, Newburyport, MA

January 30, 2014

Untangling Zentangle

Salisbury instructor teaches a relaxing form of art


---- — For those for whom doodling has always been an unconscious habit, Zentangle may be the perfect conscious art form.

“I work part time at Jabberwocky bookstore, and we had a couple of books on Zentangle in the art section,” said Salisbury resident and Methuen special needs teacher Robert Connolly. “I thought it looked interesting. I thought it might be something I could do. This is my first art experience, and it’s right here in Salisbury.”

Zentangle is an easy-to-learn, fun and relaxing way to create beautiful images by drawing structured patterns, according to Salisbury artist and certified Zentangle teacher Donna Scott.

“Zentangle is an art form and a practice similar to yoga,” she said. “It provides the opportunity to slow down, focus on the ink flowing down from the pen, and it gives your mind a place to relax. The mind-chatter watches the pen as doors to new ideas are given the chance to open. As this process takes over and patterns begin to appear on your drawing, the results are surprising and just beautiful.”

Begun in the hamlet of Whitinsville in central Massachusetts by well-known calligrapher Maria Thomas and former Zen Buddhist monk Rick Roberts, Zentangle was born from the meditative state that Thomas experiences when she illustrates text.

“He was the Zen, and she was the tangle,” Scott said. “There are no erasers in Zentangle because there are no erasers in life.”

A trained artist, Scott fell across Zentangle online and grew fascinated.

“I realized it was like the pen and ink drawings I did when I had my own small business when I lived in western Massachusetts,” she said. “That was years ago before computers came on the scene and everything was drawn by hand.”

Now living in Salisbury after 12 years in Newburyport, Scott and her husband, artist Bill Duke, have set up a teaching studio beside their home. He teaches burgeoning artists to paint with watercolors, and she handles the Zentangle lessons.

“We think of this as the Art Studio Classroom of Salisbury,” Scott said of her 134 Beach Road location.

But, it’s not just the artistic format of Zentangle — a registered trademark — that enthralls Scott. It’s the meditative aspect that she finds so beneficial. That the results are so beautiful is a plus.

“I could never meditate because my mind’s so busy,” Scott said. “But, if you can’t sit on a pillow and meditate, you can hold a pen, and that’s where Zentangle comes in.”

During the class, lighting is gentle and the music is soothing as Scott stands at an easel quietly explaining the technique, while students follow her lead. The patterns drawn aren’t difficult, but as the design progresses, smiles appear on faces as confidence grows and students realize, “Wow, I can do this.”

Designs are made on small 31/2-inch squares of high-quality paper with smooth, flowing felt-tip pens. In classes, Scott provides high-quality materials that promote the best results. She sells supplies, as well.

“It reminds me so much of doodling I’ve done in classes,” said Lisette Kaplowitz, a Newburyport resident who decided to take a lesson after seeing Zentangle drawings during her watercolor classes with Duke. “I’ve been looking at these pictures on the wall for weeks. They’re just beautiful.”

During class, students learn the various structured patterns, called “tangles,” and play with combinations, shapes and shading, Scott said.

“There is no need to worry about making mistakes,” she said, “because what we may initially see as a mistake is our personal new tangle.”

The first class provides an introduction to the Zentangle Method, which is mindfulness and the creation of beautiful patterns on fine white paper tiles, Scott said. In subsequent classes, students experiment with black paper and white ink, shading with white charcoal pencils and soapstone sticks called Zenstones.

Each class level introduces new “tangles,” increasing in complexity.

“The magic happens when shading makes your designs pop into 3-D,” Scott said. “It isn’t difficult. I’ll show you how. And you’ll be surprised at the results. Even those who think they cannot draw are astonished at how beautiful their creations become.”


What: Zentangle classes with Donna Scott

When: Tuesdays from 6 to 8 p.m. and Sundays from 2 to 4 p.m.

Where: 134 Beach Road, Salisbury

How much: $35 per two-hour class; all materials are included

More information: 978-499-9280

The 11 steps of Zentangle

1. Relax

2. Breathe

3. Admire the paper and tools

4. Appreciate the opportunity

5. Draw the border

6. Draw the string within it

7. With the pen, draw the tangles

8. With the pencil, shade in the tangles

9. With the pen, initial the front, sign, date and comment on the back

10. Reflect and appreciate

11. Admire close-up and at arm’s length

— Beckah Krahula, certified Zentangle teacher