Zentangle: the meditative art form with Loretta West

Posted on June 28, 2016 at 6:00 am

By Erin Dodge

Starting next week and through the month of August, local artist Loretta West teaches the meditative art form of Zentangle at the Library District as part of our 2016 Summer Programs.

I visited Loretta in her art studio and recorded a video of her drawing Zentangle, to give everyone an idea of what they can learn in her workshops. She also graciously answered my questions about Zentangle and who can do it (hint: everyone) and shared who and what inspires her creative life.

What is Zentangle? Where did it originate?

Zentangle is an easy to learn and fun method of drawing structured patterns, which when combined with each other create beautiful and interesting designs. It’s the drawing of repetitive shapes that offer relaxation for mind and body. Each pattern or “tangle” is made up of a combination of the following simple shapes: a dot, a line, a C-shape, an S-shape and a circle—none of which need to be perfect and can be done with ease.

It all started with a simple idea by two people, Maria Thomas and Rick Roberts. They worked together in Maria’s calligraphy business Pen Dragon Inks. One Saturday, Rick burst into Maria’s studio while she was working on an illuminated manuscript—the kind consisting of big letters decorated with gold and patterns. She was absorbed in drawing the small intricate patterns inside a large letter.

After Rick’s interruption, it took Maria a while to come back from her effortless relaxed focus. She said she was unaware of where she was and was free from worries or cares. As she described how she felt, Rick realized that it was a mind state similar to meditation. At that moment, they knew that they were on to something unique and devised a method to share it with others all over the world.

Zen3What drew you, as an artist, to Zentangle?

Some years ago an artist friend showed me her Zentangle sketchbook and suggested I try it as it was very relaxing. At that time it didn’t grab me, but years later, during a period of grieving, I found it again. At the time, I was feeling pretty gray about everything. Though I managed to work at teaching art during the day, in the evening I had little energy for anything else, let alone my own art. I knew that somehow I had to reconnect with my creative soul again.

One day I was looking on the web for interesting art to share with my students. That’s when it clicked! I thought, “Hey! This Zentangle stuff is black, white, and gray and is very small and manageable.” Just perfect for how I was feeling at the time. So I got out a mini sketchbook and tangled my way to Seattle that weekend. It really did change my life for the better and continues to enrich my life through practicing, sharing, and teaching Zentangle to this day.

Who can participate and learn to do it?

It is so accessible and easy to learn. If you can print a few letters, even a little bit, with a pen or pencil, then you can create a Zentangle. Even if you can’t draw for some reason, you can draw a tangle in your head.

Think about this… if you are printing or cursive writing, then you are already drawing! I have taught people of all ages and abilities. A lot of people can be intimidated by making art because they think of the end product and are consumed by how it will turn out. This can keep them from trying. However, with the Zentangle method, every pattern is drawn one stroke at a time and there are no mistakes. Wobbly works!

There are few tools as well. You can tangle using any pen or pencil and paper—or even in the dirt with a stick or in the air with a finger. It is mostly about how doing it makes you feel inside when you draw. The end product is what it is. As with any art making, it’s the inner transformation that is the real story.

Who and what inspires you as an artist?

Now, there’s a question. I think my inspiration changes frequently from the way the sun illuminates my garden, to the songs of birds, to the look on someone’s face, a poem, or a piece of music. It comes from all sorts of directions depending on how I am feeling and what I am paying attention to at the time. Right now birds inspire me. I am craning my neck to look up all the time.

The whole art making thing is a distillation process for me. The real task comes down to what I do with that inspiration. With some things, I just draw something in my head. For others, I journal or write a poem about it or create a sketch. Then if it really stays with me, I continue onto something bigger, like a painting. As I progress as an artist, I find it most engaging when I think of a concept or idea and a new way to combine techniques or mediums to relay it.

For years I thirsted to have my work in a big important gallery or museum, and that may still happen, but what truly inspires me now is taking what I have learned, passing it on to someone else, and watching them move past creative and life blocks to step into who they are creatively and soulfully. It is a privilege to help in this process.

Here are some inspirational artists:

Claude Monet, hands down. His heart shines in his work. Visiting his garden at Giverny last fall and then seeing his waterlily paintings was like a trip to Mecca for me.

Emily Carr had a challenging career and life, but tough was she! She truly understood her subjects at a deep spiritual level. They were all alive to her and that energy is alight in her paintings.

Cheryl Samuel is a friend and mentor in Victoria, BC, who has been so supportive of my life and career for so long. I am inspired by her curiosity and tenacity.

Kay O’Rourke. I love the movement in her work. Paintings tell a story and she does that with aplomb and panache.

Elise Beattie. Our time together was brief, but in her workshop, I learned a very important lesson: I was free to make choices and yes, they may not always turn out, but I have to give myself permission to try and experiment. It really set me free.

Carol Santora was my first serious watercolor teacher. Her lesson for me was to paint subjects that I know and that are in my heart. I have come to learn that it’s the love and passion that you have for something that makes an artwork in any medium sing!


Loretta West spends her life making art in her studio and teaching students about art and how to relax using the meditative art form, Zentangle, which she is certified to teach. Her work is energetic, colorful, and impressionistic, stemming from her love of this earth. She loves to have fun while making art, mixing things up from mediums, to color, design, and various techniques. She is not a purist but an experimentalist. Over the years, she has trained in various settings, from University to private instruction. She is also influenced by her travels in North America and Europe. Her work is in private collections in the United States and Canada. If she isn’t wetting the brush, she can be found outdoors exploring her beautiful surroundings by foot, bike, sail, kayak, or on skis.


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