What is Zentangle?
Linda Farmer, Certified Zentangle Teacher


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On understanding Zentangle®

The following article, A post with no pictures, was posted earlier today by CZT Sandy Hunter here on her blog and Sandy is so eloquent I thought it worth sharing on TanglePatterns. So with Sandy’s kind permission, here is her article reprinted in its entirety. Here’s Sandy …

* * *

A post with no pictures

I don’t really care what the ‘rules’ of Zentangle are! I’m not a rule-follower … it’s my art and I’ll do what I want!

I see this subject get kicked around on Zentangle fan forums from time to time. I don’t normally engage because I don’t really feel like handing angry people a stick to beat me with, but it’s hard for me to see something so inherently good and useful be misunderstood. So, I want to try to explain it. Please bear in mind that this is my own point of view and I’m not representing anyone else.

Books and Pinterest and YouTube videos are all wonderful sources for patterns for doodling/tangling/patterning/line weaving…. but all of those words are used interchangeably, and that’s where the conflict arises. The confusion seems to come from the fact that that people will refer to any intricate piece of line art as Zentangle, because they think that’s just the latest buzzword for ‘that thing I was already doing years ago in the margins of notebooks’.

It is possible to place identical drawings side by side where one is a doodle, and the other is a Zentangle. The reason that’s possible is because the art itself does not make a drawing a Zentangle. The art is the byproduct of the complete mental immersion in the process of ‘tangling’. It all depends on where your mind is when you do it. If you’re in this for the art, these guidelines don’t matter one iota. Doodle/draw/sketch away. But if you’re craving a temporary, effective escape plan from pain, grief, or stress (or you just need a mental break) read on, because this information just might come in handy one day.

Yes, the rumors are true: there are guidelines (they’re just roads to a destination, really) with Zentangle. And they don’t exist to crush your spirit. Think of them as stout little pillars that work together to support a single purpose: to refocus the mind. Zentangle is mindful. Every guideline exists to make that complete mental immersion possible, and sustain it. That’s no easy task in a fast-paced culture (with a constant barrage of distractions) like ours.

#1: The first step in starting a Zentangle: a border and ’string’, drawn lightly in pencil.

Reason: The pencil line, or string, creates sections to draw within. The string line is merely a suggestion and a place to begin. It is drawn lightly in pencil so that it will disappear behind the ink that follows. Some people have never faced a blank piece of paper and been intimidated and overwhelmed by it, but for those who have, something as simple as having a place to start is a huge relief and can easily mean the difference between success and failure.

#2: Zentangles are completely abstract.

Reason: This eliminates the preoccupation with whether something looks ‘right’. If it’s supposed to look like a bird but something about it doesn’t look the way it should, that is what you will be preoccupied with. This actually eliminates a whole bunch of other mental hurdles that go along with drawing specific things, e.g. proportion, placement, what goes around it, etc.

#3: Zentangles are drawn only in black ink.

Reason: This keeps the tangling process as right-brained as possible. To keep the focus on the repetition of the patterns, the slow, deliberate drag of the nib across the paper, the ink soaking into the paper in its wake. With color, decisions must be made: Paint or gel pens? Or marker? How many colors? Which ones? Where do I add them? Do they work together? If you start to add color, that is what you will be preoccupied with. And limiting drawing materials can inspire creativity in surprising ways.

#4: Patterns should be created by drawing repetitive strokes… structured, non-representational, and easy to draw in a limited number of steps.

Reason: The goal is to focus on the strokes of the pen used to create the pattern, and the controlled breathing that happens along with it. The primary goal of drawing a Zentangle is not to draw complicated tangle patterns. Some people are in it for the Zen, some are in it for the art… and there can be a pretty big difference in the way it looks. Which brings us to…

#5: No planned outcome.

Reason: This aligns with minimizing decision-making. Relaxing into the process and just letting a Zentangle unfold as it appears line by line is calming, and it’s fun to see all those little nuances coming together here and there when opportunities present themselves.

#6: Paper, or ‘tiles’, are 3.5 inches square.

Reason: Zentangles are designed to be finished in a short time. They’re friendly. They’re manageable. There is a sense of accomplishment that comes from creating something beautiful from start to finish in one sitting. The small size also makes it portable (Doctor’s waiting room? No problem. Two-hour wait for an oil change? Yes please!). And because it’s small, it’s easy to turn, making drawing in one direction over another more comfortable.

#7: No using stencils, rulers, or graph paper.

Reason: In short, there is no zen to be had in the preoccupation with perfection. There’s a certain joy in letting the pen wander without being confined to a grid or rigid space. Imperfection makes art more interesting… embrace it! Also, see #2.

