A Journey in Joy

Over the past few weeks, I’ve had rich conversations with several friends about finding the artist within. Since many in my age group are retired, it’s natural that they have more time to focus on creativity. Sometimes people hesitate to speak of themselves as being “creatives”— as if that’s a designation for only a select few. But from my view, we can all consider ourselves “creatives” because we originate from the Great Creator.

When I was in my early forties, I had what I considered a “creativity crisis.” My Aunt Polly died and we found many paintings she’d never shown us hidden in closets in her home. We even found words to a song she’d sent to Nashville TN to have made into a record–equivalent to self-publishing of books. While she’d talked to me about painting when she was a younger woman, I had only seen a few of her works just months before she died. I never witnessed her painting– but could see her eye for color and beauty in how she planted her flower garden. It made me sad that we hadn’t seen the true artist that Polly was. I wondered if it had to do with her being a perfectionist–since she would always complain that things she’d done weren’t good enough–like her perfect, ice-thin chocolate chip cookies that we all loved at Christmas. Had her fear of criticism stopped her from creating?

I felt time pressing in and thought “I don’t want to die with my art left inside of me.” After that, I started taking writing classes in the Adult Education evening program at Duke. Then I explored the visual arts with classes at the community college in water colors, drawing, and soft pastels. Finally, I took a knitting class– where I was a ‘misfit’ with a Sunday afternoon group of women who’d mostly been knitting for years. When I started Swing dancing on Sundays at the Elk’s Lodge—it was a much better fit!! I continued into other social dancing styles and now my writing and dancing are my partner-passions; they balance each other with the cognitive focus of writing and the physical focus of dancing.

One of the friends that I’ve discussed the artist path with is Jennifer Sparrow. She taught French at McDougle Middle School where I was the nurse. Jennifer has found her passion, her art, in Zentangle. I have watched her grow into her creativity and it’s been so inspiring. She discovered this art form through another teacher at our school who used it with her students. When those students brought their small squares of drawn patterns into French class, Jennifer was intrigued and started on her journey of learning the Zentangle Method. This is a description of that method from the site http://zentangle.com

“The Zentangle Method is an easy-to-learn, relaxing, and fun way to create beautiful images by drawing structured patterns. We call these patterns, tangles. You create tangles with combinations of dots, lines, simple curves, S-curves and orbs. These simple shapes are the “Elemental Strokes” in all Zentangle art. These patterns are drawn on small pieces of paper called “tiles.” We call them tiles because you can assemble them into mosaics.

Zentangle art is non-representational and unplanned so you can focus on each stroke and not worry about the result.”

After years of learning to do Zentangle and then becoming a certified instructor, Jennifer has created a website. I asked her if I could borrow her tagline A Journey in Joy” to be the title for this post. Then I asked her to provide one of her tiles that represents the joy she’s found.

“This one sits, often invisible, on my desk, surrounded by stuff. But everytime it catches my eye, it makes me smile. When I looked at it and tried to give it a title, I noticed that the repeating “S” and “C” shapes, and the round shape of the piece can be frowns or smiles. I instinctively choose smiles when I see it, so I gave it the title, “Turn that frown”

I was curious about who Jennifer had been as a child for her to be drawn to this particular form of creative expression. Over lunch at my house, we talked about her Zentangle path.

“I always loved pens and paper,” she said. “My mother would have me address our Christmas cards because she said my penmanship was so good.”

I know that to be true because anything I’ve ever received from Jennifer–writings on birthday cards or special notes, are always so beautifully written– her letters even and well-spaced.

“I always loved walking in the woods–like my Dad. I’m most at home when I’m in nature. I love that Zentangle uses those patterns that we see throughout the world,” she said. ” It reminded me of doing lab drawings in Botany class when I was in college.”

She brought me a Zentangle ‘starter kit’ that looks like hers in the picture. I like the attractive muslin bag with the pencil, pen, shading stub and tile–an efficient and portable art form from my perspective; no tote bags of knotted-up yarn, notebooks of critiqued manuscripts, tool boxes with tubes of paint and brushes. And what an encouragement before you pull out your tools, “Anything is Possible, one stroke at the time!”

We had shared the same experience of using Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity as a guide for unblocking the artist within. Jennifer noted that she’d seen Zentangle as something she could teach when she retired from teaching French in the public schools.

“I’ve always been a teacher at heart. As a child– I always had a chalk board.” She eventually mastered her craft and after becoming a certified instructor started teaching classes in the community and then online during the pandemic. But eventually, the teaching took too much of her creative energy.

“I finally became comfortable in calling myself an Artist. I no longer depended on my long- held identity of Teacher” she said, noting a greater freedom with reaching this point on her journey.

One of the things she said that resonated with me, was the Zentangle view of mistakes.

“In Zentangle, there are no mistakes. Everything is used and what we may have considered mistakes actually improve our self-confidence.”

That reminds me now of how perfectionism can get in the way of creativity. It makes me think of my Aunt Polly. I wish she could have felt that increasing self-confidence when we move beyond our small view of things needing to be perfect.

I feel so fortunate to have Jennifer as my friend over so many years. And also fortunate for you that you can get to know her a bit through a seven-minute video clip. It was produced by Kim Best, a retired journalist and documentary film maker who wanted to do a video of Jennifer in order to share the Zentangle method. Jennifer is so eloquently herself in this video. She speaks with such clarity–from the excellent teacher that she is and shows you the basics and the beauty of her art.


She has lots of postings and info on her blog site. You may just be inspired to give Zentangle a try.

I asked Jennifer to provide me with a final image for this post. She sent me this creation and gave it the title Journey

“This is a copy of an early piece,” Jennifer explained. “The Bergson quote played an important role in my decision to retire from public school teaching, and the call to “create oneself  endlessly”. That represents the Whole of what Zentangle is for me.”

It is a Joy to see how this Journey into Zentangle has impacted my friend. There is nothing more inspiring than seeing someone find her/his passion. My hope for you is that you will find that and then you will move forward into creating yourself endlessly.

Blessings to You,


4 thoughts on “A Journey in Joy

  1. I love this post so much, for a variety of reasons. How encouraging to urge us all to find our inner artist! And of course, getting to see wonderful Jennifer Sparrow in her element was amazing – but not surprising. Kudos to both of you! ❤️


    • Hey Karen,
      Thanks so much for your supportive response. Yes, seeing wonderful Jennifer is good for us all. Whatever inner artist is within, it’s such a joy when we make that discovery. Also, that creative side comes out when we’re grandparents–right?!! The joy I see in your pictures reflects that.
      Thanks for reading my posts, and for your ongoing encouragement, Karen.
      Wishing you and your family the best!


  2. It is the Masterpiece that is glorious. There seems to be a theme of completeness in this work. I will have to say that the work, Journey by Jennifer has taken me to a mind-place. On the right of the this exquisite work are shapes of Anise. The section at the top represent, to me, a connection of blank space. Yet with the more detailed the realistic shape have a connection of line. My first emotion was the sense of smelling Licorice. That I will hold for each time I view this image. Love and Blessings to you.


    • Hey John,
      So interesting that you see shapes of Anise. I’ll have to Google that image because I don’t have that knowledge. But Anise does have a very distinct smell/taste and I love how it brings up Licorice for you. I didn’t like licorice as a kid, but I’m wondering if you did and that’s a pleasant memory for you.
      Yes, Jennifer’s work is a Masterpiece and that theme of completeness, the Whole, mirrors her life.
      Thanks for your deep thoughts and response that is rich in meaning.


Leave a Reply

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

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com 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 )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.