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Doodling... and Zentangles!
by Barbara Strembicki  **  June 2010
Text and images copyright 2010.  Use without written permission is prohibited

I'm a doodler.  No scrap of paper, receipt, or envelope that passes me by is safe.  I doodle when I'm on the phone.  When I'm thinking.  When I'm not.  I doodle in my journals.  Mostly I just doodle wherever there's a blank spot on a piece of paper and I have a moment and a pen..

Hearts play heavily in my work and doodles are no exception.  I draw hearts everywhere.  Long, skinny ones.  Short, squat ones.  Loopy, curling ones.  I love the shape of the heart...  and all it represents.  That's the romantic in me I suppose.

Some of the time I get so immersed in what I'm doing, whether it's for Joggles or at home, that I focus to the point of missing out on things.  The whole Zentangle craze was something that I totally missed until about 8 months ago.  My friend Beth was over for Thursday night Art Night and told me about Zentangles.  I did a bit of research and realized that a Zentangle wasn't all that far from the stuff I'd been doodling.  A bit less haphazard than my stuff perhaps, but as it turns out, I was Zentangling and had no idea!

Perhaps the nicest thing about Zentangles, aside from the pure fun to be had while creating them, is that you need very little to begin.  I use a journal rather than the little precut squares.  Why?  Not because I'm advant garde and decided to create a new way, but because I was doodling in my journal and the stuff that was emerging looked suspiciously like Zentangles!  I went through a period where every evening after dinner and the dishes I would take my journal and a Micron Pigma pen to the couch and scribble, happily ignoring the TV for the most part.  I'm not much of a TV person.  There's very little that interests me and the bloody thing makes me fall asleep.

Now I know many of you are going to bemoan the fact that you believe you can't draw.  I prefer to think of it as a lack of practice.  I know I can draw - I've done it in the past when I've really had the time to devote to practicing.  If you saw the stuff I try to draw when I'm out of practice you'd be convinced that I have no drawing ability.  Which is utter baloney by the way.  I'm simply waaay out of practice. 

I believe that most people can draw too.  What they lack is the patience and perseverance to keep at it until they experience some success.  What does that have to do with Zentangles?  A lot... and nothing at all.  It's both because I don't believe anyone needs a "gift" to create Zentangles, though I know many people will view them as complex and something they're unable to achieve.  Nonsense.  I also believe that some people will require more practice before seeing a Zentangle that they're pleased with.  If you stick with it I really believe that you can succeed.

At heart Zentangles are nothing more than a stylized doodle.  My opinion only.  Some may disagree and that's ok.

So... how does one doodle?  Pick up a pen, grab a piece of paper, and start.  It really is that easy.  I doodle hearts as you know.  I also doodle circles, curvy lines (I love organic shapes), dots, lines with points on both ends and all manner of goofy stuff.  I draw what flows out of the pen.  Vines with little leaves, checkerboard borders, circles within circles.  And triangles.  Despite they fact that they're neither curvy or organic, I love triangles.  You get the picture - there is basically no limit to what can be doodled.

Ok, so you're hesitant to try.  I get it.  That blank page can be an intimidating thing.  Start small and doodle something you're comfortable with and find easy.  A straight line.  A circle or oval.  Add arrows to the ends of the line.  Add dots to the circle or oval.  Once you get started it becomes simpler and you get into a flow.  Spirals are easy but stop trying to make them perfectly symmetrical for heaven's sake!  I'm a dogged perfectionist and don't do perfectly symmetrical doodles.  If I can release my death grip on perfection when doodling you can too.  Really.  You can.

The images that follow are scans from the pages of one of my journals.  Some are finished, some are ones I began then abandoned.  Some are absolute crap, but I'm showing them here because I want you to see that not everything I (or any other artist for that matter) draw is worthy of placing on display.  There are plenty of bits and pieces of my art that hit the trash or are otherwise discarded.  I tend not to remove the pages from my journals only because the failures chronicle progress as much as the ones I like do.  I have a journal that I began well over a year ago which I plan to share someday.  The difference between the stuff I began with and the ones toward the end is remarkable.  It's interesting to see how progress is made, often incrementally, until you look at a doodle or drawing and think "I like that!".  Without the crappy ones that came before it's easy to forget that there was work and aggravation, mistakes and small triumphs, and a lot of doodling till I got to the place where I was satisfied. 

