Zentangle: Pattern-Drawing as Meditation
Remember how you survived high-school Trig by drawing your boyfriend’s name 1000 different ways in your notebook? Well it turns out there were some real psychological benefits from all that doodling, and that rewarding piece of mind is now being deeper explored within the craze of Zentangle Art. I just recently stumbled upon this concept of meditative drawing and I think it’s perfect. The key notion behind the creative process is that this is artwork that anybody can do. Even if you think you have zero artistic skill, you can still greatly benefit from this simple meditative process – and actually draw something that looks amazing as well! The confidence and reflective acceptance that can be gained from such a seemingly simple activity is incredible.
Now at first glance, the drawing above appears to be an incredibly complex and plotted piece of art. Yet, this is the result of a straightforward, unplanned Zentangle process. The general structure behind the method is to draw a series of small, repetitive patterns which form together into one unified piece. Each pattern is done one deliberate, solid line at a time, and any mistakes are merely the start of a new pattern. As you can see, the final image is quite clearly more powerful than the sum of its’ parts. Of course, in the true nature of Zen, it’s not the finished product of which you gain peace from, but rather the act of creating it. The idea of focusing on a simple, repetitive notion can release tension in parts of your mind in phenomenal ways. Now I’m no Mr. Miyagi, but here’s the process I’ve learned of not only “How-To Zentangle,” but also “Why-To Zentangle.”
Step 1 – Get a pen and paper:
In other words, you don’t need much – but the pen is essential. There is no erasing anything in Zentangle, and this provides a needed acceptance for how everything happens. If you make a mistake at any point, you should only think of it as an opportunity to start a brand new pattern you’ve never thought of before.
Work small. The beauty of the Zentangle is derived from its’ limited scope. A piece of paper 3x5 inches will easily suffice. You should be able to complete one of these within a half hour.
The other good thing about this is that it’s an actual physical process. You’re not on the computer, you’re not on the iPhone – you’re just reuniting with the fundamentals. Not everybody relaxes by playing Angry Birds at their lunch-break. And if you’re the kind of person who feels a desire for constant productivity, then you should acclimate to this sense of meditation that has a tangible end result.
Step 2 – Don’t think – just start:
At no point during the drawing should you have any preconceived notion of what the end result should be. Take calm in the unlimited potential of the creative process. There are no wrong Zentangles!
Draw several large distinct lines on the page, and use these to make the starting grid-work of your design. Once those are established, start filling in a pattern in one of the grids and don’t start another pattern until the first one is finished. Keep going until you fill up the whole page, making as many distinct patterns as possible.
Step 3 – You’re Done!
Yep, that’s all there is to it. Pretend that old History teacher from Junior year is rambling on in the background, and go to town. Just kidding – but there are a few things to remember if you’re having trouble.
- First off, if the process is stressing you out, then stop. It’s not for you. Zentangle is meant to induce calm, not repel it.
- Depending on how well your creative juices are flowing, you may have trouble coming up with different patterns. At www.zentangle.com, you can actually purchase a Zentangle kit that comes with over 100 different patterns to learn and utilize. There’s also an image gallery on their site that can provide you with plenty of inspiration.
- Don’t be discouraged if your end piece doesn’t look all that great. Keep at it, and try to honestly embrace the notion that the end result doesn’t matter anyway.
- The key to it all is to go with the flow…
Zentangle is not meant to be a task or a project, but rather a state of mind. It’s the repetitive nature of the process that allows the mind to comfortably wander. While you preoccupy portions of your brain with a simple, repeated pattern, the rest of your mind is free to drift and relax. As you become further immersed in the Zentangle, time becomes irrelevant, the patterns begin to develop in unexpected ways, and you find yourself in a state of flow, or as some may say “in the groove.” It is this meditative state of flow that the Zentangle process is hoping to induce. As Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi says in his best-seller Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, “What makes an experience genuinely satisfying is a state of consciousness called flow. During flow, people typically experience deep enjoyment, creativity, and a total involvement with life.” If you have faith in giving into the process of flow, and realize that some things benefit from having less analytical thought put into them, then you can find new levels of personal strength, growth, and confidence all through a simple doodle. Don’t try to control the Zentangle, just let it flow out of you. That acceptance and release will help you embrace the Zen state and enable you to incorporate it openly into other aspects of your life. Free your mind and the pen will follow.
Don’t let the unpronounceable name intimidate you, Csikszentmihalyi’s great book on the benefits and psychology of being “in the zone” can be found at www.amazon.com/Flow-The-Psychology-Optimal-Experience/dp/0061339202.