April Haiku #3

Spring is truly here.

Blooming in a sheltered spot,

a yellow crocus.



“Learning to draw is really a matter of learning to see – to see correctly – and that means a good deal more than merely looking with the eye.” Kimon Nicolaides

As an artist and creative person, I tend to draw on things.  In college I doodled on notebooks while taking notes in class.  I doodle on phone messages, junk mail envelopes, sticky notes, pretty much anything that isn’t a legal document or my passport.  Because of this habit of drawing or doodling on things, a student in one of my creative classes saw a doodle in my notes and asked me if I had ever heard of zentangles.  I said “zen whats?” She told me she would bring me some information about them to the next class.  She was true to her word and brought me a book.

At the end of class, when I tried to give the book back to my student, she wouldn’t take it.  She stated that the book was mine and she had purchased it for me.  I thanked her profusely.  When I got home from class that night, I jumped into the world of the zentangle.

So where does Zentangle come from?  The creative ingenuity of Rick and Maria and the company, Zentangle, Inc., that they have created in Whitinsville, Massachusetts.

On their website, they say that it all started with Maria’s botanical prints.  When she sells them, she would create beautiful lettering on the prints.  People would comment on how amazing her lettering is but how they did not have the time to invest in becoming an accomplished calligraphy artist.

At another time, Rick interrupted Maria while doing her creative work.  When asked what she was experiencing before the interruption Maria described being immersed in the work and feelings of selflessness, timelessness, effortlessness.  Rick who is a practitioner of meditation became very excited and told Maria that she was describing meditation.  At the moment Maria was interrupted she wasn’t working on lettering.  Instead she was creating patterns behind a gold-leafed letter.

From that eureka moment the idea grew to become the Zentangle method of drawing.  For more information on all things Zentangle please click on the following link to Rick and Maria’s website: Zentangle

What makes the Zentangle Method so unique is that it doesn’t focus on looking at a still-life, becoming a master calligrapher or learning proportions.  It “is an easy-to-learn, relaxing, and fun way to create beautiful images by drawing structured patterns. We call these patterns, tangles. You create tangles with combinations of dots, lines, simple curves, S-curves and orbs. These simple shapes are the ‘Elemental Strokes’ in all Zentangle art. These patterns are drawn on small pieces of paper called “tiles.” We call them tiles because you can assemble them into mosaics.” Quoted from the Zentangle website, please see provided link for more information.

What is unique about this process is that one focuses on the strokes and the act of creating over the end result.  What you create is often a pleasant surprise.

On the Zentangle website they list 8 steps for the creation of a Zentangle.  I have listed the steps from the site with some of  my own illustrations.

Step 01 – Gratitude and Appreciation

Get comfortable, take a few deep breaths and feel gratitude and appreciation – for this beautiful paper, for these wonderful tools, for this opportunity to create something beautiful.

zentangle materials

Step 02 – Corner Dots

We teach beginning Zentangle Method with beautiful museum grade cotton paper, 3.5 inches (89 mm) square. To answer a familiar question of what to put on this beautiful paper, place a light pencil dot in each corner, about a pen’s width from the edges. Now it’s no longer a blank piece of paper.

I have used the special paper called tiles.  I have also made large and small Zentangles.  If it helps you in your creative process to strictly follow the 3.5 inch square, I would recommend doing that.  If it would work better for you to work larger, smaller, on coloured paper, etc., do what ignites your imagination and boosts your creativity.

Step 03 – Border

Connect those dots with a light pencil line, straight or curvy, to create a square. This is your border.


Step 04 – String

Inside the border, draw a light pencil line or lines to make what we call a “string.” The string separates your tile into sections, in which you draw your tangles. A string can be any shape. It may be a curvy line that touches the edge of the border now and then, or series of straight lines that go from one side of the border to the next.



zentangle 1

Step 05 – Tangle

A tangle is a predefined sequence of simple strokes that make up a pattern. Draw your tangles in pen inside (usually) the pencil strings and borders. Tangle is both noun and verb. Just as you dance a dance, you tangle your tangles. Draw your tangles with deliberate strokes. Don’t worry about what it’s going to look like. Just focus on each stroke of the pen as you make it. Trust that you’ll know what to do next when the time to do it comes. There is no up or down to Zentangle art so feel free to rotate your tile in any direction that is most comfortable for your hand as you draw.

zentangle 2

Step 06 – Shade

Add shades of gray with a graphite pencil to bring contrast and dimension to your tile. The black and white two-dimensional tangles transform through shading and appear three-dimensional. You can also use a tortillion (a paper blending stump) to soften and blend the graphite.

finished zentangle

Step 07 – Initial and Sign

This is art you created. You should sign it. Put your initials on the front (many people create a unique monogram or chop for this step). On the back, place your name, date, comments and observations.

I personally do not initial or sign a piece until it is done.  A lot of the zentangle work that I do is to go into other a larger artwork and therefore, I don’t sign them.

Step 08 – Appreciate

Hold your tile at arm’s length. Turn it this way and that. Appreciate what you just created.

Below is a zentangle of leaves that I am going to use in a larger piece of artwork.

zentangle leaves

Here is an example of seeing something in life and being inspired to create a zentangle around it.


The piece below is titled “Fish” and was created using a technical pen with white ink on black paper.  The actual fish was inspired by a tattoo.  See photo above.

I was waiting in line at Dairy Queen with a friend one night after class.  I noticed the fish tattoo on the should of a young man.  I asked him if I could take a picture of his tattoo.  He said yes.  Less than a week later I finished the above artwork.  He had given me his email because he wanted to see what I would do from the picture.  When I emailed him a photo of the artwork, he responded that it was really cool and he was impressed with how it turned out.


Drawing.  Doodles.  Zentangles.  Whatever you want to call it, this technique is truly calming and opens the door to greater creativity.

Sometimes we are given a gentle nudge to try something new creatively.  When the nudge happens, I recommend following it.  You may be pleasantly surprised where it leads.

Happy creating!