Art for Every Occasion

I am embarking on closing a personal chapter in my life. Endings can bring up many strong emotions, including conflicting feelings that can be both positive and negative. For the closing of this chapter, I wanted to celebrate the positive.

Naturally, I created a Zendala to commemorate the ending of this chapter in my life. Creating Zentangle is somewhat ceremonial in itself. There is a ritual in starting with the dots, then adding a border and then the string. Beginning with this ritual sets one up for what’s to come, like tying your shoes before setting out on a journey. The repetition of strokes in creating each pattern is a rhythmic experience that mimics the songs and dances which are frequently part of celebratory occasions. Having a piece of art in the end gives me something to look back upon to remember this chapter in my life. By focusing on the positive feelings while creating it, I can also focus on the positive memories when I think back to this ending in the future.

We don’t always need an occasion to create art, but why not make art for every occasion?

Zendala by Chelsea Kennedy CZT

Teaching Youth

I recently had the pleasure of teaching a Zentangle workshop offered to middle and high school students at a local library. Normally my workshops are with adults, it was a lot of fun to teach to a different audience. During the workshop, I began thinking about my relationship with art at that age, remembering how much I loved to draw and being given praise for my artistic efforts. It also helped me to remember that  many middle school kids probably didn’t have the same experience.

When I teach adults a common theme is that people have not made any kind of art in years or they stopped drawing back in elementary or middle school. Usually people mention that someone (typically an adult) told them they weren’t “good” at drawing, creating a feeling of failure and causing the person to stop trying to draw completely. I’ve heard similar stories from multiple people. It makes me sad to think this is such a common experience.

I believe all humans are born with an innate creativity and a need for expressing that creativity in some form. I think that’s one of the ways we are unique as humans. But it also seems that our culture and educational systems have stifled creativity and perhaps even discouraged people to express it.

One of my favorite books, The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds is a wonderful story that addresses the feeling of failure in art making. What makes this story special is that the student is instead encouraged by an adult and it has a heartwarming ending. I hope to give my students a similar nudge of encouragement with Zentangle so their creativity will continue to flourish.

No matter your age or what anyone has told you in your lifetime, if you can hold a pen and follow a few simple steps, you can make Zentangle. The Zentangle method can reignite the spark of creativity that may have been snuffed out long ago. Or, as in the case of my middle and high school students, Zentangle can be a beautiful art form that encourages creativity and expression.

Below are a few pictures of the beautiful art that my students created, along with a picture of Isabelle intently focused on her drawing!

To Doodle or Not To Doodle

Zentangle by Chelsea Kennedy CZT Zentangle by Chelsea Kennedy CZT Zentangle by Chelsea Kennedy CZTThe word “doodle” is thrown around frequently when people are first introduced to Zentangle. To those who don’t yet understand the Zentangle method or have never learned it from a Certified Zentangle Teacher, I can see how the two may look similar as far as the outcome. Many doodles are beautiful images that resemble the imagery created in Zentangle.

The term “doodle” can have a negative connotation for some folks in the Zentangle community. Mainly because the terms “Zentangle” and “doodle” can get mixed up in common language as if they are the same thing. Some people see the Zentangle outcome and think, “I have been doing this as long as I can remember – it’s nothing special, it’s just doodling!” Without fully understanding the difference between the two, interchanging these terms is what becomes offensive to those of us who are dedicated to Zentangle.

But I’d like to add my perspective to clarify: “Doodling” is something you do with your hands while your mind is busy elsewhere – maybe you’re in class, in a meeting or on the phone, and you are aimlessly drawing in the margins while listening. There have been studies showing doodling can be helpful for people to listen more effectively. “Tangling” on the other hand, is a structured step-by-step art form that requires focused attention in the moment to make deliberate marks as an act of mindfulness. The process is very different. Below is a picture of a doodle I made while in a meeting. This illustrates the difference between Zentangle and a doodle.

One Stroke at a Time

The founders of Zentangle say, “Anything is possible, one stroke at a time.” In Zentangle this means if we just focus on the mark being made at the moment. Out of this a drawing emerges, which is especially exciting for those who have the belief they cannot draw. Which leads one to wonder, if you thought you couldn’t draw, but did so by doing it one stroke at a time, what else do you think you cannot do? Zentangle offers so many wonderful metaphors for life, this is a really empowering one!

I created a stop-motion video of the making of my Zentangle tile to demonstrate how the Zentangle method is created one stroke at a time. Take a look to see how it emerges and if you can, check out other Zentangle videos on Youtube.



