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'Zentangle, untangled'

Last modified: 1/20/2011 12:00:00 AM
The artistic process can liberate, soothe, exhilarate. It can also terrify, frustrate and torture. Consider the blank page in all its vast nothingness, its implicit expectations, cold, white, austere.

This is the first way that Zentangle differs from classic art forms. When you sit down in one of Diane LaChance's classes, you'll open a little box scarcely bigger than a 16-pack of crayons, wherein you'll find your tools: a Micron pen, a pencil that looks like the sort you'd use to keep score of a mini golf game and some squares of cardstock about the size of drink coasters. These tiles, as they're called, are your proverbial "blank pages," and your first task - after watching LaChance demonstrate the Zentangle process - will be to break up the white space. Without deliberation or ceremony, you simply make a dot in each corner of the square, then connect each one with a line - straight, curved, a little wavery, it doesn't matter.

"Just this simple act relaxes some people," said LaChance, a former facilities planner who took up Zentangle in 2009 after hearing about it from a friend.

Like many people, she was immediately hooked.

"It taught me a different way of drawing, and it ended up being very therapeutic for me as well," said LaChance, who was dealing with empty-nest syndrome and the loss of

both her parents when she began "tangling," as enthusiasts like to say.

LaChance's Contoocook home is now filled with the curious, mesmerizing doodles that flow from those first dots and lines, and she's taught the newfangled art to dozens of other people at Concord Hospital's Center for Health Promotion and the Kimball-Jenkins School of Art. "If they've ever been told somewhere in their life that they're really no good at art, this is a great place to come," said LaChance, who will begin teaching another Zentangle session at Kimball-Jenkins next week (visit kimballjenkins.com). "Almost anybody can move through that creative process."

Zentangle was created by a Massachusetts couple who stumbled upon the meditative beauty of drawing repetitive patterns. Over the past several years it has spread around the world and taken root in a variety of settings, from therapy classes to gift-making ventures. (Don't be surprised if you get a note card or handmade gift featuring the signature designs one of these days. ) While many people attend a workshop just for fun, first-time "tanglers" are often surprised by the benefits.

Zentangle is empowering, LaChance explained, because all the designs are made using a series of simple strokes that virtually anyone can do. What's more, "They're not afraid to show people because (as opposed to a portrait or landscape) it's not supposed to look like anything," LaChance said.

On the other hand, creating a Zentangle isn't just about adhering to a set of rules. The 106 official patterns are designed to be springboards to take you in a variety of directions, LaChance said. And perhaps best of all, "There are no erasers in Zentangle. There are no mistakes, only opportunities to go in a new direction."

Lizy Swain, a Bishop Brady junior who has taken some of LaChance's classes, finds that philosophy wonderfully freeing. "It's kind of like life. You can't erase something that happens, you just have to keep going," she said.

Swain, the only young person in the beginner class she attended, also believes the practice helps her relax. Her family threw a big New Year's Eve party at their Dunbarton home this year, and when she grew a bit overwhelmed by the chaos, she went off in a quiet corner and created a Zentangle. "I don't know how it does it, but it just kind of calms you down," she said.

LaChance, too, finds that when she's facing a big decision or a bout of anxiety, Zentangle can take her mind off her problem and help her refocus. She's excited that young people like Swain are using it to help them through stressful times in their lives.

Swain recently found out that one of her friends is also into Zentangle, and the two of them are planning to take a class together soon. She also hopes to teach it to some relatives, who were amazed by the patchwork of designs she made at the New Year's party.

Carolyn Sherman, another of LaChance's students, is enthusiastically sharing it with her friends. She took one of the workshops on a whim when she wasn't able to fit in her usual watercolor class because of an upcoming trip to Australia.

"Oh my God, I got hooked," she said.

Sherman, of Concord, was especially excited that, for all its possibilities, Zentangle is quite portable. She bought a little lunch container, a pad of Zentangle tiles and some pens and brought them on the plane to Australia. "I'm a person who always needs to be doing something," she said. "It was great because I just alternated between sleeping, reading and tangling."


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