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Zentangle and the Art of Cerebral Maintenance
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Our friends atheorist, his sister Sarah, and their mother Julie came over to spend Christmas day with us this year–which was lovely, as I like having a full house of folks I can cook for and take care of. As her present to us, Julie taught everyone about Zentangle and led us through making one.

Zentangle is this thing where they break down certain repetitive drawing patterns and use it to create a meditative experience which is less about doing nothing than about clearing the mind through repetitive action. Wax on, wax off, so to speak. I found it fairly awesome, as it’s similar to how I (compulsively) doodle anyway, but gives a structure I hadn’t had before.

That sounds a little stilted. I’ve always wanted to be able to draw, and been super shitty at it. I doodle because I have the restless hands, but I can’t draw meaningfully at all. My college notebooks are full of swirls and no notes to speak of. ZT has done a pretty great job of breaking images down into something I can draw–though I don’t think I’ll ever be able to do anything non-abstract, I am still excited about this. I can do awesome art deco/medieval/eschery things!

So, unfortunately, the online Zentangle culture leaves something to be desired. The starter kit is kind of broken–they don’t include instructions even for all the patterns in their little legend, and some of the ones included don’t even have instructions online. It’s all very focused on selling the founders’ seminars, and getting “certified” as an instructor, and that just doesn’t appeal to me at all, as well as turning art into a kind of weird scrapbookers’ Amway thing. But the thing itself has such worth. So I’m ignoring the tupperware club aspect, mostly, except for finding patterns, of which there are hundreds, much like knitting. I do like a lot of the Zentangle inspired blogs, which takes the technique and goes further with it, outside the original bounds of the notion.

In fact, it reminds me a lot of knitting, with the slow growth of complex patterns built with straight lines. Also medieval marginalia, though I’ haven’t found any celtic knot patterns yet I’m sure they exist. And last night I finally realized what it reminds me most of: mehndi.

Which, it turns out, is done exactly the same way–small, repetitive patterns fitted within larger shapes. Some of the patterns are, in fact, identical to Zentangle patterns. (Also explains why I know people who can’t draw traditionally but do mehndi.) I’m surprised that I haven’t seen anyone comment on this–though they may have, I’m not super involved with the community as I’ve said. The similarity is extremely striking to me, though–if there are less flower and bird designs in Zentangle.

So I’m hoping, as a resolutiony type thing, to do one Zentangle a day as a meditation exercise, because my brain is so birdyjumpy it needs to work the hands more or less constantly. I’ve been adding some words to my pieces, free association and alliteration, because I love words and can’t help it. Maybe I’ll try to pick up some calligraphy–though I’m pretty proud of my handwriting.

I don’t feel like I want to post them–there’s so many Zentangle blogs and I just want to do it for myself, not get certified or join the community. But I feel really nice about drawing every day. I think it will be grounding. I spent hours last night copying patterns into a blank book (with mehndi on the cover, amusingly) so that I can keep track of my abilities (also, the kit comes with a d20 so you can randomize the process, which is geekier than I suspect they know) and the patterns I really like, which tend to be curvy and flowing rather than geometric.

I’d be interested to know if any of you guys have heard of this or taken it up!

Mirrored from cmv.com. Also appearing on @LJ and @DW. Read anywhere, comment anywhere.

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I'd love to hear if you have thoughts relating Zentangle to the writing process. Sketching big & tentative initial form, then choosing submotives and repeating them consistently, shaped by the already-decided structure seems very broadly applicable.

Hm. I suppose yes? But I don't always write books that way. Often I start with something tiny. But I often feel any art is applicable to any other. You have a certain set of tools, and infinite outcomes. I'm sure I'll have more to say as I do it.

It's a little bit totally different, but I do know at least one buddy who uses a Spirograph in his meditation practice. It's very repetitive loops and angles, but more restricted than the zentangles thing, which is very neat. (Here's a link to a Spirograph in case you don't know what they are:http://www.amazon.com/SPIROGRAPH-33248-Spirograph/dp/B004YHETHA/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1325795885&sr=8-1 - they used to be much cooler when I was little)

I TOTALLY had one of those!

Me too :-) I want to find another one, but boy, I don't want to spend $40! Fingers crossed for yard sale season. They were fun!

Spirograph necklace. No, seriously. A real, if small and minimalist, spirograph you can wear.

On of the senior students I met at Zen Mountain Monastery does something similar. A friend of hers had switched jobs, and had about 2000 business cards that had incorrect information on them. But what to do? He felt weird about recycling them so she offered to take them.

