Zentangle: A Fun, Creative, Meditative Art Form

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A Zentangle is meant to be a surprise that unfolds before the creator’s eyes, one stroke at a time. Zentangle is one of the few art forms that you intentionally do not plan out. There are no expectations of planned goals of accomplishment to worry about attaining or disappointment stemming from unattainable expectations. There is no plan to follow, there is nothing to detract the stroke being drawn. The lack of planning and the tangles allow the unexpected to occur.

~ Beckah Krahula; One Zentangle a Day

A Meditative Art Form

With the brand New Year in full swing, my partner and I are feeling happy and refreshed from having enjoyed a wonderful holiday season. We planned a quiet, restorative and relaxing holiday and opted not to travel anywhere this year, choosing instead to stay home and enjoy some time together. In the mornings, we slept in and lazed about, reading and relaxing. We cooked together, sipped wine and feasted on simple but delicious food. We laced up our skates and glided around the lagoon at Prince’s Island Park. We took many beautiful walks out in the fresh air and enjoyed the frosted evergreens and snow-covered paths. In the evenings, we snuggled in next to each other to read or watch some of our favourite feel-good movies. We also did something new, something fun I recently discovered, called Zentangling.

Early in December, I was perusing the beginner “how to draw” books at our local public library and came across a book called One Zentangle a Day: A 6-Week Course in Creative Drawing for Relaxation, Inspiration and Fun, by Beckah Krahula. I had no idea what a Zentangle was, but the words “creative”, “relaxation”, “inspiration” and “fun” had a magnetic appeal, so I checked the book out to look at it over the Christmas break.

 

Beginners’ Zentangle Gallery

Here are the Zentangles we created over the holiday season (click to enlarge):

 

Zentangle

A Zentangle is a miniature, abstract work of art created by combining different patterns. The “Zen” part of Zentangle refers to the meditative approach to drawing—the intention is to fully immerse oneself in the moment, as one focuses on the repetitive strokes of pen on paper. The “tangle” part of Zentangle refers to the patterns (called “tangles”) used to fill in a loosely drawn abstract form. Tangles are repeating patterns that, in and of themselves, are not meant to represent anything.

Origins of the Zentangle Process

According to Beckah Krahula, the Zentangle process is the brainchild of Rick Roberts and Maria Thomas, arising from Rick’s background in meditation and Maria’s background in art. Rick spent many years as a monk and well understood the process of meditation, while Maria is a renowned lettering artist and entrepreneur with an artist’s understanding of patterns and form. Maria’s focus was so intense as she worked on her art that it produced a state of altered consciousness, which Rick recognized as the same state he achieved using traditional forms of meditation. Together, they worked out a series of steps by which others could put pen to paper and, using repetitive strokes and patterns, achieve a relaxed state of meditative focus. This meditative state opens the door to a higher level of consciousness, allows access to innate knowledge, creativity, intuition and inspiration and provides an overall sense of well-being. Thus, the process of creating a Zentangle becomes a form of meditation.

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One of my partner’s first Zentangles.

 

Our First Zentangles

I started Zentangling over the holidays using Beckah Krahula’s book as a guide and immediately fell in love with the process. I couldn’t tear myself away. While I do enjoy doodling now and again, I have no training in drawing and I don’t draw particularly well, but Zentangling allowed me to draw simply for the joy of drawing. A sense of freedom came upon me as I worked and I realized that one of my biggest limitations with drawing was that I was always trying to reproduce the likeness of “something”. I was trying too hard to draw perfectly and would get easily frustrated.

The Zentangle process took me immediately back to my teenage days, when I used to create elaborate doodles in my notebooks in certain high school classes which held little interest for me. I’d get so lost in the doodling, the class would be over before I knew it. I didn’t know it then, but I was in a state of meditation.

