Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Zen Doodling vs. Urban Sketching? Discuss.

Tuesday Tips & Tricks by Wes Douglas

Has this ever happened to you? Someone who knows you well or someone who hears that you like to draw suddenly makes the connection to another seemingly dissimilar art form. Recently I had an acquaintance compare my urban sketches to Zen Doodling. My blink reaction, with only a surface awareness of this art form, is that it did not even compare to what I do with urban sketching...or so I thought.

But before I dismissed Zen Doodling as such a different alien art form from urban sketching, I needed to do a little research.

(Zentangle by Janet McLeod)

According to Karla Archer, in her Live The Life Fantastic blog, the term ‘Zentangle’ was coined by Maria Thomas and Rick Roberts. Roberts had noticed that the focus that Thomas had, while drawing, was similar to the meditative state he had learned as a monk – what is often referred to as “flow“. They then set out to develop a system allowing almost anyone to follow and use as a way to relax and express themselves creatively. The system follows certain steps which are established to allow freedom to create within the boundaries.

(Zen Doodle by Ann Marie Cheung)

Zendoodling has none of the specifics, regarding paper, size of the shape, color etc. You can draw a shape (letter, animal etc) that fills a large sheet of paper and fill it in with patterns or create designs on clothing, pottery, etc, and it can be meant to look like something. 
OK, now we're getting somewhere. So if I sketch out a building and spend the next 30 minutes adding tiny little bricks to its exterior or many many windows and, in the process I reach a relaxed state, could I be treading in the Zen waters of doodling?

Or let's consider that framing the building or house of my sketch is a number of trees and shrubs and I spend time meticulously drawing out tiny little leaves. Could this be bridging the perceived gap between zen doodling and urban sketching? I suppose it comes down to the desired outcome.

Does urban sketching help to relax you or do you feel pressure to do well?

Do you feel that having guidelines help you to produce better sketches or do you feel that they stifle your creativity?

Does drawing from observation excite you or would you rather sketch from your imagination and let the sketch appear organically?
I think there is a place for both since neither one needs to be the end all of anyone's art form. I think parts of the urban sketch can contain an element of Zen doodling but a purely Zen doodle posted on Urban Sketching may earn you some push back. Sketching can come from many influences and does not have to be exclusively defined by a label or requiring permission to apply its system. 

I'm not advocating that we all start posting Zen doodles on the Urban Sketching sites. Rather I am trying to understand that commonality that others see in different forms of sketching. If it makes you feel good, I say let it roll. If a debate must ensue, you may begin now.


  1. Interesting... I've never zendoodled, but I do start with boarders when drawing trees and such, and fill in the leafy areas with a mix of inventive stippling and hatching similar to the zendoodle methods. It is mediative, liberating, and experimental. I would have never put the two ideas together, but I can see the shared process. Thanks for the thought Wes!

  2. Haha, Angie, see what I mean? When my friend said that my sketches looked like Zen doodles, I was somewhat put off by the comment until I looked into it further. Thanks for checking out my post.

  3. Whether I'm doodling, sketching on location, or working on an illustration, when I'm enveloped by the process, it's all Zen to me. The meditation aspect for me is in the doing regardless of the end product. The act of creating is what links us to other artists no matter what their media or focus.

  4. Well said Barbara and so true. Thanks for tying this all together.

  5. I never really doodle, for me sketching is connecting to my environment and the Now, stop the thinking, and that creates my Zen moment. Trying to get the drawing from my head, now that would really stress me out and fuel my hyperthinking! But I guess we are all different. I do find this post very interesting and I will explore the ideas of Zen doodling more. Thanks for the introduction!

  6. Thank you Viktoria for checking out my post and for at least being open to the concepts of both schools of thought. I do think they all have merit.


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