Every night, before bed, she drew on the back of one. For about four years (some nights she did more than one). Sometimes she just filled it up with a single shade. Sometimes it was patterns. Sometimes things in her line of sight. Sometimes a single solid shape. The point was to fill the space, and it was such a little space that it didn't feel impossible to fill.


that is incredibly cool. I wonder if she saved them or worked with them further, or was the point simply to have done it?

I've never heard of this. I'm not sure I fully get it? What do you do, exactly?

Doodling of any variety, though...I'm a compulsive doodler, it's the only way I stay focused in class if I'm not actively writing down pages and pages of notes.

Basically, you make a square with a pencil, and a squiggly line to divide it up into quarters or more, and then fill the sections with patterns in pen. It's quick and meditative and surprisingly beautiful.

I recall something very similar being quite popular in high school, mostly among girls. It sure made study hall (and some very dull classes) fly right by, and though I have very limited drawing skills, I made some nifty looking things.

I've been meaning to pick up Zentangling for a while, but have been intimidated by how to start. Do you think someone with VERY limited drawing skills (and a lot of anxiety re: being able to create visual art) would be able to start just by ordering the starter kit?

Yep, I did, and I am all of those things!

I love Zentangle, but found the online "community" and culture to be downright unfriendly. They have such strict rules and are so possessive of something which they say is about inclusiveness and openness that it made me avoid the fora and blogs.

Have you checked out flickr for images of what people are doing? There are some AMAZING pieces of art there.


They are amazing, and I agree about the community. Which I think is top down--with the certification and everything, when it's just organized doodling. But lots of good things have gross communities around them. (Like the whole internet)

Weirdly enough, it came up in a fan community I'm in for Metalocalypse, as something one of the characters might do to relax, along with some fanart. I looked it up from there; it sounded pretty neat, but I didn't have extra at the time to pick up a kit. It actually looks a bit like how my mother used to doodle on her own while she was on the phone.

I did a workshop a year or so ago with my favorite intuitive coach and all-round brilliant woman Jennifer Halls (www.youknow.net) and she had been in a Zentangle class. We made lovely handmade books and used the process to work into our deeper selves all weekend. I remember loving to make up water patterns and air patterns and fire patterns etc, and natural shapes like leaves and stars. we did other methods for finding meaningful patterns like pull tarot cards or ask for dreams.
I'm a busy visual artist so I dont turn to it that often now, but I enjoyed doing it alot. for my meditation I need to be moving... yoga, walking or other repetitive things at teh gym.

On a tangentially related topic

Vi Hart has a Youtube series called "Doodling in Math" that teaches some mind-blowing pattern making techniques.

Re: On a tangentially related topic

I found out about this from an Artist's Trading Card/doll group. One of the ladies introduced us to it and we have been doing challenges with it.

I get the newsletter from the main site which is hit or miss but I have learned a lot online by poking around.

I learned about Zentangle last year (bought a book at Michael's craft store) and made some artist trading cards using that process. I'm evolving some of my own patterns and don't follow the square-with-lines too much any more, but love the structured doodling aspect of it. http://www.heidi2524.com/ATC/tag/zentangle/

I found I was most wistful for the shaped paper/cards they were working on. After some poking around in Micahels I found large shaped paper cut-outs, and (even happier for me) big paper punches that could make squares, circles, stars and other more mysterious things (tag shapes? really? whyyy??).

I've tried to translate some of that to the fabric work I do. This year I'm stitching a circle a day, and it has that same feel of arranging contents pleasingly in a contained space.

Tag shapes: So I can make pretty tags for packages.

I had not heard of this before, but besides the similarities to things like mehndi and marginalia, I'm also seeing a resemblance to 17th and 18th century embroidery, which did a lot with filler patterns to texture large areas of fabric. Very interesting.

I was going to mention that-- I've been looking through my household's embroidery books hoping to find something perfect for trilobite eyes. Now I want to do blackwork, and that is just not going to happen until the trilobite's done.

Wow ... Zentangle ? I didn't know there was a word for my weird doodling. It is strangely comforting to know that.

That looks like a lot of fun. I'd really like the card with all the space-filling strokes, but I really do not want to pay $50 for it. :P

This seriously reminds me of altogether too many New Agey things: good basic idea that someone wants to get people to spend waaaay too much money on. Not that people shouldn't be able to make money on their ideas. Of course not! But why can't I buy just the legend for $10, or the DVD and card for $20, or something? And leaving some of the patterns out of the instruction booklet to try to sell you on workshops is bs.

TLDR: Do want to do. Do not want to pay that much to do.

It reminds me of classic washi patterns, too. And blackwork embroidery--I have a blackwork dragon pattern that's all shapes with various types of filler. And stippling. And ASCII art.