One of the great things about Zentangling is that you don’t need to be an artist or have ever had any interest in drawing before. My partner is a perfect case in point—he watched me as I became absorbed in creatively putting together fun patterns and, to my great surprise, he wanted to try it. And once he tried it he was immediately hooked! He got as lost in the process as I did and, although he’s never drawn with a pen in his life, he effortlessly created several beautiful Zentangles, which I’ve posted in the gallery. Not that one should judge whose art looks better, but I honestly have to say his work is as good or better than my own!

 

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Whereas a Zentangle tile is consciously unplanned, abstract and not meant to “be” anything, Zentangle-inspired art is a deliberately planned application of “tangles” used to create a work of art which can be intended to “be” something.

There are No Mistakes

A Zentangle is traditionally created on a small square of art paper (3 1/2″ x 3 1/2″) and is intended to be completed in a relatively short time. It is a simple art form, using only pen and pencil. There is no need for an eraser because the most important premise of Zentangling is that there are no mistakes. What we would normally call “mistakes” do happen, especially as one is starting out and learning a pattern. It’s going to happen: you will make an unintentional stroke. But this is a very valuable part of the process—rather than view it as a mistake, Zentangling invites us to re-frame the entire concept of “mistakes” and view them as an opportunity to creative something new, or transform them in some way, or simply allow them to exist—to see the perfection of imperfections. This premise fits perfectly into my existing ideas about “failure” and “mistakes”.

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My partner working on a Zentangle; the smaller squares are practice squares.

My partner is a perfectionist and he tells me that the Zentangle process of letting go of “mistakes” has been more valuable to him than producing the art work itself (though he’s quite pleased with the art he created). I am delighted with the fun we are both having with this process.

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One of my Moleskine journals with practice tangles.

 

Happy Zentangling!
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Who knows what happy surprises await inside of you?

 

Zentangle Resources:

As a beginner Zentangler, I thought I’d list some books and resources that I found helpful in getting started:

An excellent book to get you started:
One Zentangle a Day: A 6-Week Course in Creative Drawing for Relaxation, Inspiration and Fun, by Beckah Krahula. This is an excellent book that demystifies the whole Zentangle process. One word of advice, however: Beckah lists all sorts of supplies needed to create Zentangles and Zentangle art but most of these things are not necessary—the only things you really need to get started are some good quality artist paper (many people like to purchase die-cut Zentangle tiles, but you can cut your own squares or use a sketchbook), a pencil and a fine-point pen of your choice. There are no rules. Just start and see where it takes you. Personally, I really like using the highly recommended black pigma Micron pens by Sakura because they are so beautiful to work with and they make the process so enjoyable. But many people Zentangle using fine-tipped Sharpie pens. This book is an excellent resource and a perfect way to get started, but it is not a bible on the patterns. Make sure to check out YouTube to see how other people do a particular pattern, as some of the tangles in this book vary from other forms out there.

Once you get the idea of the process, the book Joy of Zentangle: Drawing Your Way to Increased Creativity, Focus and Well-Being, by Marie Browning, Suzanne McNeill, and Sandy Bartholomew, is great for showing how to do many different tangle patterns.

The Official Zentangle Website is also a great resource. They sell Zentangle “kits” and die-cut Zentangle tiles (which are great, but again—it is not at all necessary to use anything “official” to Zentangle—just find some pens and paper you enjoy working with, and start).

CZT stands for Certified Zentangle Teacher (it took me a little while to figure that out).

To see other people’s inspiring work, check out The Zentangle Flickr Group.