Rhythm & Repetition

Zendala by Chelsea Kennedy CZT Zendala by Chelsea Kennedy CZTZendala by Chelsea Kennedy CZT

Zentangle comes so naturally to many people, in part due to the rhythmic nature of the process. We are already familiar and comfortable with so many rhythmic processes. They are within and all around us; our breathing, our heartbeat, even walking. Our world is also an abundance of rhythmic processes; the daily rise of daylight and setting of darkness, the highs and lows of the ocean’s tide, and the cycles of the moon. Repetitive movement is natural and thus comes naturally to most people.

In my own Zentangle practice, I find the rhythmic nature of drawing patterns to be part of what makes it so relaxing. Like sitting in a rocking chair or listening to waves push and recede, the rhythm is relaxing. The repetition is always soothing, lulling me into relaxation. There is predictability in the patterns of life as well as the patterns in Zentangle. This predictability gives the artist confidence to draw the next stroke.

I have found Zendalas to be especially rhythmic to create. not only because I am drawing patterns, I am drawing the same patterns again and again to fill each segment. A Zendala may have four, five, six, eight or more segments. I generally make my Zendalas symmetrical, so I am repeating each stroke several times, one in each segment. Sometimes I will complete a whole tangle in a segment then go on to the next segment to repeat the same tangle in the same place. Other times I draw each stroke segment by segment, rotating the tile to the next segment as I go.

That is especially rhythmic – pen stroke, turn the tile, stroke, turn, stroke, turn. It even sounds rhythmic as it’s being done!

Most people would agree that the rhythm of waves is relaxing – the sound, the movement. Creating Zentangle in a Zendala format can be just as relaxing and centering.

No Right or Wrong

I am frequently telling students, “there is no right or wrong in Zentangle.” And I truly believe in that. But I came across my own frustration of a Zentangle coming out “wrong”. I was working on a Zendala, using Tombow dual tip makers and a wet paintbrush, when it went awry.

Zendala by Chelsea Kennedy CZT

In an attempt to be more mindful in my process, I stopped in my tracks to notice what was happening within me. This felt like failure, I thought about how embarrassed I would feel to put a photo of my Zendala on my blog (and on the world wide web). I felt desperate, I wanted to tear it into pieces, certainly this was not my finest moment. The perfectionist inside was taking over!

Continuing to be mindful of my feelings without reacting to them, I also realized I still had hope for my Zendala. I was thinking I could keep going with it and “fix” it. I didn’t want to give up, thinking maybe if I just keep working, it could get better. Maybe I could use this stumble in the process as a challenge for myself to solve. But it seemed to only get worse the more I tried. I overworked it. The paper was getting worn.

I was reminded of a hard lesson: know when to walk away. This is a great metaphor for other areas of life. Sometimes we have to just walk away even if we still have hope deep down. Continuing to poke and prod can just make it worse. This has been a great (but difficult) experience for me. I had to just accept the outcome and let go of the feelings I have attached to it. This also meant letting go of any attachment I had to the piece of art.

In an attempt at mindfulness, I took notice of my feelings and gut reactions but instead of acting on them, I have chosen to let them go – along with the piece of art. I am doing nothing, just letting it be.

Solutions to Problems

Creating Zentangle has recently begun to feel a bit humdrum. To reinvigorate my Zentangle practice I tried adding some excitement by daring myself to incorporate new challenges. Without challenges I cannot grow.

I made a conscious shift to break my Zentangle routine in several recent tiles. I tried adding another medium, acrylic paint. Although I have done some mixed media Zentangle art in the past, I found acrylic paint to be the most challenging because it feels less forgiving (as compared to watercolor paint and Tombow markers). Although it may not seem like much of a risk to use a medium I am already familiar with, limiting my ability to be free and play on a blank tile is quite a challenge for me.  Adding other media is a way for me to create “problems” that force me to find new solutions.

Zentangle offers a safe space to take risks and break the mold. There is no need to be constrained by the traditional pen and pencil. Your imagination is your only limitation. Add color, paint, glitter, image transfers, add whatever speaks to you. You can be vulnerable and courageous with your additions, the safety in the method of Zentangle will hold it all together.

Zentangle by Chelsea Kennedy CZT

The acrylic paint was added to this tile with the help of a mask, creating the honeycomb pattern down the center. I used Tombow markers to add more color and depth.


Zentangle by Chelsea Kennedy CZT

I used the bottom of a paper cup to apply large rings of acrylic paint here. I also used a metallic copper Gelly Roll pen in addition to the white gel pen.

Zentangle by Chelsea Kennedy CZT

The dots of paint along the right side of the tile were created with a stencil. The background is a wash of watercolor paint. I used two green Micron pens to tangle it.



