Zentangles is the art of “purposeful doodling.”
If you’ve never heard of Zentangle — the relatively new art movement of purposeful doodling until one reaches a Zen-like state — you’re not alone. But Oak Park’s Samm Wunderlich is an expert on it.
She discovered it by chance.
Wunderlich grew up in Pleasant Ridge, attended Ferndale Public Schools and graduated from Central Michigan with an undergrad in psychology and recreation therapy, something, Wunderlich said, most people haven’t even heard of. She belongs to Young Israel of Oak Park.
As a recreation therapist, Wunderlich worked with people who’ve had traumatic brain injuries, helping them reintegrate into the community through their personal interests.
“I specialize in cognitive skill retraining, such as social skills. I’d take clients to community settings where they needed to interact with the world, and I’d coach them through the steps needed for the interaction,” Wunderlich explained.
In 2011, Wunderlich was working at Havenwyck Hospital in Auburn Hills. One of the tools the staff informally used was a how-to book on Zentangle. Wunderlich found the concept fascinating and often flipped through the book herself. Intrigued, she looked up more information and found there were classes for anyone who wanted to become a Certified Zentangle Teacher (CZT).
Wunderlich immediately signed up. She discovered Zentangle had been invented in 2008 by Maria Thomas and Rick Roberts, a husband-and-wife team in Massachusetts. Roberts noticed that when Thomas, a calligraphy artist, inked her patterns or embellishments, it was hard to get her attention. Thomas was able to break down what she was doing into easy-to-follow steps for Roberts. Soon some of their friends and neighbors got in on the meditative fun, and the Zentangle Method was born.
Anyone Can Create
According to Wunderlich, it’s simple; anyone can do it. She’d been prepared to adapt the Zentangle Method for people with lower cognitive abilities and motor skills but found she didn’t have to.
“It’s just repetitive geometric abstract swirls and patterns. Really, anything repetitive and deliberate can be relaxing … It might look like doodling, but we don’t like that term, because there’s a negative connotation; it makes it sound absent-minded, which is the opposite of the Zentangle Method,” Wunderlich said.
Wunderlich began using the Zentangle Method more pointedly with her clients and word quickly spread. She later had a following in a Ferndale art studio and has been giving private art classes out of her home, stopping periodically when she got married to her husband, David Faust, in 2019 and during the pandemic.
Supplies are portable so she’s also run Zentangle workshops at bat mitzvah parties, birthday parties, in various dining rooms, and even corporate events, as well as classes at nursing homes and independent living facilities. She’s had between one and 150 people doing Zentangle at once.
In 2018, Wunderlich went back to college to get a research degree and ended up with a master’s in program evaluation.
“I went from one field no one heard of to another!” Wunderlich laughed. She works with programs and organizations, usually nonprofits, many of which are funded by grants to help figure out if what they’re doing is working and how they’re really making a difference in people’s lives.
“Basically, I went from working one-on-one to help change lives, to working with organizations who help change lives,” Wunderlich said.
Beyond working and teaching Zentangle classes, Wunderlich also has a background in music — she plays the oboe and English horn and has been part of the Detroit Medical Orchestra since 2014. She’s also dabbled in painting, jewelry making, metal stamping and candle making. She often uses her interests interchangeably, bringing a therapeutic approach to everything she does.
“Anyone can benefit from intentional wellness intervention,” said Wunderlich, who has even been trained as a SoulCollage Facilitator, yet another out-of-the-box therapeutic method.
In the collaging process, a person creates cards with images that speak to them. They then decide what message, if any, the picture is giving to them. They label them, for example, “inner child” or “inner critic.” People can ask their different cards questions or about dilemmas they’re facing and answer with the voice of the card.
“You’re basically giving voice to a particular perspective within yourself,” Wunderlich explained. “The process can also help channel memories. If a person chooses, it can be a very self-reflective exercise.”
The greatest barrier Wunderlich says that she comes across is when people balk and complain, “I can’t do that, I’m not creative.” That makes her frustrated and sad. She responds: “I can prove you wrong in 30 minutes.”
And she does. Wunderlich explained, “To be human is to be creative. We’ve created a mentality that creative means talented, but it’s not accurate. Being creative is being willing to take risks … and if someone is afraid to take risks with a pen on a 3×3 inch piece of paper that no one has to see again, how do we expect people to take risks when it does matter like in science or engineering?”
For more information on Zentangle, visit the official Zentangle website at zentangle.com, or Wunderlich’s website: wunderrec.com. Wunderlich can be contacted via email at samm@
wunderrec.com or (248) 629-0002.