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Maria Thomas and Rick Roberts’ Zentangles: A Worldwide Phenomenon

Monday, July 22, 2013


Maria Thomas and Rick Roberts, the inventors of Zentangle.

Just nine short years ago, a new and unique art form was created right here in Central Massachusetts. Since, knowledge of what are simply called "Zentangles" has spread around the globe thanks to the efforts of two life-long Whitinsville residents, Maria Thomas and Rick Roberts, based in their studio in this tiny part of Northbridge. They have now written a book about the topic, The Book of Zentangle, and 42 images from it are currently on display at the Alternatives Unlimited's Spaulding R. Aldrich Heritage Gallery in Whitinsville through July 26th.

So what is this art form that has taken the world by storm and why has it become so popular in such a short amount of time? Well, in order to truly "get" the power that it holds in so many lives, one must first understand that it is more than just a type of art, but a full-on teaching method. Simply put, Thomas and Roberts have designed a system for drawing intricate patterns that anyone with hands and a mind can learn and reproduce.

They create their own Zentangle patterns and teach others to do the same. What they and others have discovered over the years is that it is more than just a hobby. As the name suggests, the activity of creating these "tangles" (short for Zentangle) has become a "zen" activity, or "yoga for the mind", especially for people who have experienced, or are currently going through, some sort of hardship in their lives.

"Zentangle is being taught all over the world. It is now being taught in schools, both primary, high school and college. It is taught in hospitals to aid people recovering from physical and psychiatric health issues," says Maria Thomas.

Creating "tangles" has shown to be a boon for self-esteem, confidence and focus, and even a cure for anxiety. It has an incredible ability to be both meditative and therapeutic. There have even been studies done linking Zentangles and mindfulness. Most importantly, the activity has shown just how powerful it can be for people to embrace an inner creativity they never thought they possessed.

"People who thought they could never do such a thing," as Maria puts it.

Thomas experiences this first-hand. She teaches Zentangles at Alternatives Unlimited, a center in Whitinsville that helps those with psychiatric or developmental disabilities lead full and successful lives.

"It's just what some people need to get through tough times, when nothing else seems to work. And, it's fun, relaxing, basically inexpensive to do and the community of "tanglers" is very strong and supportive," she says.

"It is the most exciting thing I have ever done, and teaching it is even more rewarding. So many people come to us after they have discovered Zentangle saying things like. . . 'but you don't understand, this has made such a difference in my life.'"

The "Tangles"

In order to get a full and more complete explanation of what these "tangles" actually are you can visit the creators' website or find them on Youtube to see more examples. They can explain the pieces much better than I ever could because, of course, they invented the whole process.

A basic zentangle. There is plenty more where this comes from

A basic Zentangle design is done with black ink and pencil on a 3 1/2" square inch tile. It has no up or down and is mostly non-representational. There are numerous different base designs and from these base designs one can create a whole plethora of shapes all intertwined together.

"There are no mistakes, and we use no eraser, only learning to create new patterns from what some would consider a mistake," remarks Maria.

Though the "tangles" are abstract and non-representational, the finished product takes the form of a beautiful masterwork that one can be proud to show around his or her home.

Indeed, the creative process still thrills Maria and Rick to this day, their house practically bursting with their own tiles, each unique, and each separately a prize to look at.

"Whether we use tried and true 'tangles' or seek to design a new tangle, it's always rewarding. We have hundreds around the house, hanging from the ceiling, tucked into corners, painted on the floors and hidden in unexpected places," says Maria.

Anyone reading this article is encouraged to give it a try. You may fall in love with it like so many around the world already have.

For more information on Maria Thomas and Rick Roberts, and Zentangles, click here.


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