Zentangles are fun to create drawings that consist of simple, repetitive patterns that combine to create beautiful images. They are made using a single black ink pen so they are ideal for the beginner. They can be done as simply a fun project or they can be used as an art therapy directive.

Creating a zentangle is simple. You begin with a 3.5 in x 3.5 in square piece of paper and a black ink pen. Then you just begin to draw. Relax your mind and let yourself fill the page with simple designs that repeat over and over again to create an image. Try not to have a final image in mind when you begin drawing or you might alter your methods. Think of these small drawing as a process similar to the mandala creation.

You get the most therapeutic value out of it if you relax and let your subconscious guide your process. Many art therapists suggest meditating prior to beginning to draw, which I found extremely helpful, particularly in my second attempt. Refer back to the meditation methods mentioned in my Mandala article if you are having trouble silencing your conscious thoughts.


My First Zentangle!

My first attempt at a zentangle took my about 25 – 30 minutes. I kept getting stuck when I would try to think of patterns to include. My brain doesn’t think well in terms of geometric shapes, so this was hard for me. As most people may age tend to do, I turned to the internet for inspiration and advice. The internet prevailed yet again and I found these pattern quilts by The Lonely Maiden:

zentangle_pattern_quilt_1_by_thelonelymaiden-d65iuir zentangle_pattern_quilt_2_by_thelonelymaiden-d65iutb

Each little section of the quilt has a different unique pattern, which is pretty neat if you get stuck and can’t figure out a new design to use. I utilized some of these designs in my second attempt at this. Many people use the zentangle method to fill in different animals. This doesn’t quite match the original intention of freeing your mind and relaxing it, but it is very fun! 

I used this as an opportunity to consider what I would want my spirit animal to be by considering what traits I value most. Loyalty? Like the four-legged friend laying on my feet as I draw? Ferocity? Like the lion who stalks the land? Maybe cleverness? Like the stereotypical fox? After some internal debate, I settled on family values, like the elephants that have become my favorite animals, and now my spirit animals I suppose.


My Spirit Animal Zentangle

Elephants have intricate social groups, particularly among the females, who are often very close in the wild. These majestic creatures value their family groups so much that they even mourn the death of their loved ones by returning to the “burial site” (if you can call it that) and touching the bones of their fallen comrades in remembrance. I value my family more than anything in the world, so I think an elephant is a very fitting spirit animal for me.

I have had a particularly rough semester, so being able to include relaxing zentangles in my art journal is a great way to release some stress that seems to be continuously piling onto my shoulders. They are very therapeutic for me at this time in my life.

If you’re like me and you think that this is an awesome process, look into these websites and books for more information on creating really beautiful, unique zentangles!

  • Linda Farmer has a great how-to style page with sass.
  • The Ridgewood Centre Wellness Group has a great page that really talks about the therapeutic aspect.
  • Zentangle Basics is a short pdf book that covers the basics of creating common patterns.
  • If you have time and $15 or so bucks to spare, check out your local Barnes and Noble for books for beginners; they walk you through different processes, give you inspiration, and some have spaces for you to work on a regular basis. I recommend this since the internet can have overwhelming amounts of information.

Starting an Art Journal

Journaling is a great way to express emotions that are too difficult or too personal to show the world. It’s also a way to keep track of your life: the daily events, the emotions that come and go with each day, the changes that occur as you grow. Life is a process worth remembering, but our brains can only hold so much at a time.

Journaling can go beyond just recording what needs to be recorded. Journaling can help you work through difficult emotions as well. Keeping an art journal can allow you to work through your emotions while creating something that can put your mind at ease.

So how do you start? You get yourself a beautiful journal! 

You can use anything as a journal; you can use a composition book, a sketchbook, an ornate journal, or you can even create your own journal.

This woman has done amazing things with a plain old ruled composition book! Go check out her page to get some great ideas for creating a journal out of a 99 cent composition book.

Creating an Art Journal from a Composition Book

Altering a book is another way that you can create your own art journal. You simply choose a book and create your own journal on top of the words written in the pages. Some journals even incorporate the author’s original words into their journaling through the use of blackout poems, a cool technique where you find words on the page and black out everything else, leaving a jumble of words that can be read together to make a poem or a story.

Your alterations can be very simplistic…


A Simplistic Altered Book Page

Or very extravagant…


A Very Ornate Example of an Altered Book

Altered books can be great ways to explore a more creative side of journaling.

So now you have a wonderful blank slate, but what do you fill it with?

Art journals are not solely used for therapeutic purposes. Some art journals are used to remember a vacation; others are used to remember the mundane things of daily life in a more exciting way. If you want to get the most therapeutic value from the art journal, you should push yourself to fill the pages with emotions, feelings you may or may not understand, and issues you cannot seem to process other ways. 

There are a lot of great prompts out there on the internet that can give you direction, but a general list always helps as starting point:

  • How are you feeling today? (I know this is general, but it’s usually a really good starting point!)
  • Imagine your inner critic as a monster. What does he or she look like?
  • Think of a few of your core beliefs and create pages for them.
  • Think back to a time when you were going through something very difficult and how you got through it.
  • Imagine the person you want to be and create a page about what makes that person unique.
  • Think about your favorite place. Why is it your favorite? What does it look like? How does it make you feel?
  • If you could give advice to your younger self, what advice would you give? And why?
  • Journal about a big change that occurred or is occurring in your life. Try to include your emotions about the change.
  • Pick one insecurity you have and journal about it.

Art journals can be created in any manner you would like, but mixed media journaling is the most common and the most fun! These websites have great ideas about how to layer multiple medias into one journal.

Now go get yourself a journal and start creating!