Thursday 16 September 2021

gathering dust

My 'newest' tangle has had a strange evolution - born in disregard and rapidly abandoned to the care of others, I felt it was time to welcome it home and show it some love.  

For the first half of 2020 I worked on Alice Hendon's Zen-Untangled project, working through the entire collection of 'official' Zentangle tangles. I drew mine onto ATCs which I keep in a small tin. It's become a handy resource I dip into whenever I need inspiration.

On one card, created in early July
I tangled a variation of Static
(alongside Jonqual and Orlique)

My good friends Debbie and Stephanie from 7F5R infused about my tile, particularly my version of Static. They encouraged me to name and claim the tangle as my own. I was stubborn and reluctant, insisting it was merely a tangleation and sure that others were already using it. No amount of cajoling would encourage me to draw a step out and share it at that time, however I gave them my blessing for them to share it, which they did. You can see Stephanie's step out for Ecstatic, her example, not to mention her perspective on my reluctance here!

I'm thrilled to learn that Ecstatic will be featured in Stephanie's selection of tangles for this year's Inktober. In honour of this I thought I would spend a little time getting to know my orphaned tangle. This time with my heart and mind a little more open to its potential.

The evolution of Ecstatic

Static was one of the very first tangles I learned, but I've never particularly enjoyed using it. Those zigzags rapidly start to round beneath my pen and it only ever becomes background patterning rather than anything particularly exciting in itself.  However in my 2018 sketchbook you can see that I started to play around with a variation, which appeared again when I was practicing tangling using purple ink on the back of a tile.

The key difference between Static and Ecstatic is that you don't draw every line of the zigzag, some are cut short.

My stepout differs slightly from the way that Stephanie drew hers, both work equally well and you may have one you prefer.  As I've worked more with Ecstatic a number of variations have appeared. Extra interest can be added to the tangle by rounding, or blacking out sections of the rows after drawing them.  The lines themselves can be thick or thin, or even a mixture of the two, and can be kept sharp or more rounded. Shading can be done in blocks like we do with Static, or each row shaded individually to give a sense of texture.


Because Ecstatic grows one row at a time it allows you to tuck in other tangles as it builds. I like this as I'm always looking for easy ways to get my tangles to meld with one another.

Ecstatic running sideways for a change - joined by
Rumpus, Pokeleaf and Damsel Leaf on a Kraft tile.

Another simple way to bring additional drama and layers is to tangle your Ecstatic first, and then go in afterwards with your black pen (maybe a thicker one if you're impatient) and adding solid black tangling or ribbons. The following progression shows how this tile came to be and also demonstrates how forgiving this tangle can be – the original lines are pretty wobbly in places but that soon gets lost when more tangles, rounding, shading and highlighting added.

An intense Brusho coloured tile.
First add Ecstatic, then pen in some additions.
Darken them, and add highlights, texture the background.
Shade and add more tiny highlights.

A year on from casting this little tangle into the hands of others I've learnt a lot. About being willing to come back to an idea and look at it again with fresh eyes and a less jaded heart. Not to mention the importance of listening to friends when they tell you something has merit! Thank you Debbie, thank you Steph – there would have been no Ecstatic without you!

I hope fellow tanglers enjoy using Ecstatic - I'd love to know how you get on with it!

Thursday 11 March 2021

out of the darkness

Despite my love of all things dark and dingy I really struggle to find pleasure when working on black tiles. The white gel pen feels too thick, the extreme of white on black too harsh, and the shading effortful and hard to control. And that's just the basics - introducing colour onto black tiles becomes even more baffling to me. I don't want my tangling to feel like a chore. So I was quite excited when I stumbled across this technique towards the end of last year.

I discovered by accident that when you use white gel over certain colour the colour is taken on by the white, and something almost magical occurs. I've been refining the technique ever since and am pleased to share ZenAurora with you. I named it after the aurora (borealis and australis) - the elusive night-sky phenomenon that few are lucky enough to see.

