Reviews – Mandala Coloring Books, Vol. 1 and 2

coloring1_cover coloring2_cover

Art Therapy:
Journal of the American Art Therapy Association

23(1) pp. 39-40.

Fincher, Susanne F.

Coloring Mandalas 1: For Insight, Healing, and Self-Expression

Boston: Shambhala, 2000

Fincher, Susanne F.

Coloring Mandalas 2: For Balance, Harmony, and Spiritual Well-Being.

Boston: Shambhala, 2004.

Reviewed by Michele Rippey, Miami Beach, FL

Susanne Fincher has made a spiritual, scholarly, and artistic pursuit of the circle for nearly two decades. Her recent coloring books, published respectively in 2000 and 2004, provide a split-complement to the original volume, Creating Mandalas: For Insight, Healing, and Self-Expression (1991). The two volumes under review here each stand alone; however, the 1991 book reviewed by Ratcliff (1992) in this journal is a gratifying touchstone guiding an even fuller appreciation for Fincher’s vision. If, as Ratcliff suggests, the original work can be thought of as an instant classic, then these recent publications provide a triad of some significance. Fincher reports that the number 3 symbolizes any dynamic process (1991, p. 96). How do these three volumes as one process lend momentum to a reader’s understanding of and experience with the circle?

Before pondering further the momentum of a triad, consider these two volumes each as a work of art. Coloring Mandalas 1: For Insight, Healing, and Self-Expression contains 48 black and white circle designs and 13 full color plates illustrating the accompanying text. For ease of reference, I will refer to this book as Insight and Healing 2000. Coloring Mandalas 2: For Balance, Harmony, and Spiritual Well-Being contains 72 black and white circle designs and three black and white reproductions of mandalas related to spiritual traditions. I will refer to this book as Balance and Harmony 2004. In each book, the circles are about nine inches in diameter with well-defined lines and spaces. Sixteen glossy full color mandalas make up a border for each of the front covers. Fincher’s purpose is to invite hands-on experiences for people of all ages and to offer her art to become the reader’s art.

Insight and Healing 2000 contains 20 pages of text only, a synoptic version of the 1991 publication. Fincher review children’s developmental emerging mandalas, the circle as sacred art in Tibet, Native American and Christian traditions, and Jung’s concept of the mandala as a psychological tool. Her main emphasis, however, lies in an explanation of The Great Round, 12 stages of psychological life and physical existence that repeat throughout the life cycle. The circles portray each of the numbered stages with several circles devoted to each stage, adding depth to the concepts. Opposite each circle at the bottom of the page are a few sentences explaining something about the design in reference to the stage. One example is Mandala 21, acknowledged as based on an M.C. Escher design. Her words about Stage 6 begin “Dragon Fight brings about the polarization of the opposites in our lives: dark/light, male/female, angel/devil. The increased inner conflict creates energy that can be channeled into the expansion of consciousness” (unpaginated). Looking at the circle’s imagery for a while expands the meaning of the words and helps evoke the stage under consideration. As one progresses through the stages, the dynamics of The Great Round gain vitality. The author gives helpful suggestions to those who wish to explore and learn from the images. She encourages group or individual study, as well as taking up the coloring with any of a variety of media. She advises that when working with children no way is the right way. Children should feel free to color as they wish.

Balance and Harmony 2004 contains just eight pages of information making brief reference to circles in spiritual traditions and to The Great Round. Fincher attributes the concept of the 12 stages comprising The Great round to Joan Kellogg, an art therapist who teamed with psychiatrist Francisco DiLeo. Kellogg conceived of and explored the prototypical forms that mandalas would take inside the 12 stages. She added an initial stage, Stage 0, Clear Light. Fincher’s purpose in this volume is to focus the participant on Stage 9 (post Kellogg’s addition of Stage 0). Stage 9 is referred to as Crystallization. Fincher evokes this stage with the words “growing energy is perfectly fulfilled in a unique creation” (p. 7). She compares this stage to taking in the sight and fragrance of a fully opened rose. Closing these introductory pages, she states that she drew each of these plates after entering a contemplative frame of mind. She pairs each of the designs with a single sentence to focus the mind of the reader. The sentence for Mandala 20 reads, “Contemplative practices mobilize a connection with all those who follow a similar path—communion of saints, sangha, or kindred souls” (Unpaginated).

Based on a Jungian approach, her focus throughout both the books is on coloring the mandalas to gain personal knowledge and to explore thee dialogue that goes on between the self and the ego. Her intention, as she shares the many crystallized forms and thoughts, is to transmit the spiritual well-being that she obviously has acquired to whomever wishes to breath color into her balance, harmonious circles.

While Fincher has not intended these books to be scholarly, I appreciate the clarity she brings to how the development of The Great Round was a collaboration between Kellogg and DiLeo; this information was not included in Insight and Healing 2000. In the 2004 book, she acknowledges directly that she is the originator of the circle designs, a fact not made explicit in the earlier book but important for the reader to understand.

Personally, I question a coloring book format. I often experience coloring, in the context of making art or conducting art therapy, as tedious. How beneficial is coloring other people’s designs in the therapeutic or artistic sense? It is a question to which I have no pat answer. What I sense as genuine and worthwhile is that entering into the process that Fincher’s vision invites could engrave a deeper understanding of the cycles of psychological life. The benefit of acquiring words and images simultaneously, to promote insight and understanding in this regard, holds promise. How one approaches coloring must remain a personal and idiosyncratic pursuit.

The question posed at the beginning of this review is how Fincher’s three books as a single process provide momentum for our experiences with the circle. Indeed the three together provide a beginning, middle, and end to Fincher’s journey. Along the way she provides sound teaching, first with words (1991), then with 48 graphic examples that breath the words as she explores graphically the stages of the life cycle, and finally with 72 crystallized understanding evoking a balanced maturity of forms. She proposes a journey and encourages the reader/artist to follow in her footsteps.


Fincher, S.F. (1991). Creating Mandalas: For Insight, Healing, and Self-Expression. Boston: Shambhala.

Ratcliff, E. (1992). [Review of the book Creating Mandalas: For Insight, Healing, and Self-Expression]. Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association, 9, 103-104.