My Inspiration

There are many people in my life who gave me inspiration, encouragement, support and love while I was on my journey to find confidence in myself to become a Certified Zentangle Teacher and start teaching.

My young friend Hana is someone who has always been special to me, and unknowingly she gave me the extra push that I needed. I met her on her first day into this world, and she has special place in my heart ever since.

About three and half years ago, she was diagnosed with Pilocytic Astrocytoma, a type of slow-growing brain tumor. She underwent surgery, rounds of chemo therapies and of course many tests. She has had more than enough prodding and poking by medical professionals, and now struggles with anxiety.

One day, I was with her family and it was a little stressful situation. I could tell that Hana was trying her best to stay calm. So I decided to pull her aside to a somewhat quiet space and asked her if she wants to learn something I love called Zentangle. She was not really excited about it. I understand that learning something new when you are already feeling stressed seems overwhelming. But she was willing enough to let me start guiding her.

We had a rough beginning because she was already in an agitated state of mind. She was easily frustrated and saying she couldn’t even draw nice shapes that she wanted. I kept reminding her to focus on one stroke at a time and that she doesn’t need to worry about how it will look. As her focus shifted, I could see her shoulders relax and her lines became less shaky. In about 15-20 minutes, she finished her first tile. The sparkle in her eyes was back, and she was very pleased with herself.

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This special moment made a deep impression on me. I was on a fence about getting certified as a CZT at that time, but all my doubts disappeared after this experience.

I haven’t seen Hana for several months but I just found out from her mom that she’s tangling on her own using the tangles she learned and taking them to another level. She doesn’t know that what she is doing is called tanglations, but she figured them out on her own. I can’t wait to show her more tangles and see what she will do with them!

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Hana recently finished 4th grade and still courageously fighting her battle. You can read her story on Hope for Hana.

Meditation through Gardening, Hiking, Yoga and Zentangle

It seems to me that lately a lot of people are aware of the benefits of meditation, and attempting to incorporate the practice into their busy lives.

I respect people who can sit still and meditate, whether emptying their minds, letting their thoughts go by or chanting. I tried various methods, but meditation still eluded me until I started using the word “meditation” more loosely. Then I realized that I do meditate quite often, I just didn’t know!

One spiritual habit that I have built over many years is that I read the Bible and pray everyday (almost). I try to give 100% focus to my time with God every morning. I was approaching meditation with the similar kind of dedication, and I think that’s what kept me personally from successfully practicing meditation.

In the Bible, when Issac met Rachel for the first time, he was in the field meditating. (Genesis 24:63) He “went out to the field to meditate” is the most common translation but there are translations that say he was “walking and meditating” or he was simply “walking”. So, clearly he wasn’t sitting still in his meditation room.

When I go out to my garden to pull weeds, I am meditating. My mind is focused on the task in front of me, but weeding is not rocket science. My brain is completely relaxed and thoughts keeps freely coming and going. I don’t recall ever worrying about my next doctor’s appointment, bills to pay or next work deadline while weeding.

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When I go hiking, I am meditating. My mind is engaged in each step I take, otherwise, I will trip over tree roots or fall off a cliff. Sometimes (especially on difficult hikes) I start to wonder why in the world I decided to go on this hike. No one is forcing me to do this! I just need to focus on putting one foot in front of the other, that’s the only way to reach my destination. Sometimes I meditate on bacon and chocolate that I get to enjoy at the end of the hike.

When I do yoga, I am meditating. I took a one day yoga workshop which was aimed to teach beyond what you can learn in regular yoga classes. For the first hour or so, the instructor taught us about the importance of breathing in yoga practice. I learned the importance of connecting to one’s breath and letting the breath guide us in yoga practice. When my mind is solely focused on breathing while trying to hold a very challenging pose, this is probably the closest I find myself to emptying my mind.

MeditationZentangleWhen I do Zentangle, I am meditating. I’m focusing on each stroke I draw. I don’t need to know ten strokes ahead of me. I don’t need to worry about what I should be doing next. I move from one pen stroke to the next. I don’t have to rely on my artistic ability because I trust in the Zentangle Method®. I know that I may not finish this piece now but I will finish it sometime, and I’m confident that it is going to be beautiful.

Gardening, hiking, yoga and Zentangle, I consider them my happy places. So, it is true that meditation is good for my soul. What is your happy place?