The technique is simple to achieve – three steps is all it takes. Everything you need to know is contained in the following image. However I wouldn't be me if I didn't go into greater detail about my experiments and findings!

A black ATC gains colour in 3 easy steps!

The first step involves getting the colour onto your black tile. I've only tested this using the watercolour pens I have on hand. I have a few Ecoline pens, a few Tombows and some Sai brush pens but mostly I've used Zig Clean Color brush pens. I usually pick two or three colours and take turns to lay the colour down covering the whole tile. Sometimes I do stripes, or arcs, or blobs, or patches. You might worry about not being able to see where you've coloured, but some shades lightly tint the paper, and also while the colour is still wet you can see it. It doesn't matter if your colours overlap, and it doesn't matter if you miss parts, as these will appear as pops of bright whiteness.

I discovered that not all colours work equally. Some change colour quite radically, while others fade to insignificance (as can be seen clearly on the chart below). I've also found that intensity differs depending on the paper used - it's more muted on the official Zentangle tiles - possibly because of their rougher and more absorbent surface. On smoother paper (Clairefontaine PaintOn, and Stonehenge Aqua Black) the colours were more vivid. You might prefer it one way or the other. Leave your tiles to dry after colouring. I often prepare a bunch and then tuck them away ready for when I want them.

See how some colours change and some lose their intensity

The second step is where the surprises really happen. Grab a pre-coloured tile and a white gel pen. I've used Gelly Roll in all my examples but I tested a couple of other brands and they worked pretty much the same. Remember that you can use different widths of Gelly Roll which will give you different looks to your lines. Simply tangle across your tile and your lines will magically pick up the colour that you pass over, shifting as you move from one patch to another. Fun right? Once you've finished tangling allow your white ink to dry.

On the left a tile with no shading - on the right black coloured pencil shading

For the final step you can shade if you choose to. I prefer not to add white highlights but to darken areas of overlap instead – and for this I use a black coloured pencil as to me it looks better on the black tile than the shine left by graphite pencil. If you're wary of shading I think there's enough interest just from the tangles and shifting colours themselves. Certain colours of watercolour pen leave a noticeable colour on the tile. Mostly this will be covered by your tangling, but if any remains and it bothers you, you can calm it down by going over that area with your black coloured pencil.
I also sometimes use my black ink pen to really darken some areas or add perfs or tiny detail lines.

An array of ZenAurora tiles.  Different colours, different tangles, same magic!

Remember that ZenAurora is not an exact science. You will have unexpected results, some might be disappointing, but many will be wonderful – and I think it's worth the risk.

An insight into my experiments.

I trialled many little scraps and Bijou tiles while getting to know this technique. I found colour combinations that I loved, and many that didn't appeal to me quite so much. I also found tangles that worked better than others – but you may be drawn in entirely different directions. Floral and organic tangles seemed particularly successful - my personal preference was for tangles with lots of detail lines and repetition. You might like to test out some combinations before you start on full-size tiles. Or you might prefer the thrill of just jumping in and seeing what happens!

My favourite tiles -
cool and calming and celebrating the balance between darkness and colour

Ultimately ZenAurora is about having fun - watch as your humble white pen shifts through the spectrum, illuminating your tile as if it were the night sky. I hope you have fun with this technique and I'd love to know how you get on.


I was almost finished preparing this post when I learned that Apple Lim had shared a video on her YouTube channel demonstrating the same technique. With many miles between us we had no idea that we were working on the same thing, at exactly the same time. Apple has graciously encouraged me to share my explorations with you, so please do take a look at her video which ably demonstrates her process.

I've also just learned that queen of colour Heidi Kay uses this technique in a number of exciting ways.  She has classes for bringing wild amounts of colour onto your black or white tiles.

Thanks also to Anica (Zen Linea) for encouraging me from the earliest stages of this idea. She does some truly stunning work on black tiles - please take a look at her examples and classes.

