How is Zentangle Different to Doodling?

Zentangle is often confused with doodling.  There are several differences, and it is sometimes referred to as “Doodling with purpose” or “Mindful doodling” – these are not inaccurate, but also don’t tell the whole story.  For the full background on Zentangle, you might like to visit the official website, which has great background information – or

I will resist the temptation to reinvent the wheel by re-creating those pages, but I hope that the points contained in this article will also give you an introduction which will help you to understand it a little more.

Zentangle is focused on creating pattern designs in a mindful way (you are purposely drawing something) and you are concentrating on the process rather than thinking of something else.

  Doodling is usually done out of boredom (most notably on the margins in one’s class notes, or during a long telephone call) and mindlessness (most times, the doodles are not what one plans to do, but simply what comes out of the pen).  
Zentangle is deliberate, usually on a square “tile” of paper.  The result is usually appreciated and enjoyed, perhaps even given as a gift or put in a frame.    
  Doodling is often done on scraps of paper or next to other work.  It is generally (not always) forgotten about or thrown away afterwards.  

Zentangle is mindful pattern drawing and its characteristics are:

  • Focus – each stroke is created with intent (although the finished result will always be a surprise).   Zentangle teaches us to slow down and enjoy the present moment, rather than worry about what is next to come.  We are absorbing ourselves in the process of tangling rather than becoming caught up in the concept of structuring a piece of art.
  • No mistakes and no eraser – “mis-strokes” or unplanned lines will sometimes happen, but these throw up a little curveball which can be embraced as part of your design, or covered over with a heavier pattern. I find that when I look back at finished tiles, I never spot the areas that I had issues with. It is a good metaphor for life, nothing is ever perfect, it’s how we adjust to the unexpected that is important!
  • Guidelines using borders and ‘strings’ (lines separating the paper you are drawing on).  The tile is given an outer border and then divided into sections.  These are not set in stone and can be ignored or changed but give you an area to work within and often create interesting shapes within the finished piece.
  • Abstract – no right way up, and non-representative – it shouldn’t look like ‘something’.  If your Zentangle looks like a thing (eg: a cat or a house), it’s no longer considered a Zentangle, but rather Zentangle Inspired Art (ZIA).
  • Ceremony – a certain routine is followed – see 8 Basic Steps

The Zentangle Method is simple, fun and effective and it helps you get out of your own way – letting go of mental blocks and inner dialogues, allowing you to connect to your own creativity.

Your confidence can increase as you realise you have the ability to create something lovely and draw patterns that you may have initially thought looked complex.  The step-by-step format means even seemingly intricate patterns become easy to draw.  Some do require a little more focus than others, however!

Zentangle allows you to play and connect with your creativity, but within the elegance of limits that help lift some of the more daunting decisions such as “what shall I draw” or “what media should I use”.  You only need minimal tools – paper, a pencil, a fineliner pen and perhaps a blending stump (or “tortillon”).   Choosing a pattern to start with is often the hardest part, as once you begin to follow the steps, it all begins to flow.  Each pattern is deconstructed into steps, so you are literally following “one stroke at a time” to create the pattern.  The mindfulness comes in when you then repeat the steps to continue the pattern, filling in the shape.  The process of Zentangle is the important part – the end result is a bonus.

While all forms of art can be fun, creatively beneficial and often beautiful, Zentangle has a little more structure to it than doodling, yet it side steps the technical side to it that some more traditional forms of art have – so you are freed from the potential worry of making things look realistic or rounded, and you don’t need to worry about where the light is coming from or where the shadow falls.  Unless of course, you want to!

Zentangle is a flexible, freeing and forgiving art method – no two tiles are ever exactly the same, even if they are using the same patterns and string.  It’s this uniqueness that is celebrated.  You are not trying to replicate something exactly, there is no striving for perfection, and you do it YOUR way.  The comfort of “no mistakes” removes the fear of failure, the stress of competition and the pressure of “it doesn’t look right” are gone and you are free to just enjoy the process, lose yourself in the calming and enjoyable pattern drawing, and then delight at what you have created.  It’s a wonderful thing!

June Bailey, BaileyArt

For more information or to book onto a Zentangle Workshop, please see or

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