Well, it’s finally finished. It took a little longer than I hoped but I am happy (and pretty proud) to say that I finished my mandala project! Yay!!
Now that I am on the other side, I can definitely say I will be making more of these (they have a tendency to doodle themselves out all the time now). With well over the required 30 attempts under my belt, I now have a much better feel for what kind of style I like and what is natural for me. I tried a lot of things and played with a lot of ideas, and in the end I found myself constantly going back to the Indian motifs. There is just something about those patterns that moves my soul. I can’t get enough.
Although I made more mandalas than I have pictured here, I wanted to show you a sample that reflects the process as a whole, not just the best pieces. Some of them are absolutely awful and that’s part of the reality of testing things like this out. I had some brilliant ideas that I just could not get on paper. I also had some days where I thought it was going pear-shaped and then it ended up becoming a piece I really liked.
So without further ado, I give you: my mandalas!
Along with the photos, I’ll share with you some things I learned in the process about mandalas in general and my style and preferences in particular. Hopefully it’s helpful for anyone trying to figure out their own groove with their art.
My first mandala! To learn the basics of construction, I went to the great site CreateMixedMedia.com. This is basically a reproduction of their example piece, so if you like it I would suggest checking out their ideas.
For this project, I used the general idea that mandalas are 1) circles and 2) divided into equal parts. That left a lot of room for interpretation and experimentation, which is exactly what I was going for.
Side note: Although I didn’t know it when I made this first one, in putting together this collection for you I will say a big bullet point for me going forward is this: find a better way to take pictures of my work. It’s not a great feeling to work hard on a piece and have a photo of it that doesn’t do it justice. My job for this week: sort out our scanner!
My first foray into a semi-planned mandala. I got very excited using a compass and protractor again. Man did that bring me back to my school days! I love geometry and math so it was a lot of fun to lay out the lines and try to plan something out. I had been drawing a lot of paisleys before this so I kept with the Indian theme while I learned the basics of the mandala structure.
In my third attempt, I was inspired by Anna Eidenberg (probably the person I most frequently stalk on Instagram). She does amazing things with mandalas and doodles in general. I noticed that she doesn’t always hold herself within the boundaries of the circles or other geometric elements but often breaks out with beautiful organic shapes. I used that idea as a starting off point for this piece.
All the planning and angle measuring was going really well until this one. I had grand plans to have concentric circles in multiples of three (I did warn you I like numbers), but once I started on it, it just didn’t come together. Somehow from the forest of lines I made, this citrus mandala emerged. I liked it a lot in the end and I learned that sometimes art has ideas of its own, and you are better off rolling with it than fighting it.
After a few days of making mandalas, I started seeing them everywhere (I challenge you NOT to see one shortly after reading this post!). I was at my parents’ house where they have a pond and when I looked down one morning we had eight new baby ducks. Eight is a pretty good number for a mandala so I rolled with it.
Not in the mood to draw on this particular morning, I looked for things that I could use to make a mandala instead. As you can probably see, my breakfast became the source of inspiration.
Some days, gay marriage is made legal across the entire United States of America. Those are pretty big, exciting days. This was my contribution to the enormous show of support and solidarity across the world. I was very happy to have a reason to make this one.
A simple little design I made quickly before bed. As you can see, I didn’t plan this one at all. I didn’t use a compass, I didn’t measure angles, I didn’t make it symmetrical and I didn’t try to make it look perfect or amazing. I just wanted to make a mandala for the day and I was running out of time. I was quite happy with the result though! This is when I got a little more comfortable letting go of plotting my designs out in advance and just letting them emerge instead.
At this point, Chris finally found his way to Utah and we left for a big, three-week road trip across the west. It was beautiful and amazing and relaxing and wonderful, but it didn’t lend itself all that well to the mandala project. On our first day, I was determined to keep drawing them despite being on the road, and this is the very bumpy result. Needless to say, I didn’t make many mandalas along the way.
The only other mandala to feature in our trip was this very tiny one. I was sitting in my aunt’s incredible garden in the countryside of Oregon feeling very inspired by all the flowers and wildlife around me. I had visions of a beautiful mandala that replicated all the wonderful sensations I was experiencing and was dying to get it out.
In my head, this would turn into a whole page of beautiful floral imagery and mystical forest creatures, à la Johanna Basford. In reality, I got totally stuck. I don’t know a more frustrating feeling than seeing something in your mind and not being able to make it happen on paper (or canvas or clay or whatever your medium is). Now I know that the only way to get better at it is to practice and practice and practice, but on this day, it was really dispiriting.
11 & 12
As I tend to do when I get frustrated, I quit and pretended I never started. So a couple of months later, when I found myself back in Oman with some spare time on my hands, I ditched all these ideas of flowers and dainty, beautiful mandalas, and went back to the geometric variety. I made one I really liked that was just the outlines of these flowers, but then I filled in the colors and didn’t like it as much at all. So I went back and made the first one again.
One evening I sat down to plan out a mandala and I got carried away tracing lines around my protractor. This was the result of playing with the lines that emerged. There’s great speculation as to what it could be, with suggestions from hot air balloons to jellyfish to gothic ceilings. I like that it is interpreted so many ways by different people.
An attempt at some steampunkery. I do love the mechanical stuff immensely. I love cogs and the inner workings of machines and mechanisms in general. I also love the steampunk style a whole lot. It’s grungy and gritty and old and new all together. It’s brilliant. My mandala doesn’t really get near the visions I had, but, again, it’s probably a matter of practice.
