If you are a regular here, you will know that I’m really interested in exploring the relationship between my creativity and my mental health, how they are so intertwined, with all the positives and negatives that that can bring. I feel like I am on a journey to make that relationship into something which has a vastly more positive than negative impact on my life, and this exploration is definitely taking me along some interesting roads, pathways, with all kinds of intertwinings, shortcuts, lengthy detours and a few dead ends too.. Here’s something I’ve discovered that felt like a bit of a dead end, but I am beginning to think is something rather life-enhancing – something that actually helps, and doesn’t feel like an extra activity or responsibility that I’ve got too little time for. Who knew that doodling would hit that spot for me?
But it’s not just doodling, it’s Zentangling – or more accurately, in my case, Zentangle-inspired art. I first discovered Zentangle when I read about it on a Home Education forum where it was recommended as a great technique to introduce to kids who struggle with anxiety. The poster included some images of the work that she and her daughter had created, and I was bowled over, it was just lovely. Intrigued, I started to read up on the art of the Zentangle – a method of creating images using structured patterns – and discovered a whole new world of Zentangle art out there.
So I sent off for some Zentangle supplies (this is a great shop for Zentangle stuff in the UK) and started my doodley journey. And then fell off the wagon almost immediately…
It felt like there were just TOO MANY RULES to follow and I became a bit panicky, feeling as if I might make a mistake as soon as ink hit paper. Not very relaxing at all, and not at all Zen! So I gave it up as a bad job, happy in the knowledge that the kids would make good use of the pens and paper.
But something drew me back to have another go, and by chance I discovered Zentangle-inspired art (which has considerably fewer rules), and jumped back on that wagon straight away. Here’s why I like it so much…
Benefits of Zentangle or Zentangle-inspired Art for Stressy Creatives
- I am drawn to and scared of drawing in equal measure (I haven’t studied art since I was 13 years old, and didn’t have much confidence in my abilities back then either!). Zentangle-style art allows me to make marks on paper in a relaxing, manageable way that feels both safe AND challenging. And I really like my finished images, even though there are definitely mistakes and clumsiness, I enjoy how they look, which gives me a lot more confidence in that scary mark making.
- Learning new Zentangle patterns is so straightforward – there are lots of online tutorials so there’s always another pattern to add to my repertoire. As I add a pattern to my image, I am sometimes inspired by the original pattern, and add a little extra step – this is great for me in terms of practising to take risks (albeit tiny ones!) with my creativity.
- If I make a mistake with a pattern (a line in the wrong place, shading in the wrong block, for example), I can tweak the pattern to hide the mistake. I love that this encourages this flexibility and more open approach to learning and creating.
- As I draw in this relaxed, non-pressured – choose a pattern, draw a pattern where you fancy – style, I begin to see designs and structures that I really like. This gets me thinking about ways I can use the designs that appear in embryonic form on my images, in my sewing, in embroidery, in patchwork blocks and in quilting too.
- My hand/eye coordination is not great, although it’s getting better all the time as my years of sewing increase and my sewing skills increase, but doing this pattern drawing is fantastic because I really need to think about how patterns fit into tight corners, which bits of the pattern need to be chopped off by the next shape. Judging shapes, spaces and distances by eye is such a great transferable skill for sewing.
- In itself, I find drawing these repetitive patterns relaxing and soothing because there’s no pressure. It’s a focused activity, so my mind quietens for a while, and although there are decisions to make, they aren’t a big deal, especially as you know that sometimes a mistake can turn into something inspirational.
- This style of drawing also allows me to practice relaxing in a conscious way. Like anxious people everywhere, I hold so much tension in my body… clenched jaw, tight chest, clenched fist, furrowed brow. And if I am concentrating on something creative, it can really get out of hand, until I’m hunched over my sewing machine or crochet hook, fabric or yarn gripped with sweaty palms! When I’m working on one of these little drawings, I am making a conscious decision to stop for a minute when I get to the end of each pattern. I try to ground myself back in my body – stop gripping the pen, relax my shoulders, breathe, relax my jaw, trying to let all that tension go. This is something I can carry over into sewing and crochet, and into the rest of my life too. Learning to relax with breath and becoming mindful of your body is a skill that needs practice, and I really like the way that this purposeful doodling is allowing me to practice and be creative at the same time.
Are you a sewer, knitter or crocheter who loves to draw? I’d love to hear about your experiences of how the different activities can enrich each other. Or are you like me, and terrified of pens and paper? Tell me what put you off (maybe we had the same art teacher😉 ) – what would it take to get you back using pencils and paper again? Really looking forward to reading your thoughts.