Zentangle & the Art of Shell Collecting

The following is an article I wrote for my friend Ann over at Ann Grasso Pattern Art. Why not pop on over and see what else she has on her site? I find it inspiring.

shell-by-waterI will admit to being a recovering perfectionist. Not content simply to be valedictorian, I graduated with a perfect 4.0. A challenging software development career in the telecommunications industry where systems had to be available over 99.999% of the time did nothing to curb this tendency.

But after forsaking my 15-year career to take care of my newborn daughter, I began to realize the folly of this all-or-nothing thinking. Even so, I chose hobbies like quilting where striving for perfect 1/4-inch seams, perfectly matched prints, and precisely pieced patches is ubiquitous.

In February of 2010, I went to Whitinsville, Massachusetts to learn from the founders of Zentangle: Rick Roberts and Maria Thomas. Their gentle, “no mistakes,” “life as an artform” philosophy was completely foreign to my type-A personality. But it struck a chord deep inside of me.

For the past five years, I’ve been teaching the Zentangle Method and their philosophy weekly. Since then, I’ve noticed that the philosophy of Zentangle has been creeping gently into my daily life, subtly adding a sense of peace and artfulness to many everyday activities.

Today, I noticed it while collecting shells.

Before Zentangle: My morning walks had a purpose: to get the best shells before someone else did.

After Zentangle: I slowed down my morning walks and took my time to notice the sound of the waves, the color of the clouds, the coolness of the water, the patterns in the sand, and the smell of the ocean. Any shells I pick up are a welcome side-effect to my walk, just like in Zentangle where the relaxed focus of stroking pen across the paper will have a side-effect of beautiful art.


Before Zentangle: I only looked for perfect shells because they are the prettiest, and also, the scarcity of these rare gems gave their discovery a sense of accomplishment.

After Zentangle: I understand that that perfection does not equal beauty and that all beauty is subjective. A shell may be both simultaneously broken and beautiful.


Before Zentangle: I threw away the “ugly” shells.

After Zentangle: I know that any shell can become lovely with care and attention.


Before Zentangle: I looked only at “what is.”

After Zentangle: I look at “what could be.”


Zentangle has helped me become more peaceful, appreciative, patient, and non-judgemental. Has creating affected other aspects of your life? If so, please share how.


18 thoughts on “Zentangle & the Art of Shell Collecting

  1. Your shell pieces (and whole shells), especially with the purple gems on them, have inspired me to try some myself. Thank you for the inspiration!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. have you heard of wabi saby (have no idea if that’s the right spelling. The idea behind is to find the beauty in a repaired object. That is to find beauty on the imperfection


  3. Cris, I appreciate you. I appreciate your thoughtfulness. I appreciate your sharing your views. And of course, I appreciate your shells, both “perfect” and “partial.”

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This is just wonderful, and hits home for me. I am new to Zentangle (January) and a lifelong perfectionist striving for calm, meditative balance. I love your ‘before’ and ‘after’ comparisons, and really do share your philosophy, but I still have to really concentrate on enjoying the process and being OK with less than perfection 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. As a fellow type A personality, I find Zentangle to be extremely relaxing and therapeutic to my body and soul. Occasionally in class I find the old habits of trying to make perfect tangles…the more I try, the worse I felt they were looking. At home I can relax more, tangle away and create a very descent bunch of tangles. The results are still relaxing and perfect in their own way….Thanks Chris for opening a new door in my creativity.


  6. Pingback: Rio 2016

Comments make me happy. Please let me know what you think.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s