Monday 2 November 2020

the wisdom of snails

I can't say that this year has seen me thriving, but I have been striving to keep up with the things that matter the most, and that in turn offer me the most solace.

When I finished the mammoth Zen-untangled project which kept me busy for the first six months of the year I lost my tangling way a little. I drew bits and bobs but struggled to find proper engagement. When Inktober was first mentioned I couldn't believe it was already that late in the year. I planned to spend time choosing a theme and preparing the required tiles and materials... and then October got closer and closer and I felt less and less ready or able to join in.

At which point I remembered one of the key principles that Zentangle teaches us - the elegance of limits. Our lives feel limited in all sorts of negative ways this year, but tangle limits were my saviour this October.  I chose to work small on tan Bijou tiles.  Just two square inches a day for each tangle. I limited my other tools too - working just in black ink, graphite for shading, and occasional white highlights.

In no particular order - one half of the tiles I tangled for Inktober 2020.
I worked from the list curated by Stephanie Jennifer.

When I started I felt rusty, out of practice and unsure. But day by day I felt my tangle muscles loosening up, both the lines and the inspiration coming more easily. Once again I am warmed to discover that Zentangle is a patient, loyal and undemanding friend who is always there for me despite occasional periods of neglect.

Limited tools allowed a simple way to create a cohesive collection.
Some tangles took me in very simple directions, others more complex.

Who knows where the next weeks and months will lead us. Who knows how much or little I will tangle, but for now I have 31 new additions to the small path of tiles that mark my way, steadily but shakily through this most bumpy year.

Monday 20 July 2020

taking flight

The global pandemic has made vast and small changes to most people's lives. Personally I've found that I prefer to largely withdraw from the world, limiting communications and connections, focusing on mindful concrete activities to get me through my days. As such I haven't blogged in many months, but that doesn't mean I haven't been tangling.

There was a patch near the start where I felt too anxious and unsettled to pick up a pen, and then when I did I felt uninspired and lacking in ideas as to what to do with my urge to tangle. Thankfully I had the perfect project still on the go – the one I started at the very beginning of the year when few of us could imagine how this year would unfold.

Week after week, month after month I've been adding to my stack of ATC cards. On each appears one or more of the core Zentangle official tangles. The project is the brainchild of Alice Hendon, and she's led us through it lovingly for the past 25 weeks! And through 170 tangles. Which I've inked onto 65 cards and placed into my little tin which is now threatening to burst!

It's been a pleasure to meet tangles I love, tangles I really don't care for, tangles I use often, and many I've overlooked. I've liked noting their similarities, and encouraging them to play nicely with one another. I've moved back and forward between the surprise of colour and the elegance of black and white. And in the process I've realised how far I've come in my Zentangle journey - revisiting tangles that I first learnt perhaps eight years ago. Tangles which were hard to control or unfathomable to recreate now come with relative ease as my penmanship and understanding of patterns has become stronger and more instinctive.

My little tin has become a precious receptacle of tangle wonders – a great resource that I can dip into time and again whenever I'm stuck for what tangle to use next.

With this project complete I'm ready now to let myself drift into uncharted waters, following where my pen will lead me. I've got e-books, swap tiles, and simple scraps of paper with rumoured ideas - plenty to keep me occupied in the months ahead. Who knows how long it will be till I visit here again – but in the meantime listen to the right people, stay safe and take care of yourself and those you love.

Friday 6 March 2020

territorial jottings

I go through phases of working a lot in my sketchbooks, gathering new tangles galore, and playing with ideas, colours or techniques.  And then for no apparent reason I'll just stop... spending less time inside these pages, and instead working straight to tile.  Then I'll start again.  Perhaps it's about filling the book with inspiration which sustains me for a while and then I need to top up again.

Here's the latest batch of pages from my sketchbook - the earliest one was started last summer, the most recent one was started in December but I tucked a couple of tangles into some gaps just last week.

