Deft doodling: Area woman teaching classes on art of Zentangle

Photo courtesy of Matthew Callan / These examples of Zentangle artwork were done by Shelley Williams and Janet Vilke.

Many people doodle without thinking about it, but others doodle with purpose. They say it helps them relax, relieve stress and focus better at work.

Mindful doodling has a name, Zentangle, coined by husband and wife Rick Roberts and Maria Thomas who live in Providence, Rhode Island. They created the craft and have taught classes in it for the past decade.

The couple’s official website,, describes the “Zentangle Method,” as “an easy-to-learn, relaxing and fun way to create beautiful images by drawing structured patterns.”

The method got its start when Maria noticed how calm and focused she felt as she drew background illustrations for a manuscript. Rick told her the feelings she described reminded him of meditation, according to the website. Together, they decided to try to come up with a simple system of drawing that would re-create the same feelings of relaxation for others, even those who aren’t gifted artists, by following basic steps. The method they devised, Zentangle, is simple to learn, and the basic tools it requires are easy to carry.

Shelley Williams, supervisor of adult circulation at Altoona Area Public Library, has taught Zentangle for several years at the library and at other area libraries.

Zentangle first caught her eye when she was surfing the Internet looking at the sites of libraries outside Pennsylvania to see what crafts they offered.

The intricate patterns of Zentangle, coupled with the concept that the patterns are broken down into stages so that anyone can complete them, intrigued her.

“I saw it, and I thought, ‘I can do this,” she said.

Williams bought books and taught herself how to Zentangle, then she started teaching classes at the library. After a while, she went to Rhode Island to learn from the craft’s creators. She spent several days at an official Zentan­gle workshop with 109 other students from 117 countries, honing her skills.

She filled pages of her Zentangle journal with other patterns that she learned in the classes and also wrote inspirational phrases in the book.

“I don’t really scrapbook, so this is my version of scrapbooking,” Williams said.

She received her certification from the Zentangle creators. She’s now fully equipped to teach others like Janet Vilke of Altoona, who started “tangling” two years ago.

Vilke is a volunteer at the library and has done other types of crafts.

“Shelley showed me her work, and I said, ‘I want to learn how to do that,'” Vilke said. “In fact, I can’t draw to save my soul, but I tried this and it happened, I could draw. And it was so much fun and relaxing.”

The key to Zentangle is that the pattern is broken down into steps, the women said. The first step is to put dots in each corner of the paper, then connect the dots. Then the artist draws a “string” or exaggerated “v” shape linking the sides of the paper and creating quadrants on the paper.

The artist then starts in one quadrant and makes a repetitive design, creating a unique pattern or recreating one from a Zentangle book or website. The whole process usually takes about two or three hours, depending on the size and complexity of the work, the women said.

People can use any surface to draw on, but the preferred media is a special 100-percent cotton paper that comes from Italy because it works best for the method, according to the website.

Other tools include a Micron, no-bleed, fine-tipped pen, usually black or brown, a soft pencil and a tortillion, or smudge stick, to help shade the pencil areas. A Micron pen and a tortillion are included in a starter kit that Williams provides in the beginner classes that she teaches, she said.

Some Zentangle artists use colored pens and pencils to incorporate different hues in their works while others stick with the black, white and gray tones.

“It’s just a matter of personal preference,” Williams said.

There is no right or wrong, the women said.

Both women said Zentangle has helped them better focus their attention, even though most people would think it would do the opposite. Williams said she often “tangles” on her church bulletin while listening to the pastor’s sermon and that it makes her absorb more of the lesson.

“To some people, that may not make sense, but to me, it makes perfect sense,” she said.


Upcoming Zentangle classes

Here are some Zentangle beginner classes in the area that Williams is scheduled to teach:

* Tuesday: Hollidaysburg Area Public Library, 6 p.m.

* Aug. 26: Hollidaysburg Area Public Library, 10 a.m. to noon.

* Sept. 25: Roaring Spring Community Library, 6-8 p.m.

Williams will be teaching other beginner classes at the Altoona library and other libraries this fall. Check out your library’s website for details. Cost of the classes is usually $10, which covers the price of the Zentangle kit.