Relax – It’s Just Meditative Mark Making

Lately, I’ve been meditating on the meditative properties of art making. This has been on my mind because while I’ve often tried to meditate the traditional way (yogic pose, mantra in mind, etc.), I rarely find–or make–the time to do it.

zentangle mark making by kass hall |
Zentangles by Kass Hall, from Zentangle Untangled.

But I often find myself naturally “meditating” when I’m doing art-related activities. The tasks that hit the right spot seem to be somewhat repetitive and mindless but also purposeful. Some of my favorite art “mantras” are:

  • Sorting–found objects, fabrics, etc.
  • Fussy-cutting paper or fabric.
  • Knitting something simple like a scarf or throw with an easy-to-remember pattern.
  • Gluing papers to things.
  • And my new activity: meditative doodling (aka Zen doodles or Zentangles®).

I’m well aware that this formalized mark making with repeating patterns is not new. However, I’ve avoided doing it. Why? Because it looked too hard. Because I don’t like drawing details. Because I didn’t have the right tools. Just thinking about it made me tense.

But I love the look of these Zen doodles and in my pursuit of meditative art experiences (after all, there are only so many times you can sort your buttons), I decided to try it. What I soon realized is that if you focus on the journey and not the destination, meditative doodling is very relaxing. Well, duh!

There are many approaches you can take for your Zen doodles. You can choose an established pattern and replicate it, make up your own patterns as you go, or draw a basic shape or outline and fill it in with patterns. I had been hung up on the patterns themselves. Every time I tried to duplicate one, I either failed (lines not straight enough, etc.) or got bored.

meditative mark making |
My Zen doodle: Ohhmmmmmm.

I decided to go with the fill-in method. Grabbing a square pad of sticky notes and a very fine point pen, I drew a basic leaf shape. Next, I divided it in two with a vein and I made loopy veins along both sides. Then I filled in one side of the loops with dots. I didn’t plan ahead; I just took a small section and filled it in with something. Pretty soon, I noticed that by focusing on the details, I was becoming very mindful and relaxed. So I kept going.

Is this the most beautiful Zen doodle you’ve ever seen? Not by a long shot. But it doesn’t matter. That wasn’t the point. Now I have a portable meditation system I can do anywhere (without needles, scissors, or glue).

There are many books, websites, and classes on the topic, but I like the Zentangle Untangled products by certified Zentangle instructor Kass Hall. With inspiration, prompts, and a tangle-a-day workbook plus a set of Zentangle pens, you could easily doodle your stress away.

P.S. Does art-making help you relax? What’s your art activity mantra? Leave a comment below.



Blog, Mixed-Media Techniques


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