Browsing through my album of tiles and my sketchbooks over the weekend was an interesting and surprising experience. I have been tangling since the end of April, 2016–about 10 months. What I saw was growth as well as regression–typical of any learning progress. When my work became more attractive, the same patterns and techniques appeared in a cluster. During times of learning new techniques and patterns, the work became cluttered or less cleanly drawn. The pattern kept repeating in cycles, only now becoming less extreme in its swings.
If you look at the tangles above, you can see that, in my early tile, what I lacked in pattern skills I tried to hide behind a bit of flare. Today’s tile is less stilted. Whether it is more pleasant to view is not my call, but I find it more breezy, better developed, and stronger, even though two of the patterns used here are out of my sketchbook and on a tile for the first time.
To be honest, I have no inate artistic talent or abilities, and it is only about three years since I learned to produce any art at all. I took up drawing lessons to learn to see things as an artist might, and had limited success. My teacher suggested switching to acrylics (I’m too slow) or oils (which I feared). I even picked up watercolor books and videos and tried to learn that, only to discover that watercolor presents its own unique set of challenges. Then, less than a year ago, I learned about Zentangle.
I had been looking for a method of meditation and relaxation that involved movement. Although Tai Chi was an option, I couldn’t find classes here on the island–not then, anyway. Besides, going to a Tai Chi class would have involved getting into the car and searching for parking–not very conducive to relaxation.
“Zentangle” was a term I remembered referenced in several of my art how-to books. I thought at first it was some new professional school or method of art. Then I found out it isn’t art in the traditional sense at all–it’s Zentangle, pure and simple. That it centers around drawing is a good thing, I thought to myself. That it can be done by even the most artistically challenged is even better! So I researched more.
Although certified Zentangle teachers (CZTs) can be found all over the world–increasingly in China and India–none seem to be in Sint Maarten, the tiny island (well, half-island) country in the Caribbean. So I ordered a book or two from Amazon and set out to see if I could teach myself. I spent well over 20 years teaching children and young men and women professionally. Surely I could teach myself, too.
And I did teach myself Zentangle, of a sort. On the official Zentangle site, Zentangle.com, the recommendation is to learn the Zentangle method from a CTZ through a workshop. The second best way to learn is by purchasing the Zentangle Primer, Volume 1, and the Zentangle starter kit, both available for purchase on the web official site. After months of trying with other sources, I broke down and purchased both. Not only did I wish I had done that from the beginning, but I also decided that, because Zentangle was so helpful to me, I wanted to bring Zentangle to this tiny island. In two months, I will be attending a Zentangle seminar to become a CZT so I can do just that.
Here’s the thing: I may not have started off with the best self-teaching materials, but I did start off with an excellent resource, One Zentangle a Day, a book by Beckah Krahula, CZT.It gave me enough information and techniques to get me started, even if I became frustrated sometimes. As a beginner’s reference, it is a great book, especially if you are looking for at least a little of the mindfulness and relaxation benefits. It contains a lot of information for trying Zentangle on for size, but it doesn’t cover Zentangle principles in depth. A great “first” book at low cost. If all you are looking for is art or crafting ideas, it is also a great source of ideas and buying information. But for a deeper understanding of the Zentangle method and its effects on calming your mind and increasing both focus and creativity–and if you want a book that will continue to be a resource for years to come–then The Zentangle Primer is a must-have book.
For me, a helpful resource is an app called Zentangle Mosaic, available in Apple iPad and iPhone format, as well as in Android format. It is an excellent source of inspiration, tips, and friendly and supportive members from all over the world. Many well-known and respected CZTs share their work on the app regularly. Many up-and-coming CZTs participate and provide advice and support. Zentangle founders Rick Roberts and Maria Thomas share their own work, new ideas, and even exclusive videos there. Rick, Maria, and their family interact with members all the time, providing feedback and encouragement, especially to new tanglers. It is a marvelous community of tanglers. Posted work is validated for its “Zentagleness” (my word). There is a free option, if all you want from the app is inspiration, and a paid option, which allows you to upload photos of your work and actively communicate with Mosaic subscribers. I don’t know enough about the free version to compare it to the paid subscription, but I believe that, as lovely as the free version is for viewing others’ work, the most useful features come only with membership. To me, the benefits I derived from the paid subscription is priceless, especially since I tangle alone here on the island.
Encouragement from members of Mosaic got me participating in national and international challenges on Facebook and blog sites. The challenges are not as supportive as Mosaic, but I have learned to judge tangles on “Zentangleness” instead of eye candy. Many challenge submissions are Zentangle Inspired Art, which can be beautiful and whimsical, but a lot are by professional artists. They each have something to teach, though, even if the intention is not there. There are many artsy and craft ideas presented by challenge participants. Mindful tangling is difficult to put out there when one is not an artist. My tangling may not compete in artistry, but it solidly represents the Zentangle method and purpose. After one or two posts, I was no longer intimidated by the pros. For an example of a short (two-week) challenge, visit “valentangle2017” on Facebook. It came with a book of instructions for what to include in each day’s tile, along with lovely examples to use as models. The contributor pool was just over 200 participants–small by Facebook standards. Lots of beautiful work on display, though.
All of these resources have helped me grow as a tangler. I firmly believe, however, that workshops are the best way to learn Zentangle. When I tangle alone, even with supportive online communities available, it’s difficult to get questions answered or discussions on techniques moving smoothly. There is something about face-to-face contact that helps those of us seeking the mindfulness and meditative aspects of Zentangle. Hopefully, I won’t be tangling “alone” on the island for much longer!