Doodling With Purpose (Zentangle)

I’ve been looking for a way to clear my mind, focus my thoughts and pull in a positive, creative energy on a daily basis. I know about prayer, meditation, exercise, eating healthy – all those support a good mind-body-spirit balance, but I need something else. Something to both relax and stimulate the creative side of my brain.

I attended my first Zentangle class earlier this month.  I was skeptical about going, I knew at the end of the class I would be presented with books and pens and specialty papers to buy that were sure to enhance my Zentangle experience. I wasn’t sure I needed to attend a doodling class, and I was absolutely sure I didn’t need to be introduced to yet another hobby I’d never master. But I’m glad I went. Not only did I find a creative, fun way to relax, I learned a lot about what Zentangle is and isn’t. Now I want to share a bit of what I’ve learned with you.

Prior to attending the class I browsed through a few books on the subject and worked through a few YouTube tutorials. Initially, I was reminded of the doodles I did in middle school on the margins of my lecture notes, but I soon realized  Zentangle was on a whole different level.

What is Zentangle?


The longish answer, with a smidge of history is this: In 2005, Maria Thomas, an artist illustrator, and one of the founders of Zentangle, was creating a background pattern for a manuscript. She described the sense of focus, well-being and relaxation she felt while designing the patterns to her partner, Rick Roberts, a former Buddhist monk. Rick told her the feelings she was experiencing sounded like meditation. They then developed Zentangle, a system of creating patterns that encourages others to experience the same state of relaxation.

The supper abbreviated answer could be that Zentangle is yoga for the brain. When practiced regularly it can:

– Promote a focused mind, self-confidence and relaxation
– Develop creativity, drawing skills, hand-eye coordination and problem solving skills

Is Zentangle Doodling?

the eyeZentangle has been described as doodling with purpose. Yet, ‘with purpose‘ implies a planned outcome with little room for mistakes. So not true. The ‘with purpose‘ part is really about focusing on the pen strokes as you move your pen across the paper. It’s about the mind and body being engaged in a conscious effort.  In short, it’s about becoming one with the paper. How zen does that sound?

As a complete novice to Zentangle I find it hard to tell others how it’s different from doodling.  Genevieve Crabe, Certified Zentangle Teacher (CZT) compares it to the study of music:
“The 102 tangles are a form of standardized notation, much as in music, that students first learn to master. Each Certified Zentangle Teacher learns to master these 102 tangles so as to be able to teach students to make art in the first two classroom hours. Standardized tangles make classroom instruction possible. The students soon learn to recognize these tangles in a complex looking piece of art the way musicians recognize chord structure in someone else’s music.”

So perfectly described! Of course that’s why she is a CZT, but I just love the analogy.

Must I Follow the Patterns?

Prior to attending the class, I didn’t think learning the patterns was important. After all, who doesn’t know how to doodle? How difficult can it be? Why should I invest in books or classes aimed at making me a better doodler? I now see to fully understand the Zentangle experience it’s helpful to learn the patterns.

For me personally, I find it helpful to follow along with a book when I want to tangle. For one, it’s a good jumping off point. I also think of it as a warm up, like stretching before a run; following a suggested pattern helps me stretch and warm up my brain.

I told my daughter about the class and she did one of her own Zentangle inspired doodles  without looking at a book or following a pattern:

tangle design

So no, you don’t have to follow patterns. She is quite happy with it and I suppose that’s all that matters. If you are happy with what you create and you found it relaxing and enjoyable then the exercise was successful. But if you’d really like to tap into the benefits Zentangle has to offer, I highly suggest learning more about the patterns. There really is a meditative process that happens when forming them. THAT from a person who doesn’t like to follow rules (at least not in art).

Do I Have to Have Drawing Skills? micro

Definitely not. Though I consider myself artistic and creative I have very poor drawing skills. Well, I can draw, but I can’t draw detail very well and a decent drawing takes me a long time. After practicing Zentangle for a couple of weeks, I see how it may help me develop better drawing skills.

