Art can be creative, gritty, and compelling, but it can also be challenging, eye-catching, and therapeutic! And, Mumbai-based artist/designer/illustrator Shefali Desai’s Mandala Project ticks all of the above.
And as Desai puts it “The Mandala Project was an idea thought out two years ago keeping in mind the fad of colouring books for grownups and art therapy. Though that idea never saw light, the concept of creating these mandalas stayed,” she recalls.
The Mandala Project is based on 50 uniquely and intricately designed Mandala’s that showcase and reflect Buddhist teachings and elements that resonate with Japan.
We at The Grey Alley catch up with artist Shefali Desai, who tells us more about ‘The Mandala Project,’ planning and executing all fifty designs, her leanings, and more.
Can you tell us what the The Mandala Project is and how you found out about it?
#TheMandalaProject was an idea thought out two years ago keeping in mind the fad of colouring books for grownups and art therapy. Though that idea never saw light, the concept of creating these mandalas stayed. The Mandala series is based on 50 uniquely and intricately designed Mandala’s which showcase and reflect Buddhist teachings and elements that resonate with Japan.
Why did you take up the Mandala project? What was the time frame like?
I studied Buddhism for some time which helped me with my core concept for the series. The entire project took me 50 days to complete—that was a Mandala a day!
Creating 50 illustrations that look nothing like the last can be challenging. Could you take us through the planning and execution process? How did you decide on what you wanted to draw?
Yes, it was quite a challenge; the planning was easy, though! First, I made a list of elements/topics that fell under the topic of Buddhism and Japan. And then I researched them visually.
Once I had the list and visual research ready, I drew each Mandala. The execution took a lot of effort too. I made these Mandala’s digitally using Adobe Illustrator and the Wacom pad. Some Mandala compositions were quite challenging to achieve, but in the end, it was worth the effort.
Was keeping the illustrations in colour a conscious choice?
No. Initially, I intended to keep them black and white. The first one I posted was black and white. Then, I tried a two-tone colour, then tired some spot colouring and ended up colouring the entire Mandala. I quite loved the outcome, so I went ahead with colouring all of them.
And the challenges?
The major challenge was to complete a Mandala design every, single day!
Every drawing also has a backstory to it, how did you formulate those?
The formulation of these stories came mostly from the Buddhist study that I had done, and the other factual information I gathered over the internet.
If you had to pick your favourite which one will it be, and why? Also, which one was the easiest to do and which one was the toughest?
Ah, picking a favourite one is a bit difficult, because I have a couple of favourite ones. Like #TheKoiFish done on day 29 or the #CherryBlossom done on day 24.
The most difficult one was #TheGreatWaveoffKanagawa done on Day 9. It took me quite a while to conceptualise this one as I needed it to symbolise the famous Japanese wave painting.
Has your drawing and thought process changed after completing the project? If yes, how?
Oh yes, definitely! This project has refined my skills a lot. It has made my hand work a lot faster. It’s a lot easier to come up with concepts and ideas, as a lot of reading was involved due to the backstories. The project has taught me to express more freely, verbally and through art!
Do projects/challenges like these help one become a better artist?
Yes! For an artist, it is mandatory to keep challenging yourself. Either you take part in challenges like Inktober or 36 Days of Type, but since those happen only twice a year, it’s important to create your own challenges sometimes, and explore beyond your comfort zone.
Things you learnt and unlearnt from the project?
A well-written backstory goes a long way! Experimenting and trusting your sense of judgement is a must! There was nothing in particular that was unlearnt.
Anything we missed, that you would like to add?
These Mandalas are available as framed art prints in different sizes for anyone who wants to buy them. Since I believe that art is a wonderful therapy and can be used as a form of meditation, the Mandala prints are also available in black and white prints for anyone who would want to add colour in them.
See the whole series on her Instagram page here.
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