Shore Story: Gratitude and appreciation one pen stroke at a time

This is part of the series Shore Stories: Life Along the Lakeshore, columns by local and former residents about their lives. 

Gratitude and Appreciation. Four Dots. Border. String. Tangle. Shade. Chop. Gratitude and Appreciation.

Upon first glance, these words may seem completely unrelated, and yet when experienced as a whole, they constitute the eight steps of the Zentangle drawing method, a method that has come to play a significant role in my life. This method, created by Rick Roberts and Maria Thomas, is an easy-to-learn, relaxing, and fun way to create beautiful images by drawing structured patterns. Drawing these patterns, also known as tangles, offers the invitation to practice gratitude, be present, slow down, increase focus and explore the joy of creating, one pen stroke at a time. Whether drawing alone or in a class, the process begins with a few moments dedicated to silently expressing gratitude and appreciation in a way that is unique to the individual. This could include gratitude for the time to create, the art supplies, for family and friends and more.
All Zentangles have eight steps: Gratitude and Appreciation. Four Dots. Border. String. Tangle. Shade. Chop. Gratitude and Appreciation.
Yolanda Vega is a Certified Zentangle Teacher in Holland.
Intentionality is present in every step that follows as four corner dots, a border connecting the dots and a string are lightly drawn on a 3x5” paper square, or tile, with a graphite pencil. The string aids in dividing the tile in sections in which the tangles are then drawn (hundreds of patterns exist and can be found at sites such as During each step and during the shading and blending that follow, the artist is encouraged to enjoy the moment, hold their pen loosely and turn the tile, so that the hand is comfortable while drawing. In the final steps, the artist adds their initials on the tile and expresses gratitude once again. While there is a tangible final product to be celebrated, it is often instead the process that leaves the artist feeling calm and refreshed.

My journey with Zentangle has unfolded one stroke at a time as well. When I took my first class in 2017, I realized that the little girl inside who always loved to color had found a meaningful path to exploring her creativity. Later, it offered a way to practice mindfulness and experience calm during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in addition to processing grief during and after my mother’s brief battle with cancer and passing in 2022. 

One of the greatest unexpected gifts of 2023 was becoming a Certified Zentangle Teacher. Every time I share Zentangle with others, it is clear how the experience opens space for community while supporting individual well-being. In a world that often demands more, faster, and now, holding moments to pause and breathe is crucial. Whether the class I am teaching is for professional development, a retreat, among friends, with high school and college students, or at a local organization, we follow the same set of guided instructions to create, and yet each finished piece is as unique as the individual.

All that is required to create a Zentangle is a pencil, a pen, and a square of paper.

Seeing participants’ smiles and amazement at our collective mosaic embodies what author Robin Wall Kimmerer shares, “Even a wounded world holds us, giving us moments of wonder and joy.”  PAZ Pause and Zentangle, the name for my business, is anchored in that belief and the sense of peace I experience when drawing whether alone or with others. PAZ, which translates from Spanish to English as peace, is always my hope for what people will encounter when they create, one pen stroke at a time. It also worked out to be a great acronym!
To learn more, visit:

Yolanda Vega, a Holland resident and teacher at heart, graduated from Hope College and Grand Valley State University and has lived in West Michigan for 35 years. Her joy is sparked by all things Zentangle, books, new journals, art supplies and coffee shop visits with friends.
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