June 2016 By Meena Radhakrishnan The beautiful art of Zentangle is gaining currency all over the world as a meditative art form. Meena Radhakrishnan explores its appeal “Anything is possible, one stroke at a time”. Crystal Zachariah, an American married to an Indian living in Chennai, decided to learn Zentangle, despite little talent and no experience in drawing, when the organisers told her, “If you can write your name, you can Zentangle.” Her husband and sons refused to believe that it was her work when she got home, so she pulled out a tile and drew one right in front of them! Today, while she feels her work is not as good as that of many others, she feels a sense of accomplishment and joy. “It’s a different form of relaxation for sure. Sometimes I’ll say I’ll only Zentangle for 15 minutes, and before I know it, an hour has passed by. I really enjoy it.” Zentangle is a meditative art form developed by Maria Thomas and Rick Roberts. The story goes that Rick, a former monk, noticed that Maria, a calligrapher and artist, was so absorbed in her work that she didn’t notice him entering the room or standing nearby. Her absorption in her art was intense and focussed, almost like meditation; they realised they were onto something important, even path-breaking. Zentangle is an easy-to-learn method of creating art using structured patterns. The original Zentangle, as developed by Rick and Maria, is done on a 3.5” square white ‘tile’ of high-quality textured paper using a black Micron 01 pen. Within a border, a random pencil line called the ‘string’ is drawn to divide the tile into sections, which are then filled with patterns called ‘tangles’. The string is only a guide; one can ignore it or draw over it. No erasers and rulers are used, as there are no “mistakes” in Zentangle; what seems like a mistake can be incorporated into the design, and finally becomes indistinguishable from the overall pattern. While Zentangle uses structured patterns, the placement of these patterns, or the development of the designs is a random process. That is why in a class where everyone draws the same patterns, each tile still looks different. Shading with a pencil and smudging with a tortillion are the only enhancers to Zentangle. While Zentangle is the process, individual patterns are called ‘tangles’, and the act of drawing them, ‘tangling’. A Zentangle is not intended to be a representation of something; there is no right or wrong way, no up or down direction. It is truly abstract in nature; there is no pre-determined outcome or result. The mindful drawing of each individual stroke calms and relaxes you, resulting in a shift in focus that is meditative. Although the completed Zentangle may look very complicated, it is done one stroke at a time, and soon the enthusiast realises that it is actually quite easy to do. Putting pen to paper is an old, timeless art. In this age of technology, there is something quaint and refreshing about going back to basics, about engaging in the comfort of a familiar process. It needs no special or costly equipment, and is easily portable. However, it is not quite the same as doodling, which all of us have done from time to time. We usually doodle when we are bored, or not interested in what we are doing. It is often done unconsciously, without much attention. Zentangle, on the other hand, requires our complete attention; we focus on the lines, and on our breath. In my own practice, I have found that the lines come out neat and clear only when you are mindful, when your focus is on the breath, and you are in a relaxed state of mind. While Zentangle is a random placement of patterns, sometimes people use Zentangle patterns to fill a form, say, of a butterfly, flower, or even a person’s face. These are not pure Zentangle designs, and are called Zentangle Inspired Art (ZIA). There are now about 153 ‘original’ Zentangle patterns developed by Rick and Maria, and new ones are generally revealed in their newsletter at www.zentangle.com. Linda Farmer has another website, www.tanglepatterns.com, where she lists the ‘step-outs’ for the official tangles and also new tangles that are developed by others. There are guidelines for developing a tangle, and one can submit new tangles to be tested and added to the list. There are literally hundreds of patterns, many of them very familiar; you could be inspired to create a tangle from a design on a cushion cover or the pattern on a saree! Like many of my fellow enthusiasts, I discovered Zentangle on the Internet, and was delighted to know that Sandhya Manne, a Certified Zentangle Teacher (CZT) in Chennai, and an artist of merit, had regular classes near my home. Sandhya came across Zentangle in 2010 while living in the USA. She loved the experience of creating beautiful abstract art and claims that Zentangle has made her less rigid in her outlook and more open to what the Universe has to offer. She has personally taught a number of students of all age groups, both at the workshops and over Skype. A few of us meet regularly once or twice a month for practice and advanced classes; some have been coming for over two years! The group is a motley one, comprising of mostly women, a few men, and a couple of school children. This drawing by young Sanjana Rao from Bangalore bears all the markings of a Zentangle, but has been sourced directly by her. An ardent doodler who fills her notebooks with similar scribbles, Sanjana hit upon this meditative art form on her own. Apart from Javanthi Singaram and Sambath Sathyan, none of us have had any training in art although we all love and appreciate art. Susan Alexander, at her first meeting with Sandhya two years ago, insisted that she couldn’t draw a line; this year, she brought out a calendar of her Zendala designs to raise money for charity. Rohit Reddy, working in the corporate sector, says it helps him “zone out” and relax deeply. As a teacher, Sandhya is impressed with her students’ creations, “particularly those created by students who walk into my Beginner’s class saying that they cannot draw…It is a proud moment for me to watch them practise and with a little guidance come up with stunning works, which they never believed they could do”. One thing all of them are agreed upon – it helps to reduce stress! Lalita Shankar, Javanthi, and Anandhi Suresh Kumar say that Zentangle helps them to focus on the good things in life, and not the issues that pull you down. Even young Meera Ranjan, a student of Class 6, says she’s become calmer, less angry and more focussed! We are also part of a bigger online group on Facebook (Zentangle India) where we share our work, have weekly challenges, and generally encourage each other. What is it that makes Zentangle so special? Susan expresses it best when she says, “I personally would say that it expands your sense of freedom because it allows you the freedom to make mistakes. In some of my drawings, a mistake has become a beautiful point of reflection or created a new design. As in art, so too in life, we need to lose our fear of making mistakes because only then do we learn and transcend these mistakes. This, for me, has been the biggest gain.” Personally, it has helped me deal with stress, and more importantly, has helped me realise that I can create beautiful art. I think it is so popular today for precisely that reason – “one stroke at a time”, we discover our inner artists, and create a better, more beautiful world. About the author: Meena Radhakrishnan has many creative interests but writing is her passion. She lives in Chennai with her husband and daughter.
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