The Angle of the Zentangle - OZY | A Modern Media Company

The Angle of the Zentangle

By Eugene S. Robinson


Because if someone’s selling capturing complete calm and centeredness courtesy of pencil and paper, count us in.

“Don’t call it doodling.” The speaker is CZT Rebecca Loveless. The CZT stands for Certified Zentangle Teacher. 

”Doodling is a secondary activity,” says Loveless, laying out what Zentangling actually is. ”In Zentangle, Zentangle is very definitely the primary activity.”

And that activity, usually occurring on cards that are 3.5 inches by 3.5 inches (though the sizes vary), clearly looks like something you’d do while you’re chatting on the phone. Just without the chatting. Not to mention the phone. 

Started about 10 years ago by lifelong calligrapher Maria Thomas Roberts and her husband Rick Roberts, an artist with a background in technology and Buddhism, Zentangle (trademarked, FYI) was born out of a happy accident: Rick noticed that while she was working on an illuminated letter, Maria was the very soul of quiet and contemplative. 

Then a “eureka!” moment: This was meditation, albeit with a pencil, creating something enjoyable and beautiful. 

The two built a curriculum based on five basic line forms, all found cross-culturally and extending, they claim, as far back as to the caves and humanity’s interest in graphics. Though this last bit could just be a salvo in the continuing complaints and countercomplaints between them and the artist Nadia Russ — who claims her style and technique were liberally lifted by the Robertses — the approach to codifying it seems to be their own.

So why the tiny pieces of paper?

“Well there are 11 excuses most people give for not doing art,” says Loveless who, when she’s not teaching at schools for gifted kids and being a mom herself, is teaching Zentangle. ”And time is one of the major ones.”

So Rick and Maria made the paper 3.5 inches square because that size allows people to complete their Zentangle on a 20-minute coffee break. They usually use a fine Italian paper, but even the back of an envelope will do. They claim the exercise is good for what sounds like a rogue’s gallery of modern ills: Helping people deal with cancer, chronic pain or stress, Zentangle, like meditation, seems like a panacea for not being at peace.

Which is not-so-strangely how Loveless discovered it. Riven by stress during wedding planning, she found it via Pinterest. “It’s the largest single most-searched term on Pinterest,” she says, and she fell for it hard. A pilgrimage to Rhode Island and a certification by the Roberts soon followed. There are CZTs in Asia, Australia, New Zealand and Europe, all embracing this new kind of attempt at inner peace.

One of Loveless’s students, the 11-year-old Lola Robinson (full disclosure: the youngest daughter of the Robinson clan and a 2-year adherent to all the angles of Zentangle), bent over a card, quietly working the paisleyed filigrees of ink over the white paper explained its enduring appeal: “It’s pretty relaxing.” She laughs and adds, ”So relaxing that people get really into it and have to be reminded to relax.”

Just what the Zen doctor ordered.

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