Had a one-to-one Zentangle® class this morning with Nancy, who lives just up the street from me. She only stumbled across Zentangle about a month ago, and was eager to know more. When I arrived at her house, my mind was boggled by her truly original and lovely quilts. I only had time to see 3 of them, but she is a serious quilter and I know she had a lot more there. (Nancy, if you read this, I just loved that concentric circles quilt; it had "pennies" in the name, I think...wow, was that wonderful) She was gracious enough to let me photograph her holding her first tangle, and I tried to get one of the her quilts in the background--here it is; I just loved these colors and the wonderful rhythm and contrast of the pattern. You can't really see her tangle here, but I have a better photo of it coming up after this:
Thanks, Nancy, for letting me get this picture. Every time I look at that beautiful quilt and the way you put those colors together, I find myself predicting that you will be able to do anything you want with your tangles.
Like many tanglers, Nancy does other crafts. (I'd really prefer to call them "arts," because I think that is what they are.) Quilting, beadwork, etc. I've noticed that people who do more than one art, as she does, know a lot more than they may at first think they know about how to tangle. They understand patterns, and Zentangle is all about patterns! They understand contrast, the importance of having light areas and dark areas (referring back to the quilt). They understand value and the importance of gradations of light and dark. They understand placement. They understand risk, trial-and-error, and experimentation.
And they love art.
Of course, no one needs to be artistic to love art. To make art, you only have to have courage and be willing to take risks. Talent is not a requirement! Talent develops through practice, practice, practice.
So do you have to be "multi-talented" to learn Zentangle? No way. People who say they have NO talent at all learn every day...and lo and behold...discover they DO have talents they didn't even know about.
But I digress: Here is the multi-talented Nancy's first tangle:
Beautiful line work. Of course, my old iPhone doesn't show the shading very well.
All her quilting will server her very well in working with Zentangle. Can't wait to see what she comes up with next!
Focusing on "beginning" today made me think of the following quotes:
Do not grasp the brush before the spirit and the thoughts are concentrated. (Anonymous Chinese painter)
Last night I went to the Arlngton Art Lounge to attend a "paint and sip" event (I brought my own decaf, which was undoubtedly rude). Fun! I'd heard about these workshops for a few years: Mostly they take place in pubs or bars; you go and order drinks, there is a painting instructor, everyone gets a place with an easel and paint and brushes, and as you sip, the instructor talks everyone through the process of making a painting. An example of the finished painting is right there to refer to. Everyone does the same painting (but of course, art being art, they all come out slightly different).
At the Art Lounge, the emphasis is less on drinking and more on painting, which I liked. There is a bar, and also snacks, but that's not where the emphasis is placed. They also offer other classes--a lot of other painting classes, family nights, jewelry making, drawing from live models, poetry readings and music. It's a wonderful place and it's where I'll be teaching the basic Zentangle® class on 2/24/15. I'm looking forward to it.
I had never worked with acrylics before. And still I have had so little experience with them that I cannot say whether I like them or not--about all I can say is that they dry quickly. I was able to bring the painting home on the bus with me and it was totally dry as I left the Lounge! Other than that, one experience isn't enough to tell me much.
It was fun though. The music they played while we painted (not live music, but still...) was really great and it was a good combo of excellent music, really nice people, and fun doing the paintings. It's a wonderful safe form of experimentation, even if we were all doing the same picture. I don't know how much "art talent" anyone else there lays claim to, but every person was able to produce a good-looking canvas by the end. From what I could tell, everyone loved it and it looked to me as though they will all be back.
Today I went up to the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem MA to see the Calder Exhibition before it leaves in January. This has been on my to-do list for some time now, and I didn't want to let time slip by and miss it.
I was entranced. I've always liked his work, particularly his early wire sculptures and his later mobiles. Both the mobiles and the stabiles were beautifully displayed against stark white walls, and were dramatically lit to emphasize the wonderful moving shadows the mobiles cast.
An elementary school class was there, and one of the teachers was talking to the kids about Calder and his art. Most of the kids were drawing the sculptures (oh, good luck to the ones trying to capture the gently-ever-shifting mobiles!), and from what I saw, they were doing a terrific job of it. They all looked about ten or eleven years old, and the drawings were good.
My fan mail is enormous. Everyone is under six.
I wondered why they were so successfully drawing the work, when by that age most kids are reduced to stick-figure stilted art, and then it hit me--it's the same reason that Zentangle® works with kids and adults. 1) It's very pared down and simple (Zentangle may not look simple, but it is); and 2) the real key: It's not representational at all. In the case of Calder, it's a bunch of minimal wires, and a few shapes that don't mean anything--flat circles, triangles, and seemingly random shapes.
