Posted in Zentangle

Fixing focus on busy tiles

The longer I tangle, the more I believe the Zentangle Method®️ is becoming more of an art form and less of a meditative mindful experience. When in the right frame of mind, Tangling becomes not only meditative as I mindfully draw one line or curve after another, but it has become a way to come to terms with stuff in my life, especially the less than positive or happy stuff. To me, it becomes almost like prayer, but with honest reflection, and often possible sets of solutions.

Most Certified Zentangle Teachers (CZTs) feel as I do–that Zentangle should remain a meditative Method, using mindfulness in tangling, and giving the heart and spirit–and, of course, the mind and body–a bit of calm and respite in a chaotic world. Tangling helps one focus on the patterns, which later translates into focus on tasks and activities. And it is focus that this post is all about.

Today a new technique came to my mind for focusing on specific elements of a rather cluttered looking tangle. The process occurred to me as I was tangling a piece that started out as a good idea, but then became “muddied”. What I mean by that is that suddenly I could not easily discriminate one type of “leaf” from another. I was taught two ways of making elements stand out–1) thicken the outline or heavily shade the form, or 2) aura the form to make it stand out. Well, in the middle of a muddle, adding an aura is almost impossible. And if the forms are intended to have equal ‘weight’ in the design, heavily shading one causes the one next to it to melt into the background. Neither was what I wanted, and it was too late to aura. So what to do?

Let me show you the result (remember, this was a practice and not intended for sharing, so don’t laugh, please).

I can’t blow it up any larger, probably because I have too little space on my iPad, but even at this size, you can see each individual element–some behind others, and some simply sharing the spotlight in an area, as though each leaf were equal there. You might also notice that as borders are crossed, the petals change. They may go from white to black, or to checkerboarded, or half white and half black, or even tangled with printemps (the spiral-like figures inside leaves or outside as background. That is because my “string” divided sections into “pattern areas.” And all that is what made the work look completely cluttered and blob-like. Wish I had thought to take a Before photo, but it’s well after midnight, and I just didn’t think of it in time. But here is how I separated all the leaves without touching the overall design.

First, I outlined each leaf with a 08 Gelly Roll white gel pen. The white ink in this particular pen is opaque enough to cover black if used slowly and carefully, without a lot of pressure on the pen. In a few cases, I outlined inside the original shape to give it better visibility so it would not melt into an adjoining leaf.

After allowing the white ink to dry–it takes about a minute, but here in humid St Maarten, it could take longer, so be patient–I outlined the shapes again in black ink, as much on top or tight against the white ink. I was surprised by how much this process drew out the individual petals, especially from busy background areas.

Since black ink over white gel ink takes a while to set and dry, I waited some more.

Once I was sure the inks had dried completely, I used the graphite drawing pencil (softness 2B) to push the background where it belonged–in the back. I used a fairly heavy hand to darken the background as much as possible, taking care not to get graphite on the black portions of any leaves. Remember to use more side than point as you are doing this. Next, use a tortillion or blending stub or even a cotton swab to spread the graphite into the background and even it out.

Lastly, I shaded my petals as usual, applying graphite to the outside for depth and shadow, and to inner areas to give them dimension. Don’t get too carried away or you will create a second blob. For the most part, shade these areas as you would if you didn’t have the darker background. You will know if you need more shadow, so add several lighter coats rather than one thick and heavy coat.

And voila– a vastly improved tangled piece, with the focus back on your petals, bringing them forward by letting them stand out.

This can work whenever your items blend instead of separate. I got the inspiration for this from a book by Eni Oken’s, who has a beautiful blog and sells wonderful books on drawing techniques specific to tangling. I only have a few, but they left an impression on me that allowed me to take things a step in another direction. As you gain experience, it is amazing how your mind focuses on using techniques learned for one thing and applying them in a whole new way. My inspiration came from Eni’s book on making white seem to sparkle on black tiles.

Hope this helped.

Happy Tangling!


Exclusive Expose: Tile Abuse

Note to readers: I am the guilty party–I inflicted abuse on a poor defenseless classic black Zentangle® tile. I am ashamed and remorseful, but the fact exists–I mistreated my precious tile.  Below is a reconstruction of the original tangle on this poor tile’s surface.