Points of interest -
White ink on black - showing that I was playing with Project Pack 6 around this time
Comparing Dealys with Aura-Leah helped me to appreciate their differences
Hanamar which seems to confuse me less than similar tangles
A new take on Finery (middle right) and Dewd meets Mooka (middle left)

Points of interest -
Using a Doodah as a zipper - a Maria Thomas' idea I really love
Ravel - endlessly relaxing to tangle
Trinity - a tangle that doesn't come easily but always rewards my efforts
Una which I just remembered when looking at this page - almost looks like it's knitted

Points of interest -
A couple of delicious Ela Rieger organic tangles (top left)
Hollis - which really demands me to slow down
Tangent - which is a really quirky tangle and so much fun, I need to use it more

Points of interest -
 Blue ink comes onto the page as I play with Zentangle's Project Pack 07 ideas
Experimenting with Afterglo was fun
High Stakes is a great tangle for when you need a handful of excitement to finish a tile

Points of interest -
More blue fun from Project Pack 07 - Day #8 giant decorated Cadent was a pleasant surprise
Two bands of Elegan - which took the tangle world by storm recently.  I was trying out colours ready for Valentangle - I really wanted to be brave enough to work with purple, but retreated into the comfort of grey in the end!

Points of interest -
The end of Project Pack 07 - Day #10 organic bouquet was comforting to tangle
Sun is a mesmersing spiral tangle, and seems to play very well with Hollis. 
And Nana is a great new find for when you need a hit of dark drama on your tile

I've just started working on two new pages in my sketchbook - which I'll no doubt share with you some way down the line.  On one I'm playing with the ideas introduced in the Project Pack 08 videos from Zentangle HQ.  On the other I'm exploring the technique known as Whatz-Its. I've bought the course (which is offered by my friends at 7F5R Studio) - but you can get a free taster of the technique (which is a lot of fun and very versatile) by watching their free preview lesson, which gives a heap of inspiration in itself.

Wednesday 19 February 2020

a handful of tangles

I was captured by Alice Hendon's Zen-untangled idea as soon as I saw it.  I knew there was something precious and important about spending time with the core Zentangle patterns - once I'd found a way that would work for me.  I've embraced each and every card, even the challenging ones, and I'm gaining so much on the way. 

I'm getting to know new tangles I've never met before.  Some of them are a lot less elaborate than those we are used to seeing from ZTHQ these days - but each has a certain charm and potential once you start to work with them.  It's also comforting to know that even Rick and Maria started somewhere quite basic!

I'm revisiting old tangles that I used to struggle with, that I can now tangle with ease - which is a comfort and reminder that we all develop and improve the more we do something, even if we don't always notice.  I'm also re-discovering tangles that I love, that I'd forgotten, and have been inspired to use more.  In addition, needing to fit a few onto an ATC often provides a great way to encourage tangles to play together.

There's a bit of a backlog to catch up with, as I've been preoccupied with Valentangle - but here are my last 3 weeks worth of cards.

A handful of organic tangles Fescu, Springkle, Zinger -
filling spaces defined by Doodah.  On a Distress Inked tile.

Marvellous Mooka - tangled in the styles I favour.  As a border, with
Melting Mooka and Easy Mooka - on a dark grey tile.

Hollis cups Moonpie, and sprouts from Tagh
clustered corners.  Watercolour and graphite on white.

Similar tangles share space on this Distress Inked
tile - Drupe and Fracas with a Dyon background.

A speckled grey background and a bit of imagination
helped 3 initially uninspiring tangles to enjoy their
moment in the spotlight - Ibex, Facade and Xircus

Beautiful basics - Crescent Moon and Knightsbridge -
I bought in white and subtle colour to this tan tile.

I've never been a fan of Enyshou - but omitting
the 'hat' and having it sprout from Festune made
me like it a lot more!  With a band of Hibred on
a gently watercoloured tile.

