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Zentangle Drawing Technique Creates Masterpieces One Little Line Segment at a Time


A Tallahassee woman is teaching a type of drawing for people who claim they can’t draw. Fans say this artistic expression also promotes a more open and accepting approach to life.

The scene is one of the art studios behind the Tallahassee Senior Center. More than a dozen enthusiastic students are admiring the intricate drawings they’ve created over the past few hours. The drawings are similar, although not identical. They consist of amazingly intricate patterns of interlocking lines, all rendered on square pieces of drawing board called “tiles.” This art form is called “Zentangle.” It was the brainchild of two New England residents, Rick Roberts and Maria Thomas. They developed the concept of Zentangle, the name a combination of “Zen” the ancient Chinese technique of body/mind integration, and “tangle,” which describes the images created. Today, there are about three-thousand certified Zentangle instructors worldwide. In Tallahassee, that instructor is Midori Okasako.

“And so I’ve been here as a regular for almost two years and just recently I had the chance to share Zentangle at the LeMoyne Center for the Visual Arts where I also volunteer,” she said as her students began filing out of the classroom.

Okasako has also conducted a few sessions at the main Leon County Public Library. She stressed the key to Zentangle is to essentially forget everything you may already know about traditional drawing.

“We always see the outcome first and then we judge or ‘ooo’ and ‘aahh’ by the outcome. But Zentangle is all about the process. It’s really about stroking each line with your pen.”

Okasako compared it to the saying, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Zentangle drawings are created one, easy, simple line at a time. The focus is always on producing that one individual line segment.

“For me when I share Zentangle, I always emphasize that it’s about the process. Let go of any judgment. Be kind to yourself. And that’s something that I tell myself when practicing.”

The process, added Okasako, begins with the simplest, most elementary of actions. “It’s all about just holding the pencil, pen or any type of drawing implement. And whether your hand shakes, it doesn’t matter. Everything is going to be consistent.”

One goal of Zentangle art is tapping back into the pure spontaneity and intuition that guided so much of our existence in our earliest years. She saw that happen not long ago when she taught Zentangle to a group of driven, high-powered corporate types.

“Some of them were aspiring to be CEOs who had never, at least recently, held a pen except to maybe sign their name. Or even a pencil. And they told me it was great because it brought them back to their childhood, just the act of holding a pencil. And for them maybe it was just scribbling these patterns, but they really enjoyed it, they said.”

And although Zentangle is not a religion, Okasako insisted it does have its spiritual and philosophical elements.

“It is truly a metaphor for life. Meaning each of the eight steps starting from appreciating, dotting the corners of your tiles, all the way down again to appreciating, is something that you can apply to life.”

All in addition to creating some beautifully complex and intricate drawings that most practitioners never thought they could ever produce.

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Tom Flanigan has been with WFSU News since 2006, focusing on covering local personalities, issues, and organizations. He began his broadcast career more than 30 years before that and covered news for several radio stations in Florida, Texas, and his home state of Maryland.

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