The Mandala Exchange is an interactive blogspot where mandala projects, resources, ideas, and knowledge can be shared. The Exchange was formed to be able to continue the mandala work presented at the 2011 AATA conference, "Communicating Through Mandalas: Exploring Traditional and Online Media with Fellow Therapists". The presenters and moderators of this site, wanted the cycle of the mandala to continue and expand through a virtual community of practitioners, artists and explorers.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

All Things Recycled

The individuals I work with tend not to make strong attachments to the art they create, so more often than not I am left with piles of discarded work. At times the work is incomplete or unfinished other times it is scrap pieces used for testing a media (as was the case here). More often than not, it just takes a nudge in the right direction before they can see the potentiality of it. When this happens I give my clients the option of placing the pieces in a pile to be recycled.** We discuss that some items can be given new purpose even if we don't know what that is yet.

By August of 2013 we had a small pile of such discarded and printed pieces.

Participants were asked to cut the paper scraps into any shape they wanted (hint: they didn't know what they would be doing with the pieces). Some became really really excited and cut complex shapes but nothing recognizable.

A square 19”x19” poster board served as the containment space. The circle was drawn by tracing a large circular object (ie. garbage can, bowl, hoops, etc). This could also have been done by using string and a pencil.

If I recall correctly, the rules were something similar to these:
1. All space within the circle must be covered.
2. Pieces had to “fit-in”. No overlapping (or very minimal amount of overlapping).
3. Pieces can be trimmed to improve their fit.
4. Pieces must touch each other (ie. a piece cannot be placed on its own).
5. Work from either outside IN or center OUT. But not both. This is a decision the group makes before placing down their first piece.

Lastly, and most importantly... the therapists’ role was such:
1. Mod-podge (or craft acrylic) facilitator.
2. Keep the group on task & within the ‘activity rules’.

This particular group soon realized that starting on the outside meant they now had to be much more careful in selecting and placing the remaining pieces. Once complete the entire collage was coated in mod-podge to ensure they adhere well.

The mandala collage was displayed in the group room until this August when it was retired. 

By giving pieces that tend to be discarded a second purpose (or even a third) there tends to be a silent exchange. 


No worries it won't be in the recycling pile any time soon.  

**To clarify, pieces that go in the recycle pile must have names removed & are generally abstract. These pieces “rest” in the to-be recycled pile for a few weeks or more before they are considered ready. Giving time to the original owner to return and retrieve their piece if needed. Quite often it is the original owner who initiates the cutting-down and reusing of the piece.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

FINISHED the Mini Accordion Book: Mandala Edition

“When we create a mandala, we make a personal symbol that reveals who we are at that moment. The circle we draw contains -- even invites-- conflicting parts of our nature to appear. Yet even when the conflict surfaces, there is an undeniable release of tension when making a mandala.”

- Fincher, S. (1991). Creating mandalas for insight, healing, and self-expression. Boston, MA: Shambhala.

I was drawn to that portion of Fincher’s book as I completed the mini accordion book from the last post. Each of the 6 square pages depicts 1 mandala. These were completed as a visual response to a group of clients which were particularly disgruntled when I began this project in the middle of May. As they worked through their discord(s), I used the small mandalas as a means to process my feelings and thoughts. The rate of entries was 1-2 per week for the last 4 weeks.

Had I not had the mini book ready to go, would I still have responded visually?

A resounding YES. It may have taken a different turn as far as media choice and size, but using a visual response as a means to process distress seems as natural as breathing. It allows me to think about what has transpired in a different context and later return with more of a wise-mind on my shoulders.

There is no doubt in my mind that walking the walk highly influences my approach to how I present what I do with those I work with.  Engaging in visual response certainly helps get through the rough patches when work feels like wading thru a bog. Those are the days when it is hardest to find the time to create, but those are the days when creating is most rewarding.     


