Drawing ensō is a disciplined practice of Japanese ink painting—sumi-e (墨絵 "ink painting" ). The tools and mechanics of drawing the ensō are the same as those used in traditional Japanese calligraphy: One uses a brush (筆 fudé ) to apply ink to washi (a thin Japanese paper).
Usually a person draws the ensō in one fluid, expressive stroke. When drawn according to the sōsho (草書) style of Japanese calligraphy, the brushstroke is especially swift. Once the ensō is drawn, one does not change it. It evidences the character of its creator and the context of its creation in a brief, contiguous period of time. Drawing ensō is a spiritual practice that one might perform as often as once per day.
This spiritual practice of drawing ensō or writing Japanese calligraphy for self-realization is called hitsuzendō (筆禅道 "way of the brush" ). Ensō exemplifies the various dimensions of the Japanese wabi-sabi perspective and aesthetic: Fukinsei (asymmetry, irregularity), kanso (simplicity), koko (basic; weathered), shizen (without pretense; natural), yugen (subtly profound grace), datsuzoku (freedom), and seijaku (tranquility).
The ensō was appropriated as a logo by the corporations Lucent Technologies of the United States and Obaku Ltd. of Denmark. Obaku Ltd. continues to use an ensō shape as a wristwatch brand. Lucent ceased to use it after merging with Alcatel of France to form Alcatel-Lucent.
In 1995, Lucent hired the San Francisco office of Landor Associates, a transnational brand consultancy, to design their brand image. In the design of the logo, Landor colored an image of an ensō red. The designer intended the brushstroke to imply human creativity, and the red to convey urgency. They named it the "Innovation Ring". "Our name and symbol represent the new entrepreneurial spirit and vision of our company" reads a public relations statement from Lucent. In North America, the logo was widely misunderstood and derided. After years of staying-power and familiarity, the logo became more accepted by industry people in the West (including Lucent's own employees), although it was still not well understood. Nonetheless, soon other logo designers began to draw influence from the work.
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- Abstract expressionism, a 20th-century American art movement
- Buddhism in Japan
- Dhyāna in Buddhism, a meditation practice in which the observer detaches from several qualities of the mind
- Ink wash painting, an East Asian style of brush painting that uses black ink
- Ouroboros, an ancient symbol depicting a serpent or dragon eating its own tail
- 17th-century Rinzai master Bankei Yōtaku occasionally used two brushstrokes.
- Seo, Audrey Yoshiko (2007). Ensō: Zen Circles of Enlightenment. Boston: Weatherhill. ISBN 9780834805750. OCLC 71329980.
- Bowie, James (9 May 2006). "The Lucent Logo Legacy: Long Live the Big Red Donut". American Institute of Graphic Arts. Archived from the original on 11 October 2007. Retrieved 25 November 2013.
- McGowan, John (17 March 1997). "Elucidating Lucent's "Million-dollar Coffee Stain"". CNNMoney.com. Time Warner. Retrieved 27 November 2013.
- Magee, Mike (10 August 1999). "Lucent logo captures company in 'single masterful brush stroke'". The Register. Retrieved 27 November 2013.