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It is Just a Suggestion, Not a Demand.

It is Just a Suggestion, Not a Demand.

Molly writes:

I am very attracted to the philosophy behind the Zentangle Method. Strangely, it was the one thing that was missing in my practice when I first started tangling so many years ago. It was missing because I didn't think I needed it and therefore I clumsily tried to make it work without it. I think I was in denial that it was perhaps something I did need and maybe something I was subconsciously searching for. Once I opened my heart and let go of judgment and expectation, I started to see and feel things in a completely different way.

One of the aspects of the Zentangle philosophy that really made an impression on me and transformed my practice was the “Elegance of Limits”. It was also one of the philosophies that I ignored the most in my early days of tangling. I didn’t understand the need for the dots, or the border, or the string, or even the need to choose a specific tangle. I thought that my creative genius would simply guide me to create patterns and composition without limits or constraints. That, of course was not the case. Even though I was full of creative ability and confidence, working without any limitations can be daunting and distracting. So, while my first “attempts” at tangling felt forced and empty, and it turns out I wasn’t tangling at all. I was probably doing something that was a little more like “doodling”. Which, I have so much space for in my heart. I love to doodle, and it has its place. I also now understand the two are very different.

When I finally let down my guard and followed the 8 steps, I immediately found that flow state. It turns out, my creativity was fueled by the guidance. There was this one phrase that I remember my mom saying that was pivotal in me finally discovering my practice. I remember her talking about the 8 steps and saying, “they are simply suggestions, not demands.” I remember thinking to myself, oh that is a totally different story. You mean these are not so much rules, but rather comforting guides. That turned it all around for me. I immediately became drawn to the limitations as places to find inspiration. I no longer denied that need for structure, but rather welcomed it. I loved navigating the idea of “suggestion”. It meant that I could welcome an idea, but it also meant I could ignore it or take it in a different direction if I was so inclined or inspired. Still to this day, though, my work has evolved in exciting ways, I still begin with an intention and awareness of the 8 steps. Even if it is a conscious decision to not use a particular step.

It turns out structure allows us to channel our creativity into a more concentrated way. It is the structure that forces us to make decisions and put ideas into action rather than just thinking about them. The concept of using the structure as a guide and allowing that structure to change or modify to fit our creative momentum is a perfect formula for finding flow and creating art. Use that structure to nurture your process if you need to. Lean on it for support and allow it to bring comfort. Also know that when the moment is right and the inspiration appears, you too can go outside the lines, off the script, and beyond the borders. Know that whatever path you choose, you are the creator, you are the artist.

If you are creating with the “Elegance of Limits” to guide your work, then that is what the Zentangle Method is all about. Regardless of what the finished product looks like, it is the process where it all connects. It is because of this magical balance between structure and freedom that we see such beautiful variety and growth in artists and artwork created with the Zentangle Method.

The simple phrase, “it is a suggestion, not a demand,” gave me the permission I needed to either stay on the path, or if it felt right, explore something outside the structure of the 8 Steps. The Zentangle Method has welcomed its practitioners to do the same from the very beginning. This is why we see such change and growth in the work created over the past 20 years. This is why we see many tanglers launching into other artforms. Zentangle doesn’t make us artists, Zentangle reveals and helps us understand the artist within. Zentangle guides us and encourages us to be whatever type of artist we want to be. I continue to be amazed and inspired by this community. I love to watch each artist’s journey, uniquely navigating the 8 steps in their own way. Each one completely right and all of them supported by the structure, freedom, and beauty of the “Elegance of Limits”. Just a suggestion, not a demand.

--- + ---

The Eight Steps of the Zentangle Method:
Gratitude and Appreciation (again) 

Molly Hollibaugh


  • I like the structure and the freedom of the 8 steps. I have from the very beginning marveled at several people taking a class and being given the same directions, but what each person creates looks so very different. Thank you for accepting the artist in me, so I can show you the artist that creates for you now. I am grateful.

    Tresea Myers on

  • I guess I have forgotten about the 8 steps. I’d appreciate it if you would remind me. Many thanks.

    Ellie Schwimmer on

  • Thank you so very much for this. It reminds me of when I was growing up. It was a lot of how I was raised by my Dad. No it wasn’t about art, but about life. He used the same principals. It worked on my journey to adulthood. Even though I’m new to this, I think Zentangle has brought me full circle.

    Joyce Freeman on

  • I am quite new to zentangle and sometimes get overwhelmed. I have been making bookmarks using someone’s name. I find a tangle for each letter of someone’s name and create the bookmark. I practice the new tangles and learn what i like and what is harder for me. It has given me some structure at this beginning phase. Love this so much!!

    Sally on

  • I love returning to “my class” each month, where I teach the basics— and where I will forever use the nomenclature “Introduction to Zentangle”. Trolling on the internet where there is AMAZING artwork becomes overwhelming. Exploring within the 8 steps of the method DOES quiet the mind and brings creative joy in its simplicity. Thank you, Molly, for expressing your thoughts. I will not only share them with my students but reflect upon them in my own journey!

    Donna S on

  • Beautifully said. I love the elegance of limits. I have always heard – you have to know the rules before you break them.

    Diane Trew on

  • Suggestions not demands, guidelines not rules, thank you for a great blog on unleashing the artist, whichever way we choose to go with, Lovely blog, thanks Molly

    ildica boyd on

  • Once again, your words speak to my spirit! Like so many others in these comments, this is just what I needed. I was feeling a little scattered in my practice and I didn’t know why and now those dots, borders and “suggestions” are just what will once again ground me and set me free. Thank you, Molly. Think peace everyone.

