Art as Meditation

When I’m in the middle of an art project, I lose all track of time. I become wholly engrossed in my task, looking at colors and shapes — and tuning out everything around me.

Actual meditation is not something I’ve ever mastered, though I have made some feeble attempts (without guidance). It’s very difficult to stop the constant barrage of brain activity whirling around in my head, except when I’m focusing on playing music or making art.

How the final product turns out does not really concern me. Once I’m finished with something like a paper collage, I am sometimes pleased by looking at what I’ve made, and sometimes not. But I’m not deluded enough to think that what I’m producing is a great work of art, and I don’t usually intend it for public consumption. I’m making whatever it is for myself (with few exceptions), and the enjoyment comes in the fully absorbing process of making it.

I had the great pleasure to take a tile mosaic class at the Rum River Art Center in Anoka, Minnesota. My daughter bought me a class as a gift, and I was so glad to have the opportunity to visit this fun art space. The Rum River Art Center offers classes for all ages in a variety of art forms, including painting, pottery, stained glass and more. They also offer “art parties” for groups of any age to come in for a fun class together.

Rum River Art Center classrooms

Director Larry Weinberg ran the class, which was all adult participants, and I loved the laid-back atmosphere. Just having materials provided and a great space to make the art without any pressure or strict instructions made it a perfect outlet for me to explore what I’ve been enjoying away from the paper products for a change.

The art center offered an interesting variety of materials to use, from ceramic tiles and broken bits of china to sea glass and colored stones. Everyone chose the materials they wanted to play with, and then we were directed to use white paper at the work tables to design our mosaic before gluing anything to our chosen boards.

At first I balked at this, since I knew I wanted to create a mandala (see my last blog, Mandalas and Mosaics, for a definition of mandalas). My idea was that I would just start at the center and work my way outward in a kind of haphazard way, figuring it out as I want. But I followed directions and played with the materials I’d chosen until I created a design that would fit my board. In retrospect it was a good idea to plan ahead a bit, though I did change some of the design on the fly during gluing, especially when I realized that I’d designed for a larger shape than the wood provided because of its beveled edges. I also changed my mind about the item I wanted at the center of the design.

During the process I became completely focused on what I was doing, despite the distractions of having people around me (unlike when I usually work at home), and the experience was thoroughly enjoyable.

Originally I’d hoped to find a circular board to work with for my mandala shape, but the closest option was a heart-shaped board which was on the small side. So I used a rectangular board, which was larger. At Larry’s advice, first I painted the board blue, which was a good choice for my pattern colors. The glue being used (called Weldbond) looks white when wet, but dries clear. Here’s how it looked when it was first finished, then after the glue had dried:

Back at home, I felt I was ready to get away from the pre-created mandalas from coloring book patterns I’d been using to play with. So I began by collecting some interesting colored papers to cut into a variety of different shapes, mostly geometrical, using objects like game pieces I had in the house to trace for some uniformity. My idea, however, was not to be strictly geometric or too accurately symmetrical. Though the overall symmetry of mandalas is part of why they are so pleasing to the eye, I wanted to create something with a more organic and less rigid feeling.

I started in the middle, with circular shapes, on a piece of colored card stock, and gradually added other shapes, mostly from the inside out (though not strictly so). Light pencil lines on the diagonal helped me keep track of roughly where I was in the design overall, though I did not stick to those lines strictly.

Moving forward I will choose something harder as a base, like painted cardboard perhaps, as the card stock warped a bit with the application of glue and other papers as I added more and more to the mandala. I let myself choose the items for layers in a fairly haphazard way, not thinking too hard about it. The entire process took a number of hours, between the cutting and gluing, and I was not able to complete it all at one sitting due to time constraints, so it was completed over a few days.

I also used some non-geometric shapes that I drew from some of the mandala coloring books to add to the mandala so it would not appear entirely geometric. I wanted a variety of different colors, patterns and textures to fill out the design. My biggest problem then seemed to be that I did not know how I would tell when I was finished! I did know that I wanted a little space around the borders of the paper, in case I should decide to mat and frame it. But I wasn’t quite satisfied yet. Like in my previous collage blog Enough Is Enough, I’ve learned that I really enjoy an excess of color and pattern all over the page. I wanted to create a mandala where the eye isn’t entirely sure where to go next, and there’s enough variety of shapes, colors and patterns that you see something new everywhere you look.

 

I really enjoyed working on this mandala project, but I want to make at least one more. If I can get to Michael’s craft store to obtain some materials, perhaps, I’d like to try to make another mandala using non-paper materials. I’d also like to try an even bigger paper mandala (this one is about 12X12″), perhaps on a cardboard or wood base that is stronger than the card stock I used, and cut out a much wider variety of shapes from paper to choose from ahead of time. I’d like to make a mandala that’s so crazy and enormous that it boggles the mind and overwhelms the eye. If I can find the time!

This activity is so soothing and absorbing all at once that it offers a peace of mind and feeling of oneness with the materials that I can’t quite explain. What do you do in your life that provides that kind of present-moment, all-absorbing mindfulness? When was the last time you let yourself do that?

Miriam

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