Variant Title has been added to your shopping cart.    View Cart   or   Checkout Now

Tangle Rut, Now What?

"What do you do when you're stuck?"

We get this question a lot at ZTHQ. Maybe you, too, have found yourself a little stuck. There are times when you are trying to put pen to paper, but are feeling a little uninspired. Do you use a string or no string? Which tangle? Too many decisions… nothing seems to work.

I don't think there is only one correct way to get you out of a tangle rut, so I asked a few different people here at ZTHQ what they do in these situations...


Julie: When I am stuck in a tangle rut, I turn to mono tangles to help me out of it. I choose one of my favorite tangles (usually marasu or crescent moon) and I will tangle it over and over again until I get my tangle mojo back. The familiar strokes of a favorite tangle make it easier to start tangling again. Once I have a little momentum, I will try some variations, maybe a tangleation or some enhancements for flare. Sometimes it takes 1 or 2 tiles, sometimes 4 or 5, but eventually I am back to feeling creative and inspired.


Molly: When I am stuck in place where I don't know where to begin I have a few go to remedies.

  • Ask Bijou. By that I mean, I usually reach for a Bijou tile. It is less intimidating and less of a commitment. Usually by the time I finish a Bijou tile my drive is reignited and I am on to the next tangling adventure.

  • Go with the familiar. Many times when I am halted in my creativity tracks I start out with a "Mac and cheese" tangle. The one that I can almost tangle without looking or thinking. This puts me in that zone where I can find my flow again.
  • Force a string. If I am at all indecisive, I just force myself to put a string down as fast as possible. I make sure that I have zero time to think. Once the string is there I just take it as the lead.
  • Open my journal. If I am in a place where I just need a fix but not sure where to begin I usually reach for my Zentangle Journal. I always have some half done exploration I can jump into or a corner of a page that needs a little extra. It is a different approach than a tile but it gets me going.
  • Project Packs. The Project Pack series was actually born from a stuck moment. I was in a funk about black tiles and thought about how diving into a concentrated study on one theme would be a fun way to get through something like that. And coincidentally I really look forward to when we release project pack videos so I can work along with them with that little bit of guidance ... with of course that offering to take it in my own direction at any point in time.
  • New art supplies. I have never been into candy but art supplies on the other hand just light me up. New pens. New paper. Even a sharpener gets me excited. Next time you are in a slump try treating yourself to a new pen or other art supply ... it's a little thing but oh so special and just might inspire you to use it.


Rick: I have a low table in my office that I dedicate to tangling. All my tools and tiles surround the tangling space. I sit on the floor on a lambskin that Molly and Nick's daughters gave me for my birthday. The light comes in the window from my left (I'm right-handed). I sit down. I pick up a tile. I appreciate its texture and color for a moment. Then I put a mark on it whether with pencil or pen and I'm off and running. I don't particularly want to have too clear an inspiration for what I want the outcome to be. That paradoxically limits my inspiration.

If I'm stuck for a starting point, I'll do a quick scan through Zentangle Mosaic's waterfall and begin which whatever catches my eye. 

My challenge is to set aside the time to sit down. But once I do sit down and make that first stroke, everything easily flows from there. Also I usually put on headphones and listen to classical music or lectures while I tangle. I always come away from tangling refreshed and energized.


Martha: When I don't know where to begin, I always go back to basics. After you have been practicing the Zentangle Method for a while, some of the steps may become automatic, so, I will go through each one of them with intention. Gratitude, Appreciation, 4 dots, border, string... 

I start with crescent moon, then hollibaugh and then see where my pen takes me. I find if I am stuck, I am focusing too much on what the outcome will be and not the journey itself. Going back to basics reminds me why I put pen to paper in the first place.

I will also spend some time on Zentangle Mosaic. If you spend just a few moments watching the Waterfall, you will always be inspired but the Zentangle art being created all over the world.


I did ask Maria this question too, but I guess she never gets stuck...


Next time you're feeling stuck, try one of the suggestions above. Or, maybe, you have another trick you want to share with tanglers in the comments below.

Julie Willand


  • Lots of great ideas. I’m new to zentangle and have a hard time just taking the time to sit down, take a deep breath, and start. Thanks for your insight.


    Deborah Davis on

  • When I’m stuck it’s because I’m thinking of the outcome and not being in the moment. As an artist and CZT many times I fall into the thinking that everything I do has to be “frame worthy”. In those times I remind myself of Maria & Rick’s beautiful, contagious smiles and joy. Then I take a big breath, close my eyes, focus on the moment and pretend Maria & Rick are sitting beside me tangling too. I’m so grateful to them and their beautiful daughters for sharing their passion with the world, you’re my hero’s. Big, big hugs to all of you🤗

    Deborah Lawton on

  • When I’m stuck it’s mostly because I’m overthinking it… My brain sometimes just keeps running in circles. When that happens it helps me to ask someone else to name a tangle, most of the times I will ask my mom or my husband. That tangle will be my starting point. Once that tangle is down on the paper a new one flows out without a thought.

    Anoeska on

  • I have a difficult time tangling when I am hurting too much or just frustrated with my situation.
    The best thing for me was meeting a fellow tangler. We plan on a monthly get-together to chat and tangle. Sometimes we have a plan, ie Project Pack spinners or Christmas ornaments and sometimes we work on a particular tangle, look or texture one of us might need help with…and other times we are just there for one another and pen never actually touches paper…but I leave each session reinvigorated, excited to tangle and pictures dancing in my head. I don’t know if my friend knows how important she is to me, but I would never change having the opportunity to work with her.

    Tamra B on

  • I live in Chile here are not Zentangle classes i want to know when you are going to Miami, some times i go there and i can take some classes many kisses and thank you.

    Dory on

  • I like to start my day with my tangle-a-day calendar for a morning practice, if I’m stuck I use the inspiration of fellow CZT’s on our Facebook page and the Mosaic app. I try to stay in the mindset of just letting my own flow.

    Susan Moen CZT28 on

  • My recent tangle ‘slump’ was partially caused by depression – I was depressed I did not have the ready funds to attend the recent CZT training two of my new online Zentangle friends attended. I wanted to meet them. I wanted to become certified with them. I was to the point of giving up on tangling because my mind was having a tantrum about how unfair it was I could not attend. Yes, I knew it was childish but I was honest about it the entire time. I recognized the problem immediately and sat myself down and basically told myself off. It WILL happen when the time is right, self. Stop pushing, because you know you fail with it is not ‘time’. When it IS time, you will excel, so just wait a while. That is how my life has always worked and after I reminded myself that this was obviously not the right time yet, I got over myself. It is a good thing I did not go because my chronic bad health had a bad dip during the time of the training. See, self? It was not the right time. With that in mind, I waited for the Monday prompt on my favourite Zentangle FB group and fought with the tile. I put it down so many times because it was not working, but I was determined to finish it. Suddenly the light came back on a few days later and when I got home that night I was inspired again. I jumped the borders. I tried new things, lots of oops were turned into opportunities, I pushed my limits. It came together with graphite shading. Not the best tile but it is a proud reminder that while the journey is not always a constant flow, even with bumps the tile will come together in ways you never expected. One of my aforementioned friends gave me a nice complement on the tile and I gave her and myself a friendly challenge for our next tiles using the same prompts and tangles. She had to use as many tangles as she could to ‘stuff’ the tile and I had to use as few tangles as possible. Basically, we switched how we usually addressed the tiles. That really motivated me! We both got great tiles out of the challenge! Zentangle has BLESSