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Saturday, 18 June 2016

Untangling My Zen

Waxcloth folder with zen-t inspired doodles by eSheep Designs
Of course I had to make myself a new waxcloth folder
to hold my collection of zen-t inspired doodles...
Have you heard of zentangle®?

I first encountered the term while flipping through our local continuing education class calendar. It showed an example of the art and I was intrigued.

After looking it up online, I was surprised to discover that it must be taught by certified teachers and follows an actual methodology.

Erk! Rules¹? Certification??

Art with rules is not my particular thing (and was part of what drove me out of art school years ago) but that doesn't mean I can't borrow what I like from it.

Abstract, black and white patterns have always appealed to me (evidenced by the fabric used on this early test bag) so that aspect of this art form was immediately captivating. The part about using a little square piece of paper, drawing a border, then adding some sort of squiggle... what? My initial assessment was, it's no wonder artists have turned to something called "zentangle inspired art" to break out of those elemental boundaries.

Me, I immediately wanted to see the idea transformed into some fabric.

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¹Some background. First, the term zentangle is a registered trademark and its very use seems to come with a whole bunch of legal stipulations, so from here on, I will just use the diminutive — and non registered — zen-t when describing my efforts, so as not to step on any official toes. The basic rules of zen-t aren't onerous or stifling and I understand the reasoning behind them. By just skimming the surface of the subject, however, it's soon very apparent that there's a huge money making machine behind this, involving many people (my guess is that 99.9% are women) becoming CZTs and sharing testimonials about it being so life-changing that their stories could induce you to drink kool-aid. I get extremely uncomfortable when something is presented to me as a multi-purpose cure-all for life's difficulties. On the other hand, I've always said that in dire personal circumstances, "rely on whatever works for you". Still, the reverence shown for a method of focused doodling that is neither new nor original — although admittedly fascinating and potentially relaxing for the artist — is unsettling.

My first attempt at zen-t inspired art is this:

zen-t inspired art by eSheep Designs
I really must stop drawing on any old paper that comes my way...!

It was truly my own first take on the process; I had not done any explorations of "official" patterns and such, so it's mostly lines, dots and swirls.

Unfortunately, I have a bad habit of taking whatever paper is before me and drawing on it, not expecting that it will be something that I want to keep. Case in point: there is a framed drawing — from my university years — hanging on a wall in my sewing room that was done on the back of an exam booklet.

It was tax season and I was in the middle of setting up an account for direct deposits with Revenue Canada when I realized I could do it online and therefore didn't need the paper form. Hence, later that afternoon, I began to doodle on said form.

And you know, before I could tell myself, hey this is actually going pretty good, maybe I should stop and continue on a real sheet of paper, I had essentially filled up the entire page.

What do you know? Maybe the process really is "zen inducing"!

However, now I was left with the problem of getting the design into my computer without all of the text behind it. For some reason, my scanner enabled me to set the brightness and contrast to the point where the text virtually disappeared...

zen-t inspired art by eSheep Designs
This seemed somewhat decent but I couldn't get it to scan that way...

... but then it didn't scan that way. (It was always the same no matter what adjustments I made.) It was quite maddening. According to the Help file, those adjustments should have made their way to the scanned output.

Without an easy alternative, I used the Snipping Tool to grab a screen shot of the cleaned up image. The problem with that solution, however, is that the image is extremely small.

But I wanted to try it out, since the vast majority of my past fabric designs have all involved fairly large scale patterns.

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Using the technique that I previously described for my paisley fabric project, I proceeded to create a seamless tile with this pattern. After splitting it apart, I filled in the middle with some copied components from the original design and then added some vertical lines in the background.

zen-t inspired art by eSheep Designs
The three layers of my final design... hey, that looks like a nifty flag, doesn't it??

When the layers are combined, the whole thing turns into an image which — when uploaded to Spoonflower — results in this 8" x 8" swatch...

