What is Zentangle?
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Linda Farmer, Certified Zentangle Teacher


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Zentangle Terminology

“The Zentangle Method is a way of creating beautiful images
by drawing structured patterns.”

Here is a collection of Zentangle®-related terms for inquiring minds. Although TanglePatterns is not affiliated with the official site, I am a Certified Zentangle Teacher (CZT).

Unless noted otherwise definitions italicized and in quotation marks are from the official Zentangle® website, zentangle.com, or from Zentangle PRIMER Vol 1.

If you haven’t read this page on the Theory of Zentangle please do!

As Sandy Steen Bartholomew reminds us in her AlphaTangle: A Truly Tangled Alphabet:

TIP: Zentangle is a noun, not a verb. Don’t say “I Zentangled my bathroom floor.” Say “I tangled my bathroom floor.” Other things to say: “I need to create a Zentangle, right now!” “Sorry, I didn’t hear you. I was busy tangling.”

Same goes for “Zentangling”. The correct terms are tangling, or tangled.

We’re tangling, baby, tangling.


In the Zentangle Method, a line tracing around the outside or inside of a tangle is called an aura.” One of six tangle enhancers along with dewdrop, perfs, rounding, shading and sparkle. In this post on the Zentangle blog, Maria explores a wide variety of creative aura-ing possibilities.

CZT Adele Bruno has written more about “The Awesome Art of Aura” here on her blog.


Bijou’s thoughts about the Zentangle Method (and life).Here’s the list of all the Bijouisms.


Step 1 of creating a Zentangle®. A border starts with a lightly penciled dot placed in each corner of the tile. Then a lightly-penciled line connects the dots near the edges of the tile to frame the string and its contents. An example of a border can be seen on this page.


What you should know about using the term Zentangle® and using tangle patterns in teaching or your art, or creating products for sale. Read about it here.

Here’s a good article that explains copyright on the web in plain English. Just because something is on the web, it is not “public domain”.

The deconstructed steps-out (step-by-step illustrations) on TanglePatterns are copyright-protected. Feel free to refer to the images to recreate tangles in your personal Zentangles and ZIAs. However the artists and TanglePatterns.com reserve all rights to the images and they should not be pinned or otherwise reproduced or republished.


Certified Zentangle Teacher® – a designation earned by attending and successfully completing a certification seminar. Visit the official Zentangle® site for more information on becoming a CZT®. You can also read more about it here on TanglePatterns. Seminars are held in Providence, RI approximately 3 times a year (in 2016 – April, June).


To reduce a pattern to its most elemental constituent strokes so a user of the Zentangle Method can recreate, or reconstitute, that pattern (tangle) by repeating those strokes one at a time in a structured sequence.


One of six tangle enhancers along with aura, perfs, rounding, shading and sparkle. CZT Lynn Mead has posted a tutorial here. Zentangle spells it “dewdrop”, all one word. Maria explains dewdrop as “drawing a magnified version of a tangle within the same tangle.

Elemental Strokes

In deconstructing a tangle, “Usually the number of elemental strokes needed are 3 or less. Often, you only need one or two. By ‘elemental strokes’ we mean a dot, a straight(-ish) line, a curve (like a parenthesis), a reverse curve (like an ‘S’), and an orb or circle.

For an ingenious example of these elemental strokes used together in a tangle, see CZT® Mina Hsiao’s Zentangle® pattern Dicso.


A technique which can be added to, or combined with, many tangles. Examples include Aura, Sparkle, Rounding and Dewdrop.


“A small pattern that you draw within the spaces of an ink-drawn reticula (grid).”


Illuminated letters with tangles. Trademarked term owned by calligrapher and CZT Angie Vangalis.


“The small spaces between or within tangles.”


“An image that results from drawing two or more tangles touching or near each other so their combination reveals a new pattern or shape.”


A completed Zentangle® composed entirely of a single tangle. Originated on iamthedivaczt.blogspot.com.

Official Tangles

The Zentangle-original tangles created and introduced by Zentangle® founders Rick Roberts, Maria Thomas, and Maria’s daughter Molly Hollibaugh.


We wanted a word that described this shape’s essence (rather than ‘circle’) . . . so that everyone would understand this shape’s beauty is not its circular perfection, but its organic, full, nourishing, yielding and luscious roundness.”


