A Different Sort of Zen

As I looked through the workshop schedule for Sketchbook Revival 2022, I think I rolled my eyes a bit when I came to Melinda Barlow’s demonstration. The subject was “The Art of Zentangle”, and I sighed. Already been there, done that, and, in fact, gotten tired of “tangling”, as it’s called.

I first visited the official Zentangle site one day in November 2018. My husband was at the retinologist’s office, and, as usual, I was doodling in my sketchbook. I’d heard of zentangles before, and since I was having fun just making random doodles, maybe I should learn a little more. At that point I was in love with doodling, you see. Although I’d learned to draw — to a degree — I still wasn’t comfortable with it. It was so much easier to doodle on a page, to make lines and scribbles that — through a process like zentangle — could actually be viewed as a form of artistic expression.

It wasn’t until much later, though — October 2020 — that I really started tangling on a regular basis. I read about zentangles online; I downloaded a book with several zentangle patterns; I spent time each morning getting into the zone by quietly drawing black marks on a small white square. You can see some of those zentangles here: Tangled Up in Zen. And you can find more here: More Tangles.

If you read those posts, you’ll see that I was enjoying the practice. It was a quiet, meditative space in my morning where I could lose myself in mark-making. I didn’t need a purpose. I wasn’t concerned with end result. It was just an enjoyable art practice meant to soothe my soul — which it did, for a while.

I was aware that my zentangles weren’t as authentic as they might be. In other words, I wasn’t following all the rules. I wasn’t creating exquisite works of art like other zentangle artists were doing. My zentangles were mostly single, simple patterns. I did play a bit with colors, but I didn’t like the results.

And then, as I continued learning more — which mostly consisted of seeing and trying new patterns — I found myself not liking zentangles so much. Grid patterns were complicated. Mine looked messy and misshapen. I was still enjoying the process, but soon it began to change. I realized I wasn’t looking forward to my tangling time. Instead of relaxing, I got nervous and apprehensive when I sat down to doodle. What was the point in all of it?

I gathered up the many, many “tiles” i’d created, stacked them on a shelf of the bookcase, and sure, from time to time, it’s interesting to look at them. But despite reading instructions from the official website and downloading pages and pages of patterns to copy, I was still missing something when it came to the art of zentangle. I wasn’t making any of those breath-takingly beautiful tiles I’d seen. I really didn’t know anything about combining patterns. I saw nothing about zentangles beyond the confines of those simple 3-1/2″ white tiles I’d been making.

Zentangles had been fun for a while. Now, I was bored, frustrated, anxious, and totally over it. As far as I was concerned, if I never saw another zentangle, that would be all right with me.

And so, you can probably guess, I wasn’t exactly thrilled at the thought of a Sketchbook Revival workshop on The Art of Zentangle. I actually considered skipping over the class, but I wanted the complete SR 2022 experience.

So, there I was, watching a presentation on zentangle, only this was different. This time, I wasn’t just reading directions or trying to figure out a pattern all on my own. This time I was being taught by a CZT — that’s Certified Zentangle Teacher — and oh, my goodness, what a difference it makes to have someone who knows (1) how to properly do Zentangles, and (2) how to teach others. Melinda Barlow is marvelous!

With her guidance, I created this tangle — so much lovelier than anything I’d made before when I was learning on my own.

She helped me understand how to use “embellishments” along with specific “patterns”, and she showed us how to add colors and shadings. My zentangle wasn’t nearly as beautiful as hers, but it’s certainly much prettier than the boring “designs” I did in the past.

Melinda also showed us how “Zentangle Doodles” can be used to create other forms of art such as journal pages and hand-lettered posters. Her teaching introduced me to a different sort of “Zen” and opened up a wide new world of design possibilities for me.

I won’t go so far to say that I’m now in love with Zentangle, but I am interested in visiting Melinda’s website and watching a few of her weekly videos. I see Zentangles now as a welcome addition to my personal “artist toolbox” — it’s another skill I have, something I can literally draw upon as I create art.

In fact, only a few days after this Sketchbook Revival class, I sat down to do my morning neurographic drawing and… well, once I’d made the initial shapes with a colored pencil, I “saw”  a pot of succulents and flowers, so I went with it, incorporating ideas from Melinda Barlow’s Zentangle workshop.

Neurographic Art – Pot of Succulents. I’m going to go back to this drawing and color in the pot with a rusty red. I think I will like that.

Even though this isn’t a Zentangle, you can see that I was inspired by The Art of Zentangle, and this, more than anything else, is what a good workshop with a good instructor should do. We should come away with a sense of possibility, with an eagerness and excitement to take what we’ve learned and keep on going!

Having a CZT to lead me and guide me took me into a whole new world, so never underestimate the importance of having a trained teacher to show you the way. I can appreciate Zentangles from a new perspective now, and I’m looking forward to using what I’ve learned in many different ways.

Thank you, Melinda Barlow!




    1. Oh, yes. Having a “certified” instructor was so helpful. We can learn a lot on our own, of course, but sometimes we need a little guidance. Melinda Barlow’s zentangle class was awesome!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. i tried zentangling once and hated it. I am not great at sitting down and just relaxing with my art and that sucks..lol.BUT guess what? Recently, as if the universe heard me cry out- i started reading about mandalas. I have also always hated trying to do those because i am not great at balancing opposite sides. Yet, something i read has me intrigued. It was worded differently but it said they are done slowly and with intent, and in this process, it becomes a form of meditation. Meditation is right up my alley, so who knows? i may be trying that sometime!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I haven’t tried mandalas really… just a few little quick “flowery mandalas” I did for Karend Abend’s closing session of Sketchbook Revival this year — you’ll see them soon. They weren’t very good. I know it’s supposed to be relaxing, but whenever I do anything that I could “mess us” — and a mandala definitely fits that category — I get nervous, so that wouldn’t work for me as a meditation. It was the same with the zentangles. I did enjoy it at first, but then I got nervous, anxious, and finally completely burned out! The way Melinda Barlow teaches zentangling would be more relaxing, but for me, the most meditative sort of art is graphite drawing “in plein air”. If I’m sitting outside copying the bark on a tree or patiently drawing a bird… that’s when I can really get lost in art. You might want to try Amy Maricle’s “slow drawing” practices. She does one every week,. Again, I didn’t find it too relaxing, but it might be right for you. I hope to see your mandalas soon, and I’d love to hear your experiences with creating them.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. lol..the key word is “might”..been in a block lately..tried to get out of it with the prompt cards and they worked for a week or two. Just not feelin it lately and lack of good supplies doesnt help. I rely on my art sales to buy supplies and thats been dry for 2 months so,will have to wait..

        Liked by 1 person

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