Anyway... stepping off of the "anyone can doodle or draw with practice" soapbox...

This was one of the first hearts that I completed.  It was prior to my learning what a Zentangle was.

Ooops.  Didn't like this one at the time and I still don't.  It's ok though because there's always another blank page...

This one I like and was happy to have completed it.

I like this one even more.  I was still unaware of Zentangles at this point, but since ignorance can be bliss, I just happily doodled.

I am capable of doodling something other than hearts!  Yes, that's my hand - my left one - knobby knuckles and all.  I used a Pigma pen to outline it, marked the nails and was off doodling.  This one didn't get far.  I kind of got off on the wrong foot (that's a horrible pun!) and never recovered. 

The point of showing these two is to demonstrate that for every few that I finish and love there are some that don't make it very far.  You've got to be willing to keep starting over.  And over.  And over again.  Eventually the ones that you're not happy with diminish and you begin to see progress.

This bird has no name, but turns up a lot in my doodles.  He's always got that pointy beak and a rounded belly.  His tail takes on many forms as do his legs and feet.  Some of the time he sports a plume on his head.  One of these days he'll get named.  For now he's just the bird!

A couple more that didn't make it.  The one above - yep - I did work upside down.  I have no idea why, the heart just emerged on the page with that orientation.

Another finished one.  I'm still unaware of Zentangles at this point.

See?  I really do doodle other shapes.  It's not all just hearts!

I liked the left lobe of this one.  The spider web-like thing around the middle didn't do it for me so I moved on...

At last, here's my first that incorporates a Zentangle pattern.  The section in the right lobe that's the straight lines is called Hollibaugh.  The rest is just my usual nonsense!

Not to belabor the point, but not everything I do is wonderful.  Or even close as is the case with this one!  The upper right is more or less ok, but the rest... not so much.

Curvy, organic forms fascinate me.  In addition to hearts, I also have a thing about trees.  (That doodle is a stylized tree.  Honest.)

Another one that didn't make it to completion.

More curvy doodles.  As I noted earlier, these are the incremental steps we all take as we develop our skills and our own style.  Nothing here is remarkable other than that it was something that emerged as I practiced and wandered down the doodling and Zentangle path.

I did try to use the Zentangle way of drawing a square first. In fact I tried it a few times.  I like hearts better.  The tangle in the upper left corner, the one with the spirals and filled in background, is call printemps.  I do like that tangle!

One thing anyone who knows Zentangles will notice is that I don't shade mine using a pencil.  Because I began ignorant of Zentangles and the way they're done it never occurred to me to shade areas of the design.  So I don't.  Traditionally Zentangles do have some areas that are shaded.  One of these days I'm gonna give it a whirl!

More Zentangle influence in this one that remains unfinished.  Once again printemps with a modified hallibaugh tangles in the right and left lobes, respectively.

This one is my favorite, by a long distance.  I love the curving ram's horn-like bit in the right lobe.  I like the vines and checkerboards.  Mostly I just like the whole thing!

Having said that, it took a lot of practice before I got to this point and a lot of pages that were abandoned or doodles that didn't quite turn out in a way that I loved.  So be it.  Practice requires patience and perseverance.  If you're willing to keep at it I believe you'll develop your own style and eventually doodle your way to something that you love too!

The next 5 Tangles are Jess's forays into Zentangles.  They were made on one of the 7 Gypsies Petit Carnet Mini Notebooks.  The papers inside are smooth and creamy, ideal for Zentangles.

Jess says: "My first attempt.  If you haven't drawn or doodled in a while, its amazing how foreign and awkward it can feel.  But that soon goes away and is replaced by smoother strokes, straighter lines and more confident curves.  Like anything else, it takes a bit of practice, but it comes remarkably quickly.


