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What is Zentangle?
Linda Farmer, Certified Zentangle Teacher


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Paper, Journals, Sketchbooks

I admit to being partial to the official tiles for my Zentangles because they are easily turned as I’m drawing, whereas I find journals a bit clumsy and awkward for turning. Thus, as a drawing novice I don’t have a lot of expertise to offer on journals. However, I know many of you do like the notebook/sketchbook format. This “reprint” of Sandra Strait’s 2-Part Series, Choosing a Journal for Penwork, has some great tips.

Choosing a Journal for Penwork

Choosing a journal is similar to choosing a puppy. They are all so precious. Flashing those beautiful prints, and fancy bindings. It’s hard to resist any of them.

But like a puppy, a journal is going to be your companion for a long time. You want one that fits your lifestyle, encourages you to keep going, and adds enjoyment to your work simply by being there.

Personally, I cheat and try to buy one of every journal ever made. I’ll admit this isn’t practical or economical, but it gives me an advantage. I can help you decide which you might prefer. I use permanent ink pen, water-based ink pens, and brush pens, so you’ll need to do more research if you intend to use fountain pen, watercolor, pastel or any other media.

Rule of thumb: If a journal is high-quality, the manufacturer wants you to know it, and will list very specific information on the label. If the wording is sparse and simply assures you that you’ll enjoy your journaling experience, chances are you won’t. A good quality journal isn’t necessarily expensive—you can find many under $20.00. If you go soft-bound with fewer pages, you can get them as cheap as three or four dollars.

Before I list any specific journals, here are some general things to look at when a journal jumps off a store shelf and begs to be taken home.

Open it in the middle.

Does it lie flat or nearly so? Is the binding likely to interfere with the sweep of your hand?

If a binding is stiff or tight, no matter the quality, you’ll probably get highly curved pages in the middle of the journal, and lots of spring to the sheets. Double-page spreads will not be possible. You may end up fighting the pages to keep them from flipping over.

Is the journal stitched or glued?

Glued bindings seldom lie flat, and are prone to cracking. Stitching is better but examine it. Uneven or loose stitching may not hold up.

What is the paper like?

Thick, thin? Glossy, matte? Can you see texture—lines indicating the grain, or small bumps? Is the texture even? When you run your finger across the paper, does it feel slightly gritty? Does the label have words like watercolor, pastel, pen & ink, scrapbooking? Does it include information about the paper? 72lb? 90lb? Cotton? Handmade, hand-bound? Italian? French? Lokta?

Thin isn’t bad. It weighs less, but is also more likely to curl, and allow ink to bleed through. Thin is lighter, which is much appreciated when you carry a journal on your travels. The glossier your thin paper is, the less bleed. Lokta paper is made from a renewable shrub, and even the thinnest is very durable, with little to no bleed.

Thick paper can be sturdier, but is more likely to have tooth—the aforementioned texture. 72lb paper is medium weight. 90 lb. is pretty thick, and anything above that is awesome. However, awesome or not, it weighs more than a brick and isn’t great for traveling.

When you have texture, then your pen line is not going to be as bold and crisp. Very smooth, glossy paper will give the darkest, boldest line. But the slightly broken line you get from faint to medium texture can be more interesting. The ‘official’ Zentangle tiles are made from a high-quality print-making paper and do have tooth. Handmade papers are likely to have uneven texture. That means your line work is going to be uneven and might even blotch. If you have experience and know what you are doing, you can get some fabulous effects on paper like this, but it isn’t for the faint of heart.

A journal with ‘watercolor’ or ‘Pastel/Charcoal’ paper probably has too much tooth for pen. If it says ‘Pen & Ink’ then it’s good for pen, but the paper will be thin and may curl easily. But if your thing is stark black & white, with little to no shading—pen & ink is your best choice. You don’t know what you are going to get with scrapbooking paper. It’s fun to use with gel pens, but may be too harsh for permanent or water-based ink pens.

Paper made of cotton rag or a high percentage of cotton is a good choice in textured paper. As with food, ‘Italian’ and ‘French’ usually means good stuff.