One of six tangle enhancers along with aura, dewdrop, rounding, shading and sparkle. Learn all about it from a CZT®. An example of Perfs can be seen here.


“Grids or other structures of ink-drawn lines that hold fragments.” Several pages of example reticula are given in the Zentangle PRIMER Vol 1.


A technique inspired by and named after a photograph taken in Rome by the late Zentangle employee Nancy Sampson, who tragically died before her time of ALS. Romanancy is illustrated here on the Zentangle blog along with Maria’s explanation, “I did not see it as a tangle per se, but as an exploration of wrapping tangles, border-like, over uneven surfaces.


One of six tangle enhancers along with aura, dewdrop, perfs, shading and sparkle. You can see an example of rounding here in Stage 2 of CZT Marizaan van Beek’s Shading tutorial. Compare the tile in Steps 1 and 2 to see the difference rounding makes.

On CZT Betsy Wilson’s blog, she demonstrates her “triangulation” technique of rounding. Rounding isn’t necessarily “round”.

Seeds (also called Fragments)

Introduced in the Zentangle® newsletter in the article Grid (Un)Locked , Rick and Maria present a “recipe” for creating grid tangles and including a grid of imaginative examples by Maria. You might recognize a few of the official tangles in Maria’s examples.

Each square is the “seed” of the overall pattern created when the seed is repeated in either a regular or a totally random fashion.

In the Zentangle PRIMER Vol 1, seeds are termed Fragments and several pages of examples are included.


Very light pencil shading adds depth and dimension to a tangle pattern. Forget art school rules, learn everything you need to know about shading for Zentangle in the free TanglePatterns Shading Mini-Clinic here. Shading is one of six tangle enhancers along with aura, dewdrop, perfs, rounding, and sparkle.


One of six tangle enhancers along with aura, dewdrop, perfs, rounding and shading. Sparkles are often seen in Maria’s Zentangles.


One or several random free-form pencil lines drawn within the tile’s border, creating sections within which one adds tangle patterns to create a Zentangle®. “Strings allow Zentangles to grow without thinking or planning.” An example of a String and an article about the Importance of Strings is here. Sample strings for you to use are here on TanglePatterns (also located at STRINGS on the pink alphabetic index bar). Strings are always drawn with pencil.


A single structured abstract (i.e., nonrepresentational, nonfigurative, nonobjective, nonrealistic) pattern created with at most 2 or 3 simple elemental strokes drawn with a fine-nib black ink pen. Tangles do not represent nor are they intended to represent any natural or actual object, figure, or scene. Zentangle is not about picture-making.

For more about tangles, see A pattern is not always a tangle.

TanglePatterns.com is an indexed guide to the best tangles published on the web and selected according to my explanation here, under the Philosophy heading.

Tangle Enhancer

One of several embellishments or techniques to enhance a tangle. Aura and shading are the two most often seen. Dewdrop, Perfs, Rounding and Sparkle are the others. Learn all about these from a CZT®.


“A noticeable variation of an existing pattern.” From the Glossary on the Zentangle website, “A variation of a tangle by itself or in combination with one or more tangles. Basic tangles are like paint out of a tube. Tangleations are the result of altering a tangle, or mixing one or more basic tangles together in different proportions.


The super cool term coined by CZT Sandy Hunter for May 4th – the Birthday or Anniversary celebration of TanglePatterns, launched on May 4, 2010.


When you are creating Zentangle art by drawing tangles, you are tangling. (We do not use the term “Zentangling.”) “You tangle a tangle, and in that process create Zentangle art.


‘Tango’ is our new term for two tangles dancing together. Just as in couples dancing, in tangle tangos, one tangle is more likely to lead and the other follow.Zentangle Newsletter, November 18, 2012.


A 3 1/2-inch x 3 1/2-inch (89 mm x 89 mm) square card of high quality paper (“fine, individually die-cut printmaking paper selected for its texture and archival characteristics”). The format of a Zentangle®. So named because completed tiles can be arranged together to create a beautiful mosaic.

“Yoga For Your Brain”™

Trademarked phrase owned by CZT Sandy Steen Bartholomew and the title of one of her Zentangle-related books.


