Tonawanda News

June 30, 2013

Zentangle method is doodling with intention

By Danielle Haynes
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — It may look a little like the doodling you did on the corner of your notebook during class in high school, but the creators of Zentangle — a method of drawing that promotes relaxation and freeing your mind while drawing a pre-set series of patterns — say it’s anything but.

Rick Roberts and Maria Thomas created the Zentangle method about 10 years ago and within the last few years began certifying teachers in the program, including Niagara Falls resident Mary Sykes. 

Sykes is the only certified Zentangle teacher in Western New York, and offers classes through the Patrick Sean Daley Studio in the City of Tonawanda and to assorted groups throughout the area, like the Amherst Museum Quilters’ Guild. 

Prior to her interest in the drawing method, Sykes had a moderate interest in art and took colored pencil drawing classes at the Patrick Sean Daley Studio. Primarily, though, she was interested in meditation.

Sykes said her attention was first brought to Zentangle through a craft book a friend lent her.

“I kept looking at it, thinking my heart is being pulled,” she said. “It speaks of the soul.”

Roberts and Thomas said the point of Zentangle is to learn a series of “tangles,” or patterns so intuitively that when an artist puts pen to paper, it’s just a natural process that involves no planning or conscious thought.

“They’re simple, basic and they allow somebody to do what used to be called doodling much more deliberately,” Roberts said. “There’s a whole palette of patters — like colors — that you can choose from and you watch them unfold. It creates itself.”

One pattern might involve a series of spirals, another might resemble a leaf, while still others incorporate straight lines and dots. 

Sykes describes drawing tangles as a stream-of-consciousness-like process, one in which she doesn’t have to think too hard about what she’s doing or what the end result will be.

“It’s a process you go with. Your soul is leading you now, instead of your mind,” Sykes said. “I tend to be a perfectionist and I had to learn to work with mistakes.”

The creators of the system — who admit they didn’t really create the drawings from scratch, but invented a method for teaching and learning it — said Zentangle allows people to disengage their minds and meditate. 

Some people have used it as a way to work through personal problems and even calm classrooms full of students. One hospital in Ireland even uses Zentangle to help with pain management.

Thomas said one person told her Zentangle saved her life.

“ ‘I was lost and this is bringing me back to feeling good about myself,’ ” Thomas said the woman told her. Others have told her, “ ‘I don’t feel pain anymore or my blood pressure went down.’ ”

“When you’re meditating you’re watching your thoughts and you let them go by like a cloud,” Sykes said. “[When I Zentangle,] my thoughts come and it’s easier for me to let them go because I’m so involved with doing something else with my hands.”

For those interested in taking classes with Sykes at the Patrick Sean Daley Studio in the City of Tonawanda, call the studio at 400-6117.

ZENTANGLE CLASSES • WHERE: Patrick Sean Daley Studio, 61 Main St., City of Tonawanda • MORE INFORMATION: Contact the studio to find out dates and cost at 400-6117. • ON THE WEB: Visit

Contact Sunday Lifestyle editor Danielle Haynes at 693-1000, ext. 4116 or follow her on Twitter at @DanielleHaynes1.