Does the label information include words like: archival, lignin-free, or acid-free?

Do you hope to keep your journal forever? Intend to fill the pages and then give it as a gift? Then you’ll want something labeled with the above words.

If you are looking for a practice journal, and intend to toss it in a corner when you are done, then non-archival is usually cheaper and will do the job.

* * *

Your Recommendations

If you have any favorites (paper, journals, sketchbooks) to add please tell us about them in the comments on this page. That will help us all out.



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26 comments to Paper, Journals, Sketchbooks

  • Marguerite Meara

    All these new topics, how exciting. I’m presently developing idea’s for a copic sketchpad. It’s personal and can make a great gift. I’m using some 140# hot pressed watercolor paper. For the Cover and Back page I’m using dense cardboard from the back of watercolorpads. Covering them with some extra, textured wallpaper I have and binding this together with garden twine.

  • As a mixed media artist & instructor, I searched the world over to find an affordable and easy-to-find paper.
    I absolutely love and exclusively use Domtar “Titanium” paper, 80 Lb. White Smooth Cover. All inks & pencils smoothly flow over this fabulous paper. You buy a whole ream, however, it lasts so long and you simply cut it up into manageable sizes (comes 8.5″ x 11″).
    It’s available at Xpedx, Kelly Paper Co. or google it online. Happy Zentangling!

  • Elise Sandwick

    My favorite suggestion I have come across is to use a small gridded notebook (Moleskin makes the perfect size 3.5×5.5inches)to keep different patterns, directions, inspirations etc, in my kit. I use it for inspiration and reminders how to accomplish difficult patterns when it’s not feasible to carry a large book. I’d like to give credit to the person who suggested it but I can’t remember who it was! I fit six boxes on each page with one pattern in each box.

  • Elise Sandwick

    Certainly – you found it! I wanted to not not take credit for another person’s idea – especially since it such a great one!

  • Kat

    I purchased a 2 pack of WritersBlok journals at a local art store because I’d heard they were comparable to Moleskine notebooks. I do like that my pens/pencils glide over this paper very smoothly so if that’s a major selling point for you, you may still like these. Their downside is that their pages are quite thin/see-through so you can only do one Zentangle on each page. (Well, you could do two but you’d see the back zentangle on the front side). I’m using them and tangling on the front. If I want to upload that tangle to Flickr, I do so, then write some thoughts on the back and it doesn’t look too bad since there’s no shading 🙂

  • Susan Sauls

    I like a line of watercolor sketchbooks that I’ve purchased at Hobby Lobby, and I think that’s the only place where they are sold. The wrapper says “The Art of Watercolor”, and they come in both 8.5 x 5.5 and 3.75 x 5.5. They remind me of the Moleskine watercolor books, but not quite as expensive. The bindings are stitched, rather than glued. The smaller one could be kept in a purse along with a few pens for “emergency” tangling!!

  • There are two differnt notebooks/journals that I use. The first is Miquelrius. It’s the Spanish version of Moleskine. The second is the GIANT JOURNNAL made by Michael Roger Press.

    The Miquelrius that I use as a grid. It’s looks like it’s glued, but it opens fairly flat. When opened to a full spread, the journal is a little smaller than a full sheet of paper. The pages are thin, however the journal has 400 pages. I love this. I’m a writer, composer, and visual artist. I tend to be a magpie and use my journals as catch-alls. The small size lets me carry it everywhere.

    The GIANT JOURNAL is spiral bound. It’s pages are 5.5″ x 8.5″. It comes lined or blank. The paper is typical sketchbook paper. It’s selling point–500 pages! The drawback is because the paper is thicker, the journal dimension a little bigger, and the addition of 100 more pages; it’s harder to carry in my purse. (Notice that I didn’t say impossible.)

