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  1. Design & Illustration
  2. Drawing

Art Therapy: How to Draw a Mandala

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Difficulty:BeginnerLength:MediumLanguages:
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 imageFinal product imageFinal 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 mandalabasic drawing supplies mandalabasic 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 planconcentric circles mandala planconcentric 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 planmandala horizontal line planmandala horizontal line plan
mandala horizontal line acrossmandala horizontal line acrossmandala 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 protractormandala sections protractormandala 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 sectionsmandala how to draw sectionsmandala how to draw sections
mandala sections planmandala sections planmandala 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 fillmandala center fillmandala 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 centermandala fill whole centermandala fill whole center

Step 3

Darken the circle to enclose the pattern within clear boundaries.

mandala first row filledmandala first row filledmandala 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 sidemandala petal one sidemandala petal one side

... and copy it all around the circle.

mandala petal side copiedmandala petal side copiedmandala petal side copied

Step 5

Now draw another side of the petal.

mandala second side petalmandala second side petalmandala second side petal
mandala full flowermandala full flowermandala 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 halfmandala cut section in halfmandala cut section in half
mandala new rhythmmandala new rhythmmandala new rhythm

Step 7

Let's create a leaf on this base.

mandala leaf outlinemandala leaf outlinemandala leaf outline
mandala leaves rowmandala leaves rowmandala leaves row
mandala leaf detailsmandala leaf detailsmandala leaf details
mandala all leaves detailedmandala all leaves detailedmandala 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 patternmandala new patternmandala new pattern

mandala new pattern on old rowmandala new pattern on old rowmandala new pattern on old row

Step 9

Too simple? Fill the shapes with more shapes!

mandala detailed shapemandala detailed shapemandala detailed shape
mandala detailed shape donemandala detailed shape donemandala detailed shape done
mandala more detailsmandala more detailsmandala more details
mandala full flower with detailsmandala full flower with detailsmandala full flower with details

Step 10

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

mandala dark circlemandala dark circlemandala dark circle
mandala dark circles fillmandala dark circles fillmandala 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 detailsmandala weird detailsmandala weird details
mandala experimental detailsmandala experimental detailsmandala 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 boundarymandala detailed boundarymandala detailed boundary
mandala detailed bordermandala detailed bordermandala 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 detailsmandala adding more detailsmandala adding more details
mandala old part more detailedmandala old part more detailedmandala old part more detailed
mandala center fixedmandala center fixedmandala center fixed
mandala more details in centermandala more details in centermandala more details in center
mandala little dotsmandala little dotsmandala little dots
mandala little dots in flowermandala little dots in flowermandala little dots in flower
mandala tiny detailsmandala tiny detailsmandala tiny details
mandala tiny details donemandala tiny details donemandala 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 thirdsmandala divide in thirdsmandala divide in thirds
mandala more sections by divisionmandala more sections by divisionmandala more sections by division
mandala simple boundarymandala simple boundarymandala 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 sectionmandala fill whole sectionmandala fill whole section
mandala whole sections filledmandala whole sections filledmandala whole sections filled

Step 3

Let's fill the empty space with some lines.

mandala empty space fixedmandala empty space fixedmandala empty space fixed
mandala empty space filledmandala empty space filledmandala empty space filled
mandala arch detailsmandala arch detailsmandala arch details
mandala arches addedmandala arches addedmandala 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 topmandala triangle topmandala triangle top
mandala all trianglesmandala all trianglesmandala all triangles
mandala inner triangle detailmandala inner triangle detailmandala inner triangle detail
mandala triangle ornamentmandala triangle ornamentmandala triangle ornament

Step 5

More triangles!

mandala more trianglesmandala more trianglesmandala more triangles
mandala triangle decorationmandala triangle decorationmandala 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 mistakemandala mistakemandala mistake
mandala how to fix mistakemandala how to fix mistakemandala how to fix mistake

Step 7

Let's add more contrast.

mandala contrast prettymandala contrast prettymandala contrast pretty
mandala contrast importantmandala contrast importantmandala contrast important
mandala contrast ornamentmandala contrast ornamentmandala contrast ornament
mandala add contrastmandala add contrastmandala add contrast
mandala how to add darkmandala how to add darkmandala 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 linesmandala simple linesmandala simple lines
mandala filled simplymandala filled simplymandala filled simply
mandala simple decorationmandala simple decorationmandala simple decoration
mandala simple decor finishedmandala simple decor finishedmandala simple decor finished

Step 9

Prepare another row.

mandala another row startmandala another row startmandala another row start
mandala another row finishmandala another row finishmandala another row finish
mandala another row boundarymandala another row boundarymandala another row boundary

Step 10

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

mandala cross trianglemandala cross trianglemandala cross triangle
mandala cross triangles finishedmandala cross triangles finishedmandala cross triangles finished

Step 11

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

mandala contrast trianglesmandala contrast trianglesmandala contrast triangles
mandala filled trianglesmandala filled trianglesmandala 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 petalmandala big petalmandala big petal
mandala big petals one sidemandala big petals one sidemandala big petals one side
mandala big petals second sidemandala big petals second sidemandala big petals second side
mandala full big flowermandala full big flowermandala 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 petalsmandala thick frame petalsmandala thick frame petals
mandala dark petalsmandala dark petalsmandala dark petals

Step 3

One more line will make the space less empty.

mandala how to make less spacemandala how to make less spacemandala how to make less space
mandala empty space filledmandala empty space filledmandala empty space filled

Step 4

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

mandala more dotsmandala more dotsmandala more dots
mandala more dots addedmandala more dots addedmandala 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 consistencymandala consistencymandala consistency
mandala how to keep consistentmandala how to keep consistentmandala how to keep consistent

Step 6

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

mandala huge petalsmandala huge petalsmandala huge petals
mandala huge petals sketchedmandala huge petals sketchedmandala huge petals sketched
mandala close petalmandala close petalmandala close petal
mandala huge petals finishedmandala huge petals finishedmandala huge petals finished

Step 7

Let's give them a clean frame this time.

mandala clean frame petalmandala clean frame petalmandala clean frame petal
mandala petals with clean framemandala petals with clean framemandala petals with clean frame

Step 8

Add a simple pattern to fill up the empty space:

mandala simple pattern insidemandala simple pattern insidemandala simple pattern inside
mandala simple pattern fillmandala simple pattern fillmandala 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 circlemandala attach circlemandala attach circle
mandala small circles attachedmandala small circles attachedmandala small circles attached

Step 10

Fill it for a better contrast.

mandala fill the circlemandala fill the circlemandala fill the circle
mandala circles filledmandala circles filledmandala 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 open mandala open
mandala outside more interestingmandala outside more interestingmandala outside more interesting

Step 12

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

mandala circle boundarymandala circle boundarymandala circle boundary
mandala circles rowmandala circles rowmandala circles row

Step 13

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

mandala finishedmandala finishedmandala finished

Beautiful!

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 stephow to draw mandala step by stephow to draw mandala step by step
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