From the sketchbook: For the love of mandalas

This year, I had planned to master my drawing skills. It was my ‘thing’ (the one that sat snugly among a crowd of many other things) for 2013. It’s now September, and I’m being realistic. No, I won’t have a sketchbook filled by the end of the year with progressive sketches. But hope prevails and inspiration is everywhere, and I’m due for a time handicap from the Universe any day now…

Earlier in the year, when I still had Uni to keep me on track, I was researching stop animations and videos about drawing for an assignment, generally just waiting for The Big Idea to reveal itself to me. Somewhere along the way I came across an instructional clip on YouTube called How to grow a mandala

I was instantly drawn to the method of ‘planting a seed’ and ‘growing’ an illustration as unique as a snowflake. It’s the kind of art practice you can get drawn into (…ahem, sorry), engaging in instantaneous creative practice with a degree of focus that borderlines a meditative state. Getting lost in the creative moment can quickly and quietly become Art Therapy, as the mind puts down the inner monologue and gets caught up in the free-flow of artistic practise, but it can be so hard to achieve that level of focus if you have anxiety, creative block, a time-consuming lifestyle, etc. I now approach mandala drawing (and variations of it) as a shortcut to “the zone”; that place in my mind where I can create freely, and without judgement.

Wait…what is a mandala? Well, this question is pretty deep! According to, the word ‘mandala’ itself is a derivative of a Sanskrit word meaning ‘circle’. defines a mandala as “a schematized representation of the cosmos…characterised by a concentric configuration of geometric shapes”, and “a symbol representing the effort to reunify the self”.

So basically, through the design of a pretty pattern the artist (that’s you) reconnects with their inner self..

In the context of art therapy, mandala drawing is said to have meditative effects. In this head-space, the artist is able to develop spiritual and self awareness. It is a creative process that allows the artist a unique insight into their subconscious. The product is a fleshed out visual mind-map that directly reflects the artist’s mood and emotions in that moment.

But no individual interpretation of a mandala needs to be identical; they are universal. Yet they are also the language of an individual subconscious, so in their very nature no individual translation can be identical with someone else’s. Your interpretation of what a mandala is can and should be unique. For me, the mandala is a symbol of energy (emotional, physical, spiritual, cosmic, and creative) organised into a pattern that reads like an open book but is still buried in mystery.

When I step away from a mandala that I have drawn, I see an accumulation of my creative energy and proof of my artistic potential. I see a Cathedral window into my psyche that allows my spiritual self to communicate with the physical realm. Art therapy involves being able to connect the deeper parts of my mind to the medium in front of me. It is an experience I value, and I encourage others to engage in it, not only because of the therapeutic benefits – it’s also great drawing practice and summons creative inspiration for other projects.

So how do you draw a mandala? Get yourself a blank piece of paper, or whatever drawing surface you have, a pencil and a comfortable place to sit.

I generally start drawing with a “seed”. A dot, inside a circle, with 8 dashes; something like this is a good starting point:

Mandala Seed
Mandala Seed

Then add another marking, whatever comes to you. Maybe it’s a V:

Adding a V to each section
Adding a V to each section

A smaller v:

Adding a v to each section
Adding a v to each section

Get creative with spontaneity – alternating Y and S:

Alternating between Y and S lines
Alternating between Y and S lines

Keep adding to your mandala. The idea is to ask “what next?” and then accept what happens. There are no mistakes, only happy accidents. If something happens that you didn’t intend, try and perceive it as intentional and incorporate it into the rest of the mandala:

More markings
More markings

There’s no need to rush a mandala. Take care with each addition by turning the page as you go and carefully making each marking the same size as the last. Watch as it grows:

Ask 'what next' and use whatever comes to you
Ask ‘what next’ and use whatever comes to you

This is the first mandala I took slowly and carefully:

Keep going until you feel the mandala is complete
Keep going until you feel the mandala is complete

And then I painted it with watered down acrylics:

My finished mandala
My finished mandala

I used this mandala in a stop-animation project for my Uni assignment, which evolved from an incoherent storyboard, 20 hours condensed work time, dodgy lighting, no camera tripod and a wobbly easel. It was so much fun though!

Get to it! Please, start exploring the process of mandalas because I’d love to see your different takes on them. Sit down with a cup of tea and spend half an hour or so designing your own creative-psyche-mind-map and let me know what you get out of the process.

Find out heaps more information and watch other videos at – which is where I learnt almost all I know about their value. They have a whole stack of information on mandalas including more tutorials and other links.

So go now; your sketchbook is calling and the blank pages are begging to be filled.

(P.S. Sorry for the crap photography. The lighting at the time of working was shall we say, limited.)

Love and respect,



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