From Academic Kids

Sandpainting is the art of painting ritual paintings for religious or healing ceremonies. It is also referred to as drypainting.

Sandpainting is practiced by Native Americans in the Southwestern United States, by Tibetan monks, by Australian Aborigines, and some are known to be made by Latin Americans on certain Christian holy days.


Native American Sandpainting

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Navajo sandpainting

In the sandpainting of southwestern Native Americans (the most famous of which are the Navajo), the Medicine Man (or Singer) paints loosely upon the ground, or on some occasions, on a buckskin or cloth tarp, by letting the colored sands flow through his fingers with control and skill.

The colors for the painting are usually made with naturally colored sand, crushed gypsum (white), yellow ochre, red sandstone, charcoal, and a mixture of charcoal and gypsum (blue). Brown can be made by mixing red and black; red and white make pink. Other coloring agents include corn meal, flower pollen, or powdered roots and bark.

The paintings are usually associated with a ceremony.

Because of the sacred nature of the ceremonies, the sandpaintings are begun, finished, used, and destroyed within a twelve hour period.

Navajo sandpainting
Navajo sandpainting

The ritual of sandpainting is usually done in a sequence which is termed a chant, lasting from five to nine days, but never less than three days, and for which a different and new sandpainting was made for each day.

Many Sandpaintings include yéi figures, which are Navajo spiritual beings. The healing ceremonies involve medicine men chanting particular songs and simultaneously creating a sandpainting on the ground. The medicine man asks for the yéis to come into the painting and help to heal the patient by restoring balance and harmony.

The sandpaintings one sees in shops and on the Internet are commercially produced and contain important errors, as the real sandpaintings are considered sacred.

Tibetan Sand Painting

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Tibetan monks making a temporary "Sand-Mandala" in the City-Hall of Kitzbuehel in Austria in 2002
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Details of Sand-Mandala

Tibetan sand paintings are usually of mandalas. In Tibetan this art is called dul-tson-kyil-khor, which literally means "mandala of colored powders".

The sand is carefully placed on a large, flat table. The construction process takes several days, and the mandala is destroyed shortly after its completion. This is done as a metaphor for the impermanence of life.

The mandala sand painting process begins with an opening ceremony, during which the lamas, or Tibetan priests, consecrate the site and call forth the forces of goodness. This is done by means of chanting, music, and mantra recitation.

On the first day, the lamas begin by drawing an outline of the mandala to be painted on a wooden platform. The following days see the laying of the colored sands, which is effected by pouring the sand from traditional metal funnels called chak-pur. Each monk holds a chak-pur in one hand, while running a metal rod on its grated surface; the vibration causes the sands to flow like liquid.

Formed of a traditional prescribed iconography that includes geometric shapes and a multitude of ancient spiritual symbols, the sand-painted mandala is used as a tool for re-consecrating the earth and its inhabitants.

Other Sandpainting


Villasenor, David. Tapestries in Sand: The Spirit of Indian Sandpainting. California, Naturegraph Company, Inc. 1966.


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