I love exploring culture and geography in the classroom. Art is the perfect avenue to make the history of a culture accessible to students in a hands-on and memorable way. It is true that the best art is born of a deeper connection with the world around us. Mandalas are a beautiful project to pull math, culture, art skills and geography all together in an easily understood and highly successful way.
A History of Mandalas The lesson began with a PowerPoint presentation to introduce the art of the mandala to my students. “Mandala” is the Sanskrit word for “circle,” and typically comes from the Buddhist and Hindu religions. Nonetheless, the mandala can also be traced back to Jewish, Christian and Islamic religions as well. The mandala, or circle, can represent wholeness, unity, nature or god and is usually regarded in a meditative or spiritual way.
We examined and compared mandalas across several different cultures and media. We then watched a time-lapse video of a group of monks creating a mandala with painted sand. After working collaboratively over many hours and several days, the intricately beautiful design was destroyed, gathered and returned to nature where it was found.
The Design Students begin with a pie-shaped paper that will be one-eighth the size of the finished circle. Make sure they understand how the piece will fit into the whole and that shapes and lines that go off the sides will create a more interesting design.
I provided many examples for the students to look at for inspiration, taking special note of how the use of the design principles of balance and rhythm contribute to a successful design. We discussed how to use positive and negative space, organic vs. geometric shapes, as well as how to incorporate symbols into the artwork.
When students have completed the layout, the design should be traced exactly onto the back using a light table or window. It is crucial that the design perfectly lines up on both sides and that the pencil lines are dark so the transfer process will be a success.
Next, students lay the piece onto a 12″ x 12″ piece of white drawing paper with the point touching the center of the page. It is important to trace over the lines carefully and when finished, flip the pie piece over and trace the design again. This process will repeat eight times until the mandala is complete. Students can then redraw the finished design with Sharpie and fix any disconnected lines that may be present.
Color Connections The next phase of the mandala was all about the color. We reviewed different color schemes and evaluated the color choices of mandalas across several cultures. I also provided demonstrations for optimal colored pencil work, like blending, shading and creating new color combinations. Students were required to use some type of color scheme within the mandala or at least within certain parts of the design. Whatever the individual decided, the color needed to maintain the symmetrical balance and rhythm of the artwork.
Evaluation The mandalas provided a great opportunity for critique within the class. Students could identify the different types of balance and symmetry, the various color schemes used, as well as rhythm, emphasis and use of space.
As a fun concluding activity, I played calming ambient music and students meditated on their designs while focusing on the concept of wholeness or unity.
Middle-school students will …
• become familiar with the history and culture of mandalas.
• demonstrate an understanding of how balance and rhythm create interesting designs.
• demonstrate an understanding of colored pencil techniques.
National Art Standards
Creating: Conceiving and developing new artistic ideas and work.
Presenting: Interpreting and sharing artistic work.
Responding: Understanding and evaluating how the arts convey meaning.
Connecting: Relating artistic ideas and work with personal meaning and external context.
Matt Mazur is an elementary and middle-school art teacher at Dealey Montessori Vanguard and International Academy in Dallas, Texas.
Reprinted with permission from Arts & Activities magazine. Visit their website: www.artsandactivities.com