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Art Therapy: How to Draw a Mandala

This post is part of a series called Art Therapy.
Art Therapy: What It Is and How It May Help You
Art Therapy: How to Draw a Stick-Figure Comic
Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

Intricate geometric compositions created on a base of a circle, known as mandalas, have a deep spiritual meaning in Hinduism and Buddhism. They represent the whole of the universe, and they can be used as an exercise or for meditation. Recently, the basic idea of drawing a radial pattern has been also adopted by the Western world, as a tool for therapy or simply relaxation.

Drawing a mandala (or what is widely considered as a mandala in Western civilization) can seem very strenuous and difficult at first, but it's actually the opposite. The intricate look of a mandala comes from following a rhythm, which turns a little effort into a stunning result. Doing the same thing over and over, and advancing despite it, is very relaxing and lets you stay in the moment. You can read more about drawing as a therapy in this introduction to the series:

You can follow my steps directly, use the same techniques for your own mandala, or simply read the whole thing just to learn about drawing mandalas.

What You Will Need

As with most personal art therapy activities, you don't need any professional art supplies. You can get these tools even in supermarkets!

  • sheet of paper (even copy paper will do)
  • pencil
  • drawing compass
  • ruler
  • protractor
  • fineliner/thin marker/pigment ink pen (any color you like)
  • (optionally) thicker marker

You can draw a mandala with a pencil only, if you want, but dark markers make the pattern cleaner and more definite. A pencil has some uncertainty in it; you never know when the line is done. With a marker pen, you have a sense of stability, and the lines seem more real.

basic drawing supplies mandala

There's one more thing you need to draw a mandala: a proper mindset. Sure, you can treat it as a normal drawing, with a certain goal in mind, but you can gain more than just the satisfaction of a pretty artwork if you do it properly. Treat it as a meditation session. Sit comfortably, in quiet or with some pleasant music, and focus on this one activity.

Don't think about how it's going to look when you finish, or how people will react when they see it. Don't make it about yourself, and don't treat it as a test of your drawing skill or self-worth. Let the rhythm take you around each circle, and let the mandala become your whole world for now. There's no good or bad—just the rhythm, lines, and contrast.

Don't scold yourself for mistakes; it's natural that they happen. Ignore them or make them a part of the rhythm, so they stop being a mistake and become a part of the pattern you could never imagine before. This is your mandala—nobody should care what it looks like, and nor should you care about them.

Let yourself be creative. Don't restrain yourself from drawing something experimental, just because there's a risk it will not look good in the end. There should be no shame in drawing a mandala. No matter how you do it, no matter how it looks, it's good, because you have created it. A pretty mandala won't change the world for the better, neither will an "ugly" one make your life worse.

So sit down, and take a breath. Smile and draw your soul out. Make this mandala yours, without any attachment to the outer world, and see how much joy you can take from this simple activity. Make these words of David Mamet your motto for this session:

Art is an expression of joy and awe. It is not an attempt to share one's virtues and accomplishments with the audience, but an act of selfless spirit. Our effect is not for us to know. It is not in our control. Only our intention is under our control.

1. How to Plan a Mandala

Step 1

It's possible to draw a mandala without any plan, but it has two disadvantages:

  • You have to switch from pen to compass all the time, which breaks focus.
  • The risk of losing the rhythm is high.

If you draw a plan for the mandala first, later you can focus on drawing without worrying about keeping the rhythm. You just follow it and see the pattern emerge as if by some kind of magic!

Take the compass and stick it in the center of the sheet. Draw a small circle, then a bigger one, and another, using various distances between them. Making the circles concentric is the only rule here.

concentric circles mandala plan

Step 2

Take the ruler and draw a horizontal line across the center (tip: place the ruler slightly lower to make space for the pencil).

mandala horizontal line plan
mandala horizontal line across

Step 3

Take the protractor and place it along the line, pointing directly at the center. Draw a mark every 30 degrees: at 30, 60, 90, 120, and 150. This will give us 12 sections. You can use fewer or more, if you want—there's no rule for this!

mandala sections protractor

Step 4

Take the ruler again and draw a line between the center and every mark, across the whole plan. Again, be careful to save some space for the line over the ruler.

mandala how to draw sections
mandala sections plan

2. How to Draw the Center of the Mandala

Step 1

OK, let's start right from the center. We need to fill that smallest circle with some kind of repetitive pattern. What can be easy to repeat, in this small space and with the guide lines you have there? I decided to draw a little flower petal filling the whole section.

mandala center fill

Step 2 

Replicate the element until you fill the whole circle. Be slow and methodical—there's no hurry! Focus on the movement of your hand, on the noise made by your tool, and think only about what you're drawing at the moment. Leave the future for later!

mandala fill whole center

Step 3

Darken the circle to enclose the pattern within clear boundaries.

mandala first row filled

Step 4

Let's go to another circle. To continue with this flowery theme, we can draw more interesting petals. Draw one side of it...

mandala petal one side

... and copy it all around the circle.

mandala petal side copied

Step 5

Now draw another side of the petal.

mandala second side petal
mandala full flower

Step 6

You can create another clean boundary of this circle before going to the next one. Here let's try another trick: you don't need to follow strictly the guide lines of the plan—you can add more! For example, you can cut every section in half to create another rhythm.

mandala cut section in half
mandala new rhythm

Step 7

Let's create a leaf on this base.

mandala leaf outline
mandala leaves row
mandala leaf details
mandala all leaves detailed