I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn't say any other way--things I had no words for.” - Georgia O'Keeffe 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Mini Accordion Book: Mandala Edition

Since the AATA conference this last July, I have been tinkering with the concept of using mini folded books with my clients. At the end of the 2013 Spring semester I noticed one of my interns (Thanks Brittney)  toying with the idea of making small journals for her clients. When the semester ended, a sample book stayed behind. Glancing at it, I remembered telling her that the book would need to be essentially self-contained: no staples & no string. Nothing could be part of the book that could be used to self injure.   

Months later I revisited the idea for several purposes:
  • Purposeful engagement in an activity
  • Focusing on the process as a mindfulness practice
  • Accountability

I tend not to miss groups often and whenever I miss a whole week I can tell my clients get concerned.  “Homework” assignments during holidays and vacations tends to keep everyone busy and accountable. I was also wondering how to engage my clients to use skills once outside the group. For our first go-around we each made one and discussed how we would make daily entries of doodles and/or words. This was to continue until my return but could continue until the book was completed.

My first mini-book had 13 pages each slightly larger than an ATC card. The book pages fold and unfold in on itself - so it takes awareness to open and use. After the first book I was hooked. I’ve made several of this style and ventured to attempt one dedicated to mandalas.

For the “pages” I used one large rectangular sheet of paper. If you wish to have the final outcome be square sheets begin with a square sheet. The fold lines indicated below will work with most sheets and depending on the size of the original it will produce varying final results.  I recommend a tester page before committing any of the ‘nice’ sheets.

1. Select your sheet for the pages. Consider texture and durability.

2. Fold along the lines indicated above. It helps to begin by folding at the mid-point of either side.
Once the folds are creased & visible you are ready for cutting. If you can't see them well or if your clients may need more visual cues, have them trace the lines with a pencil.

3. Cutting time! Following the folds (or lines) cut as shown.

4. Accordion the pages. This part takes lots of patience and awareness. Some sheets will fold one way others will need some coaxing. You want to be able to open the book like an accordion, which means the sheets will fold on top of each other but not in such a way that restricts them. This part can take some fiddling. Once this is done set it aside and work on the cover.

5. Using the measurements of the folded-book decide on the material and size of the cover. Keep in mind you need enough material for 2 (a front and a back).

For the cover I used 2 pieces of cardboard cut slightly larger than the accordion pages, allowing for a slight overhang. Before the pages were adhered to the cover I decorated the cover. Once the sheets are glued to the inside of the covers you will see that most of the cardboard is not visible.

These are quite entertaining both at the time of assembly and later-on as you are filling-them-in. 

Consider the following alternatives:
  • Use older discarded artworks for cover sheets - I save the sheets where we ‘practice/play’ with paint for instances such as this.
  • Use discarded paper for pages - you can gesso/color/stain the pages before use.
  • Scavenge for cardboard boxes for cover material
  • Use grocery store brown paper bags as cover paper - it tends to add strength.
    ...and if the pages are cut into circles....well, all the better!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Captured in time...

...and by photo.  Or maybe I'm referring more to "on-the GO mandalas"? or photo mandalas. A quick Google search also produces "earth mandalas", and so on.

With spring bursting out of every pot, plot and crevice a new world is awakening. The smallest of changes are breath taking (and I don't mean the pollen). Tho often so small and inconsequential that we miss them all the same. 

Think about it, what passes you by each and every day? How does it change? Who notices? Yet, there's so much to see we are certain to run out of time. Taking the last mandala exchange post “Sometimes Self Care doesn’t require words...just Art” to heart, I’ve been taking more photos of those small things that I wonder about. Things I find while I am out and about. Brief moments in time. The ones that don’t make good stories because there is no plot, no climax, or would even be considered Art.

Remember, it is the little things that our world is comprised of and once again when the wheels are spinning I find there is no time left for the messy kind of art. The stuff that I truly like, the one that involves being uncomfortable and being wrong and sitting with it... till it feels right.  

Instead, I’m capturing moments and seeing what else there is to be found. 

You may be amazed or simply humbly surprised, at what you’ve been walking-on-by.

