Greg and I have been drawing together since my return from Rhode Island, and since this is something we have never done before, it's pretty wonderful. I gave him an introductory Zentangle lesson after dinner night before last. We wound up doing three tiles each, one of which was Marasu, a tangle I just learned during the seminar. When I drew this tangle for the first time during the exercise, I was reminded of some of the basics of being self-aware as both a student and teacher.
Marasu is a tangle that Maria developed from her memory of the woven ropes she used to make as a kid using one of those weaving tools that work by building up a circular structure, row by row. I had seen the tangle and wasn't much attracted to it until I understood its origin, which changed everything. I love a good story, especially family stories. She told us that she loved making the weavings but didn't always have good ideas for what to do with them when they were completed. The tangle Marasu, which looks something like a coiled snake, especially if you add stripes as we did in this exercise. puts these ropes of memory to use. The lesson was meant to illustrate how to draw the tangle itself as well as a couple of shading techniques that work well with it. As the demonstration began, I picked up the tile and looked forward to creating something completely new and awesome because I had never worked with the kind of paper we were using or drawn the tangle we were about to learn.
As the gifted artist and teacher she is, Maria showed us the steps of the tangle, slowly and patiently, describing what she was doing each step of the way. Things went well at first before I got caught up in trying to draw just as she did. This is usually a bad idea, at least at the start of learning a new tangle or technique, for obvious reasons. She is a master calligrapher and artist; I am not. One day, I may be able to create the small hooks and flourishes that she does with ease, but to begin, it makes more sense to go with the flow and be content with getting the overall feel for a tangle without insisting on perfecting the details right away. I will file this under What I know now.
As I watched her demonstration, I was drawn to this way she has of adding a very small hook at the start of some of the bands that wrap around coil. For whatever reasons, my attention hooked on to those little hooks, and they became all I cared about. This caused me to lose my overall sense of the tangle. I tensed up, riveted as I was to perfecting those little hooks. As the steps of the tangle progressed, I grew more and more unhappy. My developing rendition of Marasu looked less and less like hers with every stroke. The coil was too small. The bands were poorly placed. Spaces between the bands were too small to aura smaller bands as she was suggesting and demonstrating. At a certain point in the process, I gave up. I glanced quickly at the drawings to the right and left of me and felt worse than ever. My snake was sad and anemic and had none of the vitality of the fat, luscious, coiled creation that was materializing on Maria's tile. I looked again to the right and left. My neighbors' work was not quite as accomplished as Maria's, but both were doing much better than I was. I sank into full blown snake envy.
Maria continued to work, assuring us all the while that certain shading techniques she was going to show us would dazzle and impress us. She assured us that our Marasu masterpieces would pop off the page. I looked again at my poor little snake. It looked hungry and shriveled. Other snakes would dazzle and pop, but mine wasn't going anywhere. At some point, Maria passed the pen to Rick, who continued to work on the drawing as she began to circulate to see what students were doing. "I'm seeing some amazing stuff!" she gushed. "You're going to be blown away by these when we put them in a mosaic. I can't wait to see these all together!" I cupped my hands around my tile and felt relieved that no one would notice one missing out of so many. My Marasu lay immobile and dejected in its little space. It looked like a large earthworm.
Break time was announced, and everyone began to rise, chatting excitedly about the exercise. At some point during the session, Rick had shown the group a clever little gadget that one of the students had found in a nearby shop in Providence. It was a small, round, plastic mandala whose shapes could be changed by rotating one layer of it to the right or left, a little like a flat, open kaleidoscope. He held it under the document camera, turning it this way and that to the Oooos and ahhhhs of the group. After the demo, he walked over to the woman who had purchased it to give it back to her. She was sitting fairly close to where I was and I could hear her accent as she took her treasure back from Rick. So she was the one French speaker in the group!
As I made my way to the aisle for break clutching my Marasu fiasco in disappointment and shame, I approached her and made small talk in French. I looked at her tile and snake envy rose up once more, this time like Jafar after he has morphed into a cobra near the end of Aladdin. I decided to share my failure and showed her the tile. This one didn't turn out very well, I observed weakly. It looks skinny; it's hungry.
What happened next made the whole exercise worthwhile.
No, it's fine! she insisted. You just haven't finished it.
Right, I agreed. I gave up.
There wasn't anything more I could do, I insisted. It's ruined.
Not at all! she said brightly. Here...watch.
She took the tile and showed me what I needed to do with what I had put on the paper. As she worked, I looked on doubtfully but soon realized that it really was just a matter of adding two kinds of shading in small measure. Within thirty seconds under the care of her attention, my little snake revived. It didn't exactly pop like the plump and gorgeous Marasu that Maria had created, but it was definitely alive. I really couldn't believe my eyes.
I returned to my place in the emptied row and continued shading in the way she had shown me, in the way Maria had shown all of us before I had given up. After five minutes, I went out into the great room to join the others and placed my tile in the mosaic. It was neither the best nor the worst as far as I could see, and it fit in quite well with the rest.