Making Mandalas

Crossposted from the Deadly Divas

Everyone has their own way of expressing emotion, of managing anxiety.

A year or so ago, when I was digging through reviews of various fountain pens, I stumbled across a blog called Spiritual Evolution of the Bean, by artist Stephanie Smith. She teaches the creation of mandalas as art and personal expression, and after following her instructions and making a few, I was totally hooked.

What is a mandala? Well, that depends. In the Buddhist and Hindu traditions, mandalas may be employed for focusing attention of aspirants and adepts, as a spiritual teaching tool, for establishing a sacred space, and as an aid to meditation and trance induction.*Any concentric diagram can be a mandala, though the most traditional mandalas are a circle circumscribed with a square.

For me, mandalas are a way of drawing that starts small and works concentrically outward, free of judgment, thinking, or really planning out what I want to do. They are a form of focused mindfulness, of being completely in the moment and allowing myself to express whatever comes to my mind (with no judgment).

How do you make one?

To create a mandala, you must first release all judgments about your ability to aesthetically put pen to paper. Throw those thoughts out the window because no one has to ever see it but you, (unless you choose to share it) and it’s totally your prerogative to destroy it once completed. – Stephanie Smith

After that, you take a piece of paper and a writing implement of some kind, and, starting in the middle, you work out in concentric circles, allowing your subconscious or unconscious mind to pick patterns at random. There is no wrong choice as long as you make simple geometric shapes repeated around the circle. You can use words, or not, but repeated ones seem to work better (like the repetition of the phrase “A thought can be changed” – kind of like a visual mantra).

Stephanie Smith explains the process much better than I ever could in two of her posts on the subject: Oh the Mandala and Mandala Process Continues (Go read them, I’ll be here when you get back)

I also highly recommend the following YouTube video. It’s a different style of mandala, but then, it’s a different person, and each person will tend toward slightly different patterns and styles.

YouTube – How to Grow a Mandala

Looking at other mandala art (and “Zentangles”, which are the same principle) for ideas of patterns is a lot of fun too, but the ultimate goal is making art, not looking at it. Spontaneous art, at that. Sometimes I plan out colors (or use the colors that someone requests), but usually I just find some markers that I like and go with it. All the ones you see pictured are made with prismacolor markers and black and white gel pens. Literally ANY media will work. Pencil, crayons, ballpoint pen, whatever.

Remember, the ultimate goal here is to let go of the conscious part of your brain that says you can or can’t do art. There is no “wrong” mandala. It might be uneven, or you might not like the colors overall when you’re done, but that doesn’t matter. And really, when you finish one, only you decide what to do with it – whether you save it, throw it away, frame it, or just keep a whole running notebook, it doesn’t matter. What matters is the process of doing it, the careful progression of repeated shapes around a circle. (I make lots, and they all provide relief of anxiety and help me feel calmer and more relaxed, but only a few of them end up on the internet or in frames.)

So the next time you find yourself bored, perhaps you’ll grab a piece of paper and doodle a mandala.

I’ve found them to be addicting, and now keep a little notebook with me for that purpose (mostly because my bills started getting mandala doodles on the return envelopes after awhile). They’re very good for keeping my brain busy in stressful situations, and also for filling in dead time while I’m waiting around for an appointment.

And sometimes they turn out quite pretty at the end.

*From Wikipedia

Can we read your handwriting?

*crossposted from Seven Deadly Divas, click through to see their handwriting too!*

A few varieties of handwriting memes have been making their way around the web – there are tumblr and flickr ones, as well as the one I stumbled across from a pen and ink link list.

I, being a pen freak collector, was intrigued and thought it would be fun to see the various Diva handwriting styles that write here in text form.

A few quirks about my personal writing style (much of which will be no surprise for those of you who read my Fountain Pen post):

  1. I am VERY picky about pens. I write with a variety of fountain pens, but also like UniBall Signo (preferably Micro), Sarasa Clip Retractable Gel pens and UniBall fine point Jetstream pens for times when a liquid ink pen would be, shall we say, a liability. Like at work or on an airplane.
  2. I’m also very picky about paper. Paper should be smooth and thick, have no show through to the other side. I like writing on both graph and lined paper, and have journals of both types.
  3. I also collect journals made of really good paper (Clairefontaine, Pomegranate, Black n’ Red)
  4. My handwriting started out terribly as a child, when I regularly failed penmanship classes. Since I started doing calligraphy, it’s improved some, and I continue to work on it regularly. My favorite hand is Italic, and my general handwriting tends towards cursive Italic, a modern variant that’s both fast and easy to read.

