Tag Archives: mandalas

Only God is Perfect

For the most part, we artists like to show the works we think have turned out at best, spectacularly and at worst, wonderfully. But because “only God is perfect” is one of my favourite sayings, I thought today I’d illustrate for you A Day in the Life of an Artist as a Possible Failure. I have no problem with this. My self-esteem happens to be intact today. And I know there will be other opportunities for me to show you some stellar creations. So I would like to share a failure, because I can.

I have been creating mandalas as part of the Soul of a Pilgrim course (see previous post). And I have had in my possession for some time now, a pile of white tea towels. I had considered making prayer flags out of them but today I got an idea to put a mandala onto cloth. I also happened to have a brand new set of 24 Sharpie pens so I was kind of excited about the possibility of it all. As I was ironing the wrinkles out of the cloth it occurred to me that I would like to see what would happen if I let the pen ink bleed through to the next layer. My idea was to Symbolize how our Words and Deeds leave an imprint on the Other as they are executed or spoken and that often, that imprint is permanent. They can not be taken back or washed away.

So I folded the cloth into quarters and began drawing out the first mandala with Sharpie pens and no concern of the ink bleeding through. And for my first mandala I used shapes to Signify the Many Shapes and Sizes we All Come In. And I did not measure the spaces between so some of the shapes ran into or over one another and that was ok too. This Symbolized that We Only Have So Much Control of our Lives and Mistakes Happen. I outlined and colored in and to be honest got a little high off the Sharpie fumes. Eventually I pulled the collar of my turtleneck shirt up over my nose fearing brain damage. Fortunately I was the only one home, no one saw me.

“It takes great discipline to be a free spirit.” – Gabrielle Roth

So I carried on and when I was finished I pulled up the first layer and found that the ink had only bled through one layer and the other two were still white. And Sharpie’s are permanent and fast drying so they weren’t going to bleed any more. No Problem! I’m an Artist! I flipped the cloth over and began to create another mandala on the other side and this would bleed into the facing blank quarter. Now I would have Two Symbolic Images leaving imprints. For the second mandala I decided to move away from haphazard geometry into nature. This mandala has flowers and leaves, Symbolizing Nature’s  Sacred Impact on our Lives and how the golden moments gazing at a flower or watching a leaf fall from a tree are Moments of Grace and those moments will also imprint on our souls.

As I continued with the flowers, I decided I didn’t really love the white of the cloth and thought that dying it a different color would be fun. I’m a big tea dye lover and thought a black tea would muddy the work but a green tea would give it just a subtle shade and age the cloth a bit. This would Signify and Symbolize Nothing At All. So after I finished the flower – and was not completely satisfied with the bleed through on that side either, I brewed a cup of tea for me and a bowl for the dye bath. I scrunched up the cloth into the bowl and let it sit there for a while. I was tired now and a little spacey from the Sharpie fumes so I placed the damp tea bags over my eyes to refresh them. Artists do stuff like that.

When my eyes were refreshed I threw the tea bags out and put the mandala cloth and tea water into the washing machine and gave it a spin. Then I dried the cloth for 10 minutes in the dryer and assessed my days work as I ironed it out. Alas, it did not work as I had hoped. The colors were nice, the mandalas fair, but the bleed through was vague and the piece as a whole was not good art. It was Failed Art. It did however make a fine dish towel for our kitchen. The kind of dish towel all artists should have. So all was not lost and I am not perfect and I’m OK with that. Now it is definitely time for a nap.

Soul of a Pilgrim

Robert Wuthnow writes “If spiritual practice clarifies one’s self-identity, including art in one’s practice provides a way to offer a part of oneself to God.[1] So along with lots of reading, I have been participating in an online retreat with Abbey of the Arts. I thought that having some structure to the beginning of my school semester would help me get into a routine. Soul of a Pilgrim is a 40-day Lenten retreat offering each participant the opportunity to explore their spiritual and artistic nature each day. Like Jesus’ 40 days in the desert, this is a pilgrimage to deep understanding of self in relation to God and to art and creation.

We are asked to set aside time each day to read the email message and ponder the questions posed to us. The questions might ask us about the messages we carry around that may be obstacles to our happiness; our disappointments in life; our hopes for our spiritual and artistic future. We are asked to consider finding a scallop shell to join us on our journey like the pilgrims who walk the Camino de Santiago each year. The grooves in the scallop shell represent the many journeys a pilgrim could set out on in his or her life from the centre and the shells mcould also be used to gather water or as eating bowls. There are guided meditations and video clips for our further study.

Soul of a Pilgrim’s retreat urges each participant to begin an art journal and to use the mandala model as a basis for our creations – each sacred circle is filled with symbols and colors and words depicting our own personal journeys. Art and revelations are shared among participants online, each of us offering encouragement and support.

We were asked to write a seven-word prayer and then a seven-line poem and mine turned out to be one in the same:

Let this day be filled with love.
Let this day be filled with kindness.
Let this day be filled with peace.
Let this day be filled with forgiveness.
Let this day be filled with creation.
Let this day be filled with grace.
Let this day be filled with God.

Each day or two I create a new mandala – here are some of them.

1. Sacred Shadow: I think we embody a sacred and a dark side but each can be connected by an open heart. We learn and grow from our experiences and when our hearts feel closed we can venture to open it up just a very little bit. I have loved the saying by Ralph Waldo Emerson borrowed by Leonard Cohen. “There is a crack in everything God has made. – That’s how the light gets in.”

2. February 25: Because I have a thyroid condition, a friend suggested I meditate and send my thyroid some love. This is a little iPad piece to do just that.

3. The Crayons Chose Me: I started working on this using my box of favourite markers but then I decided to pull out my 64 box of Crayola crayons and turn it backwards to me. I reached in without looking and whatever color came up – I used all along the edge and in the middle of this mandala – hence the title.

4. Breathe in God: This is a collage/marker piece I did after my seven-word poem took a turn during my morning meditation. As I was meditating the poem I was breathing to changed to Breathe in Peace, Breathe out Peace – Breathe in Love Breathe out Love etc. and then as I carried on, it changed again to Breathe in God – Breathe out Peace, Breathe in God, Breathe out Love etc. and it was such a lovely feeling that I carried it with me all day and created this collage mandala when I got home.

As part of my study I watched the lovely and moving movie, The Way about a bereaved father’s journey on the Camino de Santiago. My husband and I lost a dear friend last year and at his funeral, some of the letters he had emailed back home from his own Camino pilgrimage were shared with us. They were deeply moving and inspiring. Perhaps one day I will venture out to walk the 800 kilometres of the Camino de Santiago but until then, I am making a 40-day pilgrimage from my studio and favourite chair.


[1] Wuthnow, Robert. Creative Spirituality. 2001. University of California Press. pg 135.