It is the nature of all greatness not to be exact.” – Edmund Burke

#8 No erasers.

Reason: Anything that interrupts the drawing process is going to create a shift in focus. Then it becomes less about drawing those slow deliberate lines and breathing, and more about fixing/changing stuff. Just keep drawing and let it evolve. Get comfortable with the idea that mistakes can be turned into something good and unexpected (and exciting!).

If you’re not a rule-follower, it’s ok. Not following these steps does not mean your line art is in any way bad or wrong; it just means it’s not technically a Zentangle. I’m a CZT and 99% of what I draw isn’t technically Zentangle… I’m here for the art too. It’s good to know the difference, but don’t let it be a label and keep you from enjoying the journey.

Comments and respectful discussion are welcome.

Trolls will be bound and tangled. ;o)

* * *

For the original of Sandy’s post please visit her blog and continue the discussion there.

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43 comments to On understanding Zentangle®

  • Sally

    Great article and clarification! Thank you for posting.

  • Jan Brandt, CZT XII, Reno, NV, USA

    Sandy, I couldn’t have said it better!! Thank you for making the effort to convey so accurately the point and purpose of the Zentangle Method. I will share your post with ALL my students – past & future.

  • Jackie

    YES! Thanks you, very concise and deliberate.
    Where is the thumbs up button

    • Linda Farmer, CZT

      The social sharing buttons are floating out there on the left side of the page in the Desktop version. On the mobile version they’re at the bottom of the post under the “You might also like” section right above the Comments. Hope that helps. And YES, PLEASE SHARE!!

  • Melena

    Great post!!! I will share this with others. Thank you Sandy, and thank you Linda for posting it here.

  • Vickilynne

    Very well thought out and written. Thanks so much for sharing this.

  • Barbera van der Zee

    I am not a CZT , just a person who loves to draw and relax in only ‘the Zentangle-way’ . Now i know what that really is, thanx!
    Love from The Netherlands !!!!

  • Pam

    Fantastic! Thank you for breaking it down.

  • Stacey Christensen

    Yes yes yes!!!! Thank you so much! I am not a CZT yet, but one day I hope to be. This month I have the opportunity to introduce zentangle in a workshop I am teaching. I am going to use some of your points to define zentangle. I get so frustrated when trolls hit the Forums and social media and call it a doodle. Thank you for addressing this so beautifully.

  • Sue Zanker

    Oh WOW! I wish I had written that piece by Sandy! Thanks so much for posting it Linda. As I said in my comment on Sandy’s site, I feel like printing it out, laminating it and carrying it in my tote bag to whip out at a moment’s notice when people start in on me with the….”it’s only a marketing ploy”…or…”it’s nothing, I have been doing it for years” etc etc. Trouble is, on sites like yours and Sandy’s, it is almost a case of “preaching to the converted”…….it needs to be up on a huge billboard in the centre of town !! I do my daily black and white Zentangle tile every single day, before setting off on other artistic pursuits, which may, or may not, contain black & white,coloured, huge, teeny weeny tangles. My morning Zentangle is even more important to me than my first cup of coffee, to get my day going on an even keel.

  • Jenny

    That was beautifully written. Thank you Sandy.

  • Ruth Dailey

    Thanks – as usual you are right on the mark – The clarification is needed from time to time to keep the method of Zentangle pure. Lots of interest and activity attests to the timeliness of the artform – generally, pen and ink patterns and designs. The structure as presented by Maria and Rick is a boon to those that apply it…and a great opportunity for those who can use the time and money to attend the workshop. For the rest we just need to be more careful with our labels and names for things.

  • Thank you both for sharing this wonderful article. I am always, always on the lookout for articles like these so that I can point my students to them!

  • Sandy, thank you for your thoughtful reminder of why we are here, and Linda, thank you for bringing this to your many readers. With all the “challenges” and posts with spectacular artwork, we sometimes forget that Zentangle is a process – a journey. It’s not the outcome, but what gets us there that is the reason we tangle.

  • Cheryl Cianci

    This is fantastic!!! Thank you! 🙂

  • Thanks for sharing, Linda!! It is a great reminder to us all! :0) Hugs Annette

  • Sara Brandli

    Sandy thank you, your article was very interesting and liberating, I can now understand the difference in my tangles and my art work, I love them both but must admit Zentangle’s offer me space, time and the joy of viewing something I didn’t know I was going to draw no stress, love it. kind regards

  • Barb I

    thanks for a clearer understanding of what this art form IS.


