The word "mandala" is from the Sanskrit for "circle." Think of it as a labyrinth on paper, a vehicle for meditation and discovery, and an entrance into a world beyond the ordinary and mundane. In other words, it's the perfect tool for enhancing and getting the most out of your art journal.
Although mandalas originated in Eastern religion and culture and have been used for thousands of years, it was Carl Jung who introduced them to the West. For me, creating a mandala in my art journal is about taking a break from a hectic day, calming down, becoming centered, and making some beautiful art that provides me with meaning and authenticity.
To learn more about the history and use of mandalas, there are many good books, far too many to list here, but there is one in particular that I feel fits in well with the concept of art journaling: The Zen of Creative Painting by Jeanne Carbonetti. One of my favorite quotes from the book is: "In the creative realm, mandalas present images of wholeness, for they bring forth our other side, the side usually hidden from view."
In the same way love makes the world go round, working within the circular boundaries of a mandala seems to make us feel more open and contained at the same time; it's a safe place to be. But don't let that stop you from exploring other shapes: square, triangular, or totally unique images from your heart are as valid as any other mandala form.
As for "what to draw with," if I had to choose a single medium for mandala-making it would be colored pencil (the Tibetans use colored sand, but I'm sure that takes centuries of practice). A simple Prismacolor set of 12 or 24 pencils works beautifully and won't break the bank. My reason for recommending pencil is I once tried watercolor and it was so difficult it seemed to defeat the entire purpose behind the mandala. Instead of inner peace and relaxation, I quickly fell into stress, confusion, and disappointment. On the other hand--perhaps this was a good lesson in letting go and I should use watercolor more often--or at least watercolor pencil!
Another concern you might have is your paper, especially if you want to work with a dark or black background. Don't worry if your journal pages are white because you can always a) paint them with black gesso and/or color before you begin, or b) tape or paste various colors and textures of paper onto the pages, either before or after you've written or drawn on them. (Note: the mandala I've shared at the top of this post is HUGE. I used a full sheet of Canson Mi Tientes black paper, but thanks to the computer, I've been able to shrink it down to art journal size. So don't feel restricted by having to always work directly into your journal.)
Some other helpful tips include:
- Before you start working, slow down for a few minutes. You might like to try a meditation practice, offer a prayer, or just concentrate on slowing your breathing.
- Listen to music, both before you begin drawing, and while you're creating your mandala.
- Experiment with using just one or two colors in all their various hues and shades. Are you in a blue, purple, or terracotta mood?
- Collage elements can be added to your mandala, or used exclusively as a creative approach.
- Mandalas don't always have to be abstract or ethereal. You might want to express an important event you witnessed during your day, or put a particular feeling or emotion into a series of concrete objects and symbols.
- If you find you really love making mandalas, you might want to devote an entire journal to them, perhaps by choosing a theme such as "nature" or "favorite music."
- Old photographs can sometimes be a way to start working with a mandala theme. Either place the picture in the center and work your way outwards, or use nothing but photos to assemble the entire mandala.
- You can do the same with individual words or phrases that are meaningful to you.
- Drawing the realistic outline of a particular flower can be a good starting point too: roses, daisies, sunflowers, anything that appeals to you.
- Don't forget your fruits and veggies! The cross section of an apple or an orange can create a beautiful pattern.
- As can jewelry and pendants . . .
- Or plates and pottery . . . In fact, why not make a mandala out of clay? It may not fit into your journal, but you can always take a photo. (Now I totally want to do this.)