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Rick writes...

Maria and I always focused on the simplicity of the Zentangle Method. We often say that if you can write your name, you’ve already “drawn” all of the shapes or strokes you need to create Zentangle art.

The basic strokes that we use to make all our tangles are:

  • Dot
  • Straight(ish) line
  • Curved line
  • S-shaped line
  • Orb

We now refer to those basic strokes as elemental strokes.

This year is the 20th anniversary of the Zentangle Method, so it is a good time to tell the story of how the term icso came about.

I remember exactly where in our house I was standing when the idea came to me that tangles are like molecules and the strokes used to make them are like atoms. Unique atoms are identified as the various elements in the Periodic Table of Elements. So, why not refer to the various types of strokes we use as “elemental strokes”?

Some time later, I was musing about our claim that if you could write your name, you had shown you could tangle. I wondered if there was a simple word that would encompass all those elemental strokes. (By the way, we usually refer to circles as orbs. We feel that the idea of a circle implies too high a level of precision. “Orb” strikes us as a bit more forgiving.)

And in that musing, came the idea to make up a word with those strokes. It was obvious that an “S” would represent the S-shape, a “C” the curve, and an “O” the orb. But what about the dot? Well, you “dot” a lower-case “i” and with “i” you also have your line!

Then it was just a matter of playing anagrams with those four letters and that is how “icso” came to be.

So, if you can write the word “icso” you know that you can draw all the strokes we use to create Zentangle art!

Maria adds...

The story of icso (AR) (According to Rick) is all pretty accurate . . . but I believe there is more we can have fun with here.

Have you ever heard of “mnemonics?” Well, they are little nonsensical tricks of the mind that help us remember groups of random letters.

Some of you may remember “Every good boy deserves favor.” In beginner music lessons, it helps us remember the lines on a musical staff: E, G, B, D, and F. The nuns who taught me music used that phrase. Perhaps you learned it as “Every good boy deserves fudge.” But, I never liked either of them because I was a good girl and never got those favors, or even fudge, for that matter (not that I’d take or want fudge, as it was too sweet for my taste).

But I digress.

Dear tanglers, we have a delightful opportunity to have some fun here, and maybe win a prize or at least a chuckle. Rick and I are challenging you to create a mnemonic to remember icso. Most mnemonics are nonsensical, but we’d like you to create a mnemonic that has something to do with Zentangle.

My first attempt was “I create stunning objects.” I really want to say “objets d’art”, but that didn’t fit the letters.

We will choose one commenter at random and one that Bijou thinks captures what Zentangle means to all of us. Bijou also wants to include the winning mnemonic in our next book.

Let the games begin!

--- + ---

Zentangle's 20th Anniversary Journal Project.

Write ICSO in large letters on your page. Use the letters as a string/guide for your tangles. As you tangle, pay attention to each line and which elemental stroke it uses.

Maybe, use tangles that utilize only 1 elemental stroke at a time, like indyrella, keeko, knightsbridge, etc.

#ZentangleTurns20 #ICSO #ICSOJournal

Learn more about the journal project here.

Rick Roberts


  • Since everyone who can write their name can do Zentangle,
    How about: “I C (the) Signature Of “

    Jennifer Dembinski on

  • Ink Calming Strokes Often

    Terry Foster on

  • I Can Stand Out

    Billie on

  • immersive, captivating, serene, odyssey.

    Margi Bush on

  • immersive, captivating, soothing options

    Margi Bush on

  • Ink

    Beth Peters on

  • I create self-confidently opportunities

    Claudia on

  • I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m impressed with Laura Francis’ three sentence worth of examples! She did a fantastic job!

    linda on

  • Inspired

    CZT’s teach
    Students of Zentangle

    Linda on

  • These little challenges are so unique, this mnemonic feels good to me. Ink Calmly Smile Often.

    N Perkin on

  • (Welcome your) imagination for tangling creatively that sparks (an) overjoy(ous feeling).

    Please note, words in parenthesis could be optional.

    Louise on

  • Before this blog I never thought about iCSO that much, but it was a fun and good task for reflection of what the method is supposed to do. My idea:
    In chaos silence occurs
    Chaos refers to both the chaos in your mind, which gets less and less during tangling las well as the “chaos” on the paper.

    Yvonne Li on

  • Hi Community,

    My Suggestion for the ICSO anagram is:

    - I combine simple options

    Marina Dali on

  • Hi Community!

    My suggestions for the ICSO anagram are

    I can save optimism I combine simple options

    Have a great Day!

    Marina Dali on

  • Include creative strokes only

    Sue Lesle CZT on

  • Intriguing creative simple opportunity

    Lene Rytz on

  • i create opportunity

    Deidre Beltran del Rio on

  • Ink + Coffee + Sunshine = Opportunity!

    Barb Martin on

  • Imagination Carries Strokes Onward

    Letitia Minnick on

  • I can soar onward!

    Delisa Rice on

  • I create spectacular objects

    Linda Hunter CZT 31 on

  • Dear comunity, I’m agree with this delightful opportunity to have some fun here, and I am very happy to participated in challenging to create a mnemonic to remember icso. I ’m sharing my mnemonic that has something to do with Zentangle.

    *I cultivate serenity objective

    *I celebrate serenity oceanic

    carmela alvaro on

  • I don’t use the anagram so much but I use DISCO – dots, lines, S, C & O and say how tangling is like a dance!

    Here’s an anagram as well though: Inky-serenity-calm-opportunity

    Ruby McGuire on

  • Imagination can shape outcomes

    Deborah R on

  • Imagine calming strokes often

    Lora-Lynn Kahler on

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