The Foundations of a Zentangle

il_fullxfull.296956246So you know what makes a tangle a true tangle, but there are some important fundamental foundations that aid in the beginning stages of creating a Zentangle. While grids and stencils are not used in the creation of tangles, Strings, or lightly penciled lines, are used to help begin a Zentangle design.

Strings are done in pencil in order for them to disappear into your final Zentangle. Strings are simple and abstract. They can be curved lines or squiggles. A string provides the building blocks for a Zentangle without decreasing from the Zentangles non-planning or forethought nature. Strings are placed to allow creativity to flow and expand over it as the Zentangle begins to take shape.

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A string should be lightly drawn in pencil across a 3.5” X 3.5” Zentangle Square. Strings should be drawn using free hand and should not utilize the use of stencils. Do not worry if your hand wavers or shakes as you draw your string, as the string just serves acts as a guide. Your tangle will emerge from the contours of the string.

If you are having difficulty envisioning the placement of your string, keep in mind the celebratory nature of Zentangle. Creating a Zentangle should be enjoyable, there is no wrong of going about the creation of your Zentangle or placement of your string.

What Makes A Tangle A Tangle

It must be noted that not all patterns created will fall under the definition of an actual Zentangle tangle. A true tangle is not preplanned with the use of grids of any kind or pencil guidelines and no erasing is involved. Creating Zentangles intentionally removes the deliberateness of forethought and decision making that may be a hindrance to the overall creative process.

Tangles are non-representational. Zentangles are not meant to represent distinguishable natural features, figures, or scenes. If a pattern of this nature does occur, it is not considered a true Zentangle. Patterns of flowers for example are not considered tangles.

Characteristics of a true tangle are comprised of the following key features:

  • Tangles are made up of 2-3 simple strokes. This can either be a dot, a curved line, a free form line, an “S” curve or even a circle.
  • Tangles do not need to be mapped out using grids or guidelines, however inked girds and dots may be part of a tangle.
  • Rulers, stencils, are not used to create a tangle
  • Tangles are abstract in nature and are non-representational
  • Tangles have no sense of direction. They do not possess an up and down positioning and therefore can be viewed from any angle.
  • Tangles are exploding patterns that form naturally as the Zentangle is built upon. Zentangles are made of repeating strokes, not repeating of a drawing.
  • Each tangle is elegant and unique in design.


A Zentangle that is complete yet still feels like it is missing something may only need a bit of shading to make it come alive. While shading is not necessary for completing a Zentangle, it does a sense of depth and dimension to your Zentangle design that is often lacking when shading is not used. Even the most so-so drawing can suddenly pop from just utilizing shading in your final piece.

There is no right or wrong way when it comes to shading in Zentangle art. To shade, the best thing is to use the right pencil, with the right lead grade. To blend your shading, you should utilize a blending stump or tortillon. If none of these are available to you, a Q-tip will work nicely. When shading, you can ask yourself these questions to help determine the best shading technique to use:

Are there any patterns within a pattern? Keep in mind that a shadow would naturally be cast from one pattern sitting on top of another.
Are there any particular patterns you would like to emphasis?
Did you utilize a string?
Are there a lot of black lines in your design? If so, you will want to shade less to avoid adding a heaviness to your drawing.
Have you used a lot detail?
Do any particular patterns stick out?

Shading helps bring out certain aspects of your Zentangle, so you’ll need to decide what pattern you want to bring out. When shading, you need to think in terms of light and dark shadows. If you’re having trouble envisioning the process of shading, consider how the light hits an object from one side and then casts a shadow. Envision light coming from one direction on your Zentangle and shade accordingly from there.

Vary the depth and darkness of the shading by using different pencils. Blend your shading by moving pigment around with a blending stump or Q-tip.

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