Reconstruction of original tile
I started out right. I gave thanks and appreciation for my time and the quality of the materials before me, to the comfortable tangling space, for the opportunity to create something beautiful.  However, all this took place under the influence of a little pill meant to help me sleep. That is no excuse for the behavior my tile will explain. But it was a circumstance, one which even led to my dating the original work as June 26, 1921! I can’t even explain where that date came from, or how I could have believed I was creating magic with my tile. But that’s the start of this tale. Only she–my abused tile–can tell the actual non-drug-influenced story.

Good evening, readers. My name isn’t important, but you can call me Glitter, as that’s the name I chose once DrEllie fixed me. But let me start at the beginning.

Ellie is an insomniac. Most nights she fits in a couple of hours of sleep, but sometimes she is awake for 48 hours or more straight. Most prescription sleep aids cause sleep walking. She has already fallen down the steps twice, so she refuses to take them. Instead, her doctor prescribed a tranquilizer that she can take at bedtime–but only half a pill. Those things are wicked! Last night, the half pill was not working, even as she partially tangled tiles to send to friends who sent her some before. She already felt badly about being so far behind. Unfortunately, even the tangling, along with the sleeping dose, were not helping her get sleepy. After a few hours, she decided to take the other half pill. 

Over the next hour or so, I watched as her drawing deteriorated across half a dozen tiles. Crooked lines that didn’t meet, circles that looked like–well, not circles at all. Finally, she picked me up–the first black tile of the bunch. And then she picked up the white gel pen. And I felt her drawing all over me–a sort of curved frame, some “curved” lines in the corners that resembled squiggles more than lines, the worst mooka I’ve seen her draw since she was first learning it–this one looked like a misshapen Meerschaum pipe!–and some really off-base fescue that looked like squiggly blobs with jagged stems. I begged her to stop–that she was destroying my beauty and anything akin to balanced composition. All she did was scowl at me and keep drawing.

Suddenly, she lifted her pen and dropped it on the drawing board. The pen rolled off the surface and out of sight. “I need to cap my pen!” she told the dog who sleepily lifted his head, regarding her through barely open eyes. He was tired, too. He was only there to keep her company. Ellie almost fell off her chair to search for the pen. She began crawling around on hands and knees in her search. And she barely kept herself from toppling over more than once. At least twice, she asked the dog what she was looking for. The dog had fallen asleep again and didn’t answer. Finally, she found the white gel pen (hard to do on white tile flooring with only overhead lights to help see). It took her a while to stand up again, using the chair and table top for support. I watched her sway back and forth as she tried to remember what she needed to do next. “The cap,” she finally whispered. 

The cap was easy enough to find. It was right next to me, on a clean black tile she hadn’t used yet. I guess the tile was patiently awaiting its turn. After three tries, Ellie finally clicked the pen closed and very carefully set it on top of me. Still standing and swaying, she murmured to no one in particular, “I think the meds have kicked in.” I watched as she made a drunkard’s path to the staircase leading to her bedroom. I held my breath as she navigated the steps. The dog, who follows her everywhere and normally pushes past her up the stairs, quietly sat waiting until she reached the bedroom door and turned out the hall light. Then he zipped up after her.

It’s me again–Ellie. I don’t remember climbing into bed, but that’s where I was when I overslept this morning. Ten-thirty! Where had the time gone?

After throwing on some clothes, I made my way downstairs. I made a cup of coffee, and wandered over to my tangling area. I vaguely remembered working on a group of tiles, but it took a few minutes to remember that I was creating some traveling tile project pieces to get in the mail. I saw Glitter–nowhere near resembling her new name–sitting in my active drawing area. Then I saw the pile of started tiles. Setting the coffee mug down, I examined each tile. The first two were awful, but there was improvement as I got deeper into the short stack. I must have tangled the lower ones first, placing each next tile on top as I finished it. I cringed at the higher tiles–a two-year-old would have produced better results. 

Next, I picked up Glitter, and tears began rolling down my face. She was utterly disfigured–and I knew I had done this to her. Only the original border lines were passable. Through my tears, I heard, “You can fix me! There are no mistakes in Zentangle!” I stared at her.

“How?” I asked, barely above a whisper.

“I’m a black tile, right?” I nodded. “You have a whole assortment of black Micron® pens with lots of nib widths, right? Even a black Micron brush pen?” Again I nodded. “Well, sit down and make me something special–something that will help you remember never again to tangle after taking pills.”

Smiling now, I dug out not only my standard supplies, but also my Gelly Roll metalic and Stardust pens. For good measure, I also pulled out my Souffle pens, just in case. Good thing, because I couldn’t find my gray brush pen, and the black Soufflé dries beautifully gray.

