Inspirational quotes and memes dot the internet with messages of hope in dark times. “Breakdowns lead to breakthroughs.” “Don’t survive, thrive.” “Let go and let God.” I’d crack a smile and nod at such sentiments but their warmth barely penetrated the surface of my grief.
It was a string of losses that led me to finding my calling and living my creative passion.
This grief journey began with the loss of my beloved dog. Then, my son who had been living with me for seven years, needed more time with his Dad and moved 1800 miles away. A year later, my mother unexpectedly died, and ten months after, my Dad passed away. As you can imagine, grief struck hard. Although I was high functioning in my job, I felt like I was going through the motions of life, like I was sleep walking. I had little energy for anything but what life required of me, and I considered pulling the plug on my popular blog and social media.
Sometimes the best medicine for whatever ails us is a time out and taking a vacation or retreat to break our familiar routines and change up our environment. A year after the string of losses, I traveled to Colorado where I’d spend the week in a charming, rustic home nestled in the mountains. While my friend puttered in her garden, I sat on her deck and lost myself in the feeling of the paintbrush as colors swirled and blended along the surface of the paper. I awakened my sense of play as I sprinkled salt or scrunched up plastic wrap and watched how the wet paint dried in unexpected patterns. I brought with me a little handmade journal and a small set of Japanese watercolor paints. These would be two ingredients that led to my creative re-awakening.
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Looking back on this journal, you’ll find mandalas, an art form where shapes and colors often repeat from a center point. I had learned about mandalas some 17 years earlier when I taught a high school graphic design program. The art teacher on faculty had studied art therapy and recognized in me a contemplative sort who would take to creating mandalas for self-expression and insight. Mandalas would appear in my art over the years, but it wasn’t until this dark moment in my life when they showed up when I needed it most. These mandalas reminded me how much I loved the creative process and how much I didn’t want to give up on life.
Five months later, I would launch the 100 Mandalas Challenge, a personal challenge to create 100 mandalas in 100 days. I was curious to explore how the mandalas that we create reflect our inner landscape of ideas and feelings. If I created a mandala each day, what would I find? What stories would surface? At that point, I had been blogging for six years and invited my friends from around the world to join me in this challenge. I committed to posting something new each week to fuel our curiosity and give us ideas for our mandala practice. The more I explored the topic, the more I fell in love. There was so much to discover from different ways to construct mandalas to finding examples of circular art in every culture. Showing up each day led to finding my voice, gaining clarity and confidence, and tapping into a place of peace and joy that resides deep within each of us. By sharing this creative journey with others, I opened a door to thousands all over the world, many of whom were looking for a creative way to find their own peace and joy in the midst of the challenges that life was serving them. What I love most about the mandala is how it’s accessible to everyone. I often hear people say that they can’t even draw a stick figure and how they are not creative. Within 15 minutes, I show them that they are, in fact, creative and they too can experience the joy of drawing mandalas.
Today I feel so very blessed for this gift of creative joy and the opportunity to share the empowering practice of creating mandalas with others.
is an artist, writer, and educator who has opened the door to creative joy for thousands of people in 175 countries through her YouTube videos, online courses, workshops, and book The Mandala Guidebook: How to Draw, Paint, and Color Expressive Mandala Art. Her passion can be summed up in three little words, “create and connect.” Kathryn’s workshops help people to find clarity, let go of fear, embrace their dreams, and explore their creativity. When Kathryn isn’t creating mandalas, she enjoys art journaling, collage, mixed media, photography, and ikebana (Japanese flower arranging).