    To add my two cents to the discussion I think confusion is added to the subject with books like Zen Doodle out in the marketplace. Someone entering into the art of Zentangle and seeing the book would think it quite all right to combine the two words…I have friends that will tell me “I just want to play…I don’t want the rules…why can’t I call it a tangle.
    Tangling is a Zen type of moment in time and to spoil it by arguing with each other pretty much takes away from what we are trying to do. I explain the difference and leave it at that. if they are finding peace with there doodling and designing it is also a good thing

  • Nancy Pearson

    I appreciate this article. I believe I already knew this but I tend to forget especially when there are so many art pieces posted across the Internet that do not qualify as a Zentangle (perfect round circles, shapes like flowers, birds etc. but are called Zentangles. I like the fact that Zentangle does not represent any particular object because I cannot draw at all. That is what was so interesting for me. I could create a piece of art and feel joy without having to “draw” anything.

    Linda. A question. Sometimes a finished tile exposes the penciled border because of open space in the design. Do I erase those lines or do they stay there? I know this is probably a silly question to many. Sometimes I erase and sometimes I don’t. What should I do? Thanks. Nancy

    • Linda Farmer, CZT

      “I could create a piece of art and feel joy without having to “draw” anything.” – I love that!

      In response to your question, I’m guessing you erase it based on aesthetics because it would look better in your eyes if it wasn’t there and I’d say that’s fine. But remember to look at it and appreciate it from all 4 sides first to really make sure that’s what you want to do. In the end, of course, it is your art so it’s up to you.

  • Erin Conte

    I’ve gotten confusion amungst my circles while showing finished tangles from some of the “big names” in tangling; they are so beautiful in their completion. Yet, when deconstructed, it’s discovered that the elements, such as starting with a string, are missing. Or, they’ve created a Tanglation so wonderfully put on paper, yet so far from the original tangle it leaves a new Tangler discouraged. There are a plethora of Tangle step outs available, so when viewing Tangles and ZIA where the artist lists the tangles used, it’s a bummer to look up the patterns and not be able to tell which are which. Personally, I’ve fallen in love with someone’s pattern just to have my Zen interrupted when I find that the step outs don’t resemble the same look I wanted to emulate. Being a beginner, with sub par art skills, my brain is not able to wrap itself around the deconstruction of most tangles. That said, I just tell myself it will all come with practice. I continue to “study” the art that is Zentangle, and enjoy every minute of it.

    • Linda Farmer, CZT

      My thoughts, for what it’s worth …

      The wonderful thing about Zentangle is that an entire room full of people can follow the identical instructions for the steps of several tangles and yet their tiles will all turn out completely different and UNIQUE. At the end of class the CZT will often put all the tiles together in a group mosaic that perfectly demonstrates this phenomenon.

      Just as each of us has different handwriting, so do we each have our own tangling style as our handwriting and stroke-making use the same fine motor skills.

      While it is fine to be inspired by others you shouldn’t expect to have the same handwriting, after all they’ve been practicing/honing their style for decades. If you allow your own style to shine through you’ll learn the uniqueness of YOUR “Zentangle handwriting” through the enjoyment and daily practice of those deliberate ink strokes on your tiles.

      Perhaps the best way to avoid having your Zen interrupted might be to practice the tangle first until you get a sense of its rhythm before you put pen to Zentangle tile.

      We are each unique and that is a(nother) good thing to be grateful for.

  • DeniseC

    I posted the link to this piece on the Facebook group Zentangle, and it has received many likes and comments. The Zentangle newbies have especially been appreciative. Thank you Sandy and Linda!

  • Danielle DeRome, CZT 20

    Well said, Linda. Thank you for taking the time!

  • ShawnaO

    Terrific writing and explanation! As a newbie trying to describe to others what this awesome practice is all about (and surely doing it no justice in my attempts to do so), I’m grateful for the very clear description. Many thanks!

  • Cynthia


  • Camille

    Thanks, Linda for sharing Sandy’s post. I can’t possibly follow all the Zentangle related blogs, so I follow you as you do an excellent job of compilation and sharing from others, as well as including your own well written and concise, clear information. Sandy clearly outlined the difference between Zentangle and ZIA, and made me think again about the Zen part…. which is why I started with this creativity exercise in the beginning. It was an excellent reminder. Thank you for all your work on TanglePatterns.com

  • Andrea Porrazzo-Nangle

    Thank you for sharing such a well written article. I follow several Zentangle forums etc., and like Sandy, seldom respond. The discussions are all interesting and necessary in order to keep the a clear focus on the nature of zentangle. And as always, respectful discussion is always a delight.

