Buddha Artist Faith Stone Brings an Ancient Form into the Modern World

A White Tara stencil by Faith Stone.
A White Tara stencil by Faith Stone.
Faith Stone

You can find art all over town — not just on gallery walls. In this series, we'll be looking at some of the local artists who serve up their work in coffeehouses and other non-gallery businesses around town.

“I think most artists feel their work has a spiritual quality, but with Buddha art you actually have that physical, enlightened being there, and I love that,” says Faith Stone, who's carved out a niche in the local art scene by bringing contemporary mediums to an ancient practice.

When Stone completed her undergraduate degree in art in Massachusetts, “they didn’t have a class on Buddha art at the time, and it never occurred to me that I could do a Buddha or a Bodhisattva,” she says. Then Stone moved to Boulder, where she discovered Buddha art. “When I learned about this form, I felt like I had finally found me voice and identity as an artist,” she remembers.

Vajrasattva.
Vajrasattva.
Faith Stone
Pele, the Hawaiian Volcano Goddess.
Pele, the Hawaiian Volcano Goddess.
Faith Stone

At Naropa University she had the opportunity to learn from Tibetan painters and  spent time studying traditional thangka, paintings that usually depict a Buddha deity or mandala. Over the years, Stone has constantly bettered her craft, working on figure painting with Irene McCray and picking up various classes at the University of Colorado — always with the intention of incorporating Western practices and concepts into her Buddha art.

The traditional approach to thangka involves stretching linen or fine cotton into a frame, sanding it — “Traditionalists don’t like texture,” says Stone — and adding color with ground minerals, using a distinct, time-consuming method of pointillism for shading. Gouache, Stone explains, is the closest Western equivalent to ground minerals. It can take as much as six months to complete a single piece.

“Once I had a child,” Stone says, I thought, who has time to spend six months on each painting?” Stone wasn’t comfortable veering from tradition, though, and she felt stuck until she went to an exhibition at CU in 2006 where Tibetan painters displayed Buddhas made with more contemporary mediums.

Inspired, Stone started using spray paint, paint pens and hand-cut stencils to add her own Western flair to the Buddha art that had launched her career. “None of those methods would have been traditional,” she admits. The results, though, have been equally inspired.

A Buddha artist has all sorts of Buddhas to choose from; there are deities for wisdom, compassion and healing – the Medicine Buddha is one of Stone’s favorites – and there are goddesses, too, and protectors that “look pretty scary sometimes,” Stone says. Last year Stone painted about fifty Medicine Buddhas. “It seemed like I was hearing from so many people with health issues — not just physical struggles, but mental and emotional health issues, too,” says Stone, who typically gives away her healing Medicine Buddhas as gifts.

Stone is also inspired by the Hindu god Ganesh, that oft-depicted elephant head, also called the mover of obstacles. “It’s all very symbolic,” she says. When you hang a Buddha, it immediately makes the space feel better, she adds: “They have a peaceful, meditative and positive vibration.”

The intention is to hang a specific painting, and possibly do an accompanying mantra and meditate on it, she explains. The artist will typically chant while painting, and the finished art will “heal, or do whatever it is meant to do,” says Stone.

A Medicine Buddha.
A Medicine Buddha.
Faith Stone
"Colorado Dancing Ganesha."
"Colorado Dancing Ganesha."
Faith Stone
Miniature Tara wood blocks.
Miniature Tara wood blocks.

After twenty years of researching Buddha figures for her own edification, Stone wanted to give back to the community. Last year she released her book Drawing Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, available on Amazon and at Boulder Book Store, which is a how-to approach to mastering Buddha art, and also a coloring book with completed drawings with landscapes that people can reproduce.

Stone’s current display at Inspire Life Studio is her first solo exhibit, though she’s been showing her work at area yoga studios and meditation centers for years. Inspire Life Studio is a fitting venue for Stone’s work; it’s a co-creative and healing community hub with regular events for the mindfully-inclined public. “I have, in the past, had trouble with galleries seeing the Buddhas and thinking it is too religious, which is not how I approach it at all,” Stone says. Rather, she focuses “on the elements of each Buddha.”  

Stone’s art will be up at Inspire Life Studio through the month and, following a morning kirtan, she’ll be leading a free “Sacred Art” drawing workshop at noon Sunday, June 28. The workshop will guide attendees through the art of drawing Buddhas, and Stone plans to bring along some of her stencils. “I’ll have tools that adults can use, including coloring books,” she adds, noting that the latest studies have shown coloring is good for big kids, too.

Stone’s well-equipped to lead an art class, since she used to teach art at New Vista High School in Boulder, “a choice art school where kids who have struggled at other schools can come for the superior equity training,” she says. Stone now runs the Eldorado Mountain Yoga Ashram, a robust yoga and art summer camp for kids that includes mini-meditation, an age-appropriate asana practice, painting and hiking. The camp has been so popular that Stone and her husband have begun augmenting it with an adult summertime yoga camp. “Kids can’t have all the fun,” Stone says.

Sharing knowledge and ideas is "kind of the idea behind this art,” says Stone. She even went to Nepal a while back to share her work with other traditional Buddha artists. “There isn’t the same idea of ownership about your work,” she notes. “Buddhist painters don’t sign their work.”

The concept is that once a piece is painted, it belongs to the Buddha: “It’s a very different perspective, and in the West we are now incorporating personal things," she says. "I might put a self-portrait with my dog in the bottom corner to somehow make a piece more personal while still representing the traditional Buddha figure." 

A piece in progress.
A piece in progress.
Faith Stone
Artist Faith Stone.
Artist Faith Stone.
Photo courtesy of Faith Stone

For more of Stone’s work, visit her website or find her on Facebook

Follow Jamie Siebrase on Twitter.

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