Japanese Patterns

Every spring, I take a 1-2 week trip to Japan, the place where I grew up. I’ve come to appreciate my culture more deeply as I spend more and more time outside of Japan. This makes me wish that I paid more attention while I lived there, but I was too young and busy.

I just came back from my annual trip to Japan. This was the first trip since I started exploring the world of Zentangle, and it helped me to understand some of the reasons why I feel drawn to Zentangle designs.

Simple and beautiful patterns can be found everywhere in Japan. We call them Komon (pronounced like “common”) and it literally means “small patterns”.  They have been used on kimono fabrics and buildings for many centuries. As a traditional Japanese dance instructor, my grandmother often wore kimono and I remember some of them had simple geometric patterns much like we see in Zentangle.

One of the many attributes that foreigners praise about Japan is how we harmoniously mix something traditional with something very modern.

Here’s one example I saw by an escalator going up to the top floor of one of the newest department store buildings in Osaka.

These wooden panels are a modern application of a traditional Japanese architectural method. In order to bring more light into a room, carved wood panels (called “ranma”, shown in the image below) were installed in the upper part of the wall.

These panels are no longer used in modern Japanese houses but they are still available if you are willing to pay a small fortune for it. I happened to meet a 5th generation carpenter who takes custom wooden panel orders. He showed me a picture of huge hand carved panel that he’s been working on for about 10 months. I can’t remember the exact size of his project, but the panel itself is more expensive than my house! I guess if you can afford to buy a house that’s big enough to install it in a single wall in Japan, cost is not an issue…

For me, I settled with a couple of small wooden coasters from him. These are laser printed / cut to keep the price affordable, but nonetheless beautiful. If you are familiar with Zentangle patterns, you’ll see some very familiar designs on them like Crescent Moon and Keeko. But these are all traditional Japanese Komon patterns that have been used in Japan for centuries.

One of the Komon patterns that I saw in many different places throughout this trip is called Asanoha. I saw it on purses, tv show sets, coasters and even on bottled water!

I’m inspired to incorporate these traditional designs into my Zentangle practice.

An Unexpected Turn of Events

Often times what stops us from having unforgettable moments is our fear. I used to be someone who would pick up a backpack and a one-way ticket to countries that I’ve never been for months at a time. I didn’t know anyone. I didn’t speak the language. I wasn’t fearless. I was young.

It was before the time of the internet and cellphone. The travel information I can get on my destinations was limited to guidebooks. I had to figure out as I went. Now with so much information readily available at our fingertips, I can know almost everything about my destinations before I get there, which is nice. Surprises are not always fun, but sometimes that’s when you encounter something memorable.

When I was invited to a Women’s Wellness Weekend at YMCA Camp Seymour, I initially didn’t even consider going. Three days is a heck a lot of days to be spending with people that are not in my immediate circle of friends. (I’m a total introvert, in case you are wondering.) But I knew if I were to be completely honest with myself, it was fear that was stopping me from saying yes. I didn’t want to become someone who is paralyzed by my own fear, so I convinced myself that this was an opportunity for me to get outside of my comfort zone.

There I was, driving almost 2 hours in rainy Friday traffic, and made it to the very end of the dinner time. And no, I did not go to the dance party later that night..

The following morning, I woke up to the sound of rain, which I still love after many days of rain in Seattle. By the way, the sound of the rain was a part of the inspiration for “Pebbles and Drops”. I took a nice morning walk with a friend, shot some arrows, tiptoed up and down in a barre class, and made my own all-natural henna mix, all in one day! I felt pretty good about myself for trying all these new things. Now, it was time to relax.

I started showing one of my friends how to do Zentangle at the dining hall. Then my other friends showed up and decided to join us. While we are tangling away, an instructor who was teaching an earlier art class stopped by and asked me if she could try. Sure, why not? Other campers walked by our table and asked if they could join us too. Sure! I ended up having an  impromptu Zentangle class. I love sharing about Zentangle with my friends even though I can’t officially teach Zentangle until I get my certification. I may go back to the camp next year as one of the official volunteer instructors.