    If I could only have one I’d get the Miquelrius. I originally got it as a replacement for my GIANT JOURNAL. Barnes and Noble were out of the big one and didn’t know when another shipment was coming in. Apparently, I was one of a select few who appreciated its size. The Miquelrius came closer with the page count, so I decided to try it. Having that many pages and being able to fit it in my purse make it my number one choice. I get around the thin paper by glueing in a blank behind my tangle page. Then I use that sturdier blank page as a collage/gluebook page. When I’m in a waiting room or watching TV, I sometimes go back and tangle in the nooks and crannies of those pages. I like the layered effect.

  • I discovered tangling about a week ago and have been … well, obsessed ever since. I have fibromyalgia and have found tangling a fantastic pain reliever, which is convenient since I’m currently in a fibro flare.

    Currently I’m using *whispers* a lined pocket notebook that I got at a big box store for about $2, but it’s definitely doing the job. It’s not archival or fancy, but it’s portable and takes the pen nicely enough.

    Thank you for this site, the essays, and for making a wonderful directory of patterns. You’ve made a wonderful difference in my life, and I can’t begin to thank you enough.

    • Linda Farmer

      Welcome Laynie, I’m so pleased to know that TanglePatterns has made such a difference for you. For me, your experience is a great testimonial to the power of the mind. Enjoy your notebook, I’m sure it’s the first of many!

      • Oh, I already go through 3-4 notebooks a year as it is. I’m a huge sketcher, I doodle and sketch whenever I’m nervous, when I’m waiting and passing time. It’s a way to focus my thoughts, to make notes about things I need to accomplish, and to calm the chaos of my mind. Finding this, the concepts of zentangling and the simplicity of the patterns… it’s given me a huge tool for not just pain management but also for creative expression. One more tool in my creative tool chest, you know?

        I have to say, though, I just filled the last page in the notebook I bought on December 26. That’s a bit faster than usual, even for me!!

        I’m going to have to teach my nieces how to tangle. My youngest niece got a sketchbook and pencils for Christmas, so she could be like me. She asks almost every time I see her if we can look through my sketchbook, so she can see what I’ve been drawing. Her reaction to the sketchbook was to run to me and ask if we could go draw together! I think she’s going to love this…

  • Carol Zika

    Zentangle has become an adjunct to my Artful Journaling. My journal of choice is the Super Deluxe Sketchbook by Aquabee and comes in various sizes. It is spiral bound, has 93 lb. paper, good tooth, does not bleed through, and tolerates wetness with care and clips. carries it.

  • Cindy Mathewson

    I found a great sketch book/journal. It’s by Bee Paper Company, the professional series. What caught my eye about this is definitely not the “pretty” cover. It’s a plain yellow cover with a picture of a skating “sketcher” on it. It was the fact that the description said that the book is recommended for use with Sakura Pigma Mircon Pens. That’s all I need and my work looks wonderful in it. It’s 70lb and says it’s excellent for Pencil, Pen & Ink, and Pens. And it’s spiral bound so I can lay it flat and not have any interference. I found it at Blick Art Supplies.

  • Shawn Hayden

    My favorite sketchbook is the 5.5 x 5.5 hand-book journal co. travelogue series. It is yummy acid free paper and I love that it is square. Also, the hand-book people put out a gridded paper in a variety of sizes called Quattro, my fav is the 8×8 grid. The book is very small 3.5″ tall and 2.5″ wide, 80 pages. But it is great to fit in a pocket or purse and is handy for some quick working out tangles while on the go.

    I seem to have an addiction to blank books and have tons of them, but so far, these are the ones I go to.

  • Abby

    Hello, I have been bitten by the tangle bug! I found out about Zentangle from a friend. She showed me some books and told me about the web-site. I was lucky enough to find two CZT’s here in Saskatoon. I took 2 classes from Margaret Brumner this weekend, and thoroughly enjoyed them. I read a post a while back and it was about someone having a Cricut machine wanting a tangle tile cutter cartridge. I have a great tip about paper and cutting tiles! I have been paper crafting for years and have a Cricut Expressions die cutting machine. I use Canson watercolor paper, you can get it at Michael’s and it is quite inexpensive. A pad of this watercolor paper is 9×12. I used the Cricut cartridge “Ornamental Iron”, on page 41 of the little pattern book or Gate 1c. I played with the size and found that size setting 5 1/4 is the right size. Use the base shadow button, set cut area to 8 1/2 by 12, the auto fill, and material saver buttons on and the machine cuts 6 tiles per page, with very little waste. Now all you need is a small container to store your tiles, pencil and pen.

