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.

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.

ZentangleMethod5

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

Zen…what?

That’s what I said when I first heard about Zentangle from my friend.

Being born and raised in Japan, I’m intimately familiar with the term “zen”. Zen is a Japanese school of Mahayana Buddhism. The imagery that pops into my head when I hear the word is that of monks in black kimono meditating in a tranquil temple. I had visited several zen temples and gardens in Kyoto, which was considered the capital of Japan for more than 1,000 years until it was moved to Tokyo in 1869. These are places that have been there for centuries, yet it may appear ultra-modern to Western eyes. Everything that needs to be there is there, but nothing more. A place of peace and tranquility.

I thought the word “zen” and “tangle” should not be uttered in the same sentence, (which I just did…) much less in a single word. Some things are not meant to be together, like Canadian bacon and pineapple on a pizza. But that’s where the magic of Zentangle lies. In the Zentangle method, we use patterns (a.k.a. tangles) to create a moment of zen in our busy lives.

We value the process of creating a beautiful piece of art as much as the art itself. Some people call Zentangle “yoga for your brain”, which I’m still deciding whether makes sense or not. When I do my (almost) daily yoga practice, I’m still using my brain a lot to remind myself about breathing, proper alignment, core engagement etc. Doesn’t this phrase imply that we don’t use our brain when we do yoga? Shouldn’t it be more like yoga without body? But I still need at least my hand to draw a Zentangle. Maybe I’m overthinking here…and it’s a good place to stop.

For more information on what Zentangle actually is, please visit the official website: https://www.zentangle.com