 

As I explained in my old post, Zentangle is something that you have to experience. At the beginning, none of them were entirely sure what they got themselves into. But as we progressed, each of them found their own rhythm and was entirely absorbed in what they were drawing. Even though the finished artwork is just a bonus in Zentangle, look at the beautiful work they did! None of them had any previous Zentangle experience. Thank you Cindy, Kam, Marie, Danitra, Anna, Meagan and Maria for your willingness to let me teach.

 

What did I learn from this unexpected turn of events? When you open yourself to the world, the world opens itself to you.

Zentangle Method and Japanese Tea Ceremony

I gave a brief overview of the Zentangle Method in my previous post and promised that I would explain in more detail later. If you haven’t noticed, I get easily distracted… So let me explain before I forget.

The Zentangle Method:

1. Appreciation / Gratitude

ZentangleMethod1Take a deep breath and be grateful for the opportunity. Also, take time to appreciate the tools in front of you. The Zentangle tiles are a heavy-weight and acid-free paper made out of 100% cotton. The edges and corners are left uneven to remind us that we are not pursuing perfection. The Sakura Pigma Micron Pen is professional grade, acid-free and an archival. Your drawing will not fade or smudge once it’s dry. (I usually put the date, location, occasion, thoughts, etc on the back side of the tile to make it fun to look back at later.)

 

2. Four corner dots 

ZentangleMethod2With a graphite pencil, draw four tiny dots near each corner. There’s not a whole lot to elaborate here… As long as you have four dots somewhere near each corner, you are good to go. Easy enough?

 

 

 

 

3. Border

ZentangleMethod3Connect dots with a graphite pencil to create a border. The line doesn’t have to be straight. It can be wavy, curvy… (wibbly, wobbly, timey wimey as Dr. Who might say). I went for straight-ish lines in my example.

 

 

 

 

4. String 

ZentangleMethod4Just draw a few random lines with a graphite pencil. The lines can cross each other, loop around… however you feel like. Don’t overthink it. Pretend you are 3 years old and go for it! The string will create smaller sections on your tile and free your mind from worrying about composition. I drew a zigzag on mine this time.

 

 

 

5. Tangle

Now it’s time to pick up your black pen and start filling each section with a tangle of your choice. Again, don’t overthink. You can pick a tangle just by rolling a dice. (I’m not joking. The Zentangle Kit comes with a dice.) At this point, you may start freaking out a little. Pen? What if I make mistake? Remember, the goal here is not to create a perfect piece. It is about enjoying the process. There are no mistakes in Zentangle, only opportunities. If you made a “mistake”, it is actually an opportunity to create your own unique style.

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A. I started with a tangle called ‘Crescent Moon’ on the bottom left corner.

B. I drew ‘Crescent Moon’ in slightly different way in another section.

C. I picked ‘Beeline’ for the upper right corner, and filled the last section with ‘Hollibaugh’.

 

6. Shading

ZentangleMethod6There are many beautiful doodle arts and Zentangle inspired arts (ZIA) without any shading. But shading definitely adds depth and drama to your piece, and provides an opportunity to make the piece uniquely yours. You can see the difference it makes in this example.

 

7. Initial / Sign

ZentangleMethod7You are almost done! Now it’s time to put your signature on your art like a pro. For a small piece like the Zentangle tile (3.5 inch square), it’s probably more fitting to just initial than sign your entire name.

 

 

 

 

8. Appreciation

270418ichigoichieWe are so accustomed to go from one thing to the next. Let’s take a moment to appreciate your art, your friends’ art, the uniqueness of each person and their art, and your experience above all.

Let me share a beautiful Japanese expression, “Ichi-go ichi-e (one time, one meeting)”. It means that this gathering never happened in the past and will never happen in the future. You may see the same person in the same context again, but each meeting should be appreciated and treasured as a one time opportunity.

This expression is believed to have been coined by one of the most renowned tea masters of the 16th century. He underwent Zen training and his philosophy of tea ceremony is still studied and carried on today. Japanese tea ceremony is not about making and drinking a delicious cup of tea. The tea that is served at a tea ceremony may actually be too bitter and undrinkable if you are unaccustomed to it. It is about appreciating and enjoying each moment while the tea is ceremonially made and served. It is an art that values the journey itself, just like Zentangle.

 

What is Zentangle?

