How do you doodle?

If you are a regular here, you will know that I’m really interested in exploring the relationship between my creativity and my mental health, how they are so intertwined, with all the positives and negatives  that that can bring. I feel like I am on a journey to make that relationship into something which has a vastly more positive than negative impact on my life, and this exploration is definitely taking me along some interesting roads, pathways, with all kinds of intertwinings, shortcuts, lengthy detours and a few dead ends too.. Here’s something I’ve discovered that felt like a bit of a dead end, but I am beginning to think is something rather life-enhancing – something that actually helps, and doesn’t feel like an extra activity or responsibility that I’ve got too little time for. Who knew that doodling would hit that spot for me?


My attempt at a Zentangle-inspired art postcard


But it’s not just doodling, it’s Zentangling – or more accurately, in my case, Zentangle-inspired art. I first discovered Zentangle when I read about it on a Home Education forum where it was recommended as a great technique to introduce to kids who struggle with anxiety. The poster included some images of the work that she and her daughter had created, and I was bowled over, it was just lovely. Intrigued, I started to read up on the art of the Zentangle – a method of creating images using structured patterns – and discovered a whole new world of Zentangle art out there.

So I sent off for some Zentangle supplies (this is a great shop for Zentangle stuff in the UK) and started my doodley journey. And then fell off the wagon almost immediately…

My first two official Zentangles – I think my lack of enthusiasm rather shines through. It wasn’t working for me at this stage, although I love some of the patterns I used.

It felt like there were just TOO MANY RULES to follow and I became a bit panicky, feeling as if I might make a mistake as soon as ink hit paper. Not very relaxing at all, and not at all Zen! So I gave it up as a bad job, happy in the knowledge that the kids would make good use of the pens and paper.

But something drew me back to have another go, and by chance I discovered Zentangle-inspired art (which has considerably fewer rules), and jumped back on that wagon straight away. Here’s why I like it so much…

Benefits of Zentangle or Zentangle-inspired Art for Stressy Creatives

  • I am drawn to and scared of drawing in equal measure (I haven’t studied art since I was 13 years old, and didn’t have much confidence in my abilities back then either!). Zentangle-style art allows me to make marks on paper in a relaxing, manageable way that feels both safe AND challenging. And I really like my finished images, even though there are definitely mistakes and clumsiness, I enjoy how they look, which gives me a lot more confidence in that scary mark making.


My most recent piece of Zentangle-inspired art. I went right up to the edges and everything.


  • Learning new Zentangle patterns is so straightforward – there are lots of online tutorials so there’s always another pattern to add to my repertoire. As I add a pattern to my image, I am sometimes inspired by the original pattern, and add a little extra step – this is great for me in terms of practising to take risks (albeit tiny ones!) with my creativity.
  • If I make a mistake with a pattern (a line in the wrong place, shading in the wrong block, for example), I can tweak the pattern to hide the mistake. I love that this encourages this flexibility and more open approach to learning and creating.
  • As I draw in this relaxed, non-pressured – choose a pattern, draw a pattern where you fancy – style,  I begin to see designs and structures that I really like. This gets me thinking about ways I can use the designs that appear in embryonic form on my images, in my sewing, in embroidery, in patchwork blocks and in quilting too.
  • My hand/eye coordination is not great, although it’s getting better all the time as my years of sewing increase and my sewing skills increase, but doing this pattern drawing is fantastic because I really need to think about how patterns fit into tight corners, which bits of the pattern need to be chopped off by the next shape. Judging shapes, spaces and distances by eye is such a great transferable skill for sewing.
  • In itself, I find drawing these repetitive patterns relaxing and soothing because there’s no pressure. It’s a focused activity, so my mind quietens for a while, and although there are decisions to make, they aren’t a big deal, especially as you know that sometimes a mistake can turn into something inspirational.
  • This style of drawing also allows me to practice relaxing in a conscious way. Like anxious people everywhere, I hold so much tension in my body… clenched jaw, tight chest, clenched fist, furrowed brow. And if I am concentrating on something creative, it can really get out of hand, until I’m hunched over my sewing machine or crochet hook, fabric or yarn gripped with sweaty palms! When I’m working on one of these little drawings, I am making a conscious decision to stop for a minute when I get to the end of each pattern. I try to ground myself back in my body – stop gripping the pen, relax my shoulders, breathe, relax my jaw, trying to let all that tension go. This is something I can carry over into sewing and crochet, and into the rest of my life too. Learning to relax with breath and becoming mindful of your body is a skill that needs practice, and I really like the way that this purposeful doodling is allowing me to practice and be creative at the same time.

Are you a sewer, knitter or crocheter who loves to draw? I’d love to hear about your experiences of how the different activities can enrich each other. Or are you like me, and terrified of pens and paper? Tell me what put you off (maybe we had the same art teacher 😉 ) – what would it take to get you back using pencils and paper again? Really looking forward to reading your thoughts.

25 thoughts on “How do you doodle?

  1. I’m very much like yourself! I went on a Zentangle course and thought it was the best thing since sliced bread. That good, I haven’t touched it since! I do regularly see the pens and tiles that I brought at the time and know that at some point in time I will go back to it. I like to have an end product – working with yarn and fabric provides me with that – at the moment I can’t see a use for the tiles other than keeping them stuffed in a drawer. I’m certain my opinion on this matter will change with time!

