Small strokes, limitless results
By Valerie Franchi, Contributing Writer
Region – Zentangle is an easy-to-learn, relaxing, and fun way to create beautiful images by drawing structured patterns. The creators of this art form, Rick Roberts and Maria Thomas, recently held a workshop organized by the Westborough Library at the Mill Pond School.
During the event, the pair demonstrated and spoke about the art form that has made them internationally known.
It was almost exactly a decade ago when the idea for Zentangle began to take shape. Both Roberts and Thomas grew up in Whitinsville and attended Northbridge High School, although they didn’t know each other.
“I knew of him,” Thomas said. “He was the brain of the school and I was the artist.”
Each had their own business in town – Roberts made wooden flutes and Thomas ran a stationery design company – when they reconnected.
One day, Thomas described what she experienced as she drew background patterns on a manuscript she was creating -
feelings of timelessness, freedom, well-being and complete focus on what she was doing with no thought or worry about anything else.
“You’re describing meditation,” Roberts told her.
With the hope of creating a system to spread this experience to others, the couple took a weekend trip to brainstorm. After two days of conversations and note-taking, “the idea presented itself to us,” she said.
They came up with the basic principles and mechanics that have not changed since those first days.
The name is a combination of “Zen,” a school of thought emphasizing the benefits of meditation and intuition, and “tangle,” used to describe the pattern used in creating a Zentangle piece.
“We wanted something that had not been used before,” said Thomas. “And something that is easy to spell and say.
Two of Zentangle’s main principles are the use of deliberate strokes and acceptance of an unknown outcome. Zentangle art is always abstract and erasing is not allowed.
“There is no erasing in life,” Roberts said. “All you need to know is the next stroke. Zentangle is not planned – it is the only type of art that has that as a principle.”
Roberts is careful to differentiate Zentangle from what he calls “the d-word.”
“Doodling has a dismissive connotation,” explained Thomas. “It’s usually proceeded by ‘just.’”
They compared it to the difference between sitting on the floor cross-legged and doing a yoga pose. The latter is very intentional and deliberate.
While there is no scientific evidence yet, the couple says they have received countless tales of people who have used Zentangle for therapeutic benefits – to help relieve stress, sleep better, lose weight, rejuvenate creativity, and ease pain. Several universities are in the process of conducting studies to prove its positive effects.
“At the very least, it’s fun and it has no adverse side effects,” Thomas said.
It also makes art more accessible since it can be done by all ages and skill levels, it is portable, it can be done in as little as 15 minutes, and it requires only basic tools – a writing instrument and something to write on.
“We joke that you can do it at low tide with a stick,” Roberts remarked.
The Zentangle community is growing around the world, with blogs, newsletters, and group classes.
“It’s like taking a yoga class or being in a book club,” Roberts said. “You can do those activities alone, but many prefer to share the experience with others.”
Roberts stressed the fact that they have done no advertising for Zentangle, and that the art has spread simply through word of mouth and people sharing the technique with others. There are dozens of books, videos, and hundreds of online resources dedicated to teaching and the art. It is being taught in some schools and has been well-received by the National Art Education Association.
The pair recently published their own book, “The Book of Zentangle,” and write an informational blog depicting new styles, instructions, and inspirations for Zentangle. A kit, including special cotton paper tiles and an instructional DVD, is also available on the Zentangle website.
Roberts and Thomas are now focusing on training Zentangle teachers. This fall they have scheduled three sold-out seminars in Providence, R.I. They expect to have close to 1,000 teachers in the U.S. and 18 countries worldwide by the end of the year.
Locally, there are teachers in Marlborough, Northborough, Hudson, and Grafton, as well as at the Art & Frame Emporium in Westborough.
For more information and a complete list of teachers, visit www.zentangle.com.
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