And in the breaths we are granted there's no reason why not to play... so I used a plugin I found for Photoshop Elements a while back called Kaleidoscope 2.1 to manipulate the image. 

...from the leaves of the lettuce to the figure bellow..

..from the leaves of a wild berry within the shell of a coconut (hint-hint look at the first picture above).. 

Happy Exploring...

P.S. - Thanks 14Secrets for keeping the magic alive and kicking.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Sometimes Self Care doesn't require words....just Art

"February 14th" (hickory nut) -Amy B.

"The river is everywhere" ~taken from Siddhartha
-Amy B.
"Feeling Blue" -Sheila L.
(mindful doodle) -Sheila L.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Art for the sake of understanding and processing change.

Interns 2010
Art for the sake of understanding and processing change, this time of the year it is almost expected to be introspective and to hear about others reflections.  In making art there seem to be many more cycles of reflection. I have mentioned before (and if I haven't then I’m telling you now) that art seems to have its own gravitational pull. It ‘draws’ me in at times of great distress.  So as not to make it all about anger and sadness I also turn towards visual expression at times of change and when there's times of uncertainty.  One such instance has become quite predictable, the changing of the inters.

ReNewal 2011
Each semester (except for the summer months) I have been graced with anywhere from 1 to 3 interns. I didn't realize it had been happening for a while now except that my filing cabinet is getting full (guess I need a spring cleaning). So all that to say that having healthy boundaries and all, I still get attached! I guess it is in my nature, it is in the ‘therapy’ part of what I do. Fear-not I found a solution to process through these seemingly ritualized if not downright timed losses. I make a reflective art piece.

Yeah, who would have thought an art therapist making art to check-in with herself at the beginning of the semester and then again at the end. The practice has worked so far and may date back to 2010 with one titled Interns (very clever name- wonder what it was about).

Over the years there have been many images and with a brief look I often depict myself as part of the dynamic when they begin (the first image is usually done right after their interviews). While for the pieces completed towards the end of their internship (usually completed on their last week or right after they leave) there is no “I” in the image, just them.  I take-on more of an ethereal quality in that I am present but there is no concrete representation of myself. But that's just a brief observation. I may pull them out and study them further in the future once I have more (because I expect to).

In processing this expected change in office dynamics in expectation of the students of Spring 2014 I made: Unit Stresses. Titled so because I made it within an altered book I am keeping as a journal and aptly enough the pages used began a new chapter [For other recent mandalas within the altered book visit the sister page Symbolic Projections].

It's Time 2012
Their Contributions 2013
Unit Stresses 2014 - Detail
While simple in comparison to some of my other pieces where I work one layer after the next and there's always some form of pen-work involved, this piece was complex in other ways. With a Bougainvillea “flower” (these petals aren't the flower which is smaller, these are the bracts encasing the flower)  in the center around which i arranged blue pieces of paper--- one at a time. Overall this piece reminded me of those homework assignments in drawing class where you were measured by the hours it took to complete (nonsense), so lets just say this took a while despite its ‘simplicity’. The blue pieces are small enough to fit on top of a #2 pencil eraser (each piece not all of them). Each of the blue pieces came from a sheet where i painted with blues and reds, one afternoon where I was teaching a mindfulness using paint - so each piece has color variations and is akin to small marble squares. Using tweezers I applied each one and loved every minute of it. From the cutting of the pieces to the last coat of glue, the careful - moderate your breath or it will all be blown away feeling - is soothing.

More and more I notice I do these small rituals of cutting and putting away things, organizing and sorting. Not that I do more of them, but that I notice myself doing them and realize the act is ‘for me’ not because another person needs something at this level of organization. Not because I want to collect, but because the acts of doing so is a replacement for not being able to make art at that moment. I squirrel-away small stashes of carefully cut content for art pieces that never manifest in large part because the setting-up and coordinating quiets the mind when there's no time for art.  

