Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Thoughts on Zentangle

I've always been a doodler. From grade-school to college, it was a rare page margin that went undecorated. At various times my doodles tended towards stick figures, fantastical cave structures, 3-D geometric constructs, but mostly I drew cartooned dragons, animals and people. Church bulletins were judged purely on the amount of blank space available for said doodles, and I dreamed of creating my own comic strip.

Sometime in late spring, I saw an advert for a class at our library for something called "Zentangle." The black-and-white line art immediately drew my attention, but a mother of three little ones does not typically have an abundance of out-of-the-house free time, and the class was out of the question. I do, however, have a fair bit of leisure time after the kids go to bed, and thus "Zen Doodle" went into the search engine a few days later. Thankfully Google was able to quickly correct my mis-remembered term, and my newest obsession was born.

I came at the art form with some reservations. Much of it seems custom designed for me. See, for all my doodling, I'm really not any good at drawing. I've learned the basics of cartooning, but have no intrinsic feel for the intricacies of pose, perspective, and the like. Even my favorite little dragon character, developed over the eight years of Jr. High and High School, appears in only three or four poses, and he always seems to face to the left! Moreover, I've always been a measure once, cut twice kind of girl. The amount of planning that goes into a well executed drawing - even a cartoon - was mostly more than I was interested in doing. I'm a dilettante! So two of the biggest selling points of Zentangle: its focus on simple, basic, anyone-can-do-this strokes and its codified lack of planning, are pretty much right up my alley.

But there were turnoffs as well, beginning with the name. As a Christian I am instantly leery of the pseudo-Buddhism that has become so popular in recent decades. And as the owner of a fairly rational, pragmatic, engineering-type personality, mysticism in general is a pretty hard sell. (More on this later.)

Some of the limitations built into the official definition also grated on me. I am usually a pretty good rule follower, but for whatever reason in my Art I've always sucked at it. I want to march to the beat of my own drum, follow my own muse, create my own beauty using only my own instincts... My last art class (a college elective) drove me nuts with its project requirements of "only so many colors" or "using this exact medium." I remember gloating to myself over one project as I carefully hid a highly stylized angel in the random shapes that were absolutely Not supposed to be representational. Those same hackles were raised by some of the Zentangle requirements such as the precise size of the tile, the forbidding of the eraser, and the avoidance of all representational forms. And let's be honest, I felt a little cynical about the commercialization that pervades the official site with its overpriced (to me, anyway!) branded products, and pretentious sounding "CZT" program. (Any CZTs who may stumble across this site, please forgive me. These are my initial impressions, which have been at least Partially moderated after several months here!) Oh yeah, and the word "Tangle." Seriously, do we really need that for any reason other than trademarking? Why not just call it doodling?

So I started practicing on printer paper and scrap cardboard using a ultra fine tipped Sharpie. I "rebelliously" added text around the edges, and made intentional flower-and-vine shapes. I never spoke of tangling, only doodling.
And then I bought some Microns, and then I got some blank index cards that I cut into squares, and then I bought some nicer paper that I cut into exactly 3.5 inch squares... do you see where this is heading? I started doing a Lot more browsing of Tanglepatterns.com and Pinterest boards, and found that there were very few people likely to judge me for producing "ZIA" (Zentangle-inspired Art) as opposed to true Zentangles - heck, the co-founder herself produces plenty of it! I joined several Facebook groups and started entering Diva challenges. And, finally, I found myself chatting about tangling, sometimes to people I barely even knew.  :}

A total convert? Oh no, I absolutely retain my independence of thought! :) Seriously, I'm always going to have a few reservations, but I have developed a certain comfort level with most of it. And at the same time I have gradually been making the designs and techniques my own - applying them to projects that inspire me, adding color, and basically guiltlessly stepping over into ZIA instead of feeling like a secret rebel. And I've adopted the official definitions and rules as valid starting points - something to help "walk before you can run" - giving instant success, but not intended to hamper or limit expression in a growing artist.

But I do want to talk just a little more about the spiritual aspect of this. While my natural inclination is to throw the baby out with the bathwater, I'd like to think that my perspective on meditation has matured in my adult life, and that I no longer absolutely distrust or nor discount its usefulness as a spiritual practice. That said, my own practice of it is severely lacking.
Now, in point of fact, I believe that All artwork that we do can and Should be a form of worship as we, as little-c creators reflect our Imago Dei of The Big-C Creator. Nevertheless, wouldn't it be better to be truly and intentionally mindful of this fact?!
This is what I was thinking as I tried to rationalize picking up yet another art form. I found myself hoping to combine it with a Christian practice of meditation, centering myself on a specific scripture, or possibly a prayer request.
Unfortunately, I am still Mostly just hoping. Honestly, it's not coming naturally. Maybe I'm not being intentional enough, and with more effort and planning (i.e. a quieter, less distracting location?) it will become a more useful tool. In the meantime, I always have a fear that I am "fish-stickering" my drawings by tacking a verse into whatever white space I have left at the end.

On the other hand, as in most things I am probably being too cynical. My long-term tangling project is a Fruit of the Spirit series. I've been working on it off and on for 2-3 weeks, and while I may not feel like I spend every moment of my drawing in a "meditative state," looking back I honestly Have been more aware of some of the virtues I'd like to see growing in my life, and more prayerful about them.

So I'm going to try to be Zen about it - to entirely misuse a word! - and accept where I am right now in both my spiritual and artistic journey, while continuing to strive for the next step.

But I'm also kind of hoping that the obsession fades a bit here before too long.  I am getting Ridiculously far behind on my scrapbooking!

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