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Mmmmmmm Mandalas

Mandalas are an ancient design that continues to fascinate, and is finding more new expressions every day. From ancient to modern, mandala techniques and materials, let’s look at some ways to make mandalas.

Types of Mandalas

Traditional Mandala Designs

A traditional mandala is a geometric design, usually representing a spiritual path or journey, but also often correlated with real-world maps and locations. In many Eastern religions, they are a focusing or meditation tool, and the adept uses them to visualize a journey inward, to deeper levels of awareness.

A 17th century Tibetan mandala

Ancient Hindu and Buddhist mandalas usually have this central square motif, with t-shaped “gates”, that represent a journey inward. Outer rings can represent layers of understanding, purifying processes, rituals, or other concepts connected toward the inner goal of understanding and enlightenment.

A 14th century Chinese mandala

Mandalas also often represent the universe or a form of cosmology, and, when used in that way, have been part of art and design in everything from Aztec culture, to stained glass cathedral windows, to Jungian psychology.

Naturally, geometric art reaches some of its highest expressions in the Arab world. In Arabic mandalas, instead of representing a path or journey, the focus is on creating a fractal-like multiplication, where each part is individually beautiful, but combines and relates to all the other parts in a way that creates more beauty. Most of the mandala designs we see today on Pinterest and so forth are inspired by Arabic designs.

17th century ceiling of the Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque in Esphahan.

Sand Mandalas

I find sand mandalas especially beautiful. In Nepal and Tibet, mandalas are meticulously created out of colored sand.

A traditional sand mandala made and displayed at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco

The idea of a sand mandala is that it is temporary – they are allowed to be destroyed by wind and weather, or are sometimes ritually destroyed after they are made. I think there is something so wonderful about making something that is inherently temporary; that art is an experience instead of an object.

This principle is carried out beautifully by artists creating mandala designs on beaches, with the intention of having them washed away by the sand.

How to Create Mandala Art

There are dozens of ways to create mandalas, and they are a beautiful way to decorate your craft projects, or to decorate items in your home (think of lamp shades, cushion covers, coffee cups…). Here are some ideas:

Paint Marker Mandalas

The easiest way for me to make a mandala on a surface is simply to use markers or paint markers.

I made this mandala incense burner out of a shallow dish of air-dry clay, painted with chalkboard paint and decorated with a metallic marker pen. I then varnished it and glued a store-bought bead in the center to hold a stick of incense.

I have also used markers and paint markers to add mandalas to paper-mache crafts, wooden boxes, easter eggs… you name it.

Dot Mandalas

Dot mandalas are incredibly popular, and surprisingly easy to make.

dot mandala by MandalaMadness111

Dot mandalas don’t use lines; the pattern is just defined by dots of different sizes and dots stacked on top of each other. I used dot-painting tools and techniques when decorating my peacock bowls. To do these, it’s easiest to use a dot painting tool set, because you can create very predictable and consistent dot shapes, but you could also use toothpick tips, pencil erasers, barbecue skewers… what you want is something that holds a drop of paint, so that you can dab it one, two, three, four times and get progressively smaller and smaller dots. When making dot mandalas with acrylic paint, add a few drops of water to the paint; you want it to flow a bit and form nice dots, rather than being stiff and making a mound of paint.

Papercut Mandalas

Man oh man the things you can do with a laser cutter! I mean, some people cut these by hand…

Hand-cut papercut mandala by YourWallsAreBoring

… but that seems like madness to me. People with laser cutters are making incredible paper mandalas, and there are a lot of files available for you to make your own.

papercut mandala file available at CreativeFabrica.com

Mandala Art Software

If perfection is your thing, there are a ton of different mandala-making art apps out there. They basically mirror every stroke you make around a central point, so that everything is replicated identically six (or eight, or however many) times.

I have played with some of these apps, but haven’t used any one of them enough to make a recommendation. However, if you want to make fast, perfect mandalas, software is the way to go.

Decoupage/Photo Transfer Mandalas

There are also a TON of mandala coloring books available. You could use these as a material for decoupage, photo transfer, tracing, etc. They can also be a great inspiration for your own mandalas if you are looking for specific shapes or motifs.

Tips for DIY Mandalas

Mandalas are actually surprisingly easy to make and extremely forgiving. Here are a few tips if you want to make your own:

  • Use a compass or a layout tool. Because you tend to start in the center and work progressively outward, irregularities can get more and more exaggerated. There are stencils you can get to lay out a mandala, but simply making a few straight lines and concentric circles is all you need. You can plot out the entire design, or simply give yourself some reference points, but laying it out first helps it to remain proportionate.
  • Keep going. As you make a mandala, you will notice that your dots aren’t exactly the same size, or your lines don’t follow exactly the same curve. That’s what happens when you make things by hand. However, if you just keep going, these small irregularities will tend to disappear into the overall design, and will become far less noticeable. When in doubt, add more: fill in shapes with more dots or lines, add extra curls and flourishes, use stripes…. the more you decorate a mandala, the less noticeable your irregularities will be.
  • Practice. Making mandalas is like quilling: some of it comes down to muscle memory. As you practice and make more things, your technique will become more uniform and you’ll get the hang of it. The more mandalas you make, the better each one becomes.

Making mandalas is fun and easy, and it’s a calming, meditative way to enhance or decorate nearly anything. Give yourself permission to explore and make mistakes, and you will find out how forgiving mandalas really are.

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