It’s Glitter again. I’ll finish the story.

The first thing Ellie did was take out her Micron 08. Where she could, she smoothed out curves, redefined lines, fixed up dangly end where lines met and then some. It sort of tickled, but it also hurt a little.  Next, she obliterated groups of lines that were supposed to be parallel but–well, let’s say they were lines that went in interesting directions, with some even crossing multiple others. That was really painful–like being deliberately abraided!  Somehow, she managed to save and refine the mooka and fixed the fescue. Then she fixed up the crescent moons she had in some interesting corners, redefined some, and used blue gel ink to sort of shade them. None of that hurt as much as the abraiding feel, but it was still uncomfortable. Sitting back, she looked at all the white that disappeared under the black pen. And she stared and stared. 

Finally, she picked up the white gel pen again and redrew those curved parallel lines she obliterated earlier. She looked at the variety of Sakura® gels pens she took out earlier, and I saw her smile. 

First came a small Way Bop, filled in with flat and metallic pens. Then she fixed the corners with the parallel curves, Eni Oken style (or as close as she could get to that). She used that black Soufflé pen for the gray marker area, and added the “sparkle” to the curved areas with white Gellies. With the Stardust pens, she added glittery effects where areas seemed to need very subtle sparkle. Finally, she redefined lines and curves where they needed some clarity, and sat back. “What do you think?” she asked me. “Are you happy with your new look?” 

My tile spirit floated to her shoulder and looked down. “Not bad,” I said. “Not bad at all!” I floated back into myself. “You know,” I told her. “You were really rough on my surface when you scrubbed away those awful white lines. I think I have all sorts of thinner spots, and you changed the texture of my surface in a lot of places. I should report you to the tile protection league, but you really came through. I really love my new look!”

“So, Glitter,” I said. ” I want to formally apologize for abraiding you and hurting you as I redefined lines. I am so sorry for any irreparable destruction I caused to your fragile tooth–that’s surface texture, if you’re wondering if I should send you to a dentist. I didn’t mean to hurt you, but there was no other way to restore your lovely surface. And you have to admit, this design is far nicer than those crazy white lines I drew all over you.”

“This new look suits me,” Glitter replied. I really like the colors–spots of gold, even!–and I feel sparkly and shiny!” Glitter paused for a moment, deep in thought. “Just promise me something.”

“Anything,” I reply.

“Never ever tangle when you’re taking those meds again. I don’t want any friends going through the same experience. Promise me that, and you are forgiven forever.”

“Not a problem, Glitter,” I replied. “I promise. I’ve learned my lesson. Not a problem at all.”


Until next time, Happy Tangling!

Posted in Zentangle

Tile Quality

Although I had tons of official Zentangle tiles purchased from, for months most of my Zentangle work was done on comparatively inexpensive 3.5-inch square tiles from Peter Pauper Press that I purchased from Amazon. I was urged to use more of the “official” tiles by other tanglers on the Zentangle Mosaic app. The reasons given ranged from “you’re worth it!” to “it’s easier to work on the Zentangle tiles,” with lots of other reasons in between.

For weeks now, I have been doing more and more tangling on the official tiles and less and less on what I now refer to as practice tiles. More and more often, I have been using the practice tiles to try out new ideas or newly learned patterns. All my meditative tangling and mastered patterns are now done on the tiles purchased from the Zentangle site. 

What’s the difference? There are a lot of differences, starting with the quality of the paper and how it feels to tangle on the different surfaces. 

Zentangle (more expensive) tile was used for this version.
PPP (less expensive) tile was used for this version.

Let me start with the price and why I did most of my work on the Peter Pauper Press tiles. The “official” Zentangle tiles cost $29 for 55 tiles from the Zentangle web site, plus postage. These can also be purchased from CZTs (Certified Zentangle Teachers). The price on Amazon for the PPP tiles is currently $5.53 for 75. Even if I didn’t have postage-free Amazon Prime benefits, the PPP tiles have a serious price advantage. The official tiles work out to about 53 cents a piece while the PPP tiles come out to less than 7.5 cents each. I get 7 of the less expensive tiles for the price of a single Zentangle tile. That’s quite a price difference! Just starting out, I felt this was a better option. I was wrong, by the way, and I will discuss why below.

Recently, in an e-book on tangling on black tiles, the author suggested that the cheaper tiles are fine for work on white tiles, suggesting that they are interchangeable. But there are a lot of reasons why this is not quite true.

