Interview by Megan Warren.
Today’s 100 Mandalas Challenge features the beautiful and grace-filled work of artist and workshop facilitator Valerie Sjodin. We are sure this interview and Valerie’s work will inspire your own art journey and mandala practice.
Tell us about your mandala practice, when and how did you start creating mandalas?
My mandala practice came very organically, flowing out without any understanding of the process. I remember first making mandalas in 3rd grade, when I was about eight years old. I didn’t know there was a name for them back then. I was in a classroom that was very stressful. On one hand, we were learning how to write in italic and cursive handwriting. I loved drawing the curves of the letters. The stressful part was the teacher and her ruler. I joke that I was frightened into good handwriting, and there is some truth to that. I felt very bad for those who it did not come more naturally. They got the ruler. I found that the writing flowed easier and looked better if I had a piece of paper under my writing paper. If I got done with the writing assignment or spelling test early I would take the paper out from underneath my work and draw a small circle. Then I made shapes without thinking, going around the circle, letting it flow and grow. It eased my stress and gave me a break in the middle of my day. That beginning may be why I often associate the making of mandalas with words that come to mind during the process. It is where I began to doodle in the margins, on the bottom of my shoes etc. I had no idea that it would be a useful tool for me as an adult.
What is your process for creating mandalas?
My process still feels organic and natural to me. Sometimes it is a time to relax and doodle, and other times it is a more intentional time of visual prayer. Either way, I start with the comforting symbol of a circle, wholeness. The size of the circle varies. Sometimes I start with a small circle, and flow out from there adding shapes as I turn the circle. Sometimes I start with a large circle and doodle within the shape, or extend outside. Sometimes I use my grid paper journal and draw a Celtic style knot. Sometimes I use another journal or paper, Sometimes I use watercolor paper and paint. There are no rules and I don’t have a plan in mind, just put the pen to the paper and begin.
As far as materials go, for dry media I use a black drawing/sketching pen such as a Faber-Castell Pitt Pen, Copic Fineliner, or Micron Pen. I found these do not bleed through thin paper. Then if I want to color the mandala, I usually use Prismacolor colored pencils.
This month we have been exploring Celtic themes in our mandalas. You recently travelled to England, Ireland and Scotland how has this journey influenced your art and journaling?
In preparing for the journey, I checked out a number of books on the Book of Kells and studied the Celtic knots and patterns. Then I started a small grided moleskine journal of Celtic designs, letters and patterns. My plan was to use these in my travel journaling. It is now a helpful resource for me in art journaling. I also Googled: “how to draw Celtic Knots” and found videos by David Nicholls to be extremely helpful. It was as if he gave me a key that unlocked the mystery of drawing Celtic knots. Here is a link to a blog post on my blog that shows some of the knots I’ve drawn and includes David Nicholls introductory YouTube video. http://visualblessings.blogspot.com/2014/09/key-to-drawing-celtic-knots-made-easy.html I recommend checking out his other Celtic Knot videos.
I feel so blessed to have been able to travel with my husband just this last autumn to the island of Iona, Scotland, Ireland, and England. It was on Iona that St. Columba and a group of monks settled and began writing/illuminating the Book of Kells, an ancient illuminated manuscript of the four gospels. I was moved by the Abbey, it’s cloisters, the ecumenical services, and walking around the buildings, in the same place the people worked on the Book. It was also great fun. We hiked and spent a good part of the day at Columba’s Bay, where they landed. It is a beach full of colorful rocks, and we played like children.
Then we went to see the actual Book of Kells in the Trinity College Library. It was much smaller than I imagined, which made the Celtic knot work more amazing. Seeing all the castles, and doorways was a huge treat for us. Those places are nearly non-existent here in the U.S. In London, my favorite place was the British Library where they have a permanent and free exhibit called the “Art of the Book.” It is an amazing collection of the world’s most beautiful and influential books and documents including artists sketchbooks, music, maps, and of course, illuminated manuscripts. I went there to see the Lindisfarne Gospels, which were not on display at the time, but I was still enthralled by the rest of the exhibit. It also caused me to think that what each of us does and makes matters. We don’t know the influence it may have. It encouraged me to keep on, that even the smallest of scratching on a piece of paper may make a difference. It doesn’t have to be displayed as important to be meaningful. There is so much I could say of my trip of a lifetime. The whole trip awakened my sense of wonder. What a gift to look at nature, ideas, architecture, and beauty through the eyes of a child. It is influencing my art and I’m sure will continue to do so.
Your mandala and Caim Prayer Journal is so inspiring. How is creating mandalas a spiritual practice for you?
That particular journal was started last summer during my Art Journaling 2-Day Workshop, before our trip, while I was focusing on Celtic knots and style. In making the knots, it struck me how our lives are woven together and eternal. I used pen, acrylic paints, stencils and collage. It reflects how I often feel when starting a mandala with a sense of mystery, searching for meaning, not knowing. At those moments, preparing to make a mandala reminds me to quiet myself and approach God. If I am feeling overwhelmed I tend to start with a Caim prayer. Caim Prayers originated from Celtic Christianity, and are prayed when it is hard to focus or when someone does not know what to prayer. I see the shape of the circle as entering into the wholeness of the Holy Trinity. I am surrounded, encircled by God’s presence and love.
I was introduced to this kind of prayer in the book, Celtic Daily Prayer . A Caim prayer is versatile and fits perfectly with mandala making. An example would be:
“Circle (name), Lord.
Keep (comfort) near
and (discouragement) afar.
Keep (peace) within
and (turmoil) out. Amen.”
~ from Celtic Daily Prayer
The process of prayer can be reflected in the way it is presented visually, like a journey, such as starting with drawing a small circle and writing the prayer in a spiral growing out of that center. Or it can be a meditation prayer as I doodle patterns and images, settling into God’s presence and peace. The possibilities are endless.
I feel passionate about visual prayer because has helped me deepen my relationship with God, heal, and continues to bring beauty to my life. Currently, I am excitedly working on a book showing how to collaborate with God in visual prayer and expand a visual vocabulary.