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20 Minutes to Zen


I sit down with my pen and paper.

I need to organize my thoughts, clear my mind.

I don’t worry about words; I don’t need them.

I need to mark the paper with lines, curves, and orbs.

I need to follow the flow of these repetitive strokes.

I will be in this time and space.


The method of Zentangle is not only a way to draw intricate pieces of art, but a way to quiet the mind, find stillness in a busy day and to connect with yourself.

Putting a pen to a 3.5-inch square of paper is easy when you have a simple method to follow. Zentangle is a step-by-step process of drawing repetitive patterns called Tangles, filling the blank square by just focusing on the next pen stroke. In about 20 minutes, you will have drawn a complex image that you didn’t plan on. You will have shifted your mood, gained focus, and felt refreshed.


Zentangle is a practice, much like playing the piano or shooting hoops. Small amounts of time dedicated to putting pen to paper or learning new combinations of pen strokes will lead you to a set of skills that you can call upon at any time. Carrying around small squares of paper and a good pen will lead to unexpected opportunities to draw, and to slow down and enjoy the moment.


I have been finding the zen in these little squares for over 9 years. They have been created in parking lots, hockey arenas, waiting rooms, airports, and destinations around the world. I enjoy the creative process these squares allow me to tap into at times when it's easy to pick up my phone and lose 20 minutes in scrolling. Having purposefully created in this way gives me a sense of accomplishment and joy.


I have over 1000 squares that I can reflect back on and recall the surroundings, the circumstances or even my thought process as I drew them. Even though I didn’t write words on the page, I have captured a sliver of time that I can contemplate by letting my eyes follow the lines. Not all the squares look good or are perfectly drawn. Those squares I recognize as being the ones I did when I was having a bad day, I wasn’t focused or didn’t allow myself to get into the flow. These less than perfect squares let me see that imperfections are part of the everyday and we deal with them, and we go on. A not so straight line, an orb that’s a bit wobbly…these are not mistakes, these are an expression of the time and space I am drawing in, they are what my brain is translating into my hand to draw. And sometimes in hindsight, the imperfections of these lines add beauty and character that I could not have planned or imagined.


You see, the drawing is done in pen…the process of Zentangle is to mark the paper permanently. We don’t draw with pencil first, we don’t tentatively pencil in the lines to trace with a pen. Like life, there is no dress rehearsal, so we take the pen, we take a deep breath, we appreciate the present, and we begin. We don’t plan the outcome; we go with the flow of the tangles as they lead us across the paper one stroke at a time. We fill the squares with lines, curves, and orbs and soon we have an elaborate drawing that was not planned but that captures a point in time and provides us with a calm respite in our busy day.


Zentangle is a weekly if not daily practice for me. The benefit of creating a stillness in myself and a little piece of art at the same time doesn’t compare to anything else I can do to achieve these two results. The other benefit of Zentangle is that I now notice the world around me in new ways…I look for patterns in just about everything…shadows on the sidewalk, in a shirt hanging in a window or the tablecloth at a restaurant. So even if I can’t put pen to paper here and now, my brain and my eyes can still seek tranquility. I can tangle, with my finger in the air or on my leg and record that in my memory…or truth be told, I pull out the phone and take a picture of that pattern to repeat on paper later!


The practice of ‘tangleing’ is a method, a process, a creative outlet, and a perspective. And in 20 minutes, I can reflect, record the moment, process life, create art and I can do it all without writing a single word.


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