I like saying “I’m getting certified to teach Zentangle” whenever I get a chance. This  usually solicits a varying degree of confused looks from the other party. I imagine that it is like hearing someone say “I’m getting trained to be a racewalker”. ‘Zen’, ‘tangle’, ‘race’ and ‘walker’, these are very familiar sounding words. You kind of get the general idea from the name itself. You feel like you should know what it is but you are not entirely sure.

Sometimes the conversation just moves along. “Oh, okay. That sounds interesting… I really like my Zumba instructor!” The most typical response that I receive is “Zen…what? What is that?” Then I’m obliged…I mean delighted to explain what Zentangle is.

Here’s the definition according to it’s founders:

The Zentangle Method is an easy-to-learn, relaxing, and fun way to create beautiful images by drawing structured patterns. Almost anyone can use it to create beautiful images. It increases focus and creativity, provides artistic satisfaction along with an increased sense of personal well being. The Zentangle Method is enjoyed all over this world across a wide range of skills, interests and ages.” – Zentangle.com

I usually say something like this. “Well, it’s a super easy artform that anyone can do. You learn and repeat patterns to create a small piece of art. What I like about Zentangle is that the focus is not on the artwork itself, but on the process of creation. It’s really relaxing and it helps you to focus. It has meditation or mindfulness practice aspects and is very therapeutic. You should give it a try.” Then I whip out my iPhone and show some Zentangles from online or in my photo stream.

Thank goodness for technology! A picture is worth a thousand words, right? But recently I’m starting to think maybe showing these images is not as good of an idea as it seems. I just said that the process is more important than the artwork itself, didn’t I? These images, no matter how beautiful they are, do not tell any story on their own. It’s because Zentangle is something you experience, not something you look and admire from afar. The artwork is just a bonus.

If you read my About page, you’ll see that it didn’t really spark my interest until I personally experienced the real Zentangle method. There are 8 steps in the Zentangle method, which I will explain in detail in another blog post, but here’s the overview.

  1. Appreciation / Gratitude
  2. Four corner dots
  3. Border
  4. String
  5. Tangle
  6. Shading
  7. Initial / Sign
  8. Appreciation

Doesn’t it sound fun and relaxing? It’s tempting to look at a beautiful piece online and tell yourself that you can never create something like that. I know, I was there. But don’t you think that we all deserve to experience something beautiful and relaxing in our lives?

By the way, did you know that racewalking is an actual Olympic sport? We tend to focus on the number of gold medals, but just like Zentangle, the Olympic Games are so much more than that.

“The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph, but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered, but to have fought well.” – The Olympic Creed

Zentangle® vs Coloring Books for Adults

You’ve probably seen those coloring books for adults. They seem to be everywhere for the last couple of years or so. When I saw them for the first time in a store, I briefly considered getting one for myself.

I remember getting lost in my coloring books when I was very young. The thought of coloring pencils brings back happy memories…and the taste of them…I was a pencil chewer.

As I flipped through some coloring books in a store, I became less and less excited about the idea. Please don’t get me wrong…they were very beautiful and I really liked some of the designs. But I felt a sense of dread washing over me rather than the joy that I felt as a kid.

Wow, these spaces that I have to color in are so small…I’ll have to keep sharpening my pencils. A set of 12 colored pencils won’t be enough…hmm…how much do I need to spend on pencils? Maybe I’ll use colored pens instead, but they will probably bleed though to the other side of the page. How long will it take me to finish one? Do I really have time to sit down and just color? Is that what I really want to be doing when I have some free time? What will I accomplish by finishing these?

Sometimes I hate my grown-up brain…

I put these coloring books back on the store’s shelf and have never placed one in my hands since.

What is the huge appeal of adult coloring books? They even have coloring apps! (I’m guessing that they are for people who don’t have time to actually color?) We all need something to help us relax. We have a need to get lost in something from time to time. Some people call it being in ‘flow state’, others call it being ‘in the zone’. Complete absorption in what we are doing is different from numbing ourselves (like binge watching Netflix episodes…ahem).

We also have a desire to express ourselves. Zentangle may look similar to adult coloring books, and is in fact similar in the sense that anyone can do it and it is very relaxing, but there’s so much more to it. I learn something new every time I practice. Each piece is my own original artwork, not just filling in spaces of printed pages.

I think this adult coloring book fad will be over soon, once enough people have unfinished copies in their homes. If coloring is your thing, keep on coloring. If you want to take your creativity to the next level, why not try Zentangle?