Zentangle Art by Eni Oken - Doodlewash

GUEST ARTIST: “Zentangle & Meditative Art” by Eni Oken

Hi there! I’m Eni Oken, an artist since the age of 8, art instructor and teacher for almost 30 years, author of hundreds of articles, tutorials, video lessons and ebooks online and books in print. I’m originally from Brazil but now established in the Los Angeles area for the last two decades. In case you’re wondering, my first name is pronounced like “a-knee” or “Uh-nee” with emphasis on the “ee”.

I started my artistic training at a very young age when my very insightful mother realized I had artistic tendencies, and had me attend me as many art classes as she could find. My grandmother was also a superb craftsperson, so I was exposed to many different types of media and techniques very early on, especially fiber techniques. I remember thinking of myself as an artist as early as 8 years old.

Zentangle Art by Eni Oken - Doodlewash

For some bizarre twist of fate, I ended up majoring as an architect instead of a fine artist, and instead of pursuing a career in fine arts, went into commercial illustration, fantasy design, 3D computer graphics and video games for over 2 decades, and ended up winning many awards, when computer graphics was still in its infancy. It wasn’t until the last decade that I returned to analog art and design, including jewelry-making, painting and drawing.

Art by Eni Oken - Doodlewash

I was especially drawn back to drawing and painting during my treatment of stage 4 cancer, which is also when I discovered Zentangle®, a form of meditative art which is very abstract and intuitive.

All my art has a distinct decorative and ornamental quality, with a profound passion for anything that is abstract or has a fantastic, ornamental quality, with over the top decorative patterns. It’s interesting to see that even though I have tried and explored many different types of media, the style remains the same, very ornamental and colorful, and it reminds me of Brazil and my roots.

I’m also a long time art instructor — have taught art, design, color theory and computer graphics for the last 30 years. You could say that I’m an “compulsive creative”, and love, above all, discovering the processes and enhancers of what makes art interesting and beautiful. However, exploring those processes of art alone is not enough, the cycle doesn’t feel complete unless that information can be passed along to others through teaching.

It’s so interesting to see how most students follow a typical behavior pattern in their own personal journeys, regardless of the media or technique used. Most beginners seem to be self-conscious and worried with lack of technique. After a little while, even before their technique and skill is mature, they become obsessed in finding a “unique style” and can be frustrated if it doesn’t happen sooner rather than later. However, a personal style only develops after exploring technique extensively, through practice, practice and more practice.

Zentangle Art by Eni Oken - Doodlewash

The good news is that once an artist finds that unique and personal style, it becomes very easy to translate it to other types of media, even if they have limited technical skills in the new medium. After an artist is solidly embraced with their own style, it’s very easy to try new things and techniques, and the learning curve is much shorter. It’s very similar to someone who has already learned a second language well — learning a third one is so much easier than learning the second one.

If you are interested in developing your own style and feel that your basic art knowledge is solidly anchored, I strongly recommend trying a technique completely new to you, which will really force you to re-evaluate your body of work to see what is important, and decide what you want to take along.

You’ll find yourself stripped of your usual technical skills in favor of learning something new, and only your style will be able to follow. It may sound a little radical, but if you approach it as a child, as something new and without expectations, it will be an incredibly fun experience.

After a little while, not only you will progress so much more rapidly than a true beginner, but you’ll be able to see what REALLY matters to you stylistically. And as you explore other media, it will become even easier, since you’ll know what you need to take along. It could a favorite color palette, or a type of subject, or a composition style, and all these components will follow you to form your unique artistic style.

Currently, my favorite technique/media is strongly based on the Zentangle method, which is an 8 step method of drawing repetitive patterns by Rick Robert and Maria Thomas. It’s interesting that this method is adaptable equally for beginners and advanced artists. I found it incredibly freeing to let go of the need to plan a “design” or theme and just draw very intuitively, without the creating pencil guidelines, drawing directly with inking pen over paper.

Zentangle Art by Eni Oken - Doodlewash

Another concept the Zentangle method advocates is to draw super small — the typical paper size is usually a minute 3.5 inch square paper “tile” — so that the drawing can be finished in one or at the most two sittings. This is so liberating, because if you get a sense of accomplishment very quickly and if you don’t like what you did then it’s not a big deal, just start a new one. This was a sore point for me before discovering Zentangle, because I used to spend many weeks creating a single painting or illustration, sometimes disappointed with the final result.

