Create your own handpainted Mandala


As intricate as a mandala might look, you will soon find out that it's not all that complicated. All you need is accuracy, a sense of colour, a bit of inspiration (which tends to come of its own accord) and patience. And here is how it works...


What you need:

1) A 30cm x 30cm (approx.) sheet of water colour paper or canvas

2) A set of fine brushes sizes 000 to 2

3) Gouache or acrylic paints

4) A compass

5) A fine pencil (the best is one with a lead refill that you do not need to sharpen

6) A set-square

Let's get started...


Make a dot in the middle of your canvas. With the compass make a circle of 14cm radius (you can choose your own size of course, these are just the dimensions for our demo). Draw a line from the middle of the circle to the outer line. With the set-square draw another line at 30° and another one at 30° and so forth until you have divided the entire circle into 12 pieces of the pie. (You can also divide the circle into more or less pieces of the pie. 360° can make 12 x 30°, 16 x 22,5°, 18 x 20° or 8 x 45°. Less than that would probably not look as interesting.)


Now you have got the basic structure in place. How you will have to proceed from here depends on the design you have got in mind. For this demonstration we will start with an inner circle of about 3cm diameter which I have marked with the compass. I will be working with acrylic paints on canvas which allows me to paint over my markings if necessary. If you use gouache on paper, make sure the markings are very light, otherwise they will show through the colours.


In the centre of the small circle I will paint a little star with a simple design of two shades of blue around it. One half of the design is lighter and the other darker. In the second piece of the pie I will mirror this design and continue like this all the way around, my initial design in the first piece of the pie and its mirrored version in the second.




But now I have decided to alter my design slightly and add a few highlights to give it more depth. A bit of white on the lighter blue and a darker shade in the middle of the darker blue gives the impression of waves. (Right)

And here comes the next step of our design. I want a star shape around the middle motive. So, I carefully measured the distances so that they're all equal. (Left). This is how I have coloured the star. I tried to blend the red, orange and yellow into smoth transitions. To achieve this effect, you have to work fast enough so that you add the second colour while the first is still wet. Here, I am working with acrylic which is not as fast drying as gouache. Where two colours meet, e.g. orange and yellow, I brush over the joint to mix them in slightly. I might have to wet the brush a bit. Sometimes, I will need a weak dilution of either colour to create the fading. For example, orange is stronger than yellow, so, in order to add only a little bit of orange onto the yellow, use a thin wash of orange that I rub into he yellow until all the orange is gone. You will have to experiment a bit depending on what medium you use.









Here is a detail of the colour transition. (Left)

Now we can elaborate a bit more on the existing design.



I have decided on a little floral design. Here, you can see the mirror technique which will lead to the kaleidoscopic effect. When you do this free hand and the shapes are not geometrical, it can be a bit tricky. This is why I tend to do first every other piece of the pie with the design in one direction and then the others with the mirrored design. This helps to keep the drawing more steady as well.

Oops, here, I seem to have skipped one stage in the photo taking...Well, you can see what I've added to the design. There are two ways you can go about creating a mandala design. The first one is to start in the centre and to make it up as you go along. That's the method I have employed here. I look (or sometimes stare) a while at it and then let the next step bubble up from inside. I am always careful with colour combinations, though and try not to go overboard with contrasts. But this is down to personal taste. If you like it really colourful, just go for it. The other way is to draw out the entire design for one piece of the pie before I even start working on canvas. This is a better method for a more intricate design. I will show this method at a later stage.

Curly designs I draw out on the canvas beforehand. Just very lightly so that the pencil marks do not show trough the paint. In the case of the red between the star triangles I did the curves first, then carefully painted around them in red and then went over the yellow again to get it cleaner.

In these two pictures you can see how I go from a shape filled with plain colour to working some depth into it. This is mainly achieved by adding darker and lighter tones but also with borders. In the case of the "sun rays" I started with yellow ochre, then added some red and worked it into the tops in the transitional way as described earlier. I used a slightly darker shade of this orange for the borders. At the bottom end of each ray I added white highlightswhich I had to do several times with an undiluted white for the last little bit.




Here is the detail. You can see that I put a darker line around the green triangle shape as well and right next to it is a little darker shade (not really that visible on the photo, there will be better examples later on). This is a way to create a certain depth between shapes in the design.





Here is a bit of a jump...I felt the picture needed some contrast and went for the sky blue.










And the floral design is back, too...In the detail photo you can see the mirror effect. Here, I did it not between two pieces of the pie but for every one and then alternating two slightly different designs which shifts the kaleidoscopic principle by half a pie-piece. Strictly speaking this is not correct but in this case it works.





Here is another contrast. As far as colour schemes are concerned, I normally stick to three main colours with a few variations and mixes. In the case of this mandala it's yellow ochre, kobalt and ultramarine blue and crimson red. I added some white to the red for the big star shape and the yellow ochre and blue make the green that I use just very sparingly.







On the left a detail of the red star shape.

And here is what I chose for the decoration of the red.


Next step. It's pretty self-explanatory.


We're now nearing the outer circle. I have decided to create another contrast...



...and it's become a starry night!




© 2011 Andrea Braun-Radnedge