“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!

The Human Experience

“Life is sacred, that is to say it is the supreme value, to which all other values are subordinate.” – Albert Einstein

If you are looking for an up-lifting film experience that will reaffirm your faith in others and in living life itself, look no further than “The Human Experience.”  Directed by Charles Kinnane, produced by Grassroots media and released in 2008, the message portrayed in this film is just as important and inspiring today as it was 11 years ago.

The Human Experienc. truck.

The film is based on three experiences.  Following two brothers, Clifford Azize and Jeffrey Azize and two of their friends, Michael Campo and Matthew Sanchez, as they search for meaning in their lives.  The film also interviews artists, human rights activists, philosophers, and others who are experts in their fields of study.

The quest to find meaning in one’s life is not new.  Who am I?  What is my purpose?  How do I fit into my family, society, my village, my world?  And many more questions have been asked since the dawn of humanity.  What is unique about this documentary film is the way in which participants go about their search.

The first experience is with Jeffrey and Clifford as they spend a week with the homeless community in New York City during a February cold snap.  One man helps the brothers set up a place to sleep the first night.  He tells them to sleep by a church because they are less likely to make you leave. A homeless woman who was interviewed by the brothers said that you must have family and friends to survive in this world.  She talked about how she had been homeless several different times.  One time she was standing on the street with four dogs.  People came and took the dogs and found homes for them, but left her there on the street.  A homeless man in a soup kitchen told the brothers that you can lose everything but they can’t take away your hopes and dreams.

For the second experience the brothers, Clifford and Jeffrey, join Surf for the Cause and volunteer at a hospital for abandoned children in Lima, Peru.  The founder of the hospital shared what inspired him to do this work.  There were temporary volunteers, people who just helped out for a specific amount of time and permanent volunteers who had dedicated their lives to the work.  Some of the children in this hospital would go back to their families once they were healed.  Their families did not have the skills or resources to take care of the children.  Other children were abused, abandoned and left to die.  For these children, the hospital was their home and their refuge.  No matter what type of situation the children had come from they were fed, safe and cared for at this hospital.  The thing I took away from this experience was the pure joy that children have.  Even in the face of insurmountable odds and horrible events in their past, you could see the joy in the faces of the children.

The third experience takes place in the African nation of Ghana.  The brothers join their friends, Michael and Matthew, as they travel to visit people dying from AIDS/HIV and visit a leper colony.  One of the young men’s mother had died of AIDS when he was nine years old.  At one point they are interviewing a young woman, who is dying from the disease, and they ask her what wisdom would she leave to her children.  She said she would want them to know about her faith in God and His love.  She goes on to say that she would want her children to know how much she loved them.  It was an incredibly powerful moment in the film.

Leprosy was/is considered to condemnation.  Many of the people who lived at the colony had been left there by family members.  Never seeing their familes again.  A man at the colony asked the Jeff, Cliff, Matthew and Michael if they were afraid of the people with leprosy.  They said no that you are human beings like us.  This made the man very happy.  He went on to say that his son never came to see him that he was ashamed of him because of the disease.  The hope, faith and sense of community shared by those interviewed in this section of the film is truly inspiring.

Upon returning to New York, all of these young men had been changed by their experiences.  At one point Jeff says that no matter what your difficulties and experiences are life is still good.

As an added component to the film, is the story of Jeff and his interview about his life.  Jeff and Cliff’s father was abusive and an alcohoic while they were growing up.  Jeff had not seen his father in ten years.  Keep in mind that he is only twenty at the time this was filmed.  Cliff arranges for Jeff and their father to meet.  In an emotional reunion, Jeff forgives his father for past events and makes arrangements to see him again.

I cannot recommend this Documentary film enough.  See it.  You will be glad that you did.