Most artists are observers. I’m good at observing and I know everything is basically made up of shapes and lines. However when trying to translate the shapes and lines I observe into an understandable (attractive) drawing…lets just say something gets lost in translation.

Zentangle has taught  me to break down subjects into blocks of pattern and those patterns into simple lines. In observing a sleeping cat, a flower, trees, I see the chunks of patterns that make up the whole subject.  When you see subject matter in blocks of patterns, it is easier to break it down to more manageable parts. This goes along with the music analogy mentioned above.

Before writing this post, I did a few Zentangle tutorials on YouTube. One of my favorites was the auraknot video. The auraknot  looked difficult, but the tutorial broke the design down into steps and before I knew it, I had a pretty impressive looking design. Unfortunately, I misplaced the drawings  so I don’t have them for you to see, but it was in creating that design I realized how Zentangle is useful in developing drawing skills. In this video you’ll see how to make the auraknot with a simple step by step method.

Do I need Special Supplies?

As you saw in my daughters doodle, she used a sharpie and lined paper for her work.  It isn’t necessary to purchase special papers or pens, though I’m sure you’ll want to invest in better quality products as you progress.

In the book “Zentangle Untangled’, Kass Hall, artist and CZT, writes: “…the materials you use often reflect the value you put into what you are creating.”

As your love of Zentangle grows and you begin to cherish those moments of relaxation and exploration, you’ll for sure want to invest in the higher quality materials, but I suggest just trying it first. The library offers books on the topic and of course the internet is a great source of info and ideas. As supplies go though, the official Zentangle tools are not over-the-top expensive, especially as far as art supplies go, so you really don’t need to spend a lot of money either way. I invested in a nice set of micron pens, but I use a small sketch pad of multi purpose, slightly textured paper I picked up from a Japanese yen store years ago which has been working well for me so far. I haven’t convinced myself  I need the trademarked paper tiles yet.

Why Do I Love It?

As someone who has only taken one class, I’m definitely not an expert on the subject.  I’ve just been so inspired by this form of meditation/art I wanted to share it with you.

I love it for its meditative effects. The process of creating the repetitive patterns is quite therapeutic. Though many practitioners are very accomplished artists and create gorgeous, intricate work, I don’t have a plan when I practice Zentangle. I just let my mind go, a bit like free flow thought, but on paper.

While it seems I might be getting all religious on the matter, I don’t mean it’s an activity full of ritual or that there should be any expectations of reaching Nirvana through Zentangle. It is actually fun and relaxing and isn’t something that needs to be taken so seriously, but I do find it to be a great way to clear the mind.

I didn’t intend for this to be such a long post but once I got started, I found I had so much to share! I hope you will try Zentangle and that you find it useful for relaxation, solving a complicated design dilemma or developing your drawing skills. Most of all though, I hope you have FUN.

Since taking the class I’ve been working on  some of my own Zentangle inspired art which I have scattered throughout this post. They aren’t great, but they were fun to make and with practice, I’m sure they’ll get better. And now that I am using micron pens rather than markers, I’ve noticed improvement in the lines.

WOW – sorry for the long post! Have a fantastically productive week!



  1. I am so glad you have shared this – I have been waiting for this a while. I love the idea of yoga for the brain …………….. I am definitely going to give this a shot.


    • I’m sure you will find it very relaxing and enjoyable. I’d love to see what you come up with and hear about your experience with it.
      Thanks for reading!


    • Oh my – I am so sorry, I meant to ask you if I could mention you in my post – i just completely forgot. Thank you though and I will try to make that credit correction as soon as I can.
      Have a great day. And thank you for reading AND for including me in your weekly round up. I will be sure to read it. I’m really loving this Zentangle!


  2. Coolness abounds! I read your post about how you made a wonderful place for your cats to just be, scrolled down, then saw this! I enjoy doodling and am moving towards doing zentangles. Well…I guess you could call what I do dootangles. Zendles just doesn’t sound right. 😀 Nice work!


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