Jess says: "Outside the box.  Think of all the wonderful forms you can fill with the dizzying array of tangles."


Jess says: "Even early on into Zentangling, I've noticed how important the play of light and dark is.    Squint at your Zentangles.  If you do, you'll see only shades of gray.  The darks and lights you see can help you compose better Tangles.  Try not to butt two patterns with a similar value of gray right next to each other, if you do, the patterns will run together and make it hard to distinguish."


Jess says: "After I finished this one, I could already tell how much I like fine art/pen and ink quality of the pinecone/seashell
in the upper left corner."


Jess says: "My most recent Zentangle and probably my favorite so far.  It has more of that pen and ink quality that I liked about the shape in the last one above."

Update: June 20, 2010:

So I've discovered that shading does indeed add much to a doodle or Zentangle.  For a long time my doodles were plain and flat, but not any longer!  Shading adds dimension and movement which takes something really nice and turns it into something far nicer.

Here's my "for example" of what shading can do - based on the principle that dark colors recede while light ones move forward.  If you look at the first row of triangles you se the ones on the left are just plain old triangles.  The group to the right becomes something totally different with the addition of shading.  In the second row I added some curved lines to the triangles.  The shape of the line by itself suggests a curve that doesn't exist in the plain ones above them.  Your eye follows the curve and what was a flat triangle now has the suggestion of a dimensional cone shape.  Add some shading as I did to the group to the right in the middle row and now there's much more curvature.  What was 2D has become 3D and you don't even need to wear funky glasses to see the effect!  Now look at the bottom row at the ones with the straight lines.  The look is totally different than the one directly above it where the lines are curved.  Those are back to 2D again, till... shading is added.  The group in the lower right have straight lines, but the addition of shading has returned some of the 3D effect and there is once again a suggestion of a curving cone rather than just a flat triangle.  Shading is magic!

The flower here is from Totally Tangled and a design that I really like a lot.  After the three Zentangle books arrived I took up my pens again after months of not doodling (other than while on the phone).  And immediately got frustrated.  Why?  Because I forgot my own maxim:


It had been months since I'd doodled in my journals and these skills are like muscle memory as far as I'm concerned.  I was totally out of practice and it showed.  That flower?  It took multiple, and I mean multiple as in 10 to 12, tries before I was remotely satisfied with the end result.  The shading you see in it is less blended because our order of blending stumps hadn't arrived yet.  I was using the tip of my finger and though I have small hands and slender fingers, they're no where near as effective as a blending stump.

Two more practice pages..  If you want to achieve a measure of success you must practice.  Once I stopped being obtuse and remembered the rule I began to see progress.  These two?  They're steps along the way.  I'm nowhere near where I want to be, but they demonstrates how not-so-nice (ok, crappy!) the practice work often will be till you get to...

Something you like a lot more!

These leaves were taken from a cast concrete pot I have.  The upper group is my first, not-so-great attempt.  Once I realized that the leaves needed to be shorter and plumper, the result was better.  I plan to incorporate them into a Zentangle at some point.

These two are the same Zentangle.  The first one is the completed design before I added any shading.  I wanted to demonstrate just how much of a difference shading makes.  I think the point is well made when you compare the two!  There's an illusion of depth and movement that just doesn't exist in the un-shaded version.

Not to keep beating a dead horse, and excuse me while I clamber back onto the "anyone can doodle or draw with practice" soapbox...  if you want to have a measure of success you really do have to be willing to doodle and draw, and draw and doodle till you're about blue in the face.  It's only with practice that the progress will come.  And please don't be discouraged if you stop for a while and it takes time to get going again.  I call that process warming up my hands.  When I'm drawing all of the time it takes a few minutes and a page worth of doodling.  After months away it took me several hours and a number of pages.  The point is... YOU CAN DO THIS TOO!  Really.  You can!

