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Back to Basics - The Eight Steps of the Zentangle Method

Back to Basics - The Eight Steps of the Zentangle Method

Molly writes...

When we talk about the Eight Steps of the Zentangle Method we often talk about the concept of The Elegance of Limits. This concept was integral in the development of the method and its eight steps. It was important to Rick and Maria to create a structure that nurtured and guided creativity with subtle suggestion, but also allowed room for artistic exploration. The Zentangle Primer Vol 1 describes “the elegance of limits” as a supportive matrix that paradoxically inspires creativity with gentle boundaries and limited options. Let’s take a closer look at the Eight Steps; how they offer us an “elegance of limits” in creativity.


  1. Gratitude and Appreciation: Get comfortable. Take a deep breath. Honor a moment for gratitude and appreciation. For the time, for the ability, for the materials, for yourself, for others, for art or for anything else. This step is one that can easily be forgotten, but one that we also encourage folks make time for. Even the briefest pause to acknowledge gratitude can completely shift the energy for the time ahead. Gratitude fuels a positive outlook and allows us to feel more confident in ourselves. Shifting our focus to what we are grateful for in our lives, shifts the focus to seeing the beauty in our world. Some might say you find what you are looking for.


  1. Corner Dots: With your pencil, lightly draw a dot in each of the four corners of your tile. This step may seem like a minor role in the greater scheme, but it’s actually a bold and courageous step for the artist behind the experience. Putting down that first mark can be intimidating. Easing into it this way can take away any hesitation or doubt about how to begin.


  1. Border: With your pencil, lightly draw a line that connects the four dots to create a border. This step allows you to continue on immediately. Knowing the next step and being able to focus in on that step only. This step brings visual structure to your work. You have something to build on.


  1. String: With your pencil, lightly draw a line or lines that divides the tile into sections. The string could win coach of the year, best director, unsung hero and most inspirational speaker. Strings set the stage. They surround, support, and hold your tangles as they grow into an artistic composition. We often say that the string in Zentangle is a suggestion not a demand. It is also a mentor, a cheerleader, and a support team. Your string will guide you and inform you, and it will also offer options. You don’t have to think or plan. You can simply focus on tangling.


  1. Tangle: With your pen, draw “tangles” in the sections created by your string. As you begin your journey with ink, you only have to focus on one tangle at a time. And once you decide what tangle, you only have to focus on one stroke of that tangle. Let each stroke be your focus and then allow it to guide and direct your next stroke. Breathe and take your time as you draw.


  1. Shade: With your pencil and tortillon, add shades of gray to create dimension and depth. Shading is time for finish work. A time to revisit all of the inked lines you put down and to bring it all to life. Shading can completely change the work by sculpting and fine tuning the art.


  1. Initial and Sign: With your pen, put your initials on the front of your tile and sign and date the back of your tile. Confidently connecting the artist to the art is so important. Be proud of the artist within you!


  1. Appreciate: Take a moment to admire your work. Turn your tile this way and that. Reflect on the opportunity. If you are creating along with others, put your tiles together and appreciate the mosaic which they form. Finishing your practice, the way you began brings beautiful symmetry to the experience. Taking a moment to appreciate the work you have created, and perhaps the others you are with, is powerful. Acknowledging gratitude for the time and the opportunity empowers you and your art.


I love that over time artists of our amazing community have contributed to growing and evolving this art form we call the Zentangle Method. However, we have continued to embrace and honor these Eight Steps as an important part of our roots. As we sit back and watch the beauty of so many artists spreading their wings and exploring life and art in a creative way, we know that these simple eight steps played a role in the beginning of so many Zentangle journeys. We encourage you too to spread your wings, but know that these eight basic steps are always there when you need them.


With Gratitude and Appreciation,

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Thank you to everyone who shared what the Zentangle Method has taught them in our last blog. We have randomly selected Carol Johns to receive a very special Zentangle surprise!

Tell us in the comments below what your favorite step of the Zentangle Method is and we will pick another commenter at random to receive a Zentangle surprise (not yet available in the Zentangle store!).

Molly Hollibaugh


  • Hi owner, Thanks for the well-organized and comprehensive post!

    Bernice Culbert on

  • Hard to choose… today I’m going to go with step 4: String. I love how it creates structure. I often set up structure in my life. I love how it supports me in getting things done. vk

    Valarie Keaton on

  • Step 1 Gratitude and Appreciation helps me step out of the busyness of everyday life and into a more contemplative and relaxed state.

    Jori on

  • My favorite step is shading. When I first started tangling, I was nervous about shading because I wasn’t confident that I could do it “correctly.” after 10 years of practicing Zentangle, I have finally realized that there is no right or wrong way to do it. I shade until I think I am done, and then I do a little more and I am always amazed at the difference that the last little bit makes.

