Mandala timestream

This is the mandala design I was talking about earlier, on this blog — the one I wanted to show you, but was waiting until after Critique to post?  (Critique was today.)  The other mandala I turned in isn’t quite as…successful as I feel this one is.  It also feels less finished, so I’ll hold onto it for now.

Basic blueprint. Click any photo to enlarge.
Basic blueprint. Click any photo to enlarge.

I’ve been careful to keep something of a visual log of what has been going on with this mandala, because as I said today in critique, this thing changed in character and feeling, every time I touched it.  This happened from the beginning of the linework, through laying in the background in watercolor, and through adding more color with colored pencils.

That is not even to mention all the iterations I ended up going through to get the above blueprint.  What you’re seeing there is a tracing I made onto heavy paper, through greaseless carbon paper (Saral paper), with my master copy (guidelines and all) on top.  I then went over the lines with Micron, ranging from a 005 to 05 in size.  The thing that I really love about Microns is that, at least with the black ink, the lines don’t budge under watercolor washes!

What I’m not showing here, because I can’t get a good scan and it’s too dim for good camera lighting, is my computer printout of the photo I took of the original image.  On top of that, I shaded in areas of deeper value (low value is closer to black; high value is closer to white) with graphite, where I could visualize these areas.  I did this because I’m not used to working so intensely with color (or maybe I actually am, and I underestimate myself), and I needed some way to start delving into it, without freaking myself out by working on the final copy with no road map or vision.

Value (or relative amount of light absorption) is one component of color, separate from but related to hue (or “which color” something predominantly is — keeping in mind that apart from pure prismatic colors [as in rainbows], all colors that we see are interpretations of combinations of specific frequencies.  Value is, “how much light is absorbed?” whereas hue is “which frequencies of light are absorbed?”).  The key I found here is that areas of similar value reference each other.

So I made a value map, and on another copy of the same image, I then started to notate which colors I wanted to go where, at a time when I wasn’t very stressed (I was in bed, actually, about to fall asleep).

After watercolor (Prang and Cotman)
After watercolor (Prang and Cotman)

I think it’s a bit apparent here what I was talking about earlier with the Cotman Alizarin (?) Crimson (that violet-leaning red tone that looks like fuschia in the big “X”), though it’s visible in the aqua blue, as well — that is, there’s an unevenness to the way the color settled into the paper.  This is probably due in large part to my technique.  I was using a medium-sized brush, and working wet-on-dry with the watercolor and paper.  (I think I was using Canson Wet Media paper.)

I think that if I had wet the entire area to be colored first, and then moved in with my color, the color would have bloomed and had an entirely different effect.  As it is, there is unevenness because some of my brush strokes dried as I was still laying in the same color.  Some in Critique, though, said that the unevenness/randomness contrasted nicely with the highly precise nature of the colored pencils and the design.  I really agree, at this point.  There is an organic quality to the mottled tone which adds interest.

The reason I didn’t work into this with a heavy amount of water (as I wanted to) is that it is Wet Media paper, not Watercolor paper.  I’ve heard that it can start to fall apart if too much water is applied to it at once, whereas Watercolor paper is sturdier.  I had taken the precaution of taking this out of the pad and taping it down to a piece of Hardbord (Hardbord is just a particular brand of Hardboard which is missing some fumes), but even so…it warped enough, at one point, to un-tape itself.  It freaking untaped itself.  Right.

Starting with colored pencil.
Starting with colored pencil.

At the above point, I had settled with the watercolor, but I felt it looked a bit “girly”, for lack of a better word.  I’m not sure if it’s being jaded by my Marketing class or not, to say that I suspected the color assortment with the Prangs to be intentionally gendered toward a target market which I didn’t entirely fit into.

However, I really still do love that red-violet in the center petals.  I…am unsure whether those will fade, though.  I have a feeling that the vibrant color is due to the help of a dye, as versus a pigment.  When the red-violet paint is wetted and allowed to stand in its little pan, the colors actually separate…so I’m not sure what’s up, but the paint does have an AP Nontoxic label.  That basically means that it’s missing all of the most well-known harmful chemicals — but it doesn’t mean there aren’t less-well-studied harmful chemicals.

At that point, anyhow, I started to go in with multiple red-violets, orange (actually Orange Glaze by Faber-Castell in their Polychromos line; I love that color), and yellow colored pencils in the pink sections, and with some blue-greens in the surrounding …capitals?  I don’t know what those are, exactly, but to me they look like abstracted typographic brackets (which inspired the interrupted parentheticals within them).  I especially started to darken the areas around what I wished to stand out — the halo in the center and the petals expanding around them.

At this point, I’d also begun to darken the brackets themselves.

I should mention that the reason I started out with a base of watercolor and then moved in with colored pencil, is that this drawing demanded the preciseness of colored pencil, but I’ve grown to dislike all the white space behind the texture of the pencil itself which is left behind.  In the future, I’d like to experiment with some more unusual combinations in hue of underpainting + dry media.


Here, it’s evident to my eye, at least, that I had worked some yellow and more blue into the areas around the pink petals…with deeper cyan tones around the edges of the composition.  I also darkened the blue-violet and yellow at the corners of the mandala, and the yellow parenthesis.  What was going on at the corners ended up throwing off the center reds, to my eye (making them look paler), but I didn’t want to risk messing this up to try and account for that.

And, right — I deepened the tones in the green parts of the seeds (the layered blue, yellow, and green tones were missing something), and in the center orange and yellow flower.

After I’d done a bit of experimentation with the red-violet petals…I decided, as well, to leave most of the rest of the watercolor alone, with the exception of some dimension on the stylized leaves.  There’s something about the purity of the wash that contrasts really nicely with the texture of the colored pencil.  Though, there is a place for very flat and pure washes, and texture in the watercolor washes, as well.

This paper also has really good tooth for colored pencil, and I was able to buy it at a large size.  The mandala above is 12″x12″; my pad was, I think, 14″x17″?  There was enough white space for my Artists’ Tape (it’s a special low-tack, removable tape), which was nice, though I wasn’t sure (and still am not sure) whether to finish or cut down the edges.

My initial design was done on Scrapbooking paper, because I found that it was almost as square as origami paper, when folded and trimmed.  And, it’s cheap and more durable than origami paper, with one white side to draw on.  Where I live also, origami paper comes in really bizarre sizes which I can’t make much sense out of (I don’t think they even make sense in Metric), except for the fact that the diagonal of a square is nearly (if not actually) equal to the length of one long edge of the next size up.  So, they kind of nest together.  Like, if you stack two consecutive sizes on top of each other and then turn the little one 45º, it will touch both edges of the bigger one.

I don’t know if that matters, in origami.  I do know I should have gotten solid-color squares instead of patterned ones now, though — the paper is somewhat translucent, and the pattern shows through the back side.  But the stuff I’m talking about, which I purchased, is really inexpensive.  I’ve used much sturdier and nicer papers in the past, for origami, so the quality issue is likely a “you get what you pay for” thing.


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Haru ("Codey") is a second-year Master's student in Library and Information Science, hoping to find a way to fuse their desire to make the world a better place and to finance their art.

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