    Andi CZT13

  • Wanda

    It’s the journey, not the destination. It’s been said a thousand times in a thousand ways, but always bears repeating. So uplifting to read this article AND the many responses. Sit down, pick up the pencil, breathe deeply, forget everything else and begin. Four dots, connected, a string drawn with delight, and it begins. Let those pencil lines, and those enticing, growing, changing patterns take you into that peaceful place where the magic glows in the multiplying lines, dots, curves, squares, squigglies, darks and lights, shadows and spaces. Finally comes the moment you discover the amazing, uniquely you, never perfect (thank the heavens)creation that you have made “just one line at a time.” It is a tiny, personal, triumph that you can carry with you until it’s time to do it again, and again, and again …

    • Pam New

      this is also eloquently stated. And was what I needed to hear along with the main article. I have been trying to “tangle” for a while, but didn’t feel very happy with most of the results. It is because I was “doodling”, and not getting into the “spirit of the process”. Now things are finally turning around for me. I just had to read it the “right way”, and this article combined with this comment hit just the right chord for me. It has finally sunk in!!! YAY!! and thank you all, Sandy, Linda and Wanda!

  • Jyothi

    Hi Sandy:

    Thank you for explaining, “What is Zentangle and why certain rules must be followed.” By tangling, one does feel peaceful, one is in a different world because you get so involved in it. Without too much thinking, your hand keeps moving and creating designs. Its a wonderful thing I got into. I love it. Thanks to Rick Roberts and Maria Thomas for coming up with such a wonderful art. I also want to thank Linda Farmer for keeping up with all of us on a daily basis with all the latest info about Zentangle.


    Erin Conte I have to so agree with you about how different artists will make a tangle look so different. when I look at the stepouts by the creator of the tangle they will always show you doing it in a few different ways…I have managed that with some tangles but struggle with others. some of us are naturals and others of us have to work harder but the reality is both sides of the pencil are able to do it.I know I have started out learning a tangle and coming up with something not intended at all but maybe that is the idea behind it all.

  • Wendy Kircher CZT

    Thank YOU!! Thank YOU! This article is wonderful…funny how “defensive” I can become when people make “those” comments…referring to Zentangle as “doodling” or saying things like “it’s like those adult coloring books!” We’ve all heard it!!

    I do think that the reason Zentangle is SO universal is that we all HAVE doodled and done “similar patterned artwork”…we loved it and that’s why we LOVE Zentangle..but when you really learn the MINDFULNESS that comes with Zentangle…nothing else compares!!

    It is almost personal when people speak about Zentangle with no respect, but I just have to remind myself that they just don’t know.(I’m sure I’ve offended someone with my ignorance about something I didn’t know about!)
    Thanks again for clarifying so beautifully!

  • Sandy Hunter

    Thanks to everyone for the kind and thoughtful responses to my blog post. I can’t respond to each post individually, but I wanted to let you know I really appreciate your taking the time to share your thoughts. The reaction to it has been overwhelming (in the best way). Happy tangling- Sandy

  • Excellent! I thoroughly enjoyed reading your blog post. I’m on vacation and brought my supplies with me. It’s such a lovely activity to tangle away with the sound of the ocean waves nearby. The concept of using color and larger paper is exactly as you describe. Sometimes I’d like to try color, but it definitely starts the stream of mind chatter. My sketchbook has so much space to fill and lots more time needed to do so. Thank you for your brief and succinct explanation. It will be great to review when I feel adrift.

  • susan kelley pundt

    Lovely…and a great reminder. Too bad we can’t get it posted on every Zentangle/drawing site out there. As a very non-artist, I have enjoyed both the “Zen” and the tangles a lot, as well as the great community of people involved.



  • Sally

    Excellent and well written. Thank you. I am a perfectionist, which is why I never liked art. I could never draw anything that met my own expectations of perfection. When I was introduced to zentangle, and tried it, I was pleasantly surprised! As I was working on it, I didn’t like it, but when I looked at it the next day, I was happy to discover that it was lovely!

    And you are SO right about color. I have a hard enough time just deciding which pattern to use. Having to decide on colors would only make it more stressful, thus defeating the purpose.

    Very good article, thank you!

  • Donna Lamoureux

    I want to thank everyone for their comments. I have been following the thread and feel inspired and renewed. I needed a reminder.

  • Kimberly

    Thank you for explaining it. Now I have a better sense of Zentangle vs. doodling.

  • Jeannetta Obenauer

    Very nicely written post, thanks you

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