    Daria on

  • You write as beautifully as you draw, just like your mom..
    This is something we all have learned as tanglers, but sometimes forget and the gentle reminder is so appreciated. Thank you Molly.

    Jody Genovese on

  • When I first started tangling I was very much stuck within the borders of the string on my tile, the strings were like a brick wall. It wasn’t until I heard somebody describe how they use the strings as suggestions and that it is ok to cross the lines that my creativity was unleashed. I have never looked back since that day. Thank you, Molly, for the reminder.

    Lianne Woods on

  • Wow! This is just what I needed today! Thank you so much for sharing this Molly! It takes me back to when I first read your intro in the Primer book! It resonates with me deeply as someone who went to college for Art.

    Cara Matocha on

  • I love the concept of “The Elegance of Limits.” This was touched on during my CZT 39 certification and as a teacher I agree with it too. Also that it is a suggestion and not a demand. As a graphic designer, I always wanted to know, “what are the specs of the project?” This helped give me a framework to work within just like the border and all the steps that follow. I also think the steps are a good guideline for a successful progression of the art process. Without them we forget to stop and get perspective or to ink before we shade! I keep them on my desk as a gentle reminder of the Zentangle process. And when all else fails, aura! LOL

    Lynn Starnes on

  • Molly, how lovely. Thank you so much for so candidly describing the impulse to ignore the 8 steps, and how you returned to them. Beautiful and inspiring.

    Becky Ruiz Jenab on

  • This has been perfect for me today! And I’ll definitely be reading this to my students. Thank you!

    Jennifer Bollinger on

  • Thanks for reminding us about the concept of “It’s a Suggestion not a Demand”. After completing my CZT certification I felt the need to stay within the borders and strings and forgot all about the concept of “Breaking the rules but Not.

    Recently in my email from the word I received was,
    “Pareidolia” NOUN 1. The perception of apparently significant patterns or recognizable images, especially faces, in random or accidental arrangements of shapes and lines.

    Well, now I have a word for perception of seeing all those patterns everywhere after learning the Zentangle Method and how to breakdown those patterns and incorporate them into my Tangeling practice. Thanks again for teaching me how to see a world of patterns around me.

    Josephine Wood CZT36 on

  • Thank you for this. Here is the quote that resonates with me: “ Zentangle doesn’t make us artists, Zentangle reveals and helps us understand the artist within. Zentangle guides us and encourages us to be whatever type of artist we want to be.”

    That is so perfect. It fits me and so many of my Tangling Friends. Thank you for helping me to find and nurture The Artist within.

    Much love to all and Happy Tangling!

    Delisa Rice on

  • Thank you Molly. Great reminder to everyone that 8 steps are there to help and guide not hinder or enforce. Love it ❤️❤️

    Kathy McMurtry on

  • The Jan 16th blog post focuses on the 8 Steps. The 20th anniversary Journal Project is a great fresh start to my New Year, with a change in Focus for me. I am embracing the challenge to follow along, and I thank Zentangle HQ and family for planning a year long celebration!

    I treated myself to a new journal which should be arriving today! Yay!
    Are there any CZTs hosting a Journal Project that can be followed on YouTube, with our work to be shared on the Mosaic app?
    Happy Anniversary!

    Andrea G on

  • This is a timely blog post that resonates with me, Molly, thank you.

    I know I have often jumped right in to creating and realize those works are less cohesive and less satisfactory in the end than when I begin more mindfully. Moreover, I might abandon those pieces because I don’t know what to do with the space I have, in the moment. When returning to it, I cannot reconstitute what inspired me to begin with. More recently, I have been taking my time, once again feeling the MOJO that had ebbed. Couldn’t put my finger on why it had to begin with. Thought maybe the passing of my parents was part of it but now know, with my rediscovery that being mindful and the elegance of limits were key missing factors. Spent the day tangling with a zoom group on Saturday and was pleased that each teacher used the 8 steps and if they bent one they still mentioned it and why. Felt great!

    PS: Deb Thompson, you’ve been missed and hope to see your beautiful work on the mosaic once again.

    PamS on

  • Thank you Molly for this reminder and beautiful explanation. Comforting guides, not necessary rules….. yes! Ahhhhh. ❤️

    Kim Turmel on

  • Thanks for this timely reminder or what Zentangle is truly about. The simplicity of “Elegance of limits” says it all.

    Sue Lesle CZT on

  • Lovely. Thank you for the reminder. I needed it to assist me with getting back to the Zen of it and not just doodling. 💕

    Sandy Nee on

  • So well stated Molly! It seems like a lot of people overlook the entire 8 step process, jumping into big, complicated pieces but losing the Zen of it. The elegance of limits is one of the most beautiful things about the Zentangle method.

    Kathy Cody CZT37 on

  • The elegance of limits always worked for me. I have certainly tried moving into “more” which is commonly encouraged in the vast Zentangle inspired art community, but found myself more concerned about the product than the process. I’ve stepped away from Zentangle for a while, leaning more into minimalistic fiber arts. In hindsight, I believe part of the reason i have taken a hiatus from Zentangle may be because I lost my way, venturing down roads requiring “more.” More products, more skill, more space, more time, more…Your blog post, Molly, has encouraged me to return to the simple practice of Zentangle; the 8 steps that captured me in the first place.

    Deb Thompson on

  • Ahhh yes! This articulates it SO well! I am so drawn (no pun intended) to the phrase ‘elegance of limits’. It adds magic to the Zentangle process! Thanks Molly!

    Leslie Barr on

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