Zentangle art zooms into mainstream consciousness

Karen Holt of Grand Junction drew this design after taking Zen-doodling classes from Alex Davis last fall at The Artist’s Haven in Grand Junction. Holt also is an extraordinary quilter and blogs about her quilting adventures at Sew Fun 2 Quilt, sf2q.blogspot.com.

Suzanne McNeill is the co-editor of “The Beauty of Zentangle,” published by Design Originals.” The book features inspirational examples from 137 tangle artists worldwide. Her own designs, including quilts, are included in the book.

These rooster and owl tangles can be incorporated into quilt patterns or used as patterns on tea towels. Both are designed by Suzanne McNeill of Arlington, Texas, a certified Zentangle teacher.

This crescent moon tangle by Nancy Smith of Denver was drawn on fabric and quilted, then made into a greeting card. You can watch a video of her technique at quiltersnewslettertv.com.

Nancy Smith of Denver irons freezer paper to the back of white fabric before drawing her tangle so that the fabric won’t shift. Later, she removes the freezer paper and quilts the design. She often adds black borders and displays her Zentangle art as a decorative pillow.

“Circle Flowers,” by Judith McCabe of Lancaster, Pa., is an example of Zentangle-inspired art. It appears in “The Beauty of Zentangle” and was accomplished with paper, Micron pens, Tombow and Koi watercolor pens, Sakura Gelly Roll Stardust pens and pencil.

The Mesa County telephone directory lists nine locations for yoga instruction, testimony to the ongoing popularity of this mystical search to unify body, mind and spirit.

You’ve heard of the meditative benefits of the tree pose, the downward-facing dog, the seated twist, etc.

But what about yoga exclusively for the brain?

Yes, this does exist. A meditative drawing technique called Zentangle art seems to have similar effects on our neural pathways, even stimulating creativity with faster information processing through the cerebral cortex. It, too, has illustrative monikers for its numerous methods of practice: knightsbridge, cadent and hollibaugh.

First trademarked eight years ago by creators Rick Roberts and Maria Thomas of Massachusetts, Zentangle art since has spawned dozens of how-to books and a cadre of certified Zentangle teachers. Black and white patterns are classic, drawn on small tiles in repetitive patterns that look complicated but are actually quite simple when you follow the steps.

One of those teachers is Nancy Smith, former owner of the Great American Quilt Factory in the Denver metro area. Still quilting, she now combines those talents with 
Zentangle art and also sells a line of metal jewelry she’s designed through 

You can watch Smith make quilted Zentangle art cards and pillows on two different shows on Quilters Newsletter TV at quiltersnewslettertv.com. The shows are free and past shows are available at any time.

The greatest part about Zentangle art is that anyone can do it, Smith says, and it requires no technology. “It’s abstract, relaxing, it increases

confidence, it helps you learn to focus and it stimulates creativity,” she says.

Tools are not cost-prohibitive. Paper, pencil and pen are all that’s needed to get started. When Smith makes her quilted cards, she uses high-quality white cotton fabric, irons freezer paper to the back to stabilize it and draws her designs, often a simple Crescent Moon tangle, with permanent Micron and Sharpie pens. (Each design, and there are many, is called a tangle.) When the 3.5-inch by 3.5-inch design is complete, she layers it on a small piece of batting and backing fabric, quilts as desired and sews it to the front of a pre-made card.

    Or, she may cut a square out of card stock and

mount the quilted piece with the card serving as a frame around the art.



In the video for making Zentangle art pillows, Smith uses a similar technique, enlarging the square to 8 inches finished and adding black borders.

Smith also is one of 137 tangle artists featured in a new book titled “The Beauty of Zentangle,” edited by Suzanne McNeill and Cindy Shepard, both certified Zentangle teachers, and published by Design Originals. Smith’s contribution is a holiday greeting in the shape of a Christmas tree, made from a pre-cut blank paper ornament, drawn with Micron pens and pencil.

She says, “I love teaching the Zentangle method. I draw daily and it helps me stay centered.”

In the back of the book under the “How to Draw” section, Smith also submitted her own “Hartz” tangle for others to try.

One of the book editors, Suzanne McNeill of Arlington, Texas, writes in the introduction about the many types of Zentangle art — classic black and white, Zendala rounds and creative Zentangle-inspired art, the latter drawn on larger paper or fabric, in specific shapes such as a seahorse or a map of the United States, and with the addition of color.

“The Zentangle method is for everyone,” McNeill writes. “Similar to handwriting, it is a process that can be learned with practice.”

She cites as benefits a slower heart rate, improved breathing and a relaxed state of being.

On McNeill’s personal blog, she offers a new tan-


gle and how to draw it

every week. Go to blog.suzannemcneill.com.

Another certified Zentangle artist with a design in “The Beauty of Zentangle” is Judith McCabe of Lancaster, Pa. She also teaches the technique at trade shows for Design Originals.

“It’s easy and fun and addictive,” says McCabe, who has a master’s degree in fiber and mixed media and a bachelor’s degree in elementary education. Zentangle art can be a quieting activity in the classroom, one that improves students’ focus, she thinks. It’s been used with good results in prison settings and with Alzheimer’s patients as well, McCabe says.

She tells her classes not to get hung up on mistakes as they draw their lines, because perfection is not the goal. No eraser is needed; incorporate anything you see as off-kilter into your design or swirl it into a new direction. You can shade with a pencil along some areas to add dimension.

As Zentangle art works it way further into the mainstream, more quilters are taking notice. Bonnie Browning, executive show director with American Quilter’s Society, calls herself the Quilting Tangler and says she’s “having a blast tangling on a whole variety of materials,” from the traditional tiles to porcelain dishes to lampshades to jewelry.

“The trick is to match the right pens/pencils to the product so it is permanent,” Browning says.

Certified as a quilt judge and a Zen-
tangle teacher, she is co-host of an Alaskan cruise May 17–24, during which she will teach the Zentangle drawing method and how to convert tangles to quilting patterns. Sewing machines will be provided on the cruise ship.

Go to bonniebrowning.com for information.

When Browning herself learned the drawing method, she says “it was a week of pure joy.”

“Not only does it open your eyes to designs all around us, but you can draw a lovely piece of art in just a few minutes.”

And Browning has invented yet another clever use for this mindful pattern drawing: Random Acts of Zentangle. Why not leave a Zentangle tile for someone to find in unexpected places, she suggests.

Email Sherida.Warner@


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