A Zendala combines the principles and techniques used to create a Zentangle-inspired piece of art with the principles of creating a mandala. Often used in art therapy, mandalas are said to open the doorway into the symbolic language of the soul and are a meditational art form. For more about the origins of mandalas, see “Mandala – Sacred Geometry in Buddhist Art“.

Some examples of Zendalas can be seen here on TanglePatterns and Zendala tiles are available in the TanglePatterns STORE.


Is more fully described on this “What is a Zentangle” page.

Zentangle-Inspired Art (ZIA)

A Zentangle is the form created on a 3.5 inch (89 mm) tile, with abstract patterns referred to as tangles. Works using these patterns but differing in size or shape or surface are ‘Zentangle-inspired Art’ (ZIA).


My playful term for the quirky language used in the Zentangle art form. This includes the Roman Numerals used for numbering the CZT seminars and terms like Orbs and Perfs and Tango, for example. First used here.


The anthology of official Zentangle patterns given to Certified Zentangle Teachers at the completion of their certification program. It contains all the official tangles and the step-by-step illustrations for creating them.

And for the Official Zentangle Glossary of Terms page, visit the Zentangle.com site.

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Zentangle Primer Volume 1 Remember you can get your official Zentangle supplies here too, including the fabulous new Zentangle PRIMER Vol 1. It's your CZT-in-a-book by the founders of Zentangle®! Visit the STORE tab on the top menu bar or click on the image. For more about the content and to read the rave reviews, visit the BOOK REVIEWS tab.
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The Official Zentangle Kit Another great jump-starter for new tanglers is the original Official Zentangle Kit. The Kit includes all the supplies you'll need to get started properly: Sakura Micron Pens, Zentangle Tiles, pencil, sharpener, tortillion, a booklet and an instructional DVD by co-founder Maria Thomas. Click on the image for more information about the Kit and its contents.


8 comments to Zentangle Terminology

  • I am sorry. I just read this and realised that I have used zentangle as a verb at more than one place…without knowing that I was doing a blunder. I’ll try not to do that again ann I’ll try to change it wherever possible.

  • Just Jenn

    ZIA as a term, for Zentangle Inspired Art. I wanted to share what the “Zia” symbol means, and it is a very nice tie in to Zentangle as an art. Very Zen in and of itself, term and abbreviation!

    The Zia Sun Symbol
    The Zia Sun Symbol is featured on the New Mexico flag.

    The Zia Indians of New Mexico regard the Sun as a sacred symbol. Their symbol, a red circle with groups of rays pointing in four directions, is painted on ceremonial vases, drawn on the ground around campfires, and used to introduce newborns to the Sun. Four is the sacred number of the Zia and can be found repeated in the four points radiating from the circle. The number four is embodied in:

    the four points of the compass (north, south, east, and west);
    the four seasons of the year (spring, summer, autumn and winter);
    the four periods of each day (morning, noon, evening and night);
    the four seasons of life (childhood, youth, middle years and old age);
    the four sacred obligations one must develop (a strong body, a clear mind, a pure spirit, and a devotion to the welfare of others), according to the Zia’s belief.

    The symbol is featured on the Flag of New Mexico and in the design of both the New Mexico State Capitol and New Mexico’s State Quarter entry as well as the state highway marker. But given its history, the pueblo would like
    people to first request permission before using it.

  • Deb Boogaard

    You have mentioned in your article “A Pattern is not Always a Tangle”, and I have seen the same thing other places, including zentangle.com, that there are to be no gridlines or pencil guides when drawing a tangle. Yet, I see many of the independently developed tangles that begin with a pencil grid. I am playing around with a few designs of my own and was just curious about that inconsistency. Thanks!

    • Linda Farmer, CZT

      Regardless of what a pattern has been labeled, the “independently developed tangles that begin with a pencil grid” you’ve seen are NOT tangles.

      That’s it. No inconsistency in the guidelines but unfortunately lots of “operator error”.

  • Betty Welton

    Lots of good information. I did not know all this. Thanks Betty

  • dear linda, we know a zentangle is created on a white tile, with a black pen and pencil. am i creating a zentangle when i tangle on a black tile? renaissance…on a bijou….opus…. zendala? ore are those ZIA’s?…. or we call each with the specific name, because they are nt zentangles neither ZIAs.
    greetings, tina-akua

  • RE Ausetkmt

    I am learning quite a bit of history while I visit the sight looking at the lovely tangles. the terms are marvelous.

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