The idea behind the Zentangle phenomenon was created accidentally. In 2005, a calligrapher named Maria Thomas was working on designs for the background of a manuscript. She found the work relaxing and gave her a sense of focus. In a discussion with her partner, Rick Roberts, a former Buddhist monk, she expressed how the process felt. He identified this type of drawing as a form of meditation. Together they worked on creating a system that could be taught to others.
Zentangle Untangled, written by Kass Hall, is a good introduction to the practice. The book is divided into two parts. The first part introduces the concept of Zentangle and allays the fears of future Zentanglers about not being creative enough. This meditative approach to drawing works because the focus is not on making a likeness of something in the world, it is on making many lines or circles or squares, building a decorative work. Calm comes with this repetition. The author also mentions how it has helped her keep centered when she was dealing with severe health problems.
To strictly adhere to the Zentangle creed, it is recommended that followers use Fabriano Tiepolo printmaking paper. It is 100% cotton, mold-made and then cut to the dimension of a Zentangle tile. In addition, Zentangle made an agreement with Sakura, a Japanese pen maker so that the pigma micron pen would be its official pen. That being said, this doodler used a sketchpad and a regular writing pen and it seemed to work fine. (Though the pigma micron pens are great to use.)
The second chapter gives instruction on making specific tangles. The tangles that are shown look quite complex, but Hall introduces them from the beginning, showing the progress at six different stages. She also gives the original artist’s name and a bit of history about any inspiration that was used in the design. On the accompanying page are examples of the tangle incorporated into larger works.
The second part of the book deals with different applications of Zentangle. Chapter three goes into rudimentary color theory. In chapter four Hall delves into the pros and cons of using different media to decorate Zentangles, including acrylic, water color and colored pencils. Chapter five discusses journaling, using photographs and digital applications. While it's pleasurable to expand one's Zentangle vocabulary, the author admits that when working in the digital realm one completely loses the meditative benefits.