Update June 26, 2010

Ok, so another week has passed and Zentangle madness continues to rule!  Currently I'm drawing every day - even if only for 20 or 30 minutes.  Warming up my hands takes less time than when I draw less frequently and I'm producing work that I like on a more consistent basis. 

I had an epiphany or two last week too that I'd like to share.  The first occurred as I was trying some patterns from Totally Tangled.  I was practicing the tangle and after several attempts began to get annoyed that I wasn't achieving the same look as the sample in the book.  Which is when the epiphany hit... In the same way that handwriting is individualized, so are tangles as drawn by one person versus another.  My "version" of a tangle is likely to look different than one Jess draws, yours, or the sample in the book.  It's simply my way of creating the pattern.  When I finally realized this I was immediately less frustrated.  You'll notice that I didn't say "happy with the results".  Nope, I didn't.  And why s that?  Well, because the tangle still wasn't quite what I wanted.  So I went back and tried again and again till I found my own way of creating the pattern that I was happy with.  And then?  Well, then I was happy!

Epiphany, the second, was actually an observation Jess made as we were looking at my journal.  If you laid her Petit Carnet next to my journal you'd immediately notice that I tend to draw on a much smaller scale than she does.  I fill a space with a bunch of smaller designs while Jess uses less and the ones she draws are larger.  Scroll up this page a bit and look at both of our samples and I think you'll see what I mean.  It was the same when I used to knit.  I always ended up needing to increase the size of my needles in order to knit the correct gauge.  

Over the last few days I've made a conscious effort to make my tangles larger and less dense for lack of a better description.  I have some samples to share...

This one is incomplete and probably will stay that way.  It was a good practice run though and as always, there is no such thing as too much practice!

On the other hand, I like this one a lot!  The scale is definitely larger and the shading fairly heavy.  It features loops and curves, both of which appeal to me.

See?  I really am making an effort to work on a larger scale.  If you scroll back up toward the top of the page you'll see just how much smaller the elements in my earlier hearts tended to be.

I got interrupted while working on this and for some reason never got back to it.  I was planning to fill in the spaces in Hollibaugh and then draw circles in the lines.  That was the plan...

Until an order of goodies arrived and I was so enamored that everything else fell by the wayside.  What was in that order??  Paper!  And paint pens!  Just the things to make a Zentangle mad woman's heart go pitter patter.  The new papers were developed for cartoonists and the folks who draw Manga.  What is intended as the "face" or front side of each sheet has non-reproducible blue marks, grids, and numbers for alignment, etc.  Which I sure am not interested in!   The reverse side, on the other hand, is just perfectly smooth and ready to receive the ink from Pigma pens.  What so enamored me to these papers is the quality, size, and shape.  The Cachet journal I use is 8" x 8" and I love it.  But I've been thinking that I'd like to work larger and perhaps draw a larger scale piece that could be framed.  And that's where these these papers come in.  One is 8.5" x 11" while the other is 5" x 17".  Yep, that's correct - 17" long.  Just think how cool it would be to create Zentangles on long strips of lovely, smooth paper.  You can frame it, cover the blue marks on the other side with pretty papers and fold the unit into a triptych.  Or draw tangles up and down the length, use a straight edge to cut the piece into 3 (or more or less!) smaller pieces and then fill them individually with doodles or Zentangles.  The Zentangle folks call that an Ensembles and this is something I'm going to try as it intrigues the heck out of me! There are just so many ways to mess with this stuff that I'm on overload thinking of them all!

I did have one evening to play with a sheet of the 5" x 17" paper and have a couple of scans to share...

This kind of didn't go the way I wanted, primarily because I had an idea but then didn't plan before I began.  If you look at the two tangles in the upper left you can see how the designs are unbroken and run together.  I wanted that look for the entire border, but wasn't paying attention to what I was drawing.  The next thing I knew I'd gone off in a way that made the continuity I was trying for impossible.  As I say and say and say... you've gotta practice and as far as I'm concerned, this was great practice.  And a lesson learned about planning before beginning!

I really like the striped. curly tangle in the corner and know it will be part of the design once I plan it out.