I must admit, at this point I was feeling like the mandala project might be heavy on the work and light on the fun. The steampunk piece was good for the mathy, sciency part of my mind, but my artistic side was feeling a little stilted. All the planning and plotting and figuring it out before I drew it was kind of getting me down. So I decided to try a quick doodle while I chatted with my sister on the phone. I knew I wouldn’t be able to plan anything because I couldn’t do that and listen to her as well, so it forced me to just play around without thinking too much. It was just what I needed to get back into the flow of my own creative expression. Thanks, Sis.
16 – 18
The next thing I knew I was going in totally the opposite direction from the planned pieces. I did mark out the segments, just so I kept with the basic definition of the mandala, but everything else was totally, completely, 100% organic. I let the lines flow where they wanted to. I picked colors randomly from a pile without trying to decide if they matched or clashed. I just went with it and let the piece make itself.
It felt amazing. I really really loved doing these squiggles.
After a few basic ones, I wanted to start giving them *some* structure while still having room for the lines to move as they wanted to. So I plotted out a very basic design and let the wiggles fill in the rest.
But after a short burst of excitement about this style (visions of my own coloring books, concepts for huge wall murals, and a general premonition of wild success and fulfillment beyond my most elaborate dreams), I ran out of steam and got a little bored for something new. The squiggles are fine and fun to do, but I didn’t feel like I could go as many places with them as my initial excitement led me to believe. Maybe I will, one day, but I decided to see what else was out there.
I still liked the idea of incorporating the squiggles somehow, so I tried playing with it a few ways to integrate it into a mandala differently. None of them really caught my fancy though, so I abandoned ship and tried something new.
20 & 21
That something new came in the form of concept pieces around themes. I had a brilliant idea to make a book mandala (a series of books standing on end in a 3D). Turns out that I am not that great at perspective yet though. I got lost in the idea and wasn’t entirely sure where to start or how to go about drawing it.
I also had a plan to make a really cool mandala with a bunch of balloons and bunting. It fell flat too. I decided my drawing skills just weren’t ready for me to venture into this territory yet. So rather than berate myself for lack of ability, I decided to go back to the style that I knew I liked and could build from: Indian design.
And this is where I stayed for pretty much the rest of the project and into today as I write this post.
Although I didn’t finish all of them, I enjoyed the process of playing with different design elements and testing them out together.
It was here that I really started to let the designs draw themselves instead of planning them. I wrote about expectations before and I think the same theory applies to art: if you have an expectation for how a piece *should* look when you’re done, you’ll almost inevitably be disappointed in it. It will never be exactly the same as your vision. Very rarely, it’s better than you imagined and you feel proud of how it came out. More often than not, though, it falls short of your ideal image. That comparison makes you see all the ways it isn’t what it *should* be and blinds you to all the things that it actually is. Having no plans and no end in mind made it a lot easier for me to get excited about the things I was making because they were constantly surprising me.
I also found that the pieces got a lot more detailed and intricate than they did when I planned them in advance. I think that is for a few reasons. First, I wouldn’t be able to plan a lot of the little details ahead of time because I can only fill them in when I see what the design actually looks like and what else it has room for.
Also, I find it really intimidating to think I have to sit down and design out something really intricate. In the words of Wait But Why, it is an icky item on the to do list for me. If I had to plan these out ahead of time, I would not draw them.
Lastly, there’s the catch-22 that in planning it, I would have to actually draw it out to see if it worked anyway, which means I would not be able to plan it before I drew the draft of the plan to see if the plan worked to draw it…so yeah, it was better to avoid that mind-melting circle of thought.
I noticed that a really strong floral theme was emerging from these free-flowing designs. Try as I might, when given a pen and paper, flowers are all that came out. I’m not opposed to that. I love floral themes so it made me pretty happy. 🙂
I also started varying the things I drew on. At one point I ventured into handmade greeting cards (a trend I may try to continue on a more serious scale at some point).
Once I found a style I felt comfortable but suitably challenged by, I found myself doodling all the time, even in my spare time before class when I didn’t have my favorite pen on hand. That would have been a good excuse for me earlier in the project, but I didn’t want to miss an opportunity to practice when I had some time to.
I’ve found myself really excited about the designs that have been coming out of my pen the last couple of weeks. I’ve been trying to push myself to use new design elements, break out into different shapes and styles and even start combining individual mandalas into compilations with more depth and interest.
In my pièce de résistance, I tried to fill a whole page with a mandala collage. I’m quite pleased with the result!
So there you have it! My finished mandala project.
Before I announce the next project, here is a quick list of the art (and life) lessons I learned in this process. This is mainly a list for myself to refer to going forward, but I’ll put it here in case you find it useful for your own work/life:
- Some days you don’t have it in you. That’s ok. Take a break. Rejuvenate. Try again later.
- Some days you are on a bumpy road and it just isn’t the time to draw dainty little lines. There’s time to draw later. Enjoy the ride and rock out to some road trip tunes.
- Sometimes the things that come out of your pen don’t match the plans in your head. Let go of the specifics and give the creativity room to breathe and become even cooler than you would have envisioned. You might just surprise yourself.
- It sucks to have a bad picture of a good piece. Find ways to get good images of your work.
- Be organised in your projects. Stay on top of it *during* the project and you won’t spend hours collecting and organising photos at the end.
- Don’t be afraid to play with new styles and techniques. You might come back to your original idea but at least you’ll know it’s because you really like it not just because you got stuck in a rut. If you do come back around, it’ll probably be better for having tried other things in the meantime. You learn from everything you try!
Ok! That about wraps that up!
If you’re still with me after all that, I can officially tell you that my next project will stay in the realm of Indian design. I loved doing these but I find myself really jealous of artists who take the same elements and make beautiful, flowing designs. I want to break out of the mandala and play with more organic shapes. For some examples of designs I love, check out the Pinterest board I made to collect them. To give you a sneak peek, here’s a piece I find really inspiring.
And on that note, I am off to draw some flowers!
See you again soon,