Every year as summer turns to fall, and fall turns to winter, I feel like time starts to move at mach speed. Many of my self-care practices begin to fall by the wayside and it becomes very easy to find myself on edge, with not enough time and too many commitments. It is moments like these that art becomes the antidote, and I sit down with my paints and paper and create a mandala to bring myself back toward center. A Story Circle practice allows for any number of intentional approaches to creating a mandala, but in these times I find that making one with an intention to focus on gratitude is most helpful.
The exercise below is focused on process, rather than the final product, and is a wonderful activity for all ages and abilities.
- Watercolor set (I used a Watercolor Confections: Pastel Dreams watercolor set from Prima Marketing Inc.)
- Watercolor paper
- Circular object for tracing
- White gel pen (I used a Sakura® Gelly Roll pen)
1. Gather your materials and sit for a few moments to breathe and relax. Allow your shoulders to soften and your inhale breaths to deepen. As you continue to take deep inhale and full exhale breaths, focus on all that you are grateful for. This might be a long list of people or places, things or moments, or perhaps all of the above. You’ll find that as you think of one thing, another presents itself, and the list expands.
As the list increases in your head, take your brush, dip the bristles completely into the water, and load it fully on the palette with your favorite paint color. Create a small wash of that color on your paper and, working in a circular pattern, continue adding various colors all the way around. The paints should be very wet and mix and mingle on the page. One color bleeds in to the next, similar to the way all of the thoughts about gratitude are floating in your head. If you find yourself dripping in the center of the circle, appreciate the serendipity of the splash and keep going.
I chose to work my way around the entire watercolor palette, acquainting myself with a new set of paints. I was pleasantly surprised by the potency of the pigment and the vibrant colors that this collection of pastel shades provided. Gratitude for beautiful paints! I also chose to leave a bit of white space in the center of the page; this allowed me to have better control over which colors mixed as I worked my way around. But this isn’t necessary if you prefer to cover the entire paper in washes. Allow the paint to dry.
2. Draw a large circle centered on the page with the white gel pen. I traced an embroidery hoop to create an even circle, but you can draw the circle freehand or use a compass.
3. Using a wet watercolor brush, fill the inside of the circle with a water wash. Explore placing different colors of paint in different areas of the circle and allowing them to bleed in to one another again. Use the brush only to place the paint on to the wash; do not brush it back and forth. This keeps the colors fresh instead of letting them get muddy. Let the wash dry. If it doesn’t look the way you had hoped, repeat the process again, building up layers and vibrancy. Allow the page to dry completely.
4. Now the real fun begins! Using the white gel pen, begin writing all of the things that you feel gratitude for in the space around the circle. Allow any and all thoughts to flow, and write them down. You may be surprised how one thing leads to the next. As you fill the page, write over spaces you have already filled. If you find yourself drawing a blank for a moment, doodle with the pen until another thought pops up to be added to your list of things you’re grateful for. As you layer your writing, the characters begin to merge and create an abstract pattern.
Use your pen to create another layer of white ink in any areas you would like to have higher contrast.
Post this little painting in a place you will see regularly as an opportunity to stop and remember all that you have to be grateful for.
There is more than one way to do anything, and the same holds true for creating a gratitude Story Circle. If you sit down with the intention of creating a mandala while focusing on all that you are thankful for, the results will be different every time. Below is another gratitude Story Circle created using a different process that lead to different results.
This mandala was approached as an opportunity to express gratitude to friends and family, exploring items symbolizing thanks and appreciation, and painting them in a circular format.
The piece is configured largely of floral motifs, symbols of gratitude, thankfulness, and other related sentiments. At the center is a pink rose, representing gratitude and appreciation, and a traditional way to say thank you. In opposite quadrants are large hydrangea blossoms. Hydrangeas are said to sometimes symbolize the giver’s gratefulness for the recipient’s understanding.
I painted rosemary on top of the hydrangeas and in the other two quadrants as well. Rosemary is symbolic of faithfulness and remembrance. Blue salvia mingles with the rosemary in the corners opposite the hydrangeas. This flower is said to convey, “I think of you.” In each corner is a shape mimicking a Canterbury bell. This sweet blossom is symbolic of gratitude, faith and constancy. As for the colors that I used, pink symbolizes tenderness; green, nature; yellow, happiness and warmth; and purple, imagination and spirituality.
Both paintings represent stories of gratitude. They were created with the intention to explore and visually express this sentiment. My hope is that the next time you find yourself in a funk or needing a few moments to reflect on all that is good, you create your own gratitude Story Circle. Follow these prompts or use your own methods to express how you feel, and see what your creativity sparks.
Cassia has lots more great techniques! Learn her techniques for creating image transfers using vintage photos!
Cassia Cogger is an artist, teacher, and author who is inspired to create artworks, creative courses, and experiences that allow individuals to enter into greater relationships with their surroundings, becoming present to that which is essential. As much as she is excited by color, shape, pattern, and beauty, she is more excited by what the creative process reveals. Her work has been featured at the National Academy Museum in New York City, she has appeared in Watercolor Artist magazine as a rising star, and has had her work featured in a host of galleries and private collections. Discover more about Cassia at cassiacogger.com.