Mandala Painting on Canvas with Montessori Students


At the beginning of the year, my son's class was presented with a blank square canvas, about 5 feet by 5 feet. With the help of a parent volunteer, a giant mandala was created on blue print paper, and then carefully transferred to the canvas by a couple students. Colors were chosen with the help of a color wheel and a complementary color theme. Acrylic paint (from metal tubes) was used with no mixing medium, creating a pretty thick coverage of color. The paint, being thick, made it difficult to create smooth edges to the borders between the sections of the mandala. Changes in color choices were made as the painting evolved, but the children found it difficult to completely cover the previous paint.

The mandala sat for a couple months as the children tried to decide what step to take next in the development of their art. While another project

(auction art for my daughter's primary class)

had me working in the school hall, my son's lower elementary teacher aproached me and asked if I would mind helping the students work on finishing their mandala.

After the chaos of the auction had passed, I received a beautiful letter in the mail from two students in the classroom, asking for my help. How could I resist?

I scheduled a meeting with the two students where we discussed their ideas for the mandala. The colors they chose were lime green, orange and turquoise. Already going to Home Depot that afternoon, I grabbed some color cards and I used the colors in my purse to match up the colors for the mandala.

Finding colors in printed fabric can help with choosing a theme.

I brought the color cards to Michaels and picked up craft acrylics which aren't quite as pasty as the tubed acrylics and are easier to apply. I also bought some transparent gesso. I've never worked with transparent gesso, but figured we needed something to prevent bleeding of the colors already on the canvas yet allowing us to see the lines for the mandala design. The students painted the gesso and 24 hours later we began painting the new colors.

We cut portions of the color cards and taped them up on the canvas to get an idea for the location of our colors. My son, Thaniel, age 20 months helped tremendously, directing us with his artistic eye.

I helped paint the edges between colors and recommended which paint to apply first, starting with the lightest and ending with the dark. The students used painters tape to border part of the mandala, making sure that the bordering color was overlapping the taped space. After a small portion of the center was painted blue, we decided the outside green would look much better in this space, balancing the colors through out the mandala. After removing the painters tape, I went through with a fine brush and touched up some spots and added points that would have been hard to create with the tape.

The campus gardner stopped to admire the student's work, sharing his thoughts on the mandala. He said he felt the four orange shapes in the center represented East as Sun/Fire, West as Earth, North as Wind and South as Water. The Eight points around the center could be thought of as each season and the midway points in between. I enjoyed his take on what the mandala represented to him. Working outside in the sunshine with students who practice grace and courtesy was most enjoyable. The final piece hangs in their classroom for all the students to enjoy.