    1. That made me smile! I like having an end product too, and I am increasingly realising that all my projects have to be small/short/simple because otherwise I lose interest. That’s why I like Zentangle, I do one pattern, then another, then another, so not easy to get bored. You need to get those tiles out! 🙂

  2. I too first heard of zentangles through HE and the girls did an Art session on them. I love how yours are turning out …. I have never had a go because, like you, it’s that fear of the first mark. You have inspired me to have a go because I have always liked them and love the inspiration for quilting I see in them.

    1. I think it’s just going for it really. Once you have the background pattern (that’s why I really like doing the circles pattern) it’s plain sailing, just choose the designs and you are off. Great for quilting I think – so helpful with thinking about how patterns fit together. Inspirational too!

  3. I’d never heard of this, but it seems like a good way to decompress and let imagination flow – plus, what a great way to use blank notebooks!

  4. It looks as though mine is a lone voice as I don’t enjoy doodling or drawing except when it happens by accident – and zentangle leaves me cold. *runs for cover, just in case…

  5. I love zentangling. I have always told myself that I couldn’t draw. When I retired I thought I’d try to learn, and discovered zentagling. I actually love the rules – I’ve never been an ordinary doodler because I’m not very good at using my imagination, and having rules and patterns means that’s ok! Following on from that, I have tried a few different types of art/drawing/journalling, but I still go back to zentangling and use the patterns in other art, even in quilting. It really is a “zen” thing

  6. Need to read all your post properly (just had lunch), but am fascinated by what you are saying.I love the circles work,re minds me of making patterns with a compass when a little girl! I loved art and had a friend who was amazing at it, she eventually became a designer,so I was a intimidated and in awe of her, but I wasn’t bad at still life.I do think the creative part of drawing is wonderful and calming and must be good for our mental health.I have found since I have been sewing again that I have probably actually restricted myself by following other peoples patterns and ideas especially with the Splendid Sampler and realise that I need to create something (simple!) which is my own.I am sure that you are getting some benefit from thinking the way you do and finding ways to increase your own self confidence and self esteem, I think a lot of it is about letting go and truly believing that what you create is good, it’s yours it must be!I will go back now and read thoroughly your blog.I was given a journal with hands.ade paper for my birthday and have started drawing a garden diary, in other words each day I draw what I have done or see in my very large if rather wild garden.For example I have drawn about bulbs I have planted and written what they are and when they should flower. Keep up your amazing work Ali.x

    1. Thank you! Your garden diary sounds fabulous… what a lovely idea, and a great way of keeping tracking what you have planted… and adding in the drawing too, I bet it is going to be really enriching, and such a lovely record of the history of your garden. And so interesting to read that you feel that your next sewing step is to create something of your own… have fun with it!

    1. Well, there are lots of different ways I think. I like to start with the circles first (I just draw round a suitable circular thing), make a pattern with them, and just start filling in the spaces with patterns. There are heaps of Zentangle patterns and doodle patterns on Pinterest or you can find them just by Googling. Proper Zentangle starts with a ‘string’, which you then work with. I like this website for lots of great ideas:

  7. I haven’t done zentangle but I totally understand what you mean in that last paragraph. I do colouring in for similar reasons. I’m awake now in the middle of the night and often at these times I colour in. It helps take the focus away from negative, unreasonable thoughts, which seem tripley bad at this time of day. ‘Mistakes’ help lead the design and I totally love that feeling of ‘rolling with it’ and seeing where it takes me. That’s so freeing and so I do try to link that to how I view life ‘mistakes’. It helps my mindset.

    1. Thanks so much for your thoughts – I can see how colouring has very similar benefits, and what a brilliant idea to do it when sleep is elusive. A friend of mine lives with a chronic health condition and finds mindful colouring a real help when it comes to managing her pain. I really think these things can be surprisingly powerful.

  8. Really interesting. I have a very creative friend who embraced Zentangle a good, few years ago. She has moved onto “adult colouring” and incorporates her finished designs in her beautiful handmade cards. As for me, after over 45 years I have still not got over the fact that I was the only person in my senior school art class not to be asked to take Art O-level. I was traumatised as I didn’t (and still don’t) consider myself to be THAT bad at Art. Maybe I’ll give this a go.

    1. I was talking to a friend today about how fragile we are in our teen years and how easily our confidence is knocked. I know I had my enthusiasm for doing art and craft knocked out of me during those years. Now I am trying to cultivate a more ‘what the heck, I’ll give it a go’ attitude. 😀

      1. Isn’t that the truth? And we’re vulnerable at younger ages as well. I know that unkind comments made by my stepmother when I was 7 or 8 (about some drawings I’d done) has forever influenced how I feel about my artistic abilities.

        I used to fill pages and pages full of doodles but looking at some sent angles, I think my doodles had more in common with those than just doodling. I don’t know about having to follow a lot of rules though. I’m not much of a rule follower….. I’m more of a vauge outline/suggestion sort of girl, lol! I’m still going to check it out though. A little Zen is good for the soul!

  9. Hi Ali, I too have spent some time Zentangling. I even bought their Zentangle kit and I think I still have it. I can’t remember why I stopped, but yes I am a quilter who loves to draw, or at least used to. I haven’t done it as much lately. I am really drawn to the Zentangle process and the way anybody even with minimal talent can make a really interesting design following their method. Your designs are wonderful!!

    1. Thanks so much Janice.. that’s the fab thing about Zentangle I think, you can create pretty great patterns without too much practice or time commitment… so it’s really rewarding from that point of view, isn’t it. 🙂

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