Huggins meets W2 - passing through a Crazy Huggins
stage on the way.  Sometimes this kind of woven tangle
is a delight to work with.  On a very orange tile for me!

That's me caught up to date so far.  46 of the 170 official tangles worked into 19 ATCs!  It's going to be a delightful deck to shuffle through one day, but making each card is an exciting creative oppurtunity in itself.

Friday 14 February 2020

a whole lotta love

For the past two weeks my tangling has been wholly heart-shaped as I've been joining in with Margurite Samama's ValenTangle – now in its fifth year. I took part for the first time last year in an effort to overcome my aversion to heart-based tangles. It worked – as I can now see them as just another geometric shape, ripe and ready for tangling.

ValenTangle 2020 - pencil and paper and ink and love

Last year I worked in blue, this year I decided to warm things up, but just a little. I'm still enjoying working on grey tiles, so as well as grey papers I coloured some of my own tiles using a simple watercolour technique. Take a grey water-based marker (I used Tombow on these), scribble it on to a plastic sheet, spritz with water and plonk your tile onto it. A little trial and error to find the right amount of water, but when you do it works a treat, and the tiles almost look like marble.

As well as black ink and graphite I chose a Signo metallic gel pen in bronze and a
Derwent Metallic pencil in Copper. I have no idea why I didn't buy a matching
bronze pencil – but there you go, and I think the mismatch actually works quite well!

I shared my tiles each day in the dedicated Facebook group, but for those of you who weren't there, or would like to see all my tiles in one place, let me lead you by the hand through a fortnight of love.

Day 1 - playing with V & A, a new border tangle by Marguerite

Day 2 - Trinity variation with hearty versions of Beadline and Sandswirl

Day 3 - Exploring Minstrels (a variation of Demi)

Day 4 - exploring Marguerite's DoubleHeartZ fragment

Day 5 - having fun with Starsky, hidden in a Phroz-type
framework! With added Tipple, hearts and black ribbons.

Day 6 - Marguerite offered a mosaic-friendly string
and invited us to explore it on Bijou tiles. 

Day 7 - the suggested tangle was Jackstripes - which I used as a
frameworkto fill with lots of organic tangles.

Day 8 - one idea for today was to adapt existing tangles in a hearty
way - I chose to do that with my Divi tangle and Marguerite's Madama

Day 9 - playing with the tangles of Tomàs Padrós in a hearty way.
I used BlindMembranart, B-Leaf and Fortuna.

Day 10 - tangle the 4 corners of your tile and enjoy the space.
Trenthwith hearts joined by Melting Mooka.

Day 11 - organic tangles and the contrast between a dark pen and a light.
Marasu frames and then lots of pale grey botanical tangles.

Day 12 - tangle a Khala knot (I used a pencil, I admit it!) and then
glorify with hearts.  Arukas hearts made another appearance!

Day 13 - revisit the ValenTangle string but on in a larger space. 
This is 4 inches and mostly filled with a Bunzo variation and Heartline.

Day 14 - Marguerite asked us to decorate an envelope and write
a note to ourselves to put inside.
A hearty Zenith, Cubine and embellishments on my black envelope.

I've mentioned before that committing to a tangling event that invites daily pieces (not insists of course, but it was hard to resist such good prompts!) takes time, energy and commitment. It's not something I do often, but sometimes it's worth that extra push. I like to see a cohesive collection at the end of the journey. I like the days where I'm in my comfort zone - Days 1 and 10. The days I struggle with are quickly left behind - Day 3! And I especially like the days that take me by surprise, when I initially feel uninspired by the prompt or tangle, but then find the process and my result one of the most satisfying - Days 5, 6, 7 and 8.

It's been a journey taking in bends and dips and corners, a steady stroll about the perimetre of a heart. Now we've reached the end I feel gently warmed and not just by the copper and bronze.