Creating Mandalas for Personal Insights

The act of making mandala art is not only relaxing, it has the wonderful side effect of self-discovery. I had the joy of working on Cassia Cogger‘s band new book Creating Personal Mandalas and I finally got around to trying out two exercises in the book that have intrigued me. Another opportunity I’d been waiting for was to try out a set of Spectrum Noir Aqua Markers that I acquired recently. So I was excited to combine my intentions and try them out together!

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Working with Spectrum Noir Aqua Markers

First, a bit about the markers. They come in four sets of twelve—Essentials, Primary, Floral and Nature—for a total of forty-eight colors.

Auqu makers sets and palette

Each Aqua marker has two tips—a brush tip and an ultra-fine tip, which is much more fine that other dual-tipped markers I’ve used. To see how the colors would react with water, I created a little swatch sheet that I could use as a reference, organizing them by the sets they come in. I love the range!

Exercise 1: Lotus

In her book, Cassia calls this exercise To Rise Up – A Lotus Mandala. Just as a lotus rises up out of the mud, creating this mandala is perfect after a hectic day. As she puts it, “Often, drafting and painting a mandala guides one in the process of rising up even on the most challenging of days.” What I discovered was that is was the perfect warm-up for me to open up my spirit and come home to my center, preparing me well for the second exercise.

drafting and coloring a lotus mandala using Aqua markers

To create my lotus I closely followed the directions in “Creating Personal Mandalas,” varying the shape of my petals a bit and using colors that spoke to me. I was pleased with how well I was able to blend the Aqua marker color using a waterbrush. I only needed to apply color around the perimeter of the petals and was able to pull color in with the waterbrush to fill in each shape.

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Exercise Two: Personal Mandorla

A mandorla is the shape created when two circles overlap. The almond shape has many symbolic associations including the space between female matter and male spirit. Jung saw this space as a clash of the conscious and unconscious self.

For her exercise in Creating Personal Mandalas, Cassia suggests creating a mandorla with two measured arcs and dividing the spaces to either side into four sections. Then, to think of these sections as four areas of your life you’d like to bring into focus. The mission of the exercise is to explore where you are today versus where you’d like to be in the future.

I chose to approach this exercise by truly not thinking about particulars or any symbolism I hold for colors or shapes with regard to specific areas of my life, while I was creating; to just try and work intuitively and see what marks came out. Before beginning, I mentally spoke to myself which life categories were currently important to me—learning, inner awareness, connection with others and daily moments of joy—then I let any associations with them go. I knew my subconscious had heard my words and there would be something to learn after the piece was finished. I like how Cassia put it recently:

“Even after hundreds of mandalas, I forget that I never really know what a piece will have to tell me or where it will ultimately go.”

personal mandorla draft and first color

After drafting my mandala—or mandorla as it were—I started by making simple seed shapes in the first section. I picked two colors with the intention of blending them with water once they were colored in.

blending aqua marker colors

I chose a gold and an aquamarine marker and filled in the tiny shapes. I added water using a waterbrush. I liked how the colors blended to create several new colors, and that everything didn’t just turn into one color. After the paper was dry, I reapplied marker to several shapes, introducing a third color along with the two original colors. The result was a beautiful mosaic of color. I then proceeded to the next section, selecting new colors—four total this time.

colored eight sections with Aqua markers

I repeated the process with the remaining six sections, selecting new color families for each. I was compelled to create larger and larger shapes as I proceeded. I didn’t question what this meant, nor what my color choices suggested, I just went with whatever I felt like using. When I was finished, the piece was intense with color. I liked it, but I was also curious about creating even more variations in value. So . . . I ran the entire piece under water which felt delightfully free of attachment!

finished personal mandorla

I went back with the fine point of the markers a final time, again adding more colors to each section than were used originally. I decided to color in the mandorla “windows” within each section and I also used a bit of white acrylic marker to create what felt like stardust. I felt like the center—the mandorla—should somehow be a blend of all that surrounded it, while having the look of “light.”

What the Art Revealed

So what did I glean from this finished piece? To find this out, I did what I always do when I’ve finished a mandala which is to ask myself questions. What does this shape mean? What does the contrast between this and that other section mean? The colors? Is there an overall message? The key then is to not question what answers surface. So I can’t tell you why the associations were what they were, but here’s a rundown of what I learned from the answers:

  • Almonds suggest shifts.
  • Biggest shift I desire is in the area of connection/community.
  • Shifts in learning and inner awareness will be unexpected.
  • Every area to experience more expansion and a spaciousness.
  • In the area of daily joy, I don’t desire a lot of change (things are pretty good already!) other than a bit more simplicity.

If these creative exercises appeal to you, take a look at this guest post by Cassia Cogger and don’t forget about her book, Creating Personal Mandalas. You never know what you might learn about yourself in the process!

creating personal mandalas

If you enjoy making art with repeated patterns and love the resulting meditative experience, for another relaxing art project, take a look at these repeating-patterned trees from Sandrine Pelissier.

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