from all over the world who called in to chat with me and have a reading. I was also able to offer regular free readings on my Facebook timeline for anyone who wanted to have one. More recently I have stopped doing this, as time just didn't really allow for it any more. But people can still reach me to book readings via my blog. I must admit that I do miss my weekly shows and am thinking about maybe getting going with that work again in the future. Combining it with interviews. When the moment is right, I shall jump into action and make it happen.

MBS: What advice do you have to anyone who wishes to (seriously) pursue an artistic path?

Fiona: What advice would I give to anyone seriously considering following an artistic path? If you feel moved to create art, then don't even begin to think about how you can convert that into money. It has to come from the heart. It has to come when it is ready to come. Planning to earn a living by it normally doesn't succeed. So my advice is to just let the art pour out of you as it comes. Let people see it. Share it freely around. And your world will show you the way.
Don't try giving up our 9-5 job and think that you can replace it by being creative and bringing in sales to pay your bills. Create the artwork parallel to your work. Live and breathe it whenever you can. For the pure joy of it. And at some point you will notice that you are being pulled in deeper. So just respond to that.
And if you want to seriously develop a business around it, then remember to put your business hat on. Paperwork and planning have to be seen to. Cost things up reasonably. Keep a list of your expenditure. Keep your books up to date. This is an area that is often sadly lacking in the art world as too many artists just don't believe that they need to be practical. But they do. And believe me, it makes a difference.

Great advice. Thank you Fiona!

You can find out more about Fiona Stolze and her work through her website.
Also her blog, Facebook Page and Etsy Shop.

Links to other interviews in the Mind Body Spirit Artist Series.


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Artist,Writer, Jewelry Design