Serious doodling: Using just markers and paper, Brenda Zimmerman creates beautiful works of art

Published 12:40 am Sunday, December 14, 2014

By Katie Scarvey

Lutheran Services Carolinas

If she’s in a meeting, Brenda Zimmerman will probably be marking up the paper in front of her – and she’s not taking notes.

“I’m the one that doodles all over the conference packet,” says Zimmerman, who is a life enrichment director at Trinity Oaks. But that doesn’t mean she’s not paying attention.

“They’ve done research that shows that doodling actually helps you concentrate,” Zimmerman says.  “I believe it.”

For the past three years, Zimmerman has channeled her doodling energy into creating beautiful works of art during what would otherwise be down time – like waiting at the doctor’s office.

“I like to doodle, so why not make it productive doodling?” Zimmerman asks. “I find it very relaxing, very soothing. It’s a creative outlet.”

This “doodling” is similar to what is known as Zentangle, a kind of abstract drawing that features repetitive patterns according to the trademarked Zentangle Method. Zimmerman isn’t bound by Zentangle patterns or rules. While she uses repetitive patterns, many of her pieces deviate from classic Zentangle by featuring recognizable objects such as shells, crosses, or birds.

Her art is gaining a lot of exposure for Zimmerman. She submitted the winning entry in a Christmas card art contest open to staff members of Lutheran Services Carolinas. Zimmerman’s colorful design was made into a card that was sent to more than 5,000 donors and supporters of LSC.

For Zimmerman, the design is symbolic: “In our complex world – represented by the detailed line work—our lives are bland (the black and white) until the Christ child illumines the world.”

The card meshes perfectly with LSC’s mission statement: “Empowered by Christ, we walk together with all we serve.”

“Brenda’s design for the Christmas card is so beautiful and meaningful, and it truly made this year’s holiday appeal for Lutheran Services Carolinas memorable,” said Kristen Kitchen, director of donor relations for Lutheran Services Carolinas.

The cards have been so popular that people have made inquiries about buying them to use for their own Christmas greeting cards. That won’t happen this year, but LSC hasn’t ruled it out for any future cardsZimmerman might design.

Zimmerman also created a card this year for The Perfect Rose, a local landscaping business that specializes in designing, installing, and maintaining rose gardens throughout the Carolinas.

Jack Page and Robert Myers, co-owners of The Perfect Rose, are fans of Zimmerman’s art. Before the men moved from their former home on Monroe Street, Zimmerman gave them a mixed media piece (pen and ink and watercolor) featuring their beautiful garden. They loved the gift, which now hangs in their Forest Glen home.

At a holiday gathering last year, Page and Myers spotted a Christmas tree design in Zimmerman’s sketchbook they thought would make a great card for both business and personal use. They told Zimmerman what they wanted, and she ran with it, says Page, who estimates they will send out 400 cards this year.

Zimmerman’s process is relatively simple. She starts with a four-inch square of heavy drawing paper, although she sometimes she leaves one side open so she has the flexibility to turn it into a greeting card, with text if she chooses. The designs – which come from Zimmerman’s head – are done freehand with a black ink micron pen.  After she’s finished the design, she can choose to add color with Sharpie markers.

She keeps a notebook of finished designs that she can recreate using templates.

Although most of her projects are one-dimensional, Zimmerman has also done some three-dimensional work on wood, including a lazy Susan. Her approach is somewhat different with those – the color goes on first, in the form of paint. After several rounds of sanding and painting, she then she inks the design.

Zimmerman said that growing up in Salisbury she was “always drawing something.”  At Appalachian State University she majored in art, with a minor in education. After graduating, she worked as an art teacher in Danville, Va. for four years in the late 1970s. One of those years she taught all 12 grades.

After moving back to Salisbury she began teaching crafts at what was then the Lutheran Home, now Trinity Oaks health and rehab. What was supposed to be a six-week gig has turned into 34 years and counting.

At Trinity Oaks, Zimmerman is known for organizing an annual quilt show and for creating the FootLoose art project to benefit the Walk to End Alzheimer’s.

Katie Scarvey is a communications specialist for Lutheran Services Carolinas.