Anyway, the general idea is for you to write BY HAND the things on the list that follows, scan it in, and post it for all of us to look at. No judgments please, your handwriting is yours, whether you think it’s awesome or not. (True fact, I’ve spent YEARS working on my handwriting and I still think it’s sloppy and not very nice.)*

I’ll be writing both with my fancy flex nib pen and with another fountain pen, because I like pens. Nyah.

The meme is as follows:

Write ‘Hello!’
Your name/blogger name
Your blog name/URL
Write ‘The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.’
Favorite quote?
A number
5 words
Favorite music?
A really awesome website you read
Anything else you want to say?

And here goes!

Apologies both for the compression (I’m still learning my new scanner) and the fact that my purple ink looks black. I’m also still learning that flex nib pen – as evidenced by the letter inconsistency – and the Noodler’s Purple Martin is too saturated to show up as anything but purple-black unless you look REALLY close at it. Really saturated inks like that do better in a drier writing pen, like the Lamy Safaris, where flex nib pens apparently like an ink with more shading.


Anywho, pen nitpicking aside, it’s your turn!

Take all (or part) of the handwriting meme, scan it or take a picture, and leave the link in comments! I’m curious what some of my readers might submit. It only takes a few minutes, and phone pictures are fine!

* If desired, I can do a follow up post on “handwriting triage” – some ways to make your handwriting more legible and more like what you want. This post is just for curiosity and sharing!

**Also, I seriously considered titling this post “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours” but figured it was inappropriate…

Fountain Pens are like Potato Chips

*crossposted from Seven Deadly Divas*

It’s really hard to just have one.

Because you buy one, and then you want some fun ink for it. And you can’t just buy ONE ink, so then you have two inks, and only one pen. So obviously you need another pen… and then it’s just downhill from there.

I’ve managed to avoid the trap that is collectible pens, though I’m seriously lusting after a Noodler’s Flex Nib, but … well…

Fountain Pen Basics

Fountain Pens are a relatively new pen technology, when you consider the history of writing implements goes back to some guy with charred stick. The first fountain pens (as we know them) came about in the mid 19th century, and many of those pens actually still work. In fact, some of them are worth lots of money.

There are few different pen designs, but they all basically work through capillary action (and gravity) to draw ink out of an internal reservoir through a nib and onto the page. As with any pen, the only part that actually affects the writing is the ink, the nib, and the shape of the grip, the rest is just eye candy.*

You either get ink into the pen manually (by unscrewing it and adding a new cartridge or filling it by hand with a syringe or eyedropper) or via the pen itself, via some kind of suction (squeeze mechanisms or plungers, usually). Some cartridge pens will make what’s called a converter, which is a cartridge looking thingy with a plunger filling device, so it’s reusable. This means you can use whatever the heck ink you want.

Which is all a lot of science for something that ends up writing unlike any other pen you’ve ever owned.

Now, if you want a pen that will write upside down in zero gravity and never ever smudge…

…actually, if you want that, get a pencil.

Anyway, ball point pens use an ink that is oily and thick and rolled on via an encased ball-point (hence the name). Because the ink isn’t actually a thin liquid, it’s relatively smear resistant and also not very picky, but sometimes doesn’t write immediately. Roller-ball pens use a liquid ink that’s designed to dry quickly (but doesn’t always), and gel-pens are somewhere in between.

However, a fountain pen does amazing things with color and shading that you’ll never see in other inks, and – once you get used to writing with one – is just really damn fun to write with. They require NO pressure to work, only to create fun line-width designs with a flexible nib, and glide across the paper with a delightful little scratchy noise.

Inks can be saturated with color (laying down a thick, dark line) or heavily shaded (where the line is variable depending on pressure and how much ink), and just looks elegant on the page.

Almost any handwriting can be improved with a fountain pen, if for no other reason than that you’ll slow down a little as you get used to writing with one, and are less likely to deathgrip the pen or smash it into the page really hard.

A Note About Paper

Of course, you’ve all probably written with a Sharpie Marker at some point, and noticed that some inks bleed through some kinds of paper.

Fountain pens, by virtue of their engineering, lay down relatively more ink than most liquid ink pens you can get from Office-Thing**, and so are susceptible to bleed through. They’re also susceptible to feathering, which is common for any liquid ink pen, where the paper isn’t sufficiently resistant to the ink, and sucks it up via capillary action and makes cool little spidery fractal designs all over your paper, rendering whatever you write either fuzzy or illegible.