This quick turn around also allows me to explore different techniques and media much faster, which suits my personality, I’m constantly exploring and looking for new things to do. And yet, the method also forces me to slow down and pay close attention to what I’m doing, losing myself into a state of “Zen flow”, which is that focused state when we lose track of all time. I discovered that it was this state of Zen flow that kept me pursuing art with such passion all these years, I’m totally addicted to that feeling when we are working with such concentration that the world around seems to melt away.

Zentangle Art by Eni Oken - Doodlewash

Today my work is not strictly based on the Zentangle method — the original method uses only black ink over white paper — I’ve branched out to explore other techniques and media, but I keep  the idea of working small and with intense focus as part of my daily practice. I incorporate other concepts such as fantasy design, color, multi-media into the work.

Most of the time, I use a mix of fine-liner inking pens, watercolors and colored pencils over Zentangle tile or hot pressed watercolor paper, usually in 4×4 inch square tiles. I am not restricted to that media, I also use Copic brush markers, distress inks, gel pens, anything that I can get my hands on.

Zentangle Art by Eni Oken - Doodlewash

Even so, every once in a while, I go back to the basics and like to draw in black and white — I feel that every artist should go back to the basics every now and then, to recapture the essence of what is true to them. That is especially important when going through a time of blocked inspiration, which happens to us all. When the “muse takes a hike”, there is nothing we can do to fight it, and it helps to go back to the very start and work like a total beginner, with that same kind of wide-eyed wonder.

Zentangle Art by Eni Oken - Doodlewash

In 2016, I became a Certified Zentangle Teacher, and I teach online through ebooks and video lessons, combining my previous experience with the Zentangle Method. In 2017, I started the “Art Club”, which is a lesson subscription for compulsive creatives like me, heavily oriented towards repeat pattern art and Zentangle, but also exploring many other types of media and techniques.

Subscribers follow my journey and explorations, and I have never felt more at home exploring and teaching art as I am today. Thank you, Charlie for letting me share a little of my work!

Eni Oken

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26 thoughts on “GUEST ARTIST: “Zentangle & Meditative Art” by Eni Oken

  1. Wonderful to read Eni’s roots in the journey of the colour and comfort of the subject. Eni has ‘re awakened my passion for all things tangle. I love the belief she has in our efforts and accomplishments. So inspirational.

  2. Eni, I’ve loved your work for a long time. It always makes me think of ‘World Music’, western work embued with the spirit of traditional art from around the world! Thank you for sharing your artistic journey with us!

  3. Eni, thank you for explaining the philosophy of Zentangle art. I like the idea of art as a meditative process. I didn’t realize they’re meant to be very small. But I also like that you’re willing to move beyond the structure of traditional Zentangle to find your own voice, because yours is an explosive and enchanting expression that has mesmerized me.

    1. Wow, Sharon, thank you for such a lovely comment! Yes, one of the main concepts of Zentangle is to explore art for the PROCESS, not just the result, and reduce the things that can cause frustration — such as completing a project that took months and finding out that you really don’t like it. 🙂 Also, by reducing the size of the drawing, it makes it portable — you can take it anywhere — and it’s finished in one or two sittings at the most. I never realized how important that was for me and how much heartache I had before it. And, as you pointed out, it allows me the freedom to create and embed my own techniques and style into it. Thanks again for the comment!

  4. Eni. I have enjoyed your work for quite a while and can recognize your work immediately. So beautiful, smooth and colorful. Even you black and white Tangles jump off the page. I just knew you had strong ART background. Love your story.

    1. Thank you Patsy, I appreciate the comment. Nice to know that my style can be recognized… As I mention, in the end, it doesn’t really matter which technique or medium you use, the style tends to follow you wherever you go. Thanks again!

  5. Thank you Eni for sharing your artistic journey and giving so many tips…!!! I have earlier tried black and white zentangle and found it quite addictive…It also helped in improving my Indian folk art…But now seeing your work I do need to try the colored zentangles….

    1. I think you will love working with color. Just keep in mind that adding color brings a whole set of new challenges, so be gentle wit yourself and try to work with a few colors at a time, don’t go for all colorful or you’ll lose control over it. A limited color palette always tends to work better. Thanks again for the comment!

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