An Authentic Conversation in Class

During a class over the weekend, another great discussion spontaneously blossomed. Authentic group discussion is a great example of why attending a Zentangle class alongside other Artists is such an enriching experience (even for the teacher!).

The conversation was around what insights people became aware of while creating their Zentangle tiles. Not “liking” the outcome came up for one Artist. This led to a discussion about how our culture often dictates what we should or should not be, instead of our sense of self being completely authentic. When creating something we often look for approval that it fits the way it should look, we instead need to learn to accept what we created as a piece of ourselves, without judgment.

For many artists, creating something appealing is equated to self-worth. Often times, one’s confidence sky-rockets with artistic success but that confidence is linked to the ego, not an authentic sense of self. Letting go of judgment (positive or negative) brings us closer to the inner peace.

“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.” -Albert Einstein

One student offered an amazing suggestion that she has been trying in her own Zentangle practice. When she notices feelings or thoughts arise while drawing, she writes the feeling on the back of her tile, then moves on.  She regularly uses Zentangle in her daily meditation practice.

Our discussion shed light on how Zentangle can increase awareness of one’s self. The “flow” of Zentangle is an opportunity to get to know yourself more deeply. Slowing down to focus on the process frees up the mind to let feelings and thoughts wander in and out. Noticing what comes up for you while making art is an important lesson in being true to yourself.

Here is an image of everyone’s tiles together in a mosaic.

Zentangle class with Chelsea Kennedy CZT

How Does It Look?

Zentangle by Chelsea Kennedy CZT IMG_2342 IMG_2343 IMG_2344

Although the goal for creating Zentangle can vary from artist to artist, the founders of Zentangle intended the method to be art form that is also a meditative practice and approach to mindfulness. Zentangle is certainly a way to create beautiful images, but it’s more about the process.

Personally, it is nice to have created something I am proud of and often value the end result. Of course it feels good to hear, “wow, that looks beautiful!” when someone else sees what I made. I get excited to show my husband what I made, often finishing a tile and showing it to my husband, saying, “what do ya’ think?” secretly hoping he will be as excited about the outcome as I am.

Recently I’ve been thinking about my desire for approval of the end result. I think it’s human nature to crave approval and validation but if the outcome is not the point of creating a Zentangle, then why do I desire approval of the outcome? Maybe this is a personal question I need to explore more deeply – something to save for therapy.

The word itself implies having to prove something. apPROVE-al. What do I have to prove if the outcome isn’t the purpose? Proving worth, proving I am an artist, proving that I made something? Why do I get caught up in the outcome if the purpose of the practice is not about the outcome? Why do I let the value of the outcome outweigh the value of the experience of creating it?

All art requires a process and a journey to get to an end result. But focusing on the result often gets in the way of letting the journey be the reward.

Smith Center Workshop

This past weekend I had a special opportunity to teach a Zentangle class at the Smith Center for Healing and the Arts in Washington DC. They are a non-profit organization that develops and promotes healing practices that explore physical, emotional, and mental resources that lead to life-affirming changes for people affected by cancer.Working with the Smith Center has become a personally meaningful experience for me. Along with being able to help others use Zentangle in their healing, teaching Zentangle has helped me through my own journey and provided its own therapeutic benefits.

I was joined by nine wonderfully creative and thoughtful artists. Here is an image of the tiles they created, all in one big mosaic. The second image is of my teaching materials at the end of class.

mosaic from Smith Center workshop teaching at Smith Center workshop

As a whole, the group seemed to quickly understand the benefits that Zentangle can bring to different people in different ways. Below are a few of the discussions and comments that stood out to me during the class.

– The process of creating Zentangle was described as quieting the constant chatter of the mind. Zentangle often fosters a quiet moment to not only slow down the chatter of the mind, but also allows one to sort through the chatter.

– The process was described as a way to pause a busy life and just be present in the moment as a mindfulness exercise. One woman stated she had already begun incorporating Zentangle into her daily meditation practice!

– Creating Zentangle helped one woman to notice she was comparing her work to another’s and then realized it’s not necessary to be comparing herself to someone else. This applies not only in creating Zentangle, but also in life, which is a topic I often touch on.

– One woman stated she had never really doodled in her life, but found the structured approach of Zentangle to be freeing, much like she imagined doodling would be.

– We discussed the inner critic that often arises for artists (and most people), and how creating Zentangle squashes that negative thought process.

It is my hope that those who attended the class are able to take Zentangle with them and continue this meditative practice when they want to slow down and tap into their inner artist.