Mandalas for a Pandemic
Every day since June 2, 2020, I’ve made botanical mandalas. I walk out into the garden with my clippers and basket, collecting possibilities, making design decisions for the day based on colors, size, shape, how many of each are available. I come back in and arrange them on a round metal table. I’m seeing plants in different ways, breaking them into their components, combining them with each other, mingling species.
I create botanical mandalas, and then photograph them. The word mandala comes from the Sanskrit for circle or completion. It’s said that the urge to make these designs happens during periods of intense personal growth. For me, they started as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the political chaos in the United States–double-barreled crises. I hold to this practice to connect me with the earth, to beauty, to hope, and to dampen down the despair. I share the images with others on social media, and it gives them joy as well.
I was 69 when I found this work—after a professional career in health care—and it totally awes and surprises me. The drive and passion is so unexpected. Making a mandala every morning has changed the rhythms of my day, and given me a genre beyond crafts, combining living textures, shapes and colors. I have a purpose, a reason to get out of bed. I’m afraid what might happen if I stop, so I don’t.
Three years ago I converted the entryway of the house into a propagating room, growing flowers from seed. The plants that come from these seeds, including hollyhocks, larkspurs, calendulas, and sunflowers, form the basis of the daily decisions. My walks into the parkland around my home in West Marin add more subtle, neutral colors, from grasses to bark.
The practice of gathering plants, designing, making, and photographing the mandalas is the silver lining of these times. This work is my portal beyond the pandemic and the threat to our democracy and our children’s and grandchildren’s lives, beyond the anxiety and depression. My creative self now leads the rest of me. I have the energy to carry me through.
Artist Reception with Carol Whitman
This virtual event will feature a conversation with the artist discussing several pieces, followed by a Q&A session. Registration required; register via Eventbrite. This event is free; donations are encouraged. To donate, please visit click here and mention this event by name in the comments section.
A portion of the sale proceeds will benefit the Dance Palace. Metal prints and mounted paper prints of each of these mandala photographs are available for purchase. To purchase Carol Whitman’s art, you can contact her directly with purchase inquiries at email@example.com
I love my tools, and the surface I create on—a round metal table with holes drilled in concentric circles. When I first got that table, I didn’t dream that it would lead me to a new art form. It lived out in the yard, getting more and more discolored by the elements. My early mandala photos show how stained it was. I’ve cleaned it up since then.
I use an iPhone 7 to take the pictures. The technology lets me adjust light, focus, hue, clarity, and many other variables to produce images that reflect my ideas. I have a clamp on an extendable arm that holds the camera over the design. I use the volume control on the earbuds that came with the phone to release the shutter.
The tweezers allow me to place the materials carefully into the design. The brushes remove little bits of plant detritus before I take the photos. The clippers were a gift from Bob.
He is generous by nature, and shares his workshop with me. I’ve taken my share and then some. His workbench has round slots drilled into it, for anchoring clamps he used in his work. Now the extendable clamp that holds the camera fills those holes. Fresh and dried plants fill the bench seats below the windows. His tools hang on the wall above the bench, and are tucked around the edges. We’ve been together for 30 years, and know how to get along in shared spaces.