Thank you for visiting. Here you will find posts based on my book The Power of Your Other Hand: Unlocking creativity and inner wisdom through the right side of your brain (new edition, 2019 Conari Press), featuring excerpts from the book, success stories from readers and students, my own experiences, and drawing and writing prompts using this technique. Enjoy!
~Lucia Capacchione, Phd, ATR

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Zenga Art from the Non-Dominant Hand

Almost twenty years after discovering the power of the non-dominant hand to heal, open up channels of creativity and unlock inner wisdom, I made another amazing discovery. One day while painting with watercolors, my “other hand” (the hand I don’t normally write with), picked up a brush and began making forms and “characters” that loosely resembled what I had seen in Japanese and Chinese art. A long-time admirer of traditional Asian art and collector of antique and vintage kimono, I recognized the painted circle (called enso) from exhibits of Asian art I had seen.

At the time these circles began flowing out of my brush, I knew next to nothing about the Zenga tradition of art. I only knew what I had seen and liked on scrolls and mounted paintings in museums and at shops in New Chinatown and Little Tokyo in downtown Los Angeles where I spent my early years. In fact, I was using one of the Japanese brushes I’d had since 5th or 6th grade when I purchased one for painting a large fabric banner in grammar school. I loved the flexibility of these brushes that seemed like many brushes in one. I could paint a large solid area or draw by making medium or thin lines with the round pointed tip. It all depended on how much paint was on the brush, how much pressure was applied and how the brush was held.

As I painted these circles with my non-dominant hand, calligraphic forms started to appear out of nowhere. How curious, I thought. These look like Japanese and Chinese characters I’ve seen on scrolls. I have no idea how my hand is doing this, and I sure don’t know what they say, if anything. It was effortless, fun and super relaxing, so I continued. I ended up creating a series of these multi-colored “faux Asian calligraphy” paintings. A few had enso circles in them, most of them were filled with calligraphy formed from the top down and often starting on the right hand top corner of the painting. I had never had instructions in Asian calligraphy techniques, yet my non-dominant hand knew what to do. Sometimes I gave them poetic titles that came as naturally and effortlessly as the paintings had. These titles sounded like fragments of zen sayings. I had no idea where any of this came from.

After awhile I got into the practice of playing recorded music for Zen Meditation while I painted. At those times it felt as if I were channeling a past life as an Asian monk. Although I began studying art at age 13 and had a Bachelor’s Degree in Art, I’d never taken a class in Asian art nor ever visited an Asian country. Yet here I was, immersed in a clearly meditative process using brushes from a far away land. Around that time, I saw an ad for an exhibit at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art entitled: “Zenga: Brushstrokes to Enlightenment.” The name of the show hit me like a thunderbolt. I knew I had to see it as soon as possible. Walking around the Museum’s Asian Pavilion, I was awe struck by what I saw. The walls were filled with traditional pieces from an art form that was all about meditation, mindfulness, and being in the present. Enso circles and other drawings, as well as calligraphy, seemed to flow from the very soul of the artists. The show was stunning and inspired me to continue.

I learned that, traditionally, these simple circles were created with Japanese brushes and ink, and usually accompanied by calligraphy featuring phrases or verses from Zen teaching. Enso art is a direct expression of the mind of the artist who creates it. I also knew from my studies of Swiss Psychologist, C.G. Jung, that circles have deep significance as the archetype of wholeness. He wrote about the circular form of the uroboros, the serpent eating its own tail, symbolizing the continuous cycle of life and death. What fascinated me most was the spontaneous quality of the work, considering that the artists received rigorous training by Zen masters and were themselves Zen masters. As an artist and art therapist, I resonated deeply with the idea of finding enlightenment through art.

For a few years after discovering this spontaneous Asian style art through my non-dominant hand, I continued painting and exhibiting these works throughout Los Angeles and California's central coast. At one exhibit, a Japanese man and I struck up a conversation. I laughed and acknowledged that my work was "faux calligraphy" inspired by Asian art. He laughed and pointed out that there actually were some real kanji characters in my art, but they didn't add up to anything. It would be like doing a painting with a made-up alphabet and throwing a few real letters into the mix for decorative purposes only.

At the same time I was painting and exhibiting these Asian inspired paintings, I also created collages and watercolor landscapes. However, it was the process of painting with Asian brushes in my non-dominant hand that brought me the most relaxation and inner peace. As in the Zenga tradition, the art was a byproduct of my state of mind and my spontaneous interaction with the brush, the paint or ink, and the paper. I was leading a very busy life at the time, traveling all over the world, writing books and leading workshops. Meditation through the brush became my refuge and a welcomed stress reduction practice.

In the last few months, almost three decades after my original discovery of Zenga art, I have had the opportunity to take classes with masters of Chinese brush painting and calligraphy. These teachers appeared out of nowhere, just like my first discoveries of what happened spontaneously when I put an Asian brush in my “other hand.” Exploring brushes, Chinese papers, calligraphy forms and traditional techniques has been a joy. I am looking forward to seeing what happens next.


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