To prevent this, when writing with fountain pens, you will also want to find some good quality paper, and also use some trial and error. I’m very fond of Black and Red notebooks, which are readily available, inexpensive, and have fantastic paper. Clairefontaine is probably the best known paper for fountain pens, and is available online or at some art supply stores (it comes in notebooks and loose-leaf paper). Some notebook manufacturers, like Rhodia, actually buy and use Clairefontaine paper.

I’ve also found paper at my local Office Thing that’s done superb with fountain pens, so your mileage may vary.

A Note About Inks

Fountain pens are not like dip pens. With a dip pen, you do not store the pen with ink inside, therefore, you don’t have to worry about what kind of ink you use and whether it will separate or gunk things up. Fountain pens, on the other side, are easily gunk-up-able, and will do so if you use any ink that has pigment sediment or any other matter that will separate. For that reason, use fountain pen ink in fountain pens.*** Generally, if you have to shake it up before you use it, it’s not a fountain pen ink.

I’m a big fan of Noodler’s fountain pen inks, because they come in amazing colors, have an excellent line of waterproof and forgery proof inks (called “bulletproof”), and because they’re made entirely in the US.

Ordering sample-packs of inks is also a good idea, because you’ll get about one pen-full of each color, which is more than enough to decide if you like it before you buy a whole bottle.

But Which One Should I Get?

If you’re going to buy just one fountain pen, I suggest either a Platinum Preppy (if you want a disposable pen), a Pelikan Pelikano, or a Lamy Safari. The Preppy is a great pen if you have no idea if you’ll like this fountain pen thing or not. The Pelikano and the Safari are both excellent writing, inexpensive pens that sell both cartridges and converters.

If you decide to get cartridges, make sure you get cartridges that will fit your pen. If you get a converter to match, it won’t matter, and you can use any fountain pen ink (you’ll want one converter per pen).

As an aside – you may be able to find fountain pens in your local Office Thing store, in pretty gift boxes. Those are usually designed to LOOK snazzy, not to write well, so for the money, you’re WAY better off spending $15 on a Pelikano. If you find Pilot Varsity pens in your Office Thing, they’re also decent disposable pens, but I like the Preppys better.

If you write very small, start with a Fine (F) or Extra-Fine (EF) nib. If you don’t, want to work on your handwriting, or want to experiment with ink shading, try a Medium (M) nib. Flex-nibs … flex – meaning they make a wider line when you apply more pressure. They can be a little fussy to start with, so stick with regular nibs at first.

What Do I Use?

I have a Peikano – F, two Lamy Safari – EF, and a Lamy Al-Star – EF, as well as a Parker Frontier Luna – M. My favorite pen is probably the Safari, because it’s durable, comes in every color under the rainbow, and looks classy enough in black to take to job interviews. That said, I use and love all five.

If I had to pick one ink forever, it would be Noodler’s Bulletproof Black, because I can use it for EVERYTHING and it never gets washed out. Otherwise, I really like Noodler’s Ottoman Azure, Nightshade, and Sequoia, and Pelikan Blue-Black.

I really love pens of all sorts, and I’ve got a general twitch for all kinds of office supplies, but I absolutely love fountain pens. I love how they write and the way the ink looks when I use it, I love the different and amazing papers and ink colors.

I love writing letters (though I’ve been kind of bad at being a penpal recently, sorry Tami :/) and basically anything to do with mail. So it all goes together.

Happy Writing!

(Who is working on a post about smartphones next, for full acceptance of her ability to blend new and old geekdom)

*A Bic Medium Blue Ballpoint with a solid titanium body will still write like a Bic Medium Blue Ballpoint. Of course, with fancy fountain pens, sometimes a higher price means better nibs, BUT NOT ALWAYS. With ballpoints, past about $15, they’re all just body upgrades.

**Office Thing is any of the usual big box office supply stores. I never remember which one it is that I’m going to, so they all have become Office Thing. For online stores, I recommend JetPens, the Goulet Pen Company, or The Writer’s Bloc for great service.

*** If you’re unsure, ask the internet. If you don’t know where to ask, ask at The Fountain Pen Network, where they also have an AMAZING database of ink and pen reviews, with pictures!

Government Required Disclaimer: None of the above mentioned manufacturers, stores, or websites have any idea who I am. I am not being paid to endorse their products, nor have I received free samples. I’m just a happy, nerdy customer.