Almost everyone can draw general shapes just fine, as long as they don't have to represent something like a tree or a dog or an eye. It's when the thing needs to look like something we recognize that the labeling, analytical part of the brain starts to interfere. "It's an orange, for cripes sake...just make a circle and then color it orange! That's enough; move on already!" That impatient, analytical brain is the death of really looking and really seeing, which enable us to draw.
Anyway. I was inspired and delighted. Came home on the train and have been thinking about some of those wonderful, whimsical, dancing pieces.
And then it hit me: What if Calder did Zentangle? Of course, he wouldn't have. It's not his style, although he really loved "taking a line for a walk," as the saying goes. So I started thinking about several of his mobiles that I saw today and found myself thinking, "But what if he had done a little Zentangle on some of those?" So from memory I created this very silly and goofy piece. It made me chuckle as I did it. (Since no photos were allowed, I made this up from memory--Calder did much more beautiful work of course)
It looks terrible but it made me laugh out loud. Now I'm obsessed with wondering about other artists: What if Frida Kahlo did Zentangle? What if Picasso did Zentangle? What if John William Waterhouse did Zentangle (oh wait, maybe he did, in some of the details of the textiles in his paintings)? What if Mark Rothko did Zentangle? (Would that even be humanly possible...) Etc., etc. Am really having fun with this idea.
So glad I went--not because I think Calder's work would be "improved" by tangling on it. I don't think so! Just because it made me think. It was whimsical and lovely. It made me laugh, and I also teared up a few times, especially watching the kids and how absorbed they were.
To an engineer, good enough means perfect. With an artist, there's no such thing as perfect.
Hmmm, sounds just like a Zentangle precept: there are no mistakes when tangling.
Thank you, Mr. Calder.
Yesterday I spent part of the day dyeing yarn. The skein on the left in the photo above is the yarn I was aiming to match. The skein on the right is what I got. Not even close! But a lovely failure all the same; I'll certainly use it in the future in some project. So what happened? I knew before I did this that my chances were poor for producing a match by using the same recipe. Why? Read on.
I knew when I tried this that my chances of success were low. I don't strictly have to match the original yarn, because I still have enough of it to finish the rug; I just wanted the challenge.
What I learned: 1) I really love the yarn that I ended up with. Love the color. So it's an elegant failure in my book, and one I am happy to have. 2) I need to do a lot more experimenting, and that's going to be fun, fun, fun.
Now, if only I can apply this in the rest of my life. Take more risks, learn more from and enjoy my elegant failures. And learn just as much from the inelegant ones!
I love this woman's work. Love it. Went over to the semi-annual Harvard Ceramics Studio Show and Sale this morning, specifically to see if I could find more pieces by Nancy Shotola. (Alas, no website that I can find) I have been collecting her work for years now, but she was apparently ill for a few years and had to stop potting. When I looked at the show website this year and saw her name was on the list, I could not get over there fast enough. I'll try to photograph all the pieces by her that I have and show them here.
I'm often aware how much I love functional art--art that can be utilized. Like hand-knitted socks, which are art to me. Or rugs--I have my own hooked rugs all over my house and love walking on them; they make my toes feel good. People often ask, "How can you bear to put that on a floor, after all the work you put into it?" But...that's why I made it. To walk on! I love making beautiful things and then using them. Handmade shawls. Greeting cards. A sweater.
Don't get me wrong; I also totally enjoy visual art that is made simply to look at. I think of that type of art also as "functional art," since the act of looking at a piece that is "visual" causes a reaction in the viewer: awe, or revulsion, or puzzlement, or a laugh, or some other emotion...or a memory...or the idea of a metaphor. So these things too--these emotions and reactions--are working on us, and if we become conscious of our reactions, we may be able to use them to deepen our relationship with ourselves.
Painting, drawing, drama, video, writing...we call these art, and we call some of them high art, but they are all functional art to me. Because we learn something about ourselves through interacting with them, and hopefully we apply what we learn. That's functional in my book.
More of her ceramics below. She has other patterns; I'm just obsessed with this one!
I see she has piece in the 13 Forest Gallery in Arlington, MA, here. I'll be checking out that gallery as soon as I can.
But not everyone wants to--or can--move like that. For some, just using the hands can be a revelation, and that is what I love about Zentangle®. If you look at the tile above, you can see how drawing those lines, slowly and with attention, could promote mindfulness. And anyone can do it--if you can sign your name, you can do this.
Here is another tile with Arukas. I remember the state I was in when I did these tiles: focused. Steady. Non-thinking.