This is a piece created on Friday.  I found some incredibly cool sketchbooks with black pages and knew that I wanted to try drawing Zentangles with white ink on them.  Finding pens with opaque white ink was an altogether different project.  Because of the pigment that's used to make the ink opaque white, the pen nib can't be as tiny as a Pigma pen.  The ink that contains those particles needs a larger space to flow through which means a larger pen nib and consequently thicker lines.

Having said that... I found 4 pens and brought them in.  3 are made by Sakura and the other is by Marvy-Uchida.  I used the Marvy-Uchida DecoColor pen to do all of the lines in this sample.  I found drawing small, open circles a challenge so I decided to use the Sakura Pen Touch marker in the medium tip to make dots.  Once the paint is flowing all you need do is press the pen tip to the paper and a nice little dot appears.  The size depends on the tip size of course, but also is affected by how much pressure you apply. 

The "but" with these pens is that unlike the Micron Pigma pens, they're paint and not an ink.  And, unlike the Pigma pens which dry virtually instantly, the paint pens require seconds - from 3 to 5 or so for a line to as much as 15 to 20 for a heavy dot.  All of that means you need to be careful and keep your hand out of the freshly drawn bits until the paint is dry.

I believe that you can draw most doodles and Zentangle patterns with the paint pens, albeit they need to be on a larger scale to accommodate the larger nib size.  I'm going to spend some more time messing with these because the look of white on black intrigues the heck out of me.  And because I find it a challenge to make this work!  I always love to see what you all draw and will be especially curious to see your white on black Zentangles and doodles!

Update July 3, 2010

I spent time last week thinking about what I refer to as "the long piece", which is that 5" x 17" sheet of comic paper.  The first one I attempted didn't turn out in the way that I imagined, primarily due to a lack of planning.  Before I so much as put a pen to the page for the second one I spent a fair amount of time sketching some ideas on scap paper.  I wanted to be sure that the tangles would flow together as that was my objective for the border - I wanted the transition from tangle to tangle to be seamless.  Or at least as seamless as I could make it appear.  Once I figured out what the border was going to be I used one of the 5H hard lead pencils to lightly sketch the outline of what was going where.  When I was satisfied with the placement it was time to begin the real fun and start drawing with a pen! 

Here I've drawn the outline of some of the tangles.  You can't see them, but there are pencil marks around the entire perimeter of the paper.


And here are those pencil marks brought to life with the pen!  The flow from tangle to tangle that I was seeking is there.  It's not perfect, but then again I'm trying to push that nasty, perfectionist pain-in-the-butt part of my inner critic out of my studio and head.  There are elements that I really, really like.  So there inner critic!


I've begun to fill sections in now and the border is beginning to take shape...

Here's a view of the other end.  I'm excited about this project and am looking forward to finishing the border and tackling what to so with the inner section.  Updates will be forthcoming!

Next up was to try an ATC Zentangle which is what you see here...

The leaves in the upper right are a variation of the Poke-Root original Zentangle tangle.  Someone morphed them into leaves and this is my take on them.  I love to draw the leaves and add lines or other effects.  Below are a couple of pages from my journal showing my practice attempts at them...

Because, as I like to say... there's no such thing as too much practice!

I found tangle on a blog and decided to give it a try.  It's one I plan to incorporate into a Zentangle at some point.

When our order of 7 Gypsies stuff arrived earlier in the week I decided to grab a package of these new Avignon 97% complete tags.  Yesterday morning they were sitting on the counter, next to the piece I was working on.  I was undecided about what to do with them, but figured a bit of doodling or some Zentangles would be fun... and it was!  The photo shows you one as it comes from the package and then my version of embellishing them.  There are 20 tags in the pack and 2 each of 10 designs.  I'm going to add these to the Photo and ATC Carousel I'm redecorating.  It was time to remove all of the winter and Christmas themed elements and update it with more recent photos of the kids and non-winter oriented designs.  That's a whole different tutorial however!


