We have a love/hate relationship with rules. Like schedules, we grate against them, but if we don’t have them we end up feeling aimless, and we craft them ourselves.
I think Zentangle is a lot like that. The idea of a blank page is daunting, whether you are writing a letter or creating a piece of art. So a lot of us avoid that feeling of staring at a blank page by thinking “I wouldn’t know what to draw anyway.” Where’s the fun in that?
One of the reasons I was drawn to Zentangle is that there are just enough ‘rules’ to overcome the barrier of the blank page, but not enough to be too restrictive.
The beauty of drawing border and string in pencil is a reminder of that. We use a pencil to remind ourselves that these lines are just guidelines to get us started. If we don’t like them, we can ignore them, but at least we know where to begin. Like setting your own schedule, you can make plans with a minimum of effort, and because it’s your own schedule, you can always deviate when you want.
Drawing the patterns in ink may fly in the fact of that message, but I think it is just another version of the same thing. If my pen loops in instead of out it might cause a moment of ‘uh-oh’ but it’s often more about deviating from the self-imposed schedule rather than breaking a rule. Who says you had to draw that pattern anyway? Who says it has to be drawn in that particular way?
And so it is with most Zentangle ‘rules’. They are there to provide comfort and security, but that doesn’t mean they have to be followed to the letter. When we do the class mosaic it always reminds us that even when each of us draws the same pattern we put our own spin on it anyway, so why worry about what’s right and wrong?
One of the discussions that goes the rounds in tangling communities is about what is Zentangle and what is Zentangle Inspired Art (ZIA). If I add colour to my tangles, for example, is that Zentangle or ZIA? What about black tiles? What are the rules?
My rule of thumb is simple. How do you feel while you’re drawing it? If what you are doing is putting you in a mindful, relaxed state, then it’s achieving what we set out to do with the Zentangle Method. If you have a set image in mind, or you are looking forward to making decisions on colour, composition or texture, then you’re setting out to achieve a specific goal, so it’s ZIA. No planned outcome = Zentangle. Representational art =ZIA. And both are perfectly fine!
What about other art and Zentangle rules? ‘Tangle every day’, ‘don’t use an eraser’, ‘don’t throw anything away,’ ‘don’t use a ruler’, ‘look for the light source,’ ‘shade your work,’ don’t use colour.’ They are just guidelines; helpful if you want them, ignore them if they are getting in your way. It’s just that simple.
So when I go out into the art world, I try to keep this in mind. There is a whole realm of things to learn to make you a better artist, and I can pick and choose the things I want to learn whenever I want to. I’m currently taking a series of introductory classes in different art mediums. Some I like, some don’t really speak to me. And that’s okay, it’s all information to tuck away. At home, I have the luxury of experimenting or simply tangling when I sit down to create something. As long as I’m clear in my mind why I’m drawing – do I want to do “Zentangle” or “ZIA” or ‘just create” – then I can enjoy the process whatever it may be. I get to make my own rules in art, ones that work for me, and ones that I can change as I move towards my creative goals.
Metaphor for life? Hmmmm…