art world

Yoga for the brain: The popularity of a drawing method is causing anxiety among its practitioners

Zentangle was meant to be a meditative drawing form, a way to develop spiritualism. But some of its practitioners are selling the resultant art.

Manjiri Vivek Sabnis, a trained electrical engineer settled in Bangalore, began practicing Zentangling two years ago. Like many others, she got hooked to the copyrighted drawing method by its claim of being brain yoga, a serene way to develop mindfulness and spiritualism.

“I concentrate on my pen’s stroke on the paper, I don’t think of the result when I am tangling,” Sabnis said over the phone, “and I am an ardent fan of this core philosophy of the technique.”

A form of meditative drawing using a pen and square paper tiles, Zentangle gradually led Sabnis to Zentangle Inspired Art, or ZIA. “I had never been an artist, but once I started doing Zentangle, I found I could easily do the repetitive patterns and that led to beautiful tiles of arts. It struck me creatively, and I gradually started applying these patterns and strokes to other surfaces beyond paper tiles – to clothes, to woods, to ceramics, and even to jewelleries. The results were dazzling.”

In 2015, Sabnis held three exhibitions, and now she sells her motley pieces of art quite regularly.

Sneha Sasi Kumar’s induction into Zentangling is comparatively recent, and her progress shows why Zentangle is becoming widely popular. It is easy to learn and practice because once one learns a few basic patterns, they keep learning by doing, and adding more patterns to the common repertoire.

“I always had a knack for drawing and used to make cartoons,” the software engineer in Bangalore said. “I was looking for some new drawing techniques to expand my methods of expression when I came across these beautiful patterns and the theory behind Zentangle. It has all my attention since then.”

Self-taught like Manjiri, Kumar also deviated and applied the patterns to larger sizes of papers and to mobile phone covers.

Credit: Manjiri Vivek Sabnis
Credit: Manjiri Vivek Sabnis

“This is the beauty of Zentangle,” said Dilip Patel, a Bangalore-based practitioner and a Certified Zentangle Teacher, who has the legitimate permission to initiate enthusiasts into this method. He learned the technique from Rick Roberts and Maria Thomas, the creators of the method who conduct teachers’ trainings a few times a year in the US.

“Anybody can learn Zentangle and in very little time,” Patel said. “And most people are overwhelmed by the results of their tangling efforts – they turn out to be striking pieces of art. But these are the by-products of the method, one mustn’t ideally be looking to create these images to start with. If you do, you are on the wrong path.”

He warns that when one does not have the proper understanding of the technique and the philosophy behind it, one may end up creating stunning images and even products for sale, but may miss the whole point of it.

“Zentangle involves a deeper sense of meditation. You are completely focused on the stroke you add on your paper, and you basically become thoughtless, as in meditation,” he explained. “You go from there, step by step, in a state of mindfulness and concentration so deep that you are one with yourself, absolutely in touch.” And that is intensely relaxing, the creators say – it fills one with positivity and uplifts people from sorrow, anger and depression.

Credit: Sneha Sasi Kumar
Credit: Sneha Sasi Kumar

“The Zentangle Method is an easy-to-learn, relaxing, and fun way to create beautiful images by drawing structured patterns,” Rick Roberts and Maria Thomas announce on their website.

Roberts and Thomas understand well that, given the widespread interest in the art pieces resulting from Zentangle, those images have a larger potential to attract people to the technique. Hence, they proactively acknowledge the Zentangle Inspired Art as a branch of the tangling method.

“You are free to use our tangles [deconstructed patterns] in your creations. You can create your own Zentangle-Inspired Art, whether it’s for personal use or for resale. You may claim copyright protection in your own work that you create using our tangles and our method.” However, they also request people to not use Zentangle as part of a product name or description without their written permission, since they have sought copyright and patent for the brand Zentangle.

For Zentangle Inspired Art, one draws out the outlines for the piece before filling it out with patterns. Understanding its attraction and the economy behind philosophies, several practitioners have made pre-made outlines available on their websites for purchase.

Credit: Manjiri Vivek Sabnis
Credit: Manjiri Vivek Sabnis

Chennai-based Certified Zentangle Teacher Sandhya Manne is happy with the way Zentangle Inspired Art is finding acceptance among people. “It gets the creativity going,” she said. She herself was absorbed into Zentangle when, stuck with her young children in a foreign land, she couldn’t quench her artistic urge to paint and draw. “Zentangle was perfect for me at that time.”

Manne took her initiation from Roberts and Thomas in 2011. Going forward, she also took to drawing tangles on different surfaces, but she says she was never enthusiastic about selling these. “I couldn’t see these as a product for selling,” she added. “I am happy teaching the method to people who are willing.”

Globally, Zentangle practitioners have understood that the expansion of such a fluid form of art is unavoidable. Hence, even though they acknowledge Zentangle Inspired Art, they are not happy with the way some people without proper knowledge of the philosophy are conducting workshops and teaching students. They are concerned about those who have learned the method in half-hearted ways – ignoring the underlying belief, focusing only on the art form – and yet proclaim themselves experts. They feel the pretenders are using the opportunities to teach to create a wrongly motivated group of practitioners.

Back home, both Sabnis and Kumar learned the tangling patterns from the Internet, from blogs and videos on YouTube posted by Certified Zentangle Teachers. Patel agrees that that’s how one learns when there’s just about a handful of Certified Zentangle Teachers in the country, and the interest is increasing exponentially. Yet he also notes that once your curiosity is satisfied, and you are truly and deeply absorbed in the pursuit, you should also make the effort to learn it from the right teachers. “Absolutely so,” said Manne. “It makes sense to learn from a certified teacher because if you are doing something, it’s better you do it the right way.”

Both Sabnis and Kumar assert that they have understood Zentangle and its unique method. They are swept away by the fact that one is not supposed to use erasers because there is no error when you tangle. Even that out of the way stroke is an opportunity and you can play around it and create unusual art.

Credit: Manjiri Vivek Sabnis
Credit: Manjiri Vivek Sabnis

To become a certified teacher, one pays a hefty amount and learns it directly from Roberts and Thomas. Hence, anyone who is not sincere and keeps breaking the rules is not easily excused.

“I can take that sort of an investment when I am completely devoted to it, full time,” said Kumar. “I do a lot of random doodles, mandalas, geometric patterns, and Zentangle Inspired Arts in the shapes of animals and humans. I also have customised phone cases of my Zentangle drawings that I use myself and also gift to family and friends. I do tangles on A4 and A3 size papers with micron pens. Currently, I am working with geometrical patterns that make images look three dimensional.” She’s absolutely at peace with what she’s doing after a full time job, to keep herself creatively stimulated.

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.