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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