Graceful, yet structured, and intricate in design, the beautiful and mysterious mandala has become a creative obsession of mine. In designing a mandala, I have found there are seemingly contrasting forces that are actually interconnected and complementary—a kind of yin-yang of creativity that I love. There are no rules, or standard patterns one must follow, giving you the freedom to be creative, and yet one must be able to achieve symmetry.
I’ve been looking for this artistic harmony everywhere. I’ve found the manifestation of mandalas in nature: in the nesting rings of a tree trunk, the sectioned slice of an orange, and the unique architecture of a snowflake. Although nature is the true master of this art form, it is important to understand the broader meaning of mandalas, for they are far more than just an attractive geometric design.
So, what is a mandala and what is its origin? To begin, the word "mandala"(pronunciation mon-dah-lah), which comes from the Sanskrit language in ancient India, means "circle." Mandalas are a Hindu and Buddhist art form that dates back to the 4th century. They are sacred circles that symbolize inner peace, protection, and unity, and they have been prevalent in most cultures around the world.
Tibetan monks create sand mandalas as a spiritual exercise. The monks travel the world teaching people about the Tibetan culture through the intricate mandalas they create with crushed, semiprecious colored sand. The sand mandalas are elaborate compositions consisting of many symbols that are painstakingly designed to perfection over a number of days. After completing the design, the monks partake in a religious ceremony uttering deep chants. The beautiful sand mandala is then swept up and placed into a nearby body of water as a blessing, demonstrating the eternal cycle of life.
Giordano Bruno, an Italian artist living during the Renaissance, created a series of mandalas he believed would bring about positive changes to individuals who used them. Bruno encouraged the use of his mandalas in visualization exercises and believed that by taking the image of the mandala into one’s memory, the imagination would become imprinted with ideas and images, resulting in a positive transformation. For centuries, mandalas continue to provide an elevated level of guidance to those seeking peace, inspiration, and a deeper connection to the world around them. Hmmm…perhaps that’s why I am so drawn to them.
My dad and the tools of his trade inspired my very first mandala design. When I was young, my dad was an engineer, designer, and draftsman, but in my eyes he was an artist. I remember he had this draftsman’s case full of drawing tools: micro pencils, rulers, protractors, tons of drafting templates for drawing every shape imaginable, and these graceful French curves, which were my favorite. He also had this beautiful set of compasses. I remember thinking they were extra special because they were nestled in a wooden case lined with crushed red cloth. For a creative child who loved to draw, I was a kid in a candy store imagining what I could create with all those fun drawing tools.
Little did I know, over thirty years later my dad would give me that very same draftsman’s case full of drawing tools. I was so honored that he gave them to me, but at the time I didn’t know what I would do with them. It was only this past year that I found myself pulling out the case and playing with the drawing tools.
What started out as a creative escape, where I would spend hours in my studio drawing, developed into a unique approach to designing mandalas. I found this creative time brought a quiet stillness that was very meditative, and it soon became an extension of my yoga practice. I thought to myself, “My yoga students and creative friends would love this!”
I’ve always dreamed of opening up my design studio to curious and creative types, so I could share my love of art and design. My Mandala Designing Workshop was the perfect launch into offering art and design classes.
Over the past month I’ve had the honor of hosting a number of workshops. Sure, a few of my students were a bit tentative at first about designing a mandala telling me “I’m not creative” or “I can’t draw.” But they soon discovered they didn’t need to have any previous drawing experience. With my dad’s drawing tools in hand, this fun and creative process encouraged my students to bring their inner artist out to play. There’s this calm that falls over my studio as my students’ mandalas begin to emerge with various shapes, symbols, and colors. Throughout the classes, I share different drawing techniques that bring their mandalas to life as we share insights about how transformative designing our own mandala can be.
Mandalas have a rich and meaningful past as a method of orientation, a spiritual practice, and a connection to the world around us. Art, architecture, religion, and philosophy all make use of circles to express insights about human nature and honor the power behind life’s mysteries. In my workshops, we draw on this history as we design our own mandalas, but the true meaning of each beautiful and mysterious mandala is specific to and as special as the individual who creates it.
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Are you curious about mandalas? Would you like to learn how to create an intricate and colorful mandala of your very own? Sign up for our next workshop, and join us on a personal journey of creativity into the world of the beautiful and mysterious mandala.