    • Zelda

      Hi Abby, I just got a Cricut Machine to cut tiles. I’ve done 3.5″ and 2″ with no problem.

      Now I want to cut hexagon and orientile shapes.

      I wish they’re were already templates in the right sizes for all zentangle tiles

  • odette

    Just want to know what size of cards do we need for zt? I just started a week ago and am not sure if I can buy some in Australia. You have some fantastic artists in your group. Love it.

  • Jean Heaton

    Thanks so much for your reply, I really appreciated your thoughtfulness.

    I wanted to tell you why I was searching for black paper.
    I am doing 5×7 art work and will do an 8×11 someday; on white paper as well as black.

    I intend to do tiles along the way and will purchase your black tiles in the future.Having the best paper to work with and awesome pens make it come alive.

    I have not been in the world of tangles very long, but as others are saying…I am hooked!!

    Thanks again ;0)

  • I have many interests and, therefore, have more than a few sketchbooks/journals around. I do a lot of altered books and mixed media and the book I use the most is Bienfang NoteSketch Books from Blick Art Supply. What I like about them is that half the page is blank and the other half is lined. I either draw my tangle tile on the blank space or glue my tile there. Then I have the lined half for notes. You can get them with the lines placed horizontally or vertically. Just depends on what I’m doing at the time. Needless to say, ALL of my journals have been ‘altered’ or ‘mix-media’d’ beyond recognition.

  • Marianna

    I just bought a visual journal by Strathmore they have them in different sizes. The one I obtained is 5.5 in x8inch. I bought it at michaels.i think they also sell a smaller size. I like the spiral bound journal because it is easy to keep it open and also for display . I like to look at my tangle after I finished it for a while. I also have been tangling on a cd but the ink does not stay on, I have to find a spray to seal it. Any suggestions.? I am also planning to tangle with my wood burner. I let you know how that works, anybody else has done this?
    I just started to tangle 3 weeks ago and I have no idea how to stop. Right now it is my best pastime activity and I can do it outside on my deck as well.
    Happy tangling to all off you. Marianna.

  • Laura Wilson-Anderson

    Oh dear. I have so many blank journals waiting to be filled, and here are comments with so many suggestions for journals that sound so tempting… LOL! Right now i’m tangling on tiles I have cut from bristol paper, and using a pocket sized moleskine to copy down directions for tangles from this site and others (mostly this one!) to build my library. I already had the gridded moleskine since that is one of my favorite notebooks to carry – luckily I had only filled about a dozen pages before I decided to use it for this last month. I now have 55 pages full of tangles, and I’m only to the E section!! I think I will need another notebook…

  • Judith Bigelow

    I just discovered zentangles. I am almost totally bedridden due to severe back problems, among other things. My pain level is very high. I try to find anything I can to “step away” from my pain. I’m so excited to discover zentangles! I’ve already filled so many pages. I can do this while in bed and it does a fantastic job of distracting me. I will fill up many sketchbooks at the rate I’m going!

  • Adriel

    I really love Stillman and Birn. They are more pricy but definitely a fantastic brand that comes in a variety of paper and sizes, plus spiral and book bound. I personally like the Alpha series, which is toothier, 100lb paper, and the Beta series, which is much smoother, 180lb paper.

    I also love to use Strathmore Mixed Media 300 Series. But SPECIFICALLY the 300 series, I find the 400 series to be toothier. The 300 series is also much cheaper.

  • Sue Dropp

    I am using the Circa system from Levenger. I have the junior size and have the portable punch to add anything to my books. I have one for the patterns and a printed version of my online books and another for my tangle ideas. The system is totally customizable which is why I like it.

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