Unit Stresses 2014
I’m sure I’m not the only one out there who sees their time sifting through their hands. Guess I need to learn to make a fist and make it last... until I get to the drawing board, then maybe slap-it-down with some glue and see what it ends-up looking like. 

To see these and other mandalas through the years take a look at my Mandala Gallery on DeviantArt..


Sunday, November 24, 2013

Peering to the Other Side of the Mandala 2 of 2

Peering to the Other Side of the Mandala: Translucency of the Round

For those who have seen my work, it is usually nothing if it isn’t layered. As I have seen it happen time and again for my clients, I too become lost in the process of visual play. After having experimented with making paper from recycled fibers and organic inclusions we had a plethora of items left that any creative soul just wouldn't allow to go to waste. Items included flattened vines (weeds from my yard), pressed flowers, crumbled petals, tea bags, natural fibers, yarn, tissue papers, etc.

So it began.

I wanted to provide my clients with a boundary within which to work so I cut & laid out rectangular pieces of plastic shopping bags (these can be substituted with cut-up garage bags). The bags themselves did not provide containment so we traced round plates with thick sharpies right onto the bags then set to work layering any of the plethora of objects described above in addition to pre-cut text from magazines. Tho mayhem seemed to ensue, I did walk away having learned a few things...

1. Some planning at the onset goes a long way. Especially when it comes to which layer to set first and which last (ie. think of an image sandwich that needs supporting walls to stay together).

2. Incorporating breathing into the discussion will also help slow the process so that care is taken in placement & layering (very helpful when items are fragile).

3.  This process/directive can work with themes of duality and multi-dimensionality (ie. of a person) since items may be visible from both sides and some may (as part of the process) become obscured. [self-expression & problem solving go without saying]    

4. Frustration tolerance will be tested. The process necessitates multiple steps such as managing watered down Elmer's glue with a brush and effectively saturating various surfaces all while considering item placement and fragility (as glue is added the items’ properties may change ie. from rigid to limp -- and thus the fragility of items will need to be contended with by each participant at some point).

5. Choose items for inclusion carefully. This is yet another of those directives where testing things out first would in order to explore some of the possibilities can be key to heading-off certain failures.
  • Tea bags: work great to add rigidity to final product. they also add brown stains making product look aged. Green tea bags will have lighter results than black tea or rooibos (but then you will need to sort the bags). 
  • Tissue paper: bleeds! which is awesome if you want color without busting out the paint. It also shreds and tears easy (good thing of you want it but not so good if someone is OCD about having their paper be perfectly smooth, as it will tear with too much brushing). 
  • String/yarn/long fibers: these will need to be “strapped” down between layers of paper. 
  • Magazine Images: I love the way these look but remember that most magazines are glossy and not readily accepting of water so the glue/water mix will bead-up and some images will curl...again needing to be layered with tissue or tea bags in order to be ‘held-down’ until the glue dries. 
  • Sharpie: This is one of my favorite discoveries! The sharpie ink readily lifted off the grocery bag with my collage in the areas that the paper pieces overlapped the ink. (in subsequent projects I’ve overlapped on purpose for awesome results). Meaning that it doesn't have to be a circle-outline, it can be a doodle, a tracing of an image (that you lay underneath, etc).

6. It takes time. It takes time to layer and get into the process and also for the whole thing to dry. It must be fully dried before any attempts are made to peel it off the surface. If something doesn't look right you can always add more even after it dries. 
  • For those clinicians wanting/needing portability I would suggest pre-wrapping Masonite boards and having the tissue papers and other inclusions already in manageable sizes in small cups or envelopes (for groups I sometimes pour the contents of the envelopes into disposable plates so they can be passed around like at a dinner table).

All in all I was rather pleased with these and have since employed the process into other directives quite successfully with small and large groups. Some projects were in stable locations, while others were in spaces necessitating portability. Although my favorite part can easily be watching that silence of ‘creativity’ fall on a group that makes most professional staff feel uneasy...The next best part is peeling the final products and holding them towards a source of light and watching for unexpected results..because we can never account for everything.

Go with the flow.