Zentangles…a new pursuit

At the end of 2013, I was searching the intranet for line drawings of quilting designs that I might add to my repertoire and I came across a type of drawing I had never seen before…it was called a Zentangle…of course, I was fascinated and had to investigate further, and then I decided that I needed add another artistic pursuit to my life and learn how to make these.

What, you ask, is a Zentangle? A Zentangle is an abstract line drawing that is created using repetitive patterns in defined spaces that you create on a piece of paper – there is a trademarked Zentangle Method that guides the approach to this art. Zentangling differs from doodling because you focus all of your attention on creating the piece of art and making the lines, while in doodling you are usually focused elsewhere while you are making marks. The premise is that the act of drawing should be pleasurable, purposeful and meditative, and something anyone can do successfully. A Zentangle is unplanned…there is no specific design in mind when you start…the pattern will reveal itself as you draw it and because of this, there are no mistakes or unrealized expectations when you are finished. Each mark of the pen is made deliberately and is used as the foundation for the next mark. Zentangles are almost always created on small 3.5” square tiles using black artistic ink pens on white art-grade paper, but there are colored ink variations and other colors/sizes of tiles you can use.

So, how do you make a Zentangle? The process is fairly straightforward and simple. There are books available to help you learn the art, and there are actually certified Zentangle instructors that you can take classes from. However, I learned mostly by searching the internet – there is a lot of information and examples are plentiful. Having the right supplies allows you to create pieces of art. I was amazed at the difference having good paper and pens made in my drawing – my first 5 drawings before my supplies arrived were made with regular paper and ultrafine Sharpies, and the quality difference between these and the rest is easily visible. So make a small investment in good materials if you want to give this a try. You can order a Zentangle kit if you like, but the needed supplies are few and easy to obtain:

1. Any good art paper of a heavyweight is suitable. You can actually order Zentangle tiles if you wish, but I ordered a pad of 140 pound watercolor paper in a hot finish (smooth surface) and then cut it into 4” squares with a paper cutter. Heavier paper is nice to use because it doesn’t shift under the pen while you are drawing on it and it is durable to being handled while you are drawing them and showing them to others.
2. Artist quality ink pens – Sakura Pigma pens are most commonly used, but any good art quality felt pen is suitable. A fine point (size 01, 0.25mm) is a good size to start with, but I have found that having larger sizes is helpful in filling in areas and the smaller 005 size is nice for very fine lines. These are the same pens that we use for making quilt labels, so most of you should have these in your supplies already.
3. A soft lead pencil for drawing initial lines and strings.

You start a Zentangle by making a dot near each corner with the pencil and connecting the dots with a pencil line – I like to make wavy lines here, but you can make them as straight or curvy as you like. The line is not intended to be seen once your drawing is completed, so draw lightly. Next, use the pencil to draw “strings” inside the borders of the square – these divide the enclosed area into sections that lend structure to your design. Strings are often curvy and abstract, and like the outer border, are not meant to be seen once the drawing is complete. Once you have your lines drawn, put down the pencil and pick up the Pigma pen and begin drawing tangles – patterns drawn within the contours of a string. There are many examples of tangles online, but you should draw whatever pattern comes to you and not worry about whether you are getting it perfect. Tangles should be composed of simple shapes that are drawn purposefully – dots, lines, circles, swirls, squiggles, squares and the like. I personally like to add feathers and leaves to my drawings, and lean towards other quilting designs. Fill in each of the strings with tangles, remembering that there are no mistakes and no removing marks you make – if you don’t like something that you’ve drawn, keep going and you will usually find that you like what you’ve done when you are finished. You can use one or many tangle designs in your Zentangle – it is up to you. You can also shade tangles later with a pencil – this creates more visual depth and interest.

I’ve always been one to flaunt the rules of any art that I take on because I don’t like limitations, and this is no exception. I’ve made 6” Zentangles, and although I really liked the larger surface area, these take much longer to complete because there is so much more area to fill in – it’s hard to stay focused for the longer time. And I don’t always stay within the strings I’ve drawn…sometimes the space is just smaller than I want to use so I combine a few sections…sometimes I am enticed to going outside the borders…sometimes I just draw something else completely. I’ve made different shaped Zentangles – an egg shape for Easter, a pointy triangle tree shape for Christmas, a flag shape for Memorial Day, and no shape constraints in some…not every Zentangle is square. As you look on the intranet for examples, you will see many variations in what is being done. I haven’t strayed from making black lines on white tiles, but that may come in the future.

I’m glad that I’ve added this form of art to my toolbelt – the designs are not so different from quilting designs that I use, and I think this is helping with being more creative in my free motion machine quilting. And if nothing else, I find that it is relaxing to make a Zentangle…I wish I had time to draw more frequently than I do…this is definitely one art that benefits you as you practice! Enjoy!


Blanche was also so kind to include some samples of Zentangles that she has done.

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