Zentangles on Papier Mache Mannequins
by Jessica Rich

Even though our 13" Papier Mache Mannequins are kraft colored, a quick coat or two of white acrylic paint will make them the perfect base for Zentangles.  The surface is bumpy and less forgiving that the smooth drawing papers that are normally used, so plan on using a larger point, say an 05 tip Micron pen, and know that you'll make some mistakes that you wouldn't on a smooth flat surface.  It takes some getting used to to learn to work in the round, but once I started to get the hang of it, it turned out to be lots of fun.  I ended up working with the piece in my lap, turning it frequently.

I didn't get to finish, or even come close, but I got to lay out some major parts in pencil and start to draw in the focal points.  Here's my work so far.

Update August 29. 2010

AlphaTangle has arrived and in the spirit of "Hey, I want to try that!", here is my letter B with tangles, plus another heart that I tangled on a sheet of the new ARPA handmade cotton papers.

B is for... Barb!

This is a page from a journal I'm making with the ARPA papers.  Since I love hearts no book of mine would be complete without one.

So... are you intrigued?  Do you want to try it yourself?  Great!  Doodling and Zentangles are big fun.  There are only a few supplies necessary.  You'll need some nice paper to draw on.  The journal I used is a Cachet 8" x 8" sketchbook.  The paper is 70 pound, acid free, and smooth as silk.  The nib of the pens never catch on fiber on the page, they just glide along.  You can see that journal here.  The 7 Gypsies Petit Carnet (little notebooks) are also a good choice and you can see them here.  Or go here to see all of the sketchbooks.  A new paper that's also great to draw Zentangles on is handmade in Spain from a company called ARPA.  You can see all sizes and shapes of this pretty paper by clicking here.

In addition to the paper you'll also need a felt tipped pen.  Everyone I know and the books I have read recommend Micron Pigma pens.  They're permanent, acid free, and don't smudge.  The Zentangle books (I'll get to those in a moment) all recommend the .01 tip and the Zentangle folks themselves do too.  Me?  I find that tip a little fine so I use a .02.  You?  You're not going to know which you prefer till you try them both.  I've also used a .03 tip and even an .05 when I'm filling in checkerboards and the like.  The larger tips allow me to quickly fill in the chunky parts and then I go back with a smaller tipped pen to refine the areas.  Color is the next choice, though truthfully I only use black as do most who mess with Zentangles.  We stock the Micron Pigma pens in the entire range of tips in black and some other colors.  We also have an assortment that has other styles of tips along with the fine point ones.  You can see them all here.

Go here to see all of the paint pens should you wish to give the white paint on black pages a whirl.  And go here to see all of the black sketchbooks.

Graphite pencils and blending stumps are important if you want to share your doodles and Zentangles.  We have several styles of pencils with the "B", blackness rating along with blending stumps and an eraser.  I know, I know... the Zentangle mantra is you're not supposed to erase.  That doesn't work for me and since I've been a rule breaker most of my life I see no reason to stop now!  Now that I'm sketching in some designs ahead of time as in the border on my "long piece", I brought in some hard lead pencils that erase completely.  See them and all of the pencils and more here.

Books.  There are now a number of books that are all Zentangles from cover to cover.  One is all about the basics and the other contains 25 additional "tangles" as well as inspiration for ways to include these doodles and tangles in many other places.  The third is called Zentangles 3, then there's Totally Tangled.  The most recent addition is AlphaTangle which is a teeny book filled with letters of the alphabet, each filled with tangles.  Click here to see Zentangle Basics,  here for Zentangle 2, here for Zentangles 3, and here Totally Tangled.  Click here to see AlphaTangle.  Another older book, Oodles of Doodles, is also a good choice for some generalized doodling ideas.  See Oodles of Doodles here.

If you would like to try tangling in letters, click here for a pdf document that has uppercase letters that are about 2.5" tall.

Look here to see the 13" Papier Mache Mannequins.
If you're looking for white acrylic paint, anything matte will do - Neopaque, Liquitex Soft Body Acrylic, Golden Heavy Body Acrylic or Claudine Hellmuth Studio

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