Making Mandalas with Tegan Russell

By Aideen Weingarth

According to Tegan Russell, creating a mandala can be broken down into three steps.

To start, set up an area to work in, including elements that are comfortable and relaxing.

“What I like to do is set up a really nice space with a rug, cushions and candles. It’s kind of set up like a meditation,” Tegan explains.

While most recognised mandalas are circular, Tegan doesn’t find the shape to be crucial. The second and most essential element to the creation of a mandala is to start in the centre and work around that point while radiating outward.

“Once people start doing it, it’s all just different ways to do a line,” Tegan says. “When you get going, you need to start thinking for yourself. You could even repeat the same line over and over again and it would still be a mandala.”

Mandalas can be made with whatever materials are available. While Tegan uses pens, pencils or textas, she believes mandalas can be made in sand at the beach, with an arrangement of stones, in paint, or even with food. She is passionate about bringing mandalas into everyday life, and encourages people to start drawing while on the phone or at their desk. Ultimately, it is not what people do, but rather how they do it that defines a mandala for Tegan.

“I think that’s where I differ with most ideas about mandala art,” she says. “The point of mandalas is connecting with your own creative being, and it can take a lot of discipline for people to do that. But I think in the practice of mandalas themselves, if you keep practicing it becomes easier to let go and go with the flow.”

The third step is to be aware of not limiting the mind to what has been created before, but rather to accept your individual creative process.

“Don’t get caught up in what’s there,” Tegan warns. “You do need to be aware of what’s on the page because you’re working with it, but I think people can be tempted to go look at what other people have done, when really you need to look within for a mandala. I have looked at books before with examples for mandalas, but I think in a way it limits your creative process.”

Mandalas are ideal for everyone to create, but in Tegan’s experience work particularly well for those who have lost their creative passion, or have never been able to engage with their own creativity.
“They’re not intimidating, because there’s no right or wrong, especially compared to the intimidating nature of say, drawing a portrait, where there are expectations of what a face should look like, and that limits our creativity,” she says. “But with mandalas, because there’s no way that it should be, people are free to just enjoy the process.”

Eventually those creative juices combined with forming a consistent practice can lead to other styles of drawing, and employing a non-judgemental mentality achieved by making mandalas. Tegan believes that the creation of a mandala utilises a state of mind that isn’t often entered, and can engage creativity while simultaneously relaxing the artist.

“In everyday life we think very practically and logically, and then to come home and do a mandala is like relaxing that part of the brain,” she says. “I think our communities are very imbalanced in the way that we do use our minds, and I think by creating mandalas or doing anything creative, we’re balancing that out.”

Mandalas hold an important place in Tegan’s own artistic process, having saved her creative practice.

“I came across mandalas when I was about to give up on art altogether,” she explains. “I had no passion, no ideas, and then I think I did only mandalas for about 6 months to a year, and I did them every single day. In a way for me it was like when you have an injury and you need to stretch or do exercises. I felt like I was building up my creative muscle again.”