I think that as soon as anyone attempts to put some sort of structure on artistry so you can be artistic the same way over and over, it becomes a craft, and crafting invites an entirely different sort of community than art does. I say this with the greatest appreciation for both artists and craftspeople, and I think that both can form wonderful communities. That said, few people are as defensive and prescriptivist as craftspeople who think they're artists.

Meanwhile, any sort of self-help thing draws on the enormous and rather horrifying community of serial workshoppers (I have met some of these people and they really unnerve me), who sit through endless lectures and perform endless exercises with no actual emotional involvement or intention of changing in any deep or meaningful way and then go home to tell people how WONDERFUL and ENLIGHTENING it was and encourage their friends and family to sign up for workshops because denial and Stockholm syndrome are easier than admitting that your desire for a metaphysical Band-aid is being exploited to the tune of thousands and thousands of dollars.

(I may have a bit of a hot button on this.)

So put those two together and you have a lot of people who are very, very, very invested in there being Only One Way to Do Things. It's a recipe for shit soup, basically. You're smart to steer clear.

This is just about the most brilliant comment I've read in ages. I wish I had a comment of the day thing so this could be it.

I also wanted to say - really interesting comment. (Plus I love that icon :) )

Many of my userpics are from Gaping Void, including that one. About to add this to the collection. That guy is genuinely smart about both art and craft.

Edited at 2012-01-06 04:51 pm (UTC)

ugh, I've run into so many of those people lately. I hate the way they label you as a failure - or worse, not a 'real artist', whatever that is - just because you don't subscribe to their One True Way.

I've been poking at the site and doing some trifles on index cards and i think i will lay out the money for the starter set. It's restful and restful is always in short supply around here.

This is why I embroider. I can't draw, but my hands are moved to make patterns.

Hey, out of random curiosity, how much attention does embroidery take (once you get good at it)? About the same as knitting?
Do you embroider while watching tv or whatever?

It really depends on what you're embroidering. In general I've found that I can embroider while talking to people or listening to an audiobook, but I can't do it while having to pay attention to something visual.

A bit more than knitting, I think. I can listen to radio and music, be in conversations, even do table-top gaming while I embroider, but I don't tend to watch tv unless it's something like a news programme, as you do have to look at the stitches quite a lot of the time.

I agree with everyone else. I've always wanted a handcraft I could do while watching video, but...embroidery really isn't it. Unlike knitting, where the yarn is neatly constrained in place by the needles, that can be controlled by your body's own spatial awareness of where your hands are, with embroidery you have to look to see where your stitch is going. And at the chart, quite a lot, if you're doing a pictoral pattern you aren't making up.

Blackwork is about the most meditative embroidery for me. When working on a specific pattern, once you have a good start on that pattern it is like repeating a mantra.
It is also good while listening to an audio book, but then lacks the meditative elements.

. . . hi. Do you do reversible blackwork? Because my largest downfall as a needlewoman is the backside of my work (sloppy, sloppy, sloppy) and I'm over-paranoid and very very dutiful at weaving in my ends. Meaning they take over the entire thing.

A friend requested a blackwork piece, and I'd like to make it reversible, but I'm being overparanoid about the ends. Have you done blackwork on clothing? How many stitches do you think are actually NECESSARY to weave back through to be secure?

I was doodling like this at school (bored and under-challenged) back in the early 80s. I admit that looking at their stuff and the related YouTube videos makes me want to doodle again but I doubt I would constrain myself to their "rules" and pre-defined patterns. I would not buy the book or fancy expensive paper squares (I have plenty of Moleskines with rounded corners! ;-p), either, but would look at it in the bookshop or library.

I found this string art necklace on Instructables (http://www.instructables.com/id/String-Art-Necklace/ ) which reminded me of spirograph drawings.

I agree totally -Get over yourself Zentangles!!

After a bad accident at work - which resulted in my termination - I was looking for a relaxing drawing/doodling technique that I could enjoy without any artists skills & I found Zentangles. However, like you I am VERY put off by the idea that because this couple put a name to a few initial repetitive patterns they now 'own' this technique. I imagine they are making a small fortune off this idea of certification etc. How can you certify a craft like drawing? Not to mention the majority of the 'registered' patterns are created by other people who like sheep to the slaughter rave about the ZT brand. While ZT will link to the site of the person who created a pattern, they still make money from the classes, kits etc. I think it's not at all what those in a real creative atmosphere would propagate. I've even seen online groups make members vow not to pin their creations to Pinterest. Which I don't get because if you have a money earning site it's free publicity. Unfortunately I haven't found anything (except the henna tattoo sites) that come close to the simplistic form of ZT art. I'm not at all ashamed to admit that I save any and all pieces to my pc that I like - I'm not earning a cent from it and use it only to reference for new inspiration. I say 'Get over yourself Zentangles!!"

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