Way more than doodles: Zentangles are meditative art

Examples of Zentangles.

Nysha Nelson, Bartlett fiber artist
Nysha Nelson

It’s not doodling, he’s quick to point out. Doodling is mindless scribbling, usually an attempt to make time go by quicker. But Zentangles, no, that’s not doodling — quite the contrary. It’s a mindful attention to each mark, so that one is completely focused on the drawing at hand and nothing else.

Nysha Nelson is a Certified Zentangle Instructor (CZI) and has been for two years, teaching the meditative art to children as young as fourth grader as well as to those more advanced in years.

He travelled to Providence, R.I., in 2013 in order to receive his training and certification from the originators of Zentangle, Maria Thomas and Rick Roberts.

And he brought those skills back to his art students in Bartlett at Studio Nysha.

Zentangles can take anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour to create, and they lie on a three and one-half inch square of paper. Ink and graphite are the only tools used.

“The whole point of Zentangle is that it’s not just about the patterns,” Nelson said. “It’s a method of creating patterns.”

“The method, when used, can be meditative,” he explained. “The whole thing that you’re supposed to do when you’re practicing Zentangle is you’re focused on the mark.”

He referred to one shape as an example. “So when you’re making that C shaping, you’re making that C shaping. You’re not thinking about the next C shaping, you’re not thinking about the last C shaping, you’re not thinking about the laundry, or the tax bill or the whatever else.”

Nelson is a fiber artist, choosing quilting as his venue for artistic expression. Before he begins any work on his quilts, he takes a quarter of an hour to focus himself through Zentangles.

“What it does is it helps me to focus and leave all of the ‘whatever’s going on’ outside of creating, just like you would if you were doing yoga or sitting meditating,” he said.

He continued, “People find that they can use [Zentangling] for pain management because your brain only has the ability to focus on one thing at a time. People find that if they focus on something else, that the pain is manageable.”

Nelson holds Zentangle classes periodically in his Bartlett studio. Generally, classes are $30 for a three-hour lesson, which includes supplies.

Nelson’s art career started with hair, which he did for 15 years. He always felt a tugging towards a lasting art form, like painting, as opposed to the fleeting hair designs.

He quit the hair business in 2000 and enrolled in art school, but he quickly decided an art degree wasn’t what he wanted. He studied with three different painters over the next four years, trying to find his calling.

“There was no bliss to putting paint on canvas,” he said, so he spent a summer away from home. During that summer, he did a fiber art piece and thought it splendid. He also travelled to Paducah, Ky., the home of the national quilt museum. He found things there that blew him away and caused him to put down the paintbrush and start quilting.

“When I saw all those pieces I thought, ‘Oh! I’m just using the wrong medium,’” he said. “I don’t want to manipulate paint. I want to manipulate fabric.”

Nelson was always fascinated by linear patterns. When he researched patterns on the Internet for projects, he would inevitably stumble across Zentangles. Randomly, people would ask him if he’d heard of the method. Finally, in 2013 he made the trek to Providence to become a Zentangle teacher.

The patterns themselves are fascinating, starting as rudimentary squiggles, squares and curves and evolving into flowering pinwheels, never-ending intersections of bridges (like an architectural mess of highways), and complexly designed basket weaves, to name a few.

Nelson incorporates these and other designs into his quilts, fashioning eye-catching matrices from his fabric.

He’s taught classes as big as 100, although he says his average attendance is about 24.

No previous artistic experience is needed — the classes are meant to be extremely simple and welcoming to anyone.

For updates, see Studio Nysha’s Facebook page and Nelson’s website.

Written by Mac Trammell, special to the Express. Contact him at mactram94@gmail.com.