Craft Book Review: Zentangle Basics


Lo, many moons ago I wrote a rather snarky post about Zentangles VS. Mandalas and how all the fuss really just seemed to me like a marketing ploy. (Let’s remember the $50.00 kit price.) So fast forward a few years and what falls into my hands? Zentangle Basics. The lovely and charming Marie Browning herself gave the the book to try out as well as a little video demo using Tombow markers at CHA, so I promised to give it a shot.

Sample by Marie Browning- gorgeous, right?

Just to recap, Zentangling is a form of mindful doodling. The idea is to start with a basic shape- like a square- and then make a loop or squiggle dividing the shape into segments. You then fill the segments will fill patterns until you are satisfied. Zentangle aficionados say it’s therapeutic, mind-quieting, and even “addictive.” (See?? Just like Buddist Mandalas.)  Mostly done with pen and ink, at least to start, it can be a fairly inexpensive craft/art/practice.

So I followed the first exercise in the book- fill the square. I drew the square and the squiggle first in pencil, then filled in with my new favorite markers, Bic Mark-its.

Of course, once I got to this state I wondered…um..what next? Fortunately, the book has a bunch of fill pattern ideas! Here’s a photo from the book:

Ok, so that got my imagination revving and my juices flowing. I didn’t get to finish it all in one sitting (I am a mom. Need I say more?) but by the next day, here’s what I came up with:

I was pretty pleased. The hardest part is actually finishing. I kept going back in and adding little details. But I figure I’d better wrap it up and try a different version. This time I started with a hex with pen and ink, then added some colored pencil.

Ink Zentangle, colored with Derwent Inktense Pencils.

Lastly, I took my inspiration from Marie and tried a different shape. Hearts it is!

This one used navy Bic Mark-it for the ink work, then Derwent Inktense pencils to color it in & watercolor it. I used some Radiant Rains shimmer sprays to fill in the background. I suppose I should have done that first, but it turned out OK.

So, in the course of my review, I was spending a fair amount of time coloring and doodling, and my nine-year-old son asked me what I was doing. So I showed him. He picked it up OK, but he also got a little stumped when it came to fill patterns. He wanted to use only colored pencils, so his Zentangle turned out like this:

Zentangle by my 9-year-old son.

Which leads me to the next conclusion- this would be great with kids in art class. You can teach them a basic structure, a few techniques, and then encourage their imagination. Well, back in the day, my art teacher taught us a similar technique. Build a shape, then create segments, then fill it in with shading (instead of patterns.) As a matter of fact, I still have my example of this technique: it was my submission in the Kiwanis Art Contest. And as a matter of another fact, I won the girls’ competition in middle school division.  Here it is- Zentangle circa 1984, from a 13-year-old Jenny:

Middle-school art assignment, ca 1984

So maybe that’s why I was so resistant to Zentangles- it’s a mutation of something I learned in middle school…hm…..

But I will amend my original post- Zentangling  IS fun. I found myself at a Holiday Inn a few weeks ago, and all I could think was how the pattern in the rug would make a great Zentangle fill.  This is a great take-it-with-you project, too. I’m planning on copying fill patterns into my travel journal when we go on vacation.

My lasting impression of the book? It’s  a great springing-off point for exploring the technique. Age appropriate for 10 and up, it will appeal to most “arty” folk. You can feel like an artist without too much fuss! And  for only $8.95 MSRP, it’s a great way to ease into it without attending a pricey workshop or buying an expensive kit.

(And for the record, I’m STILL against “certified Zentagle teachers.” If you want a healing art experience, find an art therapist. But that’s a rant for a different day.)

Do you Zentangle? Want to try? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Disclosure: Book was a gift from Marie Browning- thanks, Marie! ; )

About Jenny

Chief Craft Test Dummy, Craft Evangelist, Founder, Editor, bottle-washer, trouble-maker, and creative whirlwind.


  1. says

    I am right up with you thinking snarky thoughts about this concept. But I do think that “the right person” will probably find it exactly what they want – or apparently they must, since the thing is still around after a year! You’re right, this seems like it would make a good student exercise.

  2. says

    I would love to try this. I like to doodle but think would want to read the book for ideas for fill it in patterns. I used to do a lot of titles/words in bubble letters or something similar and fill them in so I’m guessing this would be like this for me!

  3. TeresaK says

    Yes, doodling and filling in is fun- I have elementary school Pee-Chee folders covered in this kind of stuff. I never thought of it as a spiritual practice or grand artistic endeavor, it was just a fun distraction. Maybe that’s the point? So many people come into my craft program saying, “I’m not artistic,” but since this is the kind of thing lots of kids do on their own without thinking anything of it, maybe I’ll add it to my toolkit of ‘gateway’ projects. I wouldn’t spend money on any kind of kit, but I appreciate being reminded of an artistic technique I’d set aside.

  4. katie hanrahan says

    Zentangling is what I used to call doodling when I was in grade school and high school. However, it is very cool and fun to do and for those of us who work with clay of any kind, can be used to texture our clay! Using a photocopy of your Zentangle masterpiece, you can make a tear-away to use as a texture sheet for metal clay or polymer clay. So it’s not just a relaxing, fun thing to do, it can also be a tool to make great art!

  5. Patricia Lindsay says

    I had never heard of this ‘Zentangling’, have loved working with all types of Derwent pencils, and love the Inktense colours. I found the ideas and the examples of the pattern making really interesting and I am looking forward to trying this out for myself. thanks so much for showing your ideas and lovely work.

  6. says

    I love zentangling, though most of my art is more zentangle-inspired than true zentangle. I will name my work, and feel it has an up and down.

    I’m not against the certification. Some people prefer yoga, some prefer meditation, some mix their techniques (and I have personal distrust of therapists, myself, preferring to find my own way). So I think zentangle has its place. But I also think you can zentangle, enjoy it, and never worry about the ‘zen’ aspect if you wish. That’s the beauty, in my opinion.

    What I found is that in using the zentangle method, I removed expectation. I’d always hated my own work, and these days I love it. I enjoy being surprised by every work I do.

  7. says

    Ok, now that you’ve explained it to me, I understand the concept. I did this in school on the covers my Mom made for my books from brown paper bags (showing my age). Tried it on my jeans until Mom found out. Anyway- thank you for the explanation. Still don’t quite get the fascination with it, though.


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