Whole new world

Published 7:00 am Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Bluff Park artist helps others tap into creativity through Zentangle

Story by Emily Sparacino

Photographs by Dawn Harrison

Rich colors, interesting textures and appealing patterns dance their way across the surfaces of pottery, canvas, silk scarves and other mixed media pieces in artist Darla Williamson’s studio at Artists on the Bluff.

One would never guess Williamson, 50, of Bluff Park was, at one point, unsure of her artistic identity––and didn’t have much time to figure it out.

Art journaling is a journal or diary containing images or words and frequently uses mixed media techniques.

Art journaling is a journal or diary containing images or words and frequently uses mixed media techniques.

“I was having a hard time finding my medium,” she said. “I’d always dabbled in stuff, but never had the time commitment or desire to do any one thing.”

Prior to opening Tangled Stones Studio in Bluff Park’s Artists on the Bluff building in August 2012, Williamson was a corporate banker.

“Banking kind of fell into my lap,” she said. “I was a corporate banker for about 14 years.”

The stress of her job got to be too much, and Williamson decided a career change was in order.

But she didn’t know exactly what the change would entail.

As a child, Williamson was surrounded by people with varying creative talents. Her mother is a portrait and sculpture artist, and her father is an engineer who “can build anything.”

She also has cousins who are musicians and a great aunt who is a songwriter.

“I was always raised around a creative family,” Williamson said.

She had taken a pottery class 25 years ago and loved it, but she didn’t have time to continue amid her responsibilities in the corporate world.

A year before Williamson quit her job, she decided to take a pottery class at Artists on the Bluff. Around the same time, her mother-in-law sent her a Zentangle starter kit to try.

Created by Maria Thomas and Rick Roberts nearly a decade ago, Zentangle is a method of creating images by drawing structured patterns, and achieving relaxation through the process.

“Zentangle is very relaxing,” Williamson said. “You can get lost in time doing it. Once you get into the groove, it’s almost meditative.”

She soon realized she wanted to do more than a kit could offer.

“I woke up one morning, and it was like, ‘You need to teach Zentangle,’” Williamson said.

In order to become a Certified Zentangle Teacher, or CZT, a person has to complete a training seminar taught by Thomas and Roberts, the method’s creators.

The seminars fill up quickly, Williamson said, and she ended up on a waiting list.

But she was persistent. Williamson kept calling to check if her name had moved up on the list. Eventually, she received the go-ahead to attend a seminar in Providence, Rhode Island, in 2011.

“It was a four-day course, and it’s very intensive,” she said. “Rick and Maria, they are awesome. It was a great experience to hear their story and their dream. They are very approachable.”

Williamson said there are about 2,500 Certified Zentangle Teachers in 27 countries around the world.

She has been teaching Zentangle for four-and-a-half years now and has taught more than 2,000 students.

Williamson offers beginner classes and sometimes holds sessions at local libraries and churches.

“We all have creativity. I like to help people discover theirs,” Williamson said. “For me, I was constantly busy. It really helps open up a whole new world. I always had very creative ideas, but had no idea how to implement them.”

She makes and sells pottery, mostly functional pieces like plates and bowls, but also decorative items, like crosses and hearts.

“I love texture and try to find different ways to incorporate it into my pottery,” Williamson’s website reads. “I use a lot of old fabrics pressed into the clay, I add three dimensional flowers, hearts and borders, and I also carve into the clay. Every day offers a new opportunity to try something.”

And, sometimes, Zentangle designs appear in her pottery.

Her pieces are available for purchase at the Artists on the Bluff Resident Gallery, White Flowers in Homewood and her studio.

Williamson doesn’t teach pottery classes, admitting pottery is a personal outlet for her.

“That’s all for me,” she said, “To feed my creativity. I have to keep mine flowing.”

She also does felting and dying on silk scarves.

“I love making the scarves,” she said, adding Maria Robinson, an artist formerly located next door to Williamson at Artists on the Bluff, taught her about felting and dying the scarves. “Silk and felt meld together with lots of agitation.”

Williamson also worked with scarves at a workshop led by Doug Baulos, assistant professor of drawing and bookmaking at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

The name of Williamson’s studio, Tangled Stones, reflects her interest in Zentangle and pottery.

“I came up with Tangled Stones because I love to Zentangle and I love to do pottery, which is stoneware,” she said.

Williamson’s students range in age, ability and background. She has taught people recovering from a stroke, people grieving the loss of a family member, children with autism and adults who just found time to take an art class.

“I’ve had some wonderful students,” she said, noting some have become certified Zentangle teachers themselves.

She said the greatest reward for her, as a teacher, is to see people do things they thought they couldn’t do.

She and her husband, Derek, a professor at the University of Alabama, married six years ago and decided to move to Bluff Park.

“We fell in love with Bluff Park,” she said. “It’s a real community type feel. You know your neighbors.”

Darla started teaching after-school Zentangle classes in January. To view her class schedule, visit Tangledstones.com.

She provides all of the supplies needed for her classes.

“I like to help people find their creativity,” she said. “I have students that have been with me since the beginning, so they challenge me. It’s awesome.”