Untangle my Zen (Micro) fabric by eSheep Designs
My first small scale print fabric... Untangle my Zen (Micro)

What do you think? I like how the final pattern seems to have depth and dimension to it, which wasn't planned. (And "not planning" is one of the main tenets of zen-t.)

After doing this, I went back to the original scanned image with the text. Selecting just the black elements allowed me to copy off most of the design, so eventually, I was able to create a larger scale pattern with this image. (Believe me, it took a long time to clean up, but maybe I've finally learned not to draw on any old scrap of paper any more...!)

Here it is in fat quarter size...

Untangle my Zen (Multiples) fabric by eSheep Designs
A significantly larger pattern... this one is called Untangle my Zen (Multiples)

I love how the process of surface design has been one of continuous learning for me. Having mastered how to create a seamless repeating pattern, it didn't occur to me until after a few experimentations that — for best results — I should break away from the "one big element in the middle of the page" scenario.

For example, in the Micro version, it's fairly easy to identify the approximate boundaries of the repeating pattern (even though it can't be "boxed"). In the Multiples version, it's a bit more difficult to discern where the repeat is, don't you think? That's because I did this...

Untangle my Zen fabric design by eSheep Designs
Multiples design deconstructed...

The base design was laid out three times: in the original orientation, after being mirrored and after a 90 degree rotation.

Then I copied various elements, rotated them and placed them in and around the resulting white space. That final pattern is what I then took and "quartered" to begin the process of a seamless repeat. (Then I did the same as for the Micro version; i.e., added elements into the middle space and put vertical lines in the background.)

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Even if you've never heard of the term, you've probably seen examples of zen-t inspired art. Pieces featuring an outline of an animal or an object filled with intricate designs are quite common.

Like this one of a messenger bag!

original zen-t inspired art by eSheep Designs
What better zen than conjuring a purse...?

Or this handbag!

original zen-t inspired art by eSheep Designs
Conjuring two purses??

(And to answer your question, no, I didn't progress straight from my first attempt to these...LOL. This stuff happened after completing about a dozen or so smaller drawings.)

The last image resulted in this (colourized) Spoonflower swatch:

Not Enough Purses (Green) fabric by eSheep Designs
My Not Enough Purses fabric design...

Overall, this first foray into the world of zen-t can be deemed a success, for more than just the resulting fabric designs.

original zen-t doodle by eSheep Designs
My first "real one", set within the confines
of a 3.5" x 3.5" square and started with a "string"...
Y'see, a little over a year ago, I hopped on board the adult colouring craze and have been working my way through a black "velvet" calendar that I purchased for a measly three dollars (it even came with a set of markers). It's about half completed. The problem is, not much else out there for colouring pages/books appeals to me... seldom with respect to content and most often not with the outrageous price points.

What does appeal to me, are the results of my zen-t doodling.

zen-t doodles by eSheep Designs
Adding colour to my zen-t doodles...
I cast aside my artistic rebellion and actually followed the methodology to create my first official zen-t, shown above. And regardless of my comments about the cultish marketing of this "old as the hills" art form, I wasn't being flippant when I said that the process really was "zen inducing". I have since completed many more (as you can see here) and can attest to the fact that while doing them, all I was thinking about was where to put my next stroke. It's mildly addictive. But now the unexpected bonus part is that — particularly since I'm more fond of creating bigger drawings using outlines — I can make my own colouring pages.


eSheep Zen by eSheep Designs


  1. Oh Rochelle I love your Zen-Doodles (tangles or whatever). I have done some directly onto fabric myself and loved it. So fun a relaxing. I used to doodle like this as a child. Then someone coined the term Zentangle and I agree with what you said about the certification and classes , etc. Geesh it's just doodling (rules followed or not)! I don't want to follow rules when creating. Creating in itself means there are no hard and fast rules. Doodling is just fun and a stress release too.

  2. I first heard of zentangles over on Daryl's blog. I love the look of them, would love to colour them in, but I doubt I would ever have the patience to create one. Your black and white Spoonflower zen-t fabrics look fabulous!


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