Kerrie Woodhouse

Whimsical Watercolour

What do circles mean to your brain?

Series of the MonthKerrie Woodhouse

What is your favourite shape?

Mine is a circle. Apparently I’m not at all unique there. It seems that our human brains have grown to love the circle - preferring it to angular shapes. They think this is because straight lines and sharp points remind us of animal teeth, jagged rocks and dagger tips. Danger, you might say.

Mandalas 2018 no 4- (Mixed media sketchbook, 10"x 10")

Mandalas 2018 no 4- (Mixed media sketchbook, 10"x 10")


Curves on the other hand are associated with organic life forms, like apples or even a plump animal to eat. The fluid pressure of healthy tissue like muscle against outer membranes like skin naturally produces a shallow convex surface.

Accordingly we associate smooth curvature with healthy living organisms. When we look at angular shapes the part of the brain that processes fear and anxiety is stimulated, but curvy shapes make us feel calm, dreamy and relaxed.

Mandalas 2018 no 3- (Mixed media sketchbook, 10"x 10")

Mandalas 2018 no 3- (Mixed media sketchbook, 10"x 10")


Small wonder then, that spending time drawing mandalas makes me feel rather meditative. I think in large part that is the repetition of the shapes within the circle, but now I know that it is more than that. It is also the circle itself. The queen of all curvy shapes.

Mandalas 2018 no 2- (Mixed media sketchbook, 10"x 10")

Mandalas 2018 no 2- (Mixed media sketchbook, 10"x 10")


I return to my mandala series at the end of every year. The circle feels so appropriate for this time of year.

A circle is whole and complete - just like the year.

But really New Year’s Eve is a night just like any other. It is neither ending or beginning. Or perhaps it is both.


Creating my annual mandala series is something I have really come to look forward to. There is so much that is soothing about the process. Would you like to see? Actually, would you like to join in?

I did make a video of one of this year’s series for you to see. Since it is a slow and repetitive process, I have sped up the video at least 20 times so that you can get a speedy overview of the whole process.

Even babies have been shown to exhibit a preference for curvilinear images over angular ones. It is ingrained in us since birth.

Another reason that has been suggested to explain our preference for curves is the human face. A rather fascinating study examined the shapes created within each of our human expressions. Aggression, anger and fear contain sharp V shapes. Happy, gentle, loving expressions are comprised of wide open curves. This explains our predisposition for ‘baby-faces’ - yes, that is an actual scientific thing… who knew!


A further possible explanation for our preference for all things round is the shape of our eyeball. Since the eyeball is spherical our view is naturally circular at its fullest extent. Framing our images within a circle must then seem the most natural and complete to our human eye.

Mandalas 2018 no 1- (Mixed media sketchbook, 10"x 10")

Mandalas 2018 no 1- (Mixed media sketchbook, 10"x 10")


Whatever the reason I can wholeheartedly concur that circles make us happier. Look at them, draw them, doodle inside them - or all of the above.

Would you like to learn how I draw my mandalas? Click this link and let me know if this is something you would like.

If there is enough interest I I would love to create a class for you.