Creative Journal Zen

When I sit down with a pen and paper and set to fill the page with Zendoodles (also known as Zentangles), I often find myself sitting in the exact same position, hours later, with an overwhelming sense of either thirst or the need to void my bladder. I quite simply get completely lost in the task. My sense of time, my worries, my fears, tomorrow’s meal plan, the piles of laundry, they all fade away. I am perfectly present. Perfectly at peace. Just doing.

I introduce the Zendoodle as one of the first Creative Journal techniques due to its meditative nature. The name of the technique says it all:

Zen: A state of focus that brings together body and mind.
Doodle: An intricate series of aimless drawings and patterns on a page.

Creative Journal Zen by Bri KetlerWhat’s the best thing about this form of expression? You do not have to be da Vinci in order to create an intricate, beautiful, and expressive Zendoodle. Anyone can do it. “I can’t even draw a stick figure”, you say? I’ll tell you from experience that you may just surprise yourself.

I recommend a black pen in lieu of pencil for one reason: the exercise is about moving forward, not moving back. If you make a ‘mistake’ (I use the word mistake loosely), you go with the flow, so to speak. You build off of the ‘mistake’ instead of erasing it. You cannot erase mistakes in life. You can build from them, learn from them, and move on to continue creating the bigger picture. Chances are, you will not notice the tiny ‘mistake’ you made by the time your entire drawing is complete. If you do notice it, it is a part of the pattern; something of beauty; a part of the whole, and you own it.

The process is both intentional and unintentional. Liquid and flowing. It is best to go into a Zendoodle with no concrete plan or idea of how you’d like the end result to look. You do not want to get caught up in the ‘plan’ when the purpose is to be present and go with the flow. If you find yourself getting frustrated, you’re not doing a Zendoodle. You’re just doodling. Take a step back, reflect on why you are getting frustrated, and start again fresh after a break.

I like to begin with a few lines or shapes across the page. The initial lines rarely have any bearing on what the finished product will look like. I use them to frame or guide my initial patterns. I gradually fill the page one section at a time. The patterns I choose depend entirely on how I am feeling. If I am calm, I tend to choose more organic shapes. If I am stressed, my drawings are more angular. In terms of drawing, having a graphic display tablet is immensely helpful, as it allows for precise and natural digital artwork creation. It is easy to recognize which Zendoodles I have done on a good day and which on a bad.

I advise to start small and easy. Find some patterns that appeal to you, and practice them in a small square. There are some fantastic books and websites with patterns to try. They range from very simple, to very complicated. With practice, I discovered my favorite patterns and developed my own.

Zendoodle is a wonderful, meditative art form that can help calm a worried mind, soothe a troubled heart, express a joy-filled soul, or simply bring about the peaceful state of being ‘in the moment’.

Creative Journal Zen by Bri Ketler

Recommended sites:
Tangle Patterns

Recommended reading:
Totally Tangled: Zentangle and Beyond
The Art of Zentangle: 50 inspiring drawings, designs & ideas for the meditative artist
The Zentangle Untangled Workbook: A Tangle-a-Day to Draw Your Stress Away


Bri Ketler

Bri Ketler is a thirty-something mother of two, artist, crafter, and volunteer in the Calgary area. A Calgary native, she decided to spread her wings and move to Edinburgh, Scotland in 2001 to pursue a degree in the arts.She graduated with her BA in Art and Design from Edinburgh College of Art in 2005.

She worked as an Interior Designer in Calgary until her passion for art overwhelmed her desire for wealth and fame.When she is not chasing after her two young kids, she is teaching art to teen girls in need and creating dolls for her small handcrafting business, Lil’Zo.

Bri believes that art is a powerful outlet, and many internal issues can be confronted, exposed, and resolved by simply letting go and allowing oneself to be creative – even if they don’t believe they are the ‘creative type’. Everyone can benefit from getting over their fears, and simply putting pen to paper, paint to canvas, click a shutter, put hands on clay, or whatever medium one chooses. Find her online here.

Latest posts by Bri Ketler (see all)