Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Tuesday Tutorial: Adinkra Magnets

Adinkra are beautiful decorative symbols from the Akan people found all over Ghana in West Africa on clothing, pottery, metalwork, and architecture.  They represent concepts or aphorisms, meaningful short phrases or proverbs.

These images come from the site West African Wisdom: Adinkra Symbols & Meanings, a wonderful resource for this project.

This symbol is dwennimmen, or "ram's horns" and it is a symbol for humility with strength.  A ram will fight fiercely in battle but will submit to slaughter.

This is the symbol aya, which means "fern"  and it means endurance and resourcefulness.  A fern is a hardy plant that is able to grown in difficult places. 

This symbol is boa me na me mmoa wo, which means "let me help you."  It is a symbol for cooperation and interdependence.  Isn't it just beautiful?  The elements of one are in the other as they face each other... So much is told in the blink of any eye!  That's the power of visual symbols!

This set of short videos is a wonderful primer on the process of making Adinkra cloth and the meaning of it's symbols as told by artisans from Ghana:

Did you see how gorgeous those stamps are! 
Are you excited?  You should be!

For this project you will need:
thick white glue
self stick magnet sheeting
acrylic paints
fine point white paint marker
spray varnish
cardboard coasters
chalk pastels
paper towel or napkin

I got these cardboard coasters from a local Michael's craftstore.  They come in a pack of 8 for $1.00 but they were 60% off.  Deal!  That's only 40 cents People!  This is cheap therapy!

You could also use:

coasters you swipe from your favorite Tex-Mex restaurant
tagboard cut into shapes
heavy watercolor paper
cut up cereal box
coasters from a thrift store (I always see them there)

You will first need to give a thin coat of gesso to the coasters.  This just provides a surface for the paint and glue to adhere properly.

Choose your adinkra symbols.  You can use the first website I posted for a list of symbols and their meanings.  I'm choosing ones to be reminders for my dear hubby and I.. good things to help us in our relationship. 

When the gesso is dry, lightly sketch your symbols out.  You will be putting your glue inside of the lines that you will be sketching.. so you will need to draw this as a block shape.  Keep it light as it can be a little tricky erasing pencil off gesso.

Glue an outline for your adinkra.  A couple things to keep in mind:
  • Start with your glue bottle barely open.  Gradually open it up more as you find what is best for you to control the flow of glue.
  • Go slow!  I know it's exciting but realize art is a process.  Take time to think about the symbol as you make it.  Enjoy what you are doing.  And you will mess up less! :)
  • If you get an air bubble, do your best to try to pop it by lightly tapping on it with the tip of your bottle.  A little bubble won't show in the final product.

After you have made your outline, start to gradually fill it in... a little bit at a time.  You don't want to put too much glue or it will ooze all over the place and you'll lose your shape.

You can keep going in and tapping over spaces to fill them in ...

...until you've got the whole adinkra filled in.

When you've filled all your adinkra in, now's your time to sit back and ponder the mysteries of the universe, or wash your dishes.  I always prefer pondering over dishes. 

Now if you're impatient like I am, you can try to speed up the drying a bit with a hair dryer.  Don't use a heat gun like I did.  I got weird warpy shapes in this one.  Or, if you're impatient, don't do a shape like I did that will have a big area of glue to dry.  But if you're a good girl, just give them a full day to dry. I let mine dry outside for half a day in the hot Texas heat and it just wasn't long enough.

(I fudged this picture to make it look like they were completely dry and started the next step anyway. :) )

Using a liquid acrylic paint, cover the coasters with a light layer.  Then you have two options: you can either use a folded over piece of wetted paper towel to take off some of the paint on the glue or just run a wet brush without paint over the top of the glue to whish some of that paint away.  I did a bit of both.  I had to work fast though as the paint dried a lot faster than the glue did!  And make sure you get paint around the edges. 

Yes.. that's my camera strap in the corner.  But you're supposed to be noticing how pretty these all are.  You could stop here but....

A little chalk pastel rubbed in the crevices is so easy and makes a colorful impact.  The pastel won't adhere where the glue is.

Spay a coat of varnish on.  Mine dried almost instantly although the can said to wait an hour before you move them.  I think this is a good time to break rules.

Spread out your magnetic sheeting, trace your circles, and cut squares large enough  for one magnet.  Peel, stick, and trim with scissors.  Then use the paint marker to write the meaning of each symbol on the back.

Here are my finished pieces:

And here they alll are with a wedding picture!

Hope you enjoyed the tutorial and feel free to email me if you have questions!


  1. They are beautiful, Cori! I am amazed at the synchronicity - I have recently met a number of people with a connection to adinkra symbols. I've been carving my own adinkra stamps to create adinkra cloth for the past 8 years.

    This is a great project: functional, beautiful and meaningful!

    PS, It's good to have you back blogging regularly! I missed you while you were gone.

  2. Aww thanks, Lisa!

    Lookie what I found.. another great resource! :)


  3. wow-great projects! just beautiful...and a little lesson too! thanks!

  4. This is a great project! African culture has so many meaningful symbolism. I like the ones you chose.Patsy from

  5. wonderful post and you are just sooooo creative ~ I love symbols and I also love lavender ~ guess we may be kindred spirits of more reasons than one ~ thanks for sharing this tutorial hugs and namaste, cArol (artmusedog)

  6. What an amazing post, loved seeing how you made these magnets and what meanings are behind them. There so special. Such a beautiful photo too!
    Loads of love to you!


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