YouTube: Make sure you check out YouTube for Zentangle videos. Many people have posted excellent video tutorials on how to do various tangles. Here are a couple of great videos by Maria Thomas:

Betweed Tangle:

 

Mooka Tangle

19 thoughts on “Zentangle: A Fun, Creative, Meditative Art Form

  1. Hello Jeannie,
    What a way to start the week! I haven’t heard of Zentangle before, but thanks to your post it’s sparked my interest. What an interesting concept, which allows anyone to play around with and bring out their creative side. The mini-gallery featuring you and your partner’s work is beautiful. For some reason, I see a real ‘organic’ style in your designs, if I squint I feel like I can see insects and flaura. But maybe it’s because I like nature/animals so much, it’s ‘colouring’ my vision ;))

    Once again, thanks for introducing something new, and something that can have a real positive impact on daily lives! Like many of your posts, I’ve bookmarked this page, so I can refer to it often, and will go slowly through the links and videos during the week :))

    Happy Monday,
    Takami

    • Hello Takami! Thank you for your wonderful comment. If you like doodling with a pen, I think you’d really enjoy checking out this Zentangle thing. I particularly like the concept of just letting things flow, getting into the groove and simply seeing what comes out. I never really know where I’ll end up, so each Zentangle really is a surprise. I like that! :))

      Wishing you a very Happy Tuesday! :)))

  2. Wow, Jeannie — these Zentangles are really the coolest thing ever! I’ve never heard of them, but I can certainly understand how the meditation practice comes into play. Really, the Zentangles that you and your partner created are absolutely beautiful! In fact, they’re mesmerizing — they draw the eye in and hold it there, causing one to be transfixed by the gentle lines and movement. Thank you for introducing me to this wonderful art form! I think I may just have to give it a try in my new sketch pad! :)

    • Thanks so much, Debra. I hope you do give this a try, as much for the meditative element as the creative element. It’s a really cool form of meditation. What makes it such a great meditation, in my opinion, is that the patterns are all easy, but they still require some focus—the mind has to stay focused or you’ll flub up. But you don’t have to focus too hard, so it allows a state of relaxation to set in. Whereas in traditional forms of meditation it is sometimes hard to quiet a really busy mind from all those thoughts that want to barge in, Zentanging gives the mind something easy and neutral to focus on. It’s a nice way to get one’s head off of one’s issues and give the mind a bit of R&R. And, it’s creative and fun! :))

      • I hear you about the ‘mind staying focused or you’ll flub up,’ Jeannie — in so much of life that’s true! LOL But I will give these Zentangles a try. I think doodling is sort of relaxing, too — or at least I can let myself get caught up in it and time passes, as you so eloquently stated. Thanks for all the info! Hope you have a warm, great day! :)

  3. What a zensational idea Jeannie. Thank you so much for the information on Zentangles. I look forward to giving this a try. The Zentangles you & your partner worked on are very beautiful & I agree with T Ibara Photo in that I also see insects & flaura.I l look forward to checking out the Flickr site and the you tubes videos on how to do Zentangles.
    Wishing you a wonderful Wednesday~

  4. Wow, I had never heard of this before, but I assure you I’m going to hear a lot about it in the next little while. It’s absolutely amazing, and considering I did an entire post a while back talking about how I’d love to draw up but had no talent, this is absolutely right up my alley, and fits right in with the fractals I resorted to in my own desperation to draw. So thanks a million for still another way to release these pent-up creative urges I have. :-)

  5. Once again you’re sharing great fun (and photos) and I must say I would like to try Zentangling sometimes ! You are inspiring me in trying new things. Thanks so much Jeannie. I took a break from my posts on CA.. but I am now back at it…

  6. How did I miss this?!?! What a fun experiment with your partner! Both of you are so talented – cooking, baking, writing, photography/videography…and now this! But are “practice zentangles” an oxymoron? ☺

    • Thanks so much Koji! As always, you are too kind. And yes, practice Zentangles might seem like an oxymoron, but a bit of practice is essential for learning the patterns. Once you have a few patterns under your belt, then the process of creating a Zentangle becomes effortless and there is no learning curve. It just flows. If you don’t practice, and try doing a pattern for the first time as an actual Zentangle, the process itself loses its flow and loses its purpose. So, a bit of familiarity with whichever patterns ones wishes to use is a good thing. Thanks for your comment on the Zentangles and thanks for stopping by here, my friend. Wishing you a happy week ahead! :))

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