Thursday, October 24, 2013


Darshanaka or Darsana: that through which a glimpse, view, or vision is offered; that through which you can experience darshan; a doorway or window that gives a view or experience.
"It's a gift; it's like there's a moment in which the thing is ready to let you see it. In India, this is called darshan. Darshan means getting a view, and if the clouds blow away, as they did once for me, and you get a view of the Himalayas from the foothills, an Indian person would say, 'Ah, the Himalayas are giving you their darshan'; they're letting you have their view. This comfortable, really deep way of getting a sense of something takes time. It doesn't show itself to you right away. It isn't even necessary to know the names of things. It's more important to be aware of the 'suchness' of the thing; it's a reality. It's also a source of a certain kind of inspiration for creativity.
                                                                                                                            ---Poet Gary Snyder

              I chose to name this piece ‘Darshanaka’ as ideally this arch is like a window offering a view and, at a deeper level its inset mirror (if only I could have made that happen) is a view or reflection of one’s true nature. Additionally, referencing the quote above, this piece took its time appearing as an idea and finally granting its vision. Enlightenment can be a culmination of patient perseverance or a singular moment of clarity.
              Isn’t it sometimes that way, that suddenly when you are least expecting it, an idea will strike you knocking you on the head---and bringing to life that other idea that has been festering in the recesses of your mind for months if not years?
             That’s just what happened to me with this project. I don’t remember what I was working on at that exact time, but I do remember I was at home depot walking down the warehouse’s lumber aisles, when suddenly a light bulb went on in that dark recess of my head reviving this old project that had been put on the back burner because of execution problems. There I was, stunned for a second or so, shaking the cobwebs off this idea, blinking against the bright idea light and… pow!...all the components to make this project happen fell into place… music started playing, fireworks went off, and I had an Ah Ha! moment.
            This is how inspiration strikes me sometimes. I always find that for the first novel idea to take flight you need a second idea lighting the fire. I had an idea but it took a chance moment of inspiration to provide the framework for that idea.
           At that moment it was like a brilliant lightning strike of an idea although I didn’t know if it was executable. But the more and more I thought about it, the visual in my head got clearer, steadier, and I felt that this skeleton of an idea is exactly the solution I was searching for. I knew surely what I wanted to make and how I wanted this piece to look…And suddenly all the doubts, the problems, the motivation, the creative process, the excitement, all came rushing towards me from within that dark recess of my head…I could almost have jumped with joy!
And now I couldn’t wait to begin on the project.
            Similar arch mirrors are sold for exorbitant prices here locally and on the internet simply for their import value. Here’s the piece from my favorite store that I wanted to replicate. This one isn’t horribly expensive but still I wanted the challenge of making it myself. I wanted two of the same to flank either side of my couch. The hitch was in coming up with a diy way to make the columns and the carved work. 

            So here’s the brilliant stroke of genius (if I say so myself J), the columns are made from stair rails sawed vertically so that they can lay flat. And I had four of those shelves that you see at the base of the arch…two of those I broke apart to separate the carved front for use at the top of the arches.

And here's the project progress in pictures:
- Measured and cut out the arch in a design I liked on a good quality sheet of wood. Fine sanded the cuts to smooth them out.

- Glued the vertically split stair rails using wood glue. Used clamps while the glue set. 

- Here's the pair of them after I stained them with a dark walnut stain

-With the top panels attached

-I attached the shelf and the arch directly to the wall. I love this as is too but decided it needed a pop of color. I did not want to paint on the arch itself, so for now I have painted the inset wall red with a thin gold border. I might go back to the white wall after some time. I would have liked to have a mirror in the inset...maybe I will do that too sometime soon. 

              People ask me all the time if I have background education in the work I do….I have no formal training in any skill required to do any of the projects that I do, but I am good at picking up and learning skills as I go along. The interest in the creative arts has always been there, and with the resources available now, I have been able to increase my repertoire of skills. 
So, here's to hit-you-over-the-head kind of inspired moments!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Contemporary yet Traditional Mandala

              Mandalas fascinate me. Even before I knew about the spiritual, religious, cosmic, or scientific meanings behind the Mandala, I was drawn to the beauty and symmetry in these contemplative interwoven and layered visuals.   

