The Mandala Exchange is an interactive blogspot where mandala projects, resources, ideas, and knowledge can be shared. The Exchange was formed to be able to continue the mandala work presented at the 2011 AATA conference, "Communicating Through Mandalas: Exploring Traditional and Online Media with Fellow Therapists". The presenters and moderators of this site, wanted the cycle of the mandala to continue and expand through a virtual community of practitioners, artists and explorers.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Making Time to Experience the Media:

An Integral Part of the Profession

In these last few months I’ve been swamped with school and life adjustments. Changing schedules left and right, nasty weather, good weather, lots of driving, and then more driving.  I am finding that returning to school after 4 years in the work force has been a rejuvenating experience, a rekindling of a passion I long thought lost. Driving 90 miles round trip each day I feel the 10-hours lost to the road. Don’t misunderstand me, I love the trees and the expansive sky with clouds akin to paintings; it’s just draining. Once recognized, I knew I had to do something about it.

Last semester I was asked to think about my use of 2D media and how it is used in the field of art therapy.  I perused through a few books to get the gears turning:

Hinz, L. (2010). Expressive Therapies Continuum: A Framework for Using Art in Therapy [Taylor & Francis e-Library]. (Original work published 2009)

Virshup, E. (1978). A Compilation of Feelings by Right Brain People in a Left Brain World. Los Angeles, CA: The Guildford of Tutors Press.

Then one day found myself intensely aware of my interactions with the art media.  I was not in a particularly involved emotive expression, just organizing supplies in the office after a group session.  Dare I use the leftover paint? It took some talking-down but I caved. In my break time I used the leftover media by splattering, dripping, and smearing it onto ATCs and over-sized sheets of watercolor paper.  The ATCs I would be used with groups in the coming months and the over-sized sheet would-could serve as my next mandala reflection.  


Paint was left-over after a demo on basic brush use. Decided to try "painting" with-out a brush. Inner overlapping strokes were created with a folded piece of card-stock and paint. The outer rim used a brush and clear acrylic to play with translucent layers. These will make good starting points for future mandalas. 

In exploring and playing with the media there were moments of clarity. Noticing how the initial drive to create was often messy and over-sized. Like walking the buffet line and grabbing a bit of everything not realizing that much less would suffice. Experience taught me to reach-out for the over-sized brush first, allowing the bulk of the content to be shoveled-out. A rush of quick, fast, and heavy strokes thrusted onto the paper, at times I found it best to stand- facing that blank canvas head-on. At some point the emotive content lessened; a turning point.

Increased reflective distancing alluded to more restrictive tools and media. Large brushes gave-way to medium and small.  The change reflected in the body’s need to sit and slow the gestalt.  Taking deeper but slower breaths, slowing the heart rate, clearing my mind.  In the last stage of an expression I find that my hand is steady, my moves are calculated, the breathing attuned.  The emotive experience drove the action and in the process of expression it was changed.  

The final piece that stares back at the viewer, at me, is the culmination of an involved process of reflection.  It is a part of the lived experience but it does not exhibit all at face value. It is like a fine meal or a good friend.  The expression requires intent and devotion, knowing that immersion is a process not a means to an end.  The experience and not the product is what leads to a better understanding of ourselves and the world around us.  

Knowing that because of this we therapists must take the time to Play. To plow through those pesky guilty feelings and use our 10 or 15 minutes of break to dable, doodle, and get messy. Daring to run your fingers over the chalk pastels and come-away with a dusting of powdered hues. Listening to the roll of the soluble graphite stick as it caresses the over-sized sheet; at first allowing gravity to do its thing then putting muscle behind it, ensuring the point came across. If we don’t give ourselves the time to Play, then make the time.  It is through experience that we will come to intuitively know what and how to use the media; it won't be found in a book. 

ATCs created with left-over dribbles of watercolor paint after emptying the bottles. For use with clients but fun to make for a few minutes of de-stressing in the office.
 Challenge: Make the time to play with whatever media is at your disposal this month.
When at work take stock of your work space... Just like my necessary snack drawer (with soothing teas, energy boosting granola, and dark chocolates) I have to have a de-stressing art media stash (Bristol and watercolor sheets, portable watercolor pan, watercolor pencils, and a baggie of nupastels). For on the go I keep tin-bound pencil kits in every bag & at bare minimum a pencil and a pen will do. 

Happy Doodling! 


  1. Paragraph writing is also a fun, if you be acquainted with afterward you can write if not it is complex to write.
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  2. Excellent reflective thoughts Sheila. Mindfulness is an amazing thing to experience in the studio. . . an aesthetic experience. Inherently, you touch on so many important themes woven into the current social climate of ART. If politicians, educational policy makers, Big Banks, BIG Oil and any persons of decision making power, were to experience the aesthetic journey of ART-making, outcomes of their decisions may look different. The challenge faced by our generation of Expressive Arts leadership is in forcing others to understand the power of these experiences. Blog on woman.