Zentangle: Calm spirit, steady hand


Zentangle — Make and Take Summer Color Fun

10 a.m.-2 p.m. July 16. $125, plus $15 for supplies. Spruill Center for the Arts, 5339 Chamblee Dunwoody Road, Atlanta. www.spruillarts.org/.

Certified Zentangle instructors and classes nationally and internationally can be found at: www.zentangle.com/teachers.php.

Parkinson’s made Marie Hastings’ hands shake so much that she was embarrassed to eat in the communal dining room at her home in Parc at Piedmont, an assisted living community in east Cobb.

The 96-year-old said it was difficult to get food into her mouth without it falling off the fork. She also had trouble writing and had to give up crochet, which she used to love to do. A therapist told her Zentangle might help.

Zentangle is an art activity of slowly drawing repeating patterns. The end result is not only a beautiful picture, but also a calm spirit and a steadier hand.

While good for all ages, the activity can be especially beneficial for seniors. Several older adults taking a Zentangle class at the East Cobb Senior Center said it was a great brain activity that also helped them focus and relax. It also kept them from being bored. It’s the perfect activity when waiting in a doctor’s office, said participant Judy Davidson.

The instructor, Alyss Amster, who also owns and operates a senior home care franchise, said Zentangle gives everyone a chance to succeed at art. She’s taught stroke victims with stiff limbs, as well as those with trembling hands caused by Parkinson’s. It seems to ease the confusion and frustration of those suffering from dementia, and gives their caretakers a needed respite as well, Amster noted.

The point of Zentangle is to slow down, to take a step back from the mad rush of a digital society.

“With Zentangle, you focus on one stroke at a time,” Amster said.

She starts her class by teaching some basic patterns then encourages students to let their creativity take over. They zone in using a standard No. 2 pencil on a small square of paper called a tile. Erasers are discouraged because any “mistake” simply adds to the finished product.

Don’t try to make it look like something, Amster cautioned. “Do one line, then do the next one. The end product will turn out much nicer than if you try to make it look a certain way,” she said.

“It’s a brain exercise really,” Davidson said. “People tell me, ‘I could never do that.’ I say, ‘Well, can you write your name?’”

There are hundreds of Zentangle patterns, and more are constantly being added. Patterns have to be reproducible in just a few steps, which makes Zentangle different from distracted doodling. Amster says it is also more challenging than the ubiquitous and popular adult coloring books.

Amster became interested in the art form about four years ago after losing her job during a company downsize. Zentangle helped her figure out what to do next. She even traveled to Rhode Island to take lessons and become a certified instructor.

Hastings took Zentangle classes from Amster at Parc at Piedmont a year ago. Because of her shaky hand, she didn’t think her first efforts were all that good, but kept at it. She said it took a lot of practice to train her brain to concentrate on her hand. Now, her Zentangle artwork is so good she turns them into birthday cards for family. There’s no longer a problem eating in the dining room either.

“You saved my life,” Hastings tells Amster.

Marge Roher, 85, also a resident of Parc at Piedmont, said Zentangle helps take her mind off her back pain, and gives her an outlet for boredom. “It’s very good at keeping your hands and mind going,” she said.

And when you’re older, you need something like this so you can express yourself, she says.

“I never thought I could draw, but I’m doing a pretty good job of it.”