Inspired by new venture, artist launches program to help charities

Eileen Sirica Cardillo was having one of those moments when nothing seemed right.

She was nearing 50 and working in a part-time job that offered her no creative outlet, her three kids were getting older, and a dear friend was in the midst of a battle against cancer.

“It was a difficult time emotionally,” Cardillo said recently. “I was struggling with what my purpose was, what I could still do to help my family financially but also do something that might tie into my creative dream and somehow touch people’s lives.”

In early October 2012, Cardillo said she woke up and “Joy to the WORD” spilled from her lips.

“That’s my business,” she told her husband, John.

Cardillo had nothing more than that, but she headed out that day and purchased a crop of canvases of varying sizes and tubes of acrylic paint.

Back home in Johns Creek, she sat down in her son Christopher’s old bedroom and started painting words onto the canvases — inspired from Scripture and quotes from people she admired like Mother Teresa, Maya Angelou and C.S. Lewis.

From 1 Peter 4:8, she drew “Above all love each other deeply.”

From 1 John 3:18, “Let us love not in word or speech but in truth and action.”

And from Psalms 11:1, “In the Lord put your trust.”

Over the next five or so weeks, she showed her pieces, which retail for $35 to $350, at area art shows and in friends’ homes.

“I never would have thought, particularly at this juncture in my life, that I’d be doing this,” she said. “The response has been amazing.”

Cardillo believes her work was divinely inspired by God.

Her love of art, though, had been there since, well, she was a child growing up under the watchful eye of a stay-at-home mom and Watergate Judge John Sirica in Washington, D.C., and the nuns at her school introduced her to cursive.

“They’d hover over us as we practiced our penmanship, making sure we held our pencils correctly,” Cardillo recalled last week while seated in her small second-floor studio.

After high school, she earned a bachelor’s degree in graphic design from American University in Washington, D.C. For many years, she worked as a professional freelance children’s muralist and calligrapher, but when her family moved to Atlanta in 1996, her artistic endeavors took a back seat to raising her children.

Taking various part-time jobs and dabbling in art whenever possible worked for a while, but by 2012, she felt unfulfilled. The dream reawakened the artist in her.

In February 2013, her friend Sue passed away. Then as the year drew to a close, her husband was diagnosed with cancer, too.

“In many ways, 2013 was a more difficult year, but the art helped me handle it a little bit better,” she said.

Cardillo created a painting in Sue’s memory, drawing inspiration from an anonymous quote that that her friend loved and lived: “You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have.”

She donates a portion of the proceeds from the sale of the piece to Stand Up 2 Cancer, a nonprofit that raises funds for cancer research.

In September 2013, Cardillo said she awakened with another idea — Caring Canvases, Painting Parties With a Purpose, the ministry arm of Joy to the WORD. The mission, she said, is to “paint it forward,” by donating art to metro Atlanta charitable organizations.

To kick off her efforts, Cardillo invited some 20 friends over, and for four hours one evening, they talked and painted, painted and talked.

“Everyone did a wonderful job,” Cardillo said. “The artwork was so unique and heartwarming.”

They donated more than a dozen pieces to the Interfaith Outreach Home in Atlanta, said Deborah Walker-Little, executive director of the transitional home.

Weeks later, Cardillo returned to facilitate a painting party for the residents.

“Our clients work hard to overcome their situation every day, so it’s really refreshing to have someone come do something with them for pleasure,” Walker-Little said. “It was a break from an otherwise arduous process.”

To date, Cardillo has hosted and facilitated six painting parties and donated more than 170 inspirational canvases to organizations, including Catholic Charities, the Drake House for homeless mothers and children, and St. Jude Catholic Church’s Elderly Outreach Ministry.

Nearly two years have passed since Cardillo painted that first canvas for Joy to the WORD. Come Sept. 4, she will celebrate the one-year anniversary of Caring Canvases with a tribute to her late father.

All of the canvases painted will be donated to an organization that focuses on character and integrity in her father’s memory.

When she began this effort, Cardillo said she had no idea where her dream would take her, but counts “it a privilege to be able to bring inspiration and joy to others.”

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