Step 8

Not every circle must be enclosed with a dark outline. You can freely go straight to another one and derive your new pattern from the previous row.

mandala new pattern

mandala new pattern on old row

Step 9

Too simple? Fill the shapes with more shapes!

mandala detailed shape
mandala detailed shape done
mandala more details
mandala full flower with details

Step 10

Dark circles can beautifully fill the space and add some appealing contrast.

mandala dark circle
mandala dark circles fill

Step 11

Still too empty? You can add something else. No matter how simple and weird it looks in one section, it will be turned into a beautiful pattern by the rhythm. So don't be afraid to experiment!

mandala weird details
mandala experimental details

Step 12

A boundary between one row and another doesn't need to be dark and boring. You can make it more detailed, if there's enough space.

mandala detailed boundary
mandala detailed border

Step 13

If the new pattern becomes very detailed, the earlier one may appear empty in comparison, but nothing stops you from going back to it and adding more detail!

mandala adding more details
mandala old part more detailed
mandala center fixed
mandala more details in center
mandala little dots
mandala little dots in flower
mandala tiny details
mandala tiny details done

3. How to Draw the Outer Part of a Mandala

Step 1

There's no requirement for the size of the mandala—you can go as far as you like! However, the further from the center, the bigger each section. So it can be a good idea to divide each one into more sections, for example thirds—whatever is easy enough for you to measure.

mandala divide in thirds
mandala more sections by division
mandala simple boundary

Step 2

You can create interesting patterns by using contrast. If you have a thicker pen, this is where it can be useful, but filling a small section with a thin pen can be quite relaxing as well—unless you hurry!

mandala fill whole section
mandala whole sections filled

Step 3

Let's fill the empty space with some lines.

mandala empty space fixed
mandala empty space filled
mandala arch details
mandala arches added

Step 4

Let's try a different shape this time. You can borrow the guide lines straight from the previous row.

mandala triangle top
mandala all triangles
mandala inner triangle detail
mandala triangle ornament

Step 5

More triangles!

mandala more triangles
mandala triangle decoration

Step 6

When you draw a big circular boundary, it's easy to make a mistake. Small mistakes are not so visible in the complexity of a mandala, but if you want, you can always fix such a thing with a thicker line.

mandala mistake
mandala how to fix mistake

Step 7

Let's add more contrast.

mandala contrast pretty
mandala contrast important
mandala contrast ornament
mandala add contrast
mandala how to add dark

Step 8

There's a lot of space here that's waiting to be filled! Let's do it quickly.

mandala simple lines
mandala filled simply
mandala simple decoration
mandala simple decor finished

Step 9

Prepare another row.

mandala another row start
mandala another row finish
mandala another row boundary

Step 10

What else can we draw, that we haven't drawn before?

mandala cross triangle
mandala cross triangles finished

Step 11

The contrast with the rows below suggests we add more darkness here as well.

mandala contrast triangles
mandala filled triangles

4. How to Finish a Mandala

Step 1

A mandala ends when you want it to end, but it's good to finish it in a special way. Let's go back to the big sections now and recreate the petals from the very beginning.

mandala big petal
mandala big petals one side
mandala big petals second side
mandala full big flower

Step 2

To make them a part of the pattern instead of just a boundary of a huge empty space, give these petals a thick frame. A thicker pen can be useful here.

mandala thick frame petals
mandala dark petals

Step 3

One more line will make the space less empty.

mandala how to make less space
mandala empty space filled

Step 4

Maybe it's time for some dots? We haven't added any for a while.

mandala more dots
mandala more dots added

Step 5

I looked at the row below and it looks quite empty, almost merging with the upper row. Let's fix it.

mandala consistency
mandala how to keep consistent

Step 6

More petals! To make them very big, I crossed two rows at once.

mandala huge petals
mandala huge petals sketched
mandala close petal
mandala huge petals finished

Step 7

Let's give them a clean frame this time.

mandala clean frame petal
mandala petals with clean frame

Step 8

Add a simple pattern to fill up the empty space:

mandala simple pattern inside
mandala simple pattern fill

Step 9

To make the mandala more open, we can add some elements outside. For example, attach a circle to each petal.

mandala attach circle
mandala small circles attached

Step 10

Fill it for a better contrast.

mandala fill the circle
mandala circles filled

Step 11

Each circle can be extended into more circles, to bring attention to the outside, as a balance for the strikingly detailed inside.

mandala open
mandala outside more interesting

Step 12

Not every boundary must be a closing line. To keep it open, make it with circles.

mandala circle boundary
mandala circles row

Step 13

Finally, take a look at the mandala as a whole and see if you want to add anything.

mandala finished


Look at your mandala once again. Try to see it for what it is, not for what it isn't. Don't compare it to something in your mind, some vision of what it was "supposed to" look like. After all, if your goal was to draw a mandala, and you did it, then you succeeded!

There's a tradition in Tibetan Buddhism of creating sand mandalas that are ceremoniously destroyed after they're finished. It symbolizes the fleeting nature of our life—no matter how much effort we put in, no matter what we achieve, it will end the same way for everyone. You can recreate this practice by destroying your mandala, to remind yourself that it's really the process that's important, not the end result. That it's the journey that matters, not the destination. And having that in mind, it's easier to enjoy the process of creation without worrying about the end result.

And if drawing a mandala has put you into a mood for more drawing, you may like these simple tutorials:

You may also be interested in our other mandala-related tutorials:

how to draw mandala step by step
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