Why I Paint Mandalas

untitled-growth mandala painting by jeaneen gauthier

This painting dates from two years ago, and is one of my favorites. It is the first in a series of paintings that has taken me in a refreshing new direction with my artwork.

When I look at it, I am instantly reminded of a summer day in 2012. At the start of that year, I had just embarked on a relationship that seemed promising. By the time spring rolled around, I found myself dumped and disappointed. Summer started with me feeling very lonely and sorry for myself, with moping being my only plan (if you can call moping a plan).

I decided that if I was going to mope, it was going to be in the most creative and artistic way possible. I drew comics every day that depicted my life and feelings. I wrote stories; I re-read Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman series from beginning to end. My digital television reception mysteriously went from excellent to non-existent, and so I spent most of my free time reading, writing, and drawing.

One day in August, I bought a square canvas and covered it with orange paint. Beginning in the center, with no plan whatsoever, I simply started painting. Almost immediately I noticed a calm, hypnotic energy leading me forward. As I finished each ring of the circle, I suddenly knew exactly what needed to come next, and that is what I painted.

What a pleasant surprise this was. Up until that point, I usually painted with a very clear plan in mind. Now here I was building a complex geometric design with no plan at all for what to do next, and it felt great.

To be specific, it felt great to for once be free of my critical artist’s mind that is always asking: “Is this working?” “Is this any good?” “Should I even bother to keep working on this?”

For once in my life, I didn’t have to ask. This painting was working.

I seriously got to feeling that this painting was actually painting itself. And also unlike most of my other work, this painting went and got itself painted in just a few sessions.

I’ll be sharing more thoughts on this — and examples — in the future. In the mean time, I encourage you to give mandala painting a try and see if it does anything for you.


Notes On How To Do It:

1. Start small and simple. I started with a 10 x 10 inch pre-stretched canvas, and covered it with a loose mix of cadmium orange and cadmium yellow light acrylic paint. It was dry in less than an hour.

2. Create some minimal guidelines, if you want to. Using a ruler to measure diagonally from each corner, I marked center point of the canvas. Then I used a compass to lightly trace a 6 inch circle to use as a basic guide.

3. Keep the design large and the colors simple. I used a #2 round brush the whole time and avoided getting into any tiny details. I also kept my color palette to a minimum, using just 3 different shades of metallic gold paint. (I found it really interesting how green some of the golds looked on the orange background — a topic for another post!).

4. Try working symmetrically at first. The thing I liked so much about working on this painting was repeating the motifs around each ring of the circle. I found the repetition very soothing.

5. Abandon symmetry when it feels right. For me this happened when I got near the outer edges of the painting. Then it felt okay to let my marks go off in all directions.

Good luck!