As with most artist supplies, quality matters. The less expensive tiles are made from wood pulp and “post consumer products.” They are very smooth and lack absorbency, so that graphite sits on the surface while ink takes just long enough to dry that a fast tangler can smear the ink easily. Because the graphite has nothing to hold it, it is easy to accidentally rub the graphite over the surface where it is not wanted. It also takes more pressure on the pencil to leave a darker graphite line or shading. That makes the graphite line more difficult to blend out to hide a line while increasing the likelihood of smearing or “stamping” graphite. Since erasers are not used in Zentangle, smeared graphite can affect the finished work in surprising and often undesired ways. 

The more expensive, official tiles are 100% cotton fibers. Aside from the luxurious “feel” of the cotton fiber tiles, the surface is textured and holds graphite well, much like good quality drawing paper. That means a lighter application of graphite can be made, minimizing the obviousness of a drawn line. The texture also helps control how far out blended graphite goes. The cotton tile is also absorbent, so ink appears to dry faster, minimizing accidental ink smearing–except on larger and purposely black areas, but that’s for another discussion. The textured surface also adds a slight “drag” to the pen tip, forcing a lighter hand during drawing. That’s actually a good thing because easing the grip helps prevent hand cramping and actually gives more control over the width or heaviness of a drawn line. 

If color is to be added to the tangle, the cotton tiles have enough of a tooth to grab color from color pencils and markers, while the less expensive tiles require more work to achieve desired color effects. Color appears more vibrant on these tiles, too.

If watercolor is used to marble the tiles before drawing or color in sections after drawing, the less expensive tiles buckle and become deformed without either prior stretching or weighting down the paper to flatten the work afterwards. The cotton tiles are of watercolor paper weight, and basically return to the original flatness after drying–without the need for stretching and flattening. While the texture of the less expensive tiles actually changes after water and watercolor application, the cotton tile remains pretty much as it started. 

Local weather and humidity affect the paper used to create. Here in Sint Maarten, in a very humid tropical climate, that makes a big difference in the way the paper behaves even before I start working. The cotton tiles are always flat when I take them out. The PPP tiles tend to have a slight curl to them, even though they are stored the same way and are weighted down between tangling sessions. 

When I started, I thought the paper quality would make little difference to the finished work. I could not have been more wrong! Aside from the differences noted above, I find that tangling is much more enjoyable on the more expensive cotton tiles. The tiny bit of drag to my pen helps me loosen up and concentrate on the effect I want to create. Tangling on the smoother surface sometimes causes skips in my lines or patterns when I use a light hand. It is also more difficult to control the width or heaviness of the drawn line without switching to a pen with a different size nib or tip. 

Shading makes such a difference in the overall result of the drawn patterns. The tooth of the cotton tiles allows greater control of blending out graphite with a blending stump or tortillion. The differences in blending are apparent when comparing the two tiles above. The cotton tile’s shading is softer, without the obviousness of where the graphite was laid down. On the less expensive tile, I needed a heavier hand to lay down the graphite, making the pencil lines obvious and less easy to blend out. 

It may be hard to tell, but it was more difficult to maintain control over curves and lines drawn in ink on the PPP tile. The surface is so smooth that the pen tip has a tendency to go out farther than intended. The smoothness keeps the ink from being readily absorbed by the paper, increasing the likeliness that I will smear the ink, and actually causes me to press harder on the smooth surface. The cotton tile almost pulls the ink from the pen, so that less pressure needed to be applied and I was better able to control the ink flow. Overall, I think I save money on Micron pens because less ink is needed to obtain the same effect as on the smooth paper. 

One last thing about the textured paper–it has a definite grain to it. It is easier to see the up/down and right/left of the tile when I am tangling. That helps to keep my lines straighter and grids more even. The complete lack of grain on the less expensive tiles makes me completely reliant on my eyes for straight lines and even distance. Because one works so close to the surface when creating on a small surface, it is easy for the eye to get fooled when drawing straight lines and grids. The grain helps me, anyway. Perhaps it is less important for someone else. 

Tangling on the cheaper tiles caused me to develop some bad habits, like tightening up on my pen and pressing too hard on my graphite pencil. I am still “un-learning” some of those habits as I tangle more and more on official Zentangle tiles and less and less on the cheaper tiles or even my sketchbook. 

The overall effects of my drawing on the cotton paper seems more finished and less amateurish. That may be psycological, but between the rich creamy color of the official tile, it’s texture, and the luxurious feel of the paper, I like my drawing results better. 

Until next time, Happy Tangling!