Kerrie Woodhouse

Whimsical words and watercolour

mandalas

The tiresomeness of goal setting

Series of the MonthKerrie Woodhouse

At the time of writing this we are about to see in the new year. I love the reflectiveness that seems to arise so naturally at this time. I’m less keen on the exuberant advice on goal setting that abounds. 

You know what I mean… Big Hairy Audacious Goals, (that are SMART - obvs) and shooting for the moon. 

Exhausting.

 
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No, this is not for me.

It's not that I don't have ambitions, I believe we all have those.

It's just that this year I am choosing to focus on how I want each day to be, rather than the big things I want to achieve. 

Those big achievements are great of course, but in a rather fleeting way.  It is the way we approach each ordinary day that ultimately determines the way we feel about our lives. So it is the process rather than the outcome that I am interested in. 

 
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I have been filling my sketchbook with mandalas, as is my wont at this time of year. Each mandala is built by the persistent repetition of a small mark or shape all the way around the circle.

The next ring of the mandala then appears the same way. Stroke by stroke. Gentle meditative strokes gradually accumulate to create a lovely whole. 

 
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The word that always comes to mind when I am creating these mandalas is repetition. I see the whole process as a series of micro steps.


Initial marks made in pencil, 
then repeated in pen. 
Choosing colour palettes, 
colouring each tiny space. 
Then returning to each space with a waterbrush to make my watercolour pencils of choice - Inktense - leap to vibrant life. 

 
 

Each mandala turns out quite different from its predecessors and yet they are all born of the same process. It is such a good  metaphor for any project, I think. There are multiple phases - pencil, pen, colour and water in the case of the mandala. 

 
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Each phase comprises its own tiny steps. Having a protocol eliminates, or at the very least drastically reduces, big project stress. (Nice to practice this approach to big projects on stress free mandalas, don’t you think?). 

Once you have a protocol, all that is required of you is to show up and execute those little steps. Over and over again.

 
 

For me, making art is always about the process, not the final product. Usually though, the more enjoyable the drawing or painting process, the nicer the final piece turns out.

The joy of the process seems to express itself tangibly in the painting in a rather magical way.

 
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Mandalas are one of the best ways to discover this for yourself. Any sort of meditative drawing (have you tried zentangle?) or even colouring offers this experience. 

That’s what I want both in and out of the studio this year. Days happily filled with small simple processes.

 
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Of course, if one is persistent in following these carefully chosen processes, achieving the bigger goals becomes rather inevitable. 

What a pleasing irony.

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What have you achieved so far?

Series of the MonthKerrie Woodhouse

If you are feeling in need of a little calming, reflective time then drawing mandalas is just the thing. One of my new rituals is to spend a month with mandalas at the close of every year.  There is so much about the mandala that feels apt at this time of the year.

 
 

The circle is the perfect symbol for a time of reflection. Its gentle  even curve will hold whatever you choose to put inside - a safe container. 

It brings me no end of delight to be able to start with a little seed of a shape in the centre of the circle and then watch it grow into something bigger and more complex.

 
 

I love that just by surrendering to consistent repetition of a simple shape something significant appears. Just like all those tiny, seemingly meaningless repetitive tasks that we do everyday. Considered on their own they seem so banal, perhaps even tedious. Beds need to be made repeatedly. Counters wiped down. Again. Mothers repeat their endless refrains: 

Pick up your towel.

I love you to the moon and back.

Feet off the sofa. 

But each of these tiny things plays its role in making up the complex pattern of our lives. There is reliability in the repetition. They form the structure within which our children (as well as ourselves) find a sense of security. Certain things in an uncertain world. These things provide some stability - a backbone to support the fluid organic expansion of their little lives, the framework on which to pin all the colour and interest that life has to offer.

 
 

Once a soothing trip all the way around the circle with one shape has been completed there is a sense of closure. To close up one round of shapes brings fulfilment. There is a feeling of achievement in reaching the end. However one of the joys of a circle is that every end is also a beginning. The end of one day is the beginning of another.

 
 

My process for drawing mandalas is circular in so many ways. Aside from the obvious shape of their overall design and the repetition of the shapes within, there is a cyclical nature to the process itself. I begin in pencil and complete each concentric circle of shapes, usually beginning in the centre. Having repeated that process to fill the whole mandala I begin again going over the pencil lines in pen.

 
 

And then a final return to each concentric circle to add the colour. As is so often the case, the process of creating art mirrors life. The first time we try something new we may be a little shaky, uncertain - the pencil version. As we repeat this action we are more confident, we probably refine our previous work - the pen stage. And now that we are more confident with this new thing that we have learned we find even more joy and execute the task with flair - the colour stage. 

 
 

 

At each stage, we have the chance to improve or amend our previous decisions. The more we persist, the more our new project begins to collaborate with us in its creation. We can choose to take feedback from what we have done so far, to work with what is working and let go of what is not.

 
 

In mandalas, as in life there is comfort in the repetition, and the opportunity for growth. If we persist to completion there is the chance to experience each new thing in all its glory. Every so often we need to pause, stand back and see how our small repeated daily actions contribute to the glorious mandala of our lives. 

 
 

Take a moment to observe what you have achieved so far. Acknowledge your efforts and contributions. Be proud of how much you have learned and grown.

And then begin another round.