There is a strong connection between mindfulness and creativity. When I finally learned to let go of trying to "stop thoughts" in meditation, creativity began to rise to the surface. Interestingly, Zentangle often does stop my thoughts, or at least cause me to focus on just that one line that I am now drawing...and it has the same effect. Creativity surges.
And with creativity, comes pure joy.
I confess: I'm addicted. Addicted to making things, to creating things, in a slow, concentrated way, a way that draws me down and down into a quiet place. That's where the joy is found.
No pictures today, alas, since I cannot show this rug (Why not? See the "Rug in Hiding" entry here). But it is not lost on me that this project, which started out as an annoyance, is now bringing me nothing but gifts. It doesn't even matter if it turns out to be a rug I like (though I hope it will), because I am learning so much from making it.
Like a lot of life, something that makes me stretch ends up developing a raft of new skills and showing me things I never knew about myself.
Why did I not want to do this? Let me count the reasons:
But I said I would do it, and dammit, I do what I say.
So I started out last August on a walk with my best friend basically doing a 45 minute rant on how pissed off I was at myself for having said yes, and how I was going to hate every moment of this and would regret it forever. She listened patiently until I got to the point where I could no longer stand listening to myself rant, and shut up. (But then I repeated the rant to everyone else who would listen, for weeks afterwards.)
So what happened to change this attitude? At first, nothing. The design process was agonizing. Really agonizing. I came up with several designs, none of which I was really into. The design I'm currently hooking popped up early on, but I thought it would be hideous and rejected it immediately. Weeks went by with my going in very different directions.
It was really in meditation that things came together. I began to notice in meditation that my mind was turning over and over to the rug. So, I let it happen and watched. Gradually the original design came back. I still wasn't crazy about it, but I thought it would be the simplest way to proceed, given the deadline.
Next, I began to notice in meditation that I was thinking seriously about punching the rug, not just traditionally hooking it. I went back and forth on that one for weeks, and will spare you the details. Gradually it seemed more feasible to punch it as well as hook.
Then I remembered, in meditation, that I had a frame that could possibly be converted to be suitable for punch needle. And next, in meditation, I planned how to do that. And I actually did it. And it works! It works great.
I had signed up for the variegated yarn dyeing workshop at Amy Oxford's in Vermont in November...I didn't know why. As the time got closer, I thought it would just be a nice weekend. I even considered not going. The first evening I was there--before the class began--I was alone at the building, in the lovely quiet surroundings, and began meditating. After which I looked at all the yarns and realized one was perfect for the background. Within 30 minutes, I had the entire rug color planned. I had never thought to use yarn for the background, but suddenly, I knew I was there for a reason--to dye the yarn for the background. So, that is what I spent the weekend doing. I've already written about that. It was just an amazing experience.
Lastly, I started punching. Last Tuesday. I've taken about 3 days off since then...but despite that, the rug is about half done! I am shocked. Me, the world's slowest maker of rugs, with a large rug half-done in that time. It's just stunning. And, dare I say this, I even like it!
As if that weren't surprising enough, in meditation about a month ago I had an inspiration about how to take the rug to the next level, and how to use the design to bring together all the other rugs that are being made for this project. I cannot wait to try this out. It might not work, but if it does, it will be fabulous. It involves another level of work--adding something else to the rug after it's completely hooked. We'll see if can do it...
Since then, that idea has been refined in meditation, with several small useful additions. Fingers crossed that it does work.
Finally, each day in meditation, since I began punching, I've had more ideas.
Given the topic of the project, it is appropriate that meditation has been a prime source of the design and further ideas. I am just loving this process.
So the "burden," the "annoyance" of the project, has turned into a major gift. Here's what I've been given so far:
This has been one long fabulous experience in seeing all the gifts, rather than the negative thoughts I first had about the project.
As usual, I am learning not just about the art process, but about myself. This is one major purpose of art, and certainly one major purpose of the creative life.
I'm a textile artist (traditional rug hooking, punch needle rug hooking, and other textile arts), long-time meditator and coach, focused on learning about the interplay of art, creativity, and mindfulness every day.
NEXT INTRO TO ZENTANGLE CLASS:
No immediate group classes scheduled (I'm always open to hearing about a good venue in the Cambridge-Somerville area). I am always happy to teach 1-1 and/or in a small group in your home.
Come and amaze yourself!
SITES TO WATCH:
Insight Meditation Society
Oxford Rug Hooking School
Zentangle: The Official Site
Green Mountain Rug Hooking
Massachusetts Tarot Society
Skillful Meditation Project