Zentangle and the Art of Cerebral Maintenance

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!

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