Studio Saturdays: Making Mandalas

Mandalas have been around for millennia, and it’s easy to see why this motif, which signifies the cosmos and wholeness, has universal appeal for artists. Mandalas can be imbued with layers of meaning, interpreted in endless colors, shapes, and patterns, and rendered in any medium. Creating a mandala can be an intense spiritual experience or a quick diversion.

I used the design as decoration for something that usually gets no love—the manila file folder. I believe that even mundane tasks like paperwork can be less tedious if there is something beautiful around us, so why not create that yourself? My palette reflected the rich, bright summer greens and blues of the trees, water, and sky, and the pops of purples and pinks I see in the wildflowers that are blooming.

Mandala file folder
A plain manila folder served as a substrate for a mandala

To create a colorful and textured background I used an 8” x 10” Gelli Arts Gel Printing Plate, first randomly painting it with pale shades of blue, green and yellow. I used tube acrylics, since they’re heavier and have a longer dry time, making them better for printing. While the paint was still wet I used the edge of a foam brush to create a swirl pattern.

Painted Gelli plate
A swirl pattern was created with the tip of a foam brush.

Quick tip: Try colors and patterns on test papers to see if you like the designs. Don’t throw those test papers away—use them in future collages, on art journal pages, or for giftwrap or stationery—anything you like.

I pressed the front of the file folder onto the plate, but the plate didn’t cover the entire folder. Not a problem; I re-painted and re-swirled the plate, then pressed the unpainted edges of the folder onto it.

Quick tip: If your plate is larger than your substrate, decide how you want to patch the printed design together. With this monoprinting method is it’s impossible to make a mistake!

Then it was time to create the mandala. I started with a center motif, using the Daisies stencil from Dina Wakley Media, and sponged acrylic paint on in a complementary color to make it pop.

Mandala stencil motif
A center motif was created with a stencil.

Quick tip: File folders come in different weights; if you’re using a wet medium like paint, choose heavier-weight folders.

I then hand cut eight petal shapes from book text, edged the shapes with a black stamp pad, and adhered them with glue stick. The fun thing about this method is that I didn’t have to measure a thing—I started with a cross formation, then added four more petals in between. To add a hand-drawn element I doodled flower shapes with a gel pen.

Collaged mandala
Collage and doodles were added.

From there it was easy and fun to build the mandala out. I hand cut oval shapes from cardstock and glued them in a circle. Notice that there are 12, not 16—nothing has to be perfectly symmetrical. The next layer was created with a smaller flower from the same stencil.

Collaged mandala
Building out the mandala with more collage and stencil designs.

Quick tip: If you want to make your mandala symmetrical, use a compass and protractor to create even lines and concentric circles.

I thought the mandala needed more contrast and interest, so I drew some dots with a white uni-ball Signo pen. Simple stitching with embroidery thread was added to give a little more texture and interest; the stitches look like leaves, which emphasizes the nature theme. I then edged the folder in ultramarine blue paint. I glued a piece of decorative cardstock to the inside of the folder to give it some heft and to hide the stitching.

Stitched mandala
Dots and stitching were added for texture and detail.

Quick tip: When stitching on paper, poke the holes first with a thin awl or needle, then sew.

In making this mandala I discovered that the process of creating it was meditative and soothing. I hope you will too. Make a set of these for yourself, or for a friend or family member, and tailor the mandalas to suit them.

Mandala file folder
A file folder I’ll look forward to using!

With the resources below you can start exploring this inspired and satisfying art form!

The Big Book of Mandalas Stress Less Coloring – Mandalas
Creating Mandalas Collection
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Limited quantities available
Interweave Crochet Mandala Coloring Book The Mandala Coloring Book
The Mandala Guidebook
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