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Large Salt mandala 4X6 meters
By AtomiccircuS   |   Watch
668 19 6K (1 Today)
Published: June 14, 2016
© 2016 - 2019 AtomiccircuS

Different angle than i previously posted and as promised here is the school assignment im doing :

I have made a mandala with salt on a black fabric surface that covered 4X6 meters. That project took 25 hours to complete over the course of three days. The project itself was done on the campus of HSN University College Notodden. A natural way for me was to complete the piece in at least in half of that time, so that people would get the chance to see the finished work before its removal.

I was fortunate enough to have this opportunity arise. This Spring I was offered to do a installation at HSN (University Notodden) where I could do anything on a large surface area. I picked the newly discovered medium that I had used for no longer than 3 weeks prior to that: regular everyday kitchen salt.

I  researched about mandalas to get inspiration and background knowledge for this kind of project. I was especially been inspired by Tibetan Buddhist monks , and their process of creating and destroying mandalas.

I have also been looking at the process of the Tibetan monks with regards to  how they create a mandala with meaning, in contrast to how I make decorative patterns without meaning.

This requires an ability to make things abstract and an ability to see and discover patterns (Erik Lerdhal – Slagkraft p.80).

The methods for creating a large-scale mandala can be challenging to begin with, because first one needs to find the base elements, a pattern and lastly the forms.  

The thesis question for this project was how could I make an old cultural tradition appeal to an audience who has no connection to that medium or tradition. 
My approach to the problem was to recreate and or imitate the traditional way of making mandalas and to simplify  the images themselves.


I enjoyed working under pressure. Since it was a live performance, people were watching and I also shared my process in a live video stream which I broadcast on Youtube. I knew that no mistakes were allowed during this process. The process itself was also a part of the artwork, not only the finished product. This gave me an extra boost to create good art, and really engage in my working process.

I also enjoyed working on such a large scale, and with so many details. I had been working with both salt and on a large scale previously, but this was the first time I created a salt-mandala this size. To showcase the whole process on location at the university college also encouraged me a lot. It was a huge opportunity for me to exhibit my work for the art-community and for students that I could inspire.

I enjoy the attention and the pressure. That gives me purpose and motivates me. Knowing that I have a chance to impress and learn in the process is something I strive for. This was the perfect opportunity to test and further develop the newly discovered medium, and to test my skills on a whole new level



My process of creating the mandala was highly intuitive. I started the project with an empty mind. I started in the middle, and worked out towards the outer edges of the black fabric.

The materials used were regular kitchen salt, and black fabric. I was stationed in the glass-gallery in HSN Notodden.

To distribute the salt on the fabric I used an empty bottle with a small  spout. That opening was easy to cover with the finger and regulate how much salt was released. The techniques that I borrowed most where from airbrushing;  it was a similar way of working. The salt distributions almost mimicked how the colour is sprayed with airbrushing, the biggest difference was the angle the salt came out from. I also realized that gravity was doing all the work. Although I am using salt as a medium and a bottle to distribute it, gravity is the most important tool that I have used on these salt projects.



I created layers with multiple mandalas stacking on top of each other to create a simple but effective illusion of depth. I was going for a plate effect; making it look like decorative plates where stacked on top of a 3 way upside down pyramid scheme. Starting with the largest


The mandala is found in different cultures.  A mandala is a spiritual and ritual symbol in Indian religions, representing the universe. In common use, "mandala" has become a term for any diagram, chart or geometric pattern that represents the cosmos /universe symbolically.


If we would to follow the traditional or original design of mandalas, then the basic form of most mandalas is a square with four gates (squares) containing a circle with a central point.


The destruction of sand mandalas is a Tibetan Buddhist tradition involving the dismantling of the sand mandala upon completion. Ceremonies accompany this act and it is viewed as a conclusion to symbolize the Buddhist belief of non-attachment from material life and nature.
In the traditional sense the word Mandala means circle (Article : Joan Chittister

The traditional sand mandalas are symbolic: each element is used both as decoration and as a reference to something else. Each shape and pattern has a specific meaning and a story. They are traditionally made with colored sand and each color represents something (Mandala pattern/ color meaning ). The sand mandalas are created by multiple people at the same time to speed up the painstakingly slow process and are a group act of meditation.


In these two sand mandala examples you can clearly see that there is a story and that the mandalas are filled with symbolism. 

The pictures above are two of my earlier salt mandala designs.
My mandalas use patterns that are simplified and recognizable, like flower petals, circles, and various depictions of the sun. The images are symmetrical and relaxing. There is no story or real meaning behind the work except the the aesthetic appeal and that they are mesmerizing to look at.  

In the traditional practice the monks sweep up every last grain of sand. Then they throw the sand into a stream or river to flow into the ocean to bless the whole world. For them the ending is the most important part of the project. But for me the construction and the creative process is what is most important.

The whole project is some sort of Process art, where we can emphasize the “process” of making art rather than any predetermined composition. I was trying to find a fine balance between planning and embracing the concept of change. 

Even if this is process art, pattern repetition is a key element in creating the salt mandala. Knowingly repeating some patterns while enhancing the size of each gives a much needed one point perspective feel to the design.  ( Student Art Guild - )

I noticed that empty spaces or neutral areas (the areas that contain little to no detail) are also very important for a design like this. They provide a brief second for the mind to relax and prepare for the next segment of each part observed.

I started the project with the center piece, making sure that was centered and building from it to the outer layers. I wanted to do this mandala as the most detailed mandala circle of the whole project. 

After the first working day I saw how much time this would take and began to think about the structure of the design. I decided to divide it the composition into 3 parts. Each part would have its own patterns and repetition, while there would be things that would connect the whole piece -  simple elements  throughout the whole design (bubbles, dots and small meteor lines).  

The role of change here is important: even though I set out a small plan regarding my working process and what was still flexible, the work remained open to constant change while I worked. 

The changes were influenced by people  stopping by, talking to me and asking how things are done. By showing them how I do things, I changed the pattern every so slightly each time.

Seeing a project come to life day by day is different than looking at the finished painting. People who observe the project as it progresses get involved and become a part of the project. The final product can be bought and exhibited anywhere else but it can’t be made again since it was a experimental and intuitive project. You can only try to recreate something similar by copying the images of the long destroyed project. The point is to enjoy the process and not the final product.

Exploration study

Through my research of mandala design, I noticed that symmetry was the one thing that absolutely every mandala I came across had in common. The smaller salt projects I did prior to this project were also symmetrical. They were done without much research, and were created intuitively.. Even though it came naturally to work with symmetry on the smaller projects, I did the necessary research and planning for this large project so that it the composition would stays balanced on this grand scale.    

In a design like this symmetry is incredibly important.  Humans have such a strong preference for symmetrical designs that symmetry might be a signal of something positive and good. Good things are often represented through symmetry while asymmetrical things represent chaos / bad things (2D Design Notes -


Creating symmetry is not simple task; calculation and precision is a must. Calculating how many patterns it would take to make a whole and how many lines would be just enough so that the design looks stable is not as easy as it sounds. The trick I used was to focus mainly on primary/key elements and try to make them look as precise as possible (the first tier group). Those were the main shapes/ biggest circles and longest lines in the design. While the secondary elements are not as important (second tier ), these are the fill elements: like smaller decorative images, simpler shadows and overall aesthetic shapes and patterns.

Exploration study is used to give us understanding and insight on an unclear problem (Explorational Design ( Kunnskapssenteret article ).

I have been exploring new and fascinating ways of using salt as a medium. You can almost say that this medium is unforgiving, because if you make a mistake it is a lot of work to fix or recover from it. There are countless things that can go wrong. Like a small gust of wind or just someone tripping over the project and ruining it.

The behavior of salt is affected by different things, both on a larger and smaller scale; for example the distance from which the salt is released and the size of the opening that allows the salt to escape the salt container. Information gathered from these observations and experimentations allows me to continue exploring and gathering information about the craft and planning of future projects. 

This was the perfect opportunity to test and further develop the newly discovered medium, and test my skills on a whole new level.

Viewers of different age groups react surprisingly similarly to one topic when it comes to this artwork, asking: “Can you preserve it / why must you destroy it?”

It is difficult for people to grasp the fact that so many hours of hard work have been put to create a beautiful design, only for it to be destroyed in mere seconds. Our cultural differences make it even more astonishing since traditional sand mandala destruction is not commonly practiced in Europe.  We are just not used to these kind of things.

We are accustomed to preserving the beautiful and we build something that gives meaning. Destroying it goes against both our personal instinct and society’s expectation on what to do with something on this scale.

The destruction might be upsetting and heart breaking for some but others experience it as an artistic liberation. Creating something with the sole purpose of destroying it represents the fact that we should not get attached to material things and that even the most beautiful things can only last for seconds.

Working with the understanding that the final product will get destroyed makes the whole process easier.  If you set your mind thinking that you will preserve a project - any project - you will easily get attached to it. If you would attempt to destroy something that was not intended to be destroyed you would have a hard time doing it - you will have a mental barrier that would prevent you from doing that. The feeling of losing something that took so much hard work to create would inflict pain to a point where it would almost physically hurt you.


Experience and Teaching

From this project I have gained the experience and confidence to undertake even bigger projects and how to plan ahead and make them even more versatile and complex.

A famous quote from Jean Piaget has stuck with me ever since I heard it:

“The more you do something and the more you challenge yourself the better you will become.” Learning by Doing and Learning Through Play:( Saul McLeod


Doing something for the sake of doing and repeating it is not as important as doing something with understanding and a positive mind set behind it.

The knowledge I have built from this project could be applied to art learning environments and can provide valuable learning opportunities. Giving students  an opportunity to test out street-performance art and triggering their minds to use creative solutions by doing a similar project either indoors as a controlled environment or outside in an improvised situation. Doing outdoor projects and exploring different materials to work with or using only natural resources that can be found in the forest to create a mandala, students would need to be intuitive and creative to solve the problem ahead. Students would destroy the project as a final part of the process. 

Afterwards, a discussion about their process and connecting it to the traditional/ original process of mandalas. Talking with the students about the destruction and the symbolism behind it, would show them that not everything we create needs to be preserved and cherished - that letting go is as rewarding as doing it.

Learning by  doing: students would learn about Process art , mandalas, materials, coordination, teamwork and creating through improvisation. They can reflect upon the fact that the process of this experience project is as important as the finished artwork is in a different project: working hard to achieve a goal is as important as achieving it. 

Some students are auditory learners, others are tactile, and most are visual ( 65% visual ) Timothy Gangwer - Visual Impact p.17 ).

Students who can follow the artwork of a teacher, see the abilities and the wide range of knowledge through mediums will have a greater impact and trigger their eagerness to learn. Students need a role model, someone who they can look up to in the specific field they are learning about or exploring.


Students need a person/ teacher who can not only inspire them with his words, but also back up every word with the experience he/ she has gained by showing it visually.

Presenting a teacher with an ability to create while explaining will always have a greater impact on students than a teacher who says something without the ability to showcase it (Ian Sanders ).

The imagery through which technique is executed – itself begins as mental image, and further develops the idea from being just an inert mental possibility into more fully formed, defined idea (Glenn D. White Educative Experience p.78).

This idea that people with an artistic background not only explain but also show the students (and answer any questions that might come up while showing the process live) is of utmost importance in building the students’ foundational knowledge of artmaking.

exploring the problems ahead 

- size of the project
figuring out how much of the space provided im going to fill and what i could do in that space so that the design does not look overcrowded 

- placement of the project/ distributing the shapes
figuring out the main shape and or how many there will be in the total design

- constant interruptions 
having constantly people around asking question , and disturbing the working flow of the process

- time pressure 
even dough i did not have any real time restrains, the realistic time giving on how long the project would stand there was about 3-5 working days ( the installation was supposed to stand there two weeks , so a natural way of thinking for me was to do it at least in half of that time , so that people get the chance to see the finished work before its removal ) 

Planning is key for me to understanding how something will work at the end. the most details parts are always centered in the middle of each mandala. Going outwards the designs become simpler and less detailed.

Final thoughts  

Testing out new techniques and expanding your artistic field - going from one medium to another and taking new knowledge with you from each last piece you did: that’s how you build character and versatility in your artistic abilities. By mastering one subject or many, as long as you determination is there you will feel progress and finally succeed. 

The more you know the better you will be and the better you are the more complex tasks you can do. Complexity of a task is only in the mind of the observer. It’s only hard if you have no background knowledge.

The salt mandalas/ salt art are just one of many stepping-stones in the journey I am undertaking. I am talking more in general about art than about the subject at hand - but I feel it is important to present a complete picture.

Undertaking projects like this is like entering uncharted territory. Not only is it new for me but its also new for the world. Creating art with salt has been around for many years, but really improving on what is possible with this medium is something I am very interested in. In the world today there are only a handful of people who create art using only salt and the projects they undertake are a mere fraction of the scale that I am working on.


Pushing a medium to new heights, and backing it up with my knowledge of past projects speeds up the process. Overcoming past set boundaries and raising the bar higher is of the utmost importance for me.

Isolating one particular part of that does not present the whole process of why I am exploring and creating this kind of artwork today.

Doing projects like these tests my abilities as an artistic creator; they open my eyes and refresh my senses.

Image size
5028x4140px 10.12 MB
Adobe Photoshop CS5 Windows
anonymous's avatar
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NamiSiili's avatar
You are crazy!! I think I've fainted.  I love your salt arts! 
SarahAndDash65's avatar
SarahAndDash65Hobbyist General Artist
Is it just me... 

Or do I see gallifreyan? Doctor Who What Icon 
TheChalkDoll's avatar
TheChalkDollHobbyist General Artist
I see Gallifreyan too!Nod 
DIGIZOOM's avatar
DIGIZOOMHobbyist General Artist
Spacekitty24's avatar
Spacekitty24Hobbyist Traditional Artist
It's so detailed and pretty!! Wow! ^^
Knightice765's avatar
WOW!!!! That look very good!!
MandyPalmerArtist's avatar
MandyPalmerArtistProfessional Traditional Artist
MissRollingstar's avatar
MissRollingstarHobbyist Traditional Artist
Very meditative yet powerful work!

Incredible. :love:
ObscureFamous's avatar
ObscureFamous Traditional Artist
Epic undertaking! Beautifully executed, and thoroughly documented. All high fives here:D
MidnightBrunette's avatar
MidnightBrunetteHobbyist General Artist
That's incredible! Hard to believe its all made from salt.

Its amazing! :aww:
AvidArtist1836's avatar
AvidArtist1836Professional Traditional Artist
That's amazing! astounding how you created something so beautiful without a mistake visible Yuuko Clapping Icon 
segura2112's avatar
segura2112Student Digital Artist
stishly's avatar
stishlyStudent Traditional Artist
Impressive. And beautiful. Well done!
Desert-Wyvern's avatar
Desert-WyvernHobbyist General Artist
This is just gorgeous and the symmetry you achieved is amazing!

I really liked how you explained the thoughts behind the destruction of the mandala. Thinking on it, I have realized that I tend to hold onto my pieces so much. I focus on only making finished pieces and not just sketch for sketches sake. I am stuck in the mind frame of only putting my time into finished pieces, that my sketch practice has just slowed to a crawl. Letting go of that, and just creating and not getting attached to a single idea is something I really need to work on.

Also, great idea for a student project!

Lastly, I could not agree more about exploring different mediums. It is amazing to look back and see just how they interact in your own pieces and seeing what you learned in them.

Thank you for sharing what you learned from this project ^_^
WulfMaiden's avatar
WulfMaidenHobbyist General Artist
Fantastic as ever. I like how there is a gradient tone going through the middle of some of the circles, and how it goes around the little half moons, making it look like stars. I don't know why, but when I look at it, it's like looking at multiple planes of existence or parallel universes. And the time and space that surrounds those planes.

very brilliant work. Thank you for letting us into the journey of this piece. =D
bLuHsKy's avatar
bLuHsKyHobbyist Digital Artist
Awesome work!! :D 
DJ-Elcy's avatar
DJ-ElcyStudent General Artist
couldn't even draw that on a paper...
Niuwa's avatar
All your mandarlas are awesome, but this is simply unique! :) Please, keep on working! :)
EndlessBlueOcean's avatar
EndlessBlueOceanHobbyist Traditional Artist
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