    Kathy Shabowski on

  • My favorite step is the corner dots. It brings me into the moment, physically connecting me to the paper. By establishing my “area”; “staking my claim” embodies my commitment to the process and focuses my attention. Making the corner dots is my “response” to the initial Gratitude and Appreciation, communicating “I am here, I am ready!”

    Linda Stout on

  • My favorite step is #1, Gratitude and Appreciation because I am very grateful to have Zentangle® in my life and I love to spread the Zentangle® Method to others!

    Annie Rocha CZT 33 on

  • I guess it shows how beautiful a whole the process is, that it is difficult to pick out one step above the others. I would say the tangling step though. But that is also gently guided by the string, which often gives it more of a chance to be meditative. I love the tangles themselves and it is that step that also can go in unexpected ways and be very calming and relaxing. And it’s that step where the tile begins to turn into art and when I feel that creativity gets most involved, even though it’s later finished with the shading.

    Annina W on

  • My favorite step is shading. It’s like the frosting on the cake! It can take two-dimensional lines and give them an incredible depth.

    Suzanne Lien on

  • I love the “limitless” creativity of Zentangle.

    The tangling is my favorite part because of it’s creativity and opportunity to focus on something relaxing, beautiful and personal.

    Rhoda Geisel on

  • I love the shading step when my tile comes to life! When I am very focused, tangling is calm and quiet to my mind, but shading brings energy and a feeling of creation. The Zentangle steps are a perfect metaphor for proceeding in life one step, one stroke at a time.

    Val Barsevich on

  • My Favorite is Appreciate! Everyone (myself included) is always amazed and how beautiful their tiles are at the end!

    Lisa Anderson CZT20 on

  • I love all the steps, but I really love the magic that happens when you shade sometimes.

    I’m also learning to love the string which is the one I found hardest for a while.

    Sue Bailey on

  • My favorite step would be the one I’m doing each steps of the way while I’m creating a Zentangle tile

    Jocelyne Archambault on

  • My most favourite step of the Zentangle Method is Step 5, Tangle – which is just as well, because it is certainly where I spend the most time! :) I do also find that Step 8, Appreciate continues through the years, as I have many tiles on display and look at them daily.

    Michelle Dugdale on

  • I enjoy the whole process but step #1 Gratitude and Appreciation can move me forward to a positive place. What this past year has taught me is that there is always some reason to be grateful.

    Michele Couture on

  • It all starts at the beginning so the breathe and focus and gratitude and appreciation in Step #1 set the tone and the “Zentangle take me away” time for each of the other steps!

    sUSAn on

  • When I am drawing tangles, I am definitely in my happy place, but I have to give credit to that very first Gratitude & Appreciation for being the most important step to me. By taking a few deep breaths and considering all that I am thankful for, I ensure that my mind slips into that magic groove that encompasses all the healing that I look to Zentangle for. I believe this should make sense to anyone who has tangled, but if not, please, next time you tangle, dedicate a few extra long moments to that first step just to see where it takes you.

    Beth Peters on

  • My favorite step is the one I am just doing – I love them all as part of the whole process creating a ritual to slow down and find and loose myself in the same time

    Martina on

  • My favorite step is the tangles. I love getting lost in each tangle and knowing that each individual stroke will join together and create something beautiful. The tangles are like friends that I am privileged to visit with for a few minutes.

    Kathy Shabowski on

  • I am new to this Zen tangle arty space and method of zoning out, so I am grateful to have found you all… Thank you for sharing tangling so I can now learn more. My favourite step is the start and how it all flows together to create an awesome piece of ART, that sphere tangle drew me into the video and I drew for over an hour following it.


    Lucy on

  • tangling is my favorite—and yet hard to pick out just one part as it seems a unified whole

    Jessica M on

  • Since I already start each day with a grateful heart, I think simply tangling is, for me, my favorite step..and it overwhelms me with appreciation. I’ve never been artistic and being able to now create these little works of art is immensely satisfying. I appreciate the art form, the Zentangle HQ family & our worldwide community. And I’ve also learned embrace the journey, instead of merely the outcome, which I truly appreciate! 😊

    ~Jan~ Sailandbejoyful on

  • For me it’s that actual sense of pen on the paper & seeing something emerge that captivates me – so it has to be step 5. Many a time a pencil and a scrap of paper with a tangle during a moment of crisis has kept my brain occupied until there’s news or a resolution.

    Evy Browning on

  • Initial and Sign: This is The most important for me . I did it…. I spent the time with my self and at the end am am proud of what I did Thanks for Zentangle team . Love you all. Ingrid

    Ingrid Serfaty on

  • For many years, (CZT 8) zentangle has been a port in the storm. It’s calming effect, whether I have two minutes to sit with it or I’m working on a piece that is spread out over a couple of days, it gives me the calming relief I need. If I had to pick a favorite step, I would say it’s the shading. It’s shading because that is always a challenge for me and still a mystery as to how it will change the piece. I am usually so pleased with the results and enjoy the surprise each time.

    Heidi Woody on

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