Mandala No.7: Hope

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Mandala No.7: Hope by Judy Backhouse (copyright)

This may not look like hope at first glance. Several people have said to me “but that’s not hopeful”. Bear with me on this.

Hope has been one of the most difficult mandala’s to work on. I struggled with how to represent it because for me, hope is something that emerges, and is most valued, in the dark times. So I didn’t want to use the happy colours that are often associated with hope. Hope, for me, goes hand-in-hand with despair. It’s when life is particularly bleak that those tiny glimmers of hope mean so much. This is when hope, however faint, has kept me going, given me a reason to get up. At such times, even the tiniest flicker of hope stands out because it contrasts with the way I feel.

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Hope shows up when things are darkest

This mandala represents a moving towards the light – a progression from darkness into light and it is the little glimmers of bright yellow hope that move the eye inwards. The yellow vibrates, the greys get lighter, there is a bright centre to aspire to. This, for me, is what hope is all about.

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Hope moves one from dark towards the light

The repeated circles and squares create a vibration too; it appears as though there are rays of light radiating from the centre outwards along the diagonals.

Hope is a little uneven; sometimes thick and obvious, sometimes just a hint of a line.

hope blobs
Hope is a little uneven…

Mandala No.7: Hope is painted in acrylics on a 50cm x 50cm stretched canvas. Although I have painted around the edge of the canvas in black, it would probably look best framed in a white floating frame. The canvas is signed and dated on the back.

Mandala No.9: Angry

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Mandala No.9: Angry by Judy Backhouse (copyright)

I thought I ought to try my hand at one of the darker feelings, so here is Angry.

Anger is forceful. Like a fire, it creates heat. But we contain anger, we don’t want it to escape, or become visible, and so the fire is held back by a solid ring that is equally powerful. The result is pressure as the fire rages within and effort expended in containing it. This mandala represents this tension.

At the centre of anger is a black core. This is the source of the anger. It may be some hurt or some injustice, but it is compressed into a black crystalline shape that emits no light.

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The black core of Angry

From this centre emanates a fierce, hot fire that fills the square space around the core.

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The hot fire at the centre of Angry

From four doors, one on each side of the central square, the fire bursts out in glorious red and orange flames.

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The flames burst out…

But these flames encounter the solid outer ring. Here you can see the flames illuminating the inside edge of that containing force.

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…but are stopped by the outer ring

This angry drama plays out against a rich background of blues, purples and deep reds. While the dark colours reflect the dark thoughts that accompany anger, there is an energy to anger, that is represented by flashes of gold. Anger can be inspiring, it can move us to action, and this positive side of anger is represented by the gold.

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The rich background of Angry

Angry is painted in acrylics on a 50cm x 50cm stretched canvas and finished with gloss acrylic varnish. Although I do paint around the edges of the canvas, it would be best displayed in a gold or black frame.

Many of my mandalas, including Angry, have no “correct” orientation. For this reason I sign them on the back, where the name of the work and the date also appear.

Mandala’s 7 and 8 are coming soon. Angry just got finished first. It seemed to have more energy!

Mandala No.5: Growing

Mandala No.5: Growing by Judy Backhouse (copyright)

Growing is such a powerful idea. I think about plants and how insistent they are, pushing up paving and cracking rocks. I remember being pregnant and how this tiny new human took over my body, relentlessly elbowing me into shape as his life-support system. Growing is about the power inherent in biological processes. Fragile-seeming strands reach outwards slowly, but with great determination. Almost nothing can stop growth.

This mandala was inspired by growing things, by the wondeful variety of shapes that growing things come in and their power to expand and become what they were designed to be, following some secret inner plan.

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Growing features green (obviously), and the drama of red, but also shades of pink and mauve, contrasting areas of flat colour with areas of texture.

Grow detail 2

This Mandala deviates from the traditional circle design and uses instead two overlapping Reuleaux triangles. These fabulous shapes are made by joining three arcs with the centre of each arc being at the corners of an equilateral triangle. They are similar to circles in that you can put parallel lines on either side of the shape (but touching it) and the distance between the parallel lines will always be the same, no matter how the Reuleaux triangle is orientated.

Mandala No.5: Growing is painted in acrylics on a 50cm x 50cm stretched canvas. Although I have painted around the edge of the canvas, it is not gallery-wrapped, so this work would probably look best framed in a white floating frame.

Mandala No.4: Joy

Mandala No4: Joy by Judy Backhouse (copyright)

Joy is something much deeper than happiness. It has rich colours; deep brick red, magenta, and orange. The colours of joy are textured, they are not the simple, clear colours that I used in the Happy mandala. Joy cannot be contained. It spills out of the edges of the circle and the colours splash over each other.

This mandala has a simple structure with the outward movement reflecting the sense that joy wells up in the centre and flows towards the edges of the canvas. The curves create a sense of dancing for joy.

Joy is painted in acrylics on an ordinary stretched 50cm x 50cm canvas. Although I have painted around the edge of the canvas, it would probably be best displayed in a dark floating frame.

Joy wrap 2


Mandala No.3: Impact

Impact Mandala
Mandala No.3: Impact by Judy Backhouse (copyright)

Mandala No.3: Impact is a departure from the more formal structure and detailed rendering of Peace and Happy. This mandala emerged without any planning. I had this canvas sitting around that I had painted in this rich red and then left for a few months. I started out playing with the green and gold diamonds that seemed to complement the red so well. Then it just grew from there.

The idea of Impact emerged with the picture. The angularity of the shapes and the outward movement that continues into splashes of colour around the central star suggested to me the aftermath of a meteor hitting the earth. The rich and bright colours, create an exciting visual impact.


Impact was painted entirely with a palette knife, layering the paint on fairly thickly as can be seen in these detailed images. I worked quickly and enjoyed the freedom of the looser style. Painting this was fun! ImpactDetail2Small

Impact is painted on a 50cm x 50cm gallery wrapped canvas and the red background continues around the edge of the canvas. It is finished with a high gloss acrylic varnish.

Impact wrapping


Mandala No.2: Happy

Happy mandala
Mandala No.2: Happy by Judy Backhouse (copyright)

Happy is an uncomplicated feeling, without nuance or ambiguity. It’s an open, accepting and outward-looking state. The clean lines and solid colours of this mandala reflect the simplicity of happiness.

Clear, sunny yellow, pure sky blue and bright green are, for me, the ultimate happy colours. And there is nothing happier than simple flowers.

Happy detail 2

Happy is a traditionally structured mandala with a circle containing a square with the central circle represented by a happy yellow and orange flower. The four traditional gates have been replaced by sunflowers.

Happy is painted on a 50cm x 50cm gallery wrapped canvas and the solid yellow background continues onto the sides of the canvas. The picture is finished with a matt acrylic varnish.

Happy detail side

The Mandala series

I have started with a series of Mandala paintings. My brain is a prolific producer of such symmetric, circle-based patterns. When I look back through school notebooks, through journals, through documents doodled on in endless meetings, through papers from conferences, there are circular patterns interspersing my notes, in the margins, sometimes covering pages and obscuring the text.

My obsession with symmetry started early. I can remember sitting on my bed as a child trying to decide which foot to put down first. They had to touch the floor at the same time, or it would be unfair. If I did something with one hand, I had to do it with the other. That was not entirely satisfactory since one hand went first. My childhood was filled with such conundrums.

I never lost my fascination with symmetry and the satisfaction of patterns that rotate and reflect. It led me to study mathematics where I took great delight in algebra and the symmetries that result from finite groups. I spent hours playing with these, making patterns.

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Mandalas are associated in the Buddhist tradition with wholeness. They seek to depict all the facets of existence in one, emphasising the interrelatedness of all things. For me, the traditional forms of the mandala, a circle within a square canvas, containing a square, containing a circle brings to mind the old mathematical problem of squaring the circle; how to find a square and a circle with the exact same area, a problem which led to explorations of some of the great philosophical mysteries of numbers.

My mandalas each depict a particular feeling, state or process. Each of these is represented by colours, shapes and patterns. Thus Happy is painted in bright, clear colours and Peace is a collection of shapes that contain and calm. The image above is from the Energy mandala.