Zentangle Art Lessons

This post shares my favorite Zentangle art lessons that are perfect for back to school or anytime throughout the year. I have taught the Zentangle method from 5th-12th grade and I love the individualized results.

“Back to school” are my three least favorite words in combination. I love school and I truly love teaching, but as soon as I see the school supplies hitting the stores my anxiety increases. It is so much effort starting a new school year! I am always hit with the emotional and physical stress at the start of August while re-setting up my classroom. Do I even remember how to teach?!

Once I rip off the bandaid and finish that first workday, I feel relieved that my hibernated teacher self does remember the ropes. I truly believe the first few days of school set the tone for the entire semester/year/quarter. First impressions are essential, and students observe everything like hawks. Or as I like to imagine, velociraptors checking the electric fence for weak spots. (#90skid). If you are new to teaching, I highly recommend the book The First Days of School: How to Be an Effective Teacher. Don’t let the outdated images or the author’s name throw you off. These strategies are timeless and very effective.

Another Year, Another Zentangle!

Zentangles are such a great starting point in an art class. It helps me understand my students abilities and personalities while giving me a structured and safe lesson to break in my classroom expectations. Students can feel successful trying out the basics for the first time, or create really impressive designs unique to their own style.

The Zentangle method is the peaceful style of drawing using structures patterns. Zentangle.com is an amazing resource with quite an artistic community. I usually have students use simpler or more organic patterns, but this is an amazing resource.

My favorite way to use a Zentangle is as a sketchbook cover. It gives students ownership of their sketchbook (we use them daily) and also gives them a feel for my classroom vibe. It is a great way to introduce a rubric and the discussion of how art is graded in an academic setting. You mean you can’t just draw what you want in art class?!?

Initial Zentangle Sketchbook Cover

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This classroom ready tutorial shows the basics of created patterns using a pen. I’m using micron pens, but I’ve done this a million times with fine point Sharpies. The results are bold and students feel like they’re using a nice material from the start. They can be a tad expensive, but I think the results are worth it after trying ballpoint pens one semester.

We also use clear packing tape to attach them to their sketchbook covers. I found this to be more cost effective and less work than individually laminating each one. I prefer to give tasks to my students, not spend hours after school wrestling with the laminator. If students don’t have sketchbooks you can make small ones easily with some folded paper and a few staples. Binders also work well for notes and handouts.

Value Scale Hand Zentangle

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Value is one of my favorite elements to explore with students. I love how this Value Scale Hand Zentangle allows students to explore creating areas of dark and light and mark making. It’s a great way to explore hatching, cross hatching and scumbling while allowing room for creativity.

I like to use hands to organize the composition because they are readily available and interesting, but also not intimidating. This can be simplified for lower levels or you could set your value scale expectations high for the older or more advanced students. It definitely is a more dynamic way to practice pen techniques than an old fill in the blanks handout.

Watercolor Drip Zentangle

This may be the Zentangle art lesson I am most excited about this year! After teaching at the intermediate level for six years, I am moving back to high school and will be teaching AP Art for the first time. I taught in the IB programme years ago, but it has been quite some time since I have taught a college level course.

This will be such a fun way to explore and create with a new batch of students the first few days of art class. I love the colorful watercolor drips, I think they create fun pops of color along with organic organization. This would also be a great method to include in all level classes and have the paper on hand for a substitute or early finishers. This zentangle art lesson is 100% doable in elementary, middle and the high school setting and I plan on doing some in my personal sketchbook as well.

Animal Zentangle

This animal zentangle requires to level up their drawing skills and create Zentangle patterns within the shape of an animal (or whatever!). Students can keep it simple like turtle shells, butterflies and zoomed in animal faces; or they can challenge themselves with a more detailed animal like a horses and giraffes.

I love doing this over watercolor paper because it elevates the finished product and I try and include as many mixed media experiences as possible. Public school schedules are quick with short class periods and I love including multiple techniques in one lesson.

I created these backgrounds using watercolor washes like in this tutorial, minus the salt. I felt the salt texture was a little distracting for the scale of this drawing, but on a larger piece of paper I think it would be beautiful.

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Zentangle Art Lessons Perfect For Substitutes

Once students have created one zentangle, they can create them forever. That means if you teach this early in the semester, you have stress free emergency sub lessons ready to go! These can both be done with pencils or colored pencils if you don’t love the idea of leaving sharpies or fine point pens with a substitute.

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Do you have favorite zentangle art lessons? What are your favorite lessons to teach at the start of a new year? I’d love to hear from you!

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