Sunday, April 14, 2013


This past week has been one of work, rest and quiet contemplation. It has also been a week of creating mandalas. After humming and hawing about it for some time I finally took the plunge and gave it a try. You know what? Its fun.

I was afraid of appropriating an art form that wasn’t culturally mine. This was one of the main reasons for not attempting it. Another reason was I’ve heard individuals wanting to put mandalas on just about everything including vehicle roundabouts. This diminishes the art form’s power in my mind. I did not want to tackle this project with a flippant attitude.

I didn’t have a clear idea of how I’d start except knowing it needed to be a circle to remain a mandala, but it should be non-traditional, and the center a little off kilter, in keeping with my personality and personal conviction not to appropriate. I didn't have a compass lying about so I used plates and cups to create my circles. After that I wasn’t sure how to proceed. I knew I needed to break up the space though and get on with it.

I have a couple of oyster shells on my desk which I use as brush rests. It struck me that these would make ideal templates for the mandala rather than using a ruler or drawing freehand. What better way to draw something to represent the natural world than using an object that came from it? So I grabbed the shells and played with their position on the paper and drew around them.

When I was done I noticed the finished composition resembled leaves and an acorn. The shapes from the oyster shells also reminded me of iris petals. I never noticed before how oyster shells and iris petals have the same frilly shape. It seemed symbolic that the two were interchangeable on paper. So many of nature’s designs have similarities.

I kept going, looking at the lines already on paper and how I could add to them. The border around the circle reminded me of a plate rim. My father was once a master painter of plates. He learned his craft as a youth in Holland. The main reason he came with his young family to Canada was to start his own ceramic company. The dream never came to fruition but he never lost his skills or passion. I remember watching him create border designs with perfection. I didn’t want my design to be as perfect, I wanted more variance, but I did want the border to reflect this part of my history. If he had not had this dream I would not have been born here on Vancouver Island. I kept in mind how he created his borders but did not look for mathematical precision.

Once I finished the first mandala I was inspired to try another. This time I had a bit more of a plan in my head. This mandala did not alter greatly from the first but I thought more mindfully about the shapes I put inside and what they conjured up: seeds, rivers, veins, leaves, waves, snails, spider webs and fish eggs to name a few possibilities. The shapes could be one thing or the other. In my art I was able to reflect and quietly meditate on this quality of universal design and creation. The mandalas had done their job.

At some point I would like to try this exercise again. Perhaps using other objects as templates found on walks. A stone, a twig or perhaps a pinecone may be the inspiration for a new mandala.This spring and summer I will be on the lookout for potential contributors. Art is everywhere.

The design at the top of the page is less than 3 inches or 8cm across. It was done late last night in about 15 minutes.I was curious if it could be done on such a small scale.Pretty happy with the result and it has now become part of an art mailing card.

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