Saturday, November 16, 2013

Leaf Mandalas

A few weeks ago, an anonymous, kindhearted soul left a gift in our yard: A Land Art calendar featuring the environmental art of Robert Shilling. Amazing stuff! It was a lavish feast for my creative soul. My husband and I were both in awe...and inspired. A few of the pieces resonated deeply with me, and I decided to try to recreate something similar on my own. So I began collecting fallen leaves of different shapes and colors.

Fall is the time of year when you will find stacks of thick books around our house. I put freshly fallen leaves between the pages of the books and then stack the books on a hard surface for a week or more to press the leaves flat. After that treatment, they are ready for art projects, such as leaf lanterns and beeswax balloon lanterns, which I wrote about in previous posts.

This week, after removing all of the leaves from the books and returning the books to the bookcase, I felt inspired to create a leaf mandala (Sanskrit: "circle") on the living room floor. I put down a large piece of washi paper for a canvas, made a circle from a willow branch, and began arranging birch leaves around it.

And then I continued from there.

Then I created another, much larger circle from willow branches (which are wonderfully bendable) to define the mandala space. Only, my canvas was too small to contain it, so I had to figure out how to extend it.

Silks! Back when my children were in early and middle elementary school, I ordered a set of plain white, hemmed silk squares from Dharma Trading Company and spent a summer weekend dying them different colors. The Waldorf style silks have served many purposes over the years, from play silks to photography backdrops. They are among the most useful purchases I've ever made.

From there, I began arranging all of the materials I had gathered for the project into a frame around the large circle. It kept getting bigger and bigger, until...tah-dah! My fall mandala felt complete.

In the end, it was composed of pressed leaves, willow branches, hand-dyed silks, homegrown gourds, handmade felted acorns, acorn caps, hand-picked apples, firewood, and dried herbs from the garden. It's temporary like a sand mandala, for the apples will be cooked and eaten, the leaves will be used for leaf lanterns and other projects, the firewood will heat our home, etc. Creating it was a meditation on the gifts and transience of fall.

A couple times, I've had the pleasure of watching Tibetan Buddhist monks construct sand mandalas with unwavering concentration and precision. After a few days or weeks, the mandala would be dismantled and the colorful sand released into a body of water to spread spiritual blessings far and wide. For onlookers outside of the Tibetan tradition, at the most basic level a sand mandala might be experienced as a work of sacred art and a highly detailed meditation on impermanence.

A few years ago, I came across the gorgeous book, Natural Mandalas: 30 New Meditations to Help You Find Peace and Awareness in the Beauty of Nature by Lisa Tenzin-Dolma. Seeds of inspiration were planted as I explored the mandalas in the book. Last year, after revisiting the images in Natural Mandalas, I had the urge to make my first fall mandala. It was much simpler than this year's.

Back in my subbing days, I worked at a private school that had a puzzle table in the great room, and everyone in the school community was invited to work on it during free time. Remembering this got me thinking about the idea of a community mandala. You could put out materials for creating a mandala, and individuals could add to it as they saw fit, working out from the center.

A leaf mandala also could be created by children on a light table, to emphasize the translucent nature of leaves (that I love to capture through photography when the sun shines through at just the right angle). To make the leaves more durable, they could be laminated. This also could be achieved with pressed flowers, ferns, etc. for a spring or summer mandala.

Or you could create personal mandalas - either temporary ones like mine or more enduring works of art made by gluing pressed leaves and other collected natural objects on paper. Another variation is a leaf mandala suncatcher created by assembling leaves on the sticky side of a circle cut from clear, transparent contact paper. (Click HERE to see an example.)

The possibilities are endless!

The photographs in this blog and in my Flickr photostream are available for purchase as prints or cards through my Etsy shop by selecting a "custom print" in whatever size you prefer and indicating either the name of the print or the blog post and order in which it appears. 

 © Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography, 2012-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all text and photos, without express and written permission from this blog’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography ( with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

1 comment:

Alicia Crenshaw said...

Saw a link to your post shared on Facebook. I am so glad I did! I really like your idea to set out items for a leaf mandala for all to work on. I'm going to try it with my family this year. I cannot wait to see how it turns out. Thanks for sharing this.

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