             The word ‘Mandala’ originating from the ancient Indian language Sanskrit loosely translated means ‘circle’. But this simple word translation fails to convey the complexity of this integrated structure that is always organized around a unifying center. It denotes wholeness. Another translation is derived from the root ‘manda’ meaning essence and ‘la’ meaning container; which gives the connotation of mandala meaning container of essence.

             We find representations of Mandalas in all aspects of our life; as literal and obvious representations, in the planet circles, or as the conceptual circle of family, friends, and community. They are also one of the world’s few elements that has transcended boundaries and is visible through all of known time, space, and cultures…in the medicine wheels and sand mandalas of the native Indian Americans, in the timekeeping device and religious expressions of the ancient circular Aztec calendar, in the Taoist yin-yang symbol representing opposition and independence, as the intricate illustrations for meditative focus in Tibetan religion, in sand paintings used in Navajo and Tibetan rituals. In architecture across Buddhist stupas, Muslim mosques, or cathedrals it has been used as the principle of design- shapes and structures built around a center or axis where all components contribute equally to the whole. Mandala includes and represents us as a part of the microcosm and macrocosm of the universe.


               I have used Mandalas in my drawings, paintings, stitchery, d├ęcor choices, and even doodling. You can see it in one of my documented projects in my blog, the end table redo ‘Mumtaz’. You will also see it in another one of my upcoming projects 'Ashoka'. In this particular project, I decided to make a contemporary yet traditional mandala. The multi-useful canvas was my goto for this even though I had never stitched on one before: the canvas is already framed and finished, perfect for this quick two-hour project, would tie-in with my 5-canvas wall art piece that you all have heard me talking about, and wasn’t going to cause me to cry if I messed up in this first attempt. I don’t know why I didn’t think of or discover the canvas in these years before; oh! The innumerable ways it can be used in!

             In terms of design choice of the mandala, I picked one that had straight lines to make it easier to stitch on a stiff canvas and one that wasn’t too traditional looking. There’s a bit of interesting math associated with this design that I have included as a footnote for all those interested.

             I used a tapestry needle and embroidery floss for this. Surprisingly, it was fairly easy to stitch on the canvas than I had imagined. For my floss color choice, I had three options: all done in one color, a color gradient of cool colors like blue, and the color gradient of warm colors like orange. Since orange is the accent color in my daughter’s room, I opted for a gradient moving from red through orange to pale yellow. Ideally in stitchery you do not knot the floss ends and simply run the ends under existing stitches. But in this case I knotted the ends to ensure tension.


                  My self-critical review would include that I wish I had used a larger canvas, I love how this turned out! (but in my defense I didn’t find a larger square canvas) and I think a black canvas would have been more dramatic (to explain my choice of a white canvas… this had to be a part of the 5-canvas piece).

1.    This pattern was taken from ‘Islamic Patterns: An Analytical and Cosmological Approach’ by Keith Critchlow
2.    The Mandala Project

     As written in ‘Islamic Patterns: An Analytical and Cosmological Approach’ by Keith Critchlow 
     In this drawing we see a twelve-square arrangement shown as a harmonic growth pattern which can be taken as a master diagram, or archetypal proportioning diagram, used by craft schools of Islamic art down the ages, to demonstrate controlled proportional decrease or increase; in this the very smallest circular arrangement of twelve squares relates proportionally by nine stages to the largest outer group. Each set of squares is harmonically larger than its predecessor by 2. In other words, if the smallest square of any two consecutive sets has a side of 1 unit, the volume of the next square is two, using the same unit of measure. Or again, the diagonal of the smaller square, which is 2 if the edge is 1 unit, is the edge length of the next larger square in each case; hence the apparent spiral of growth, is on a harmonic progression on 2. Viewed in this way, this diagram can provide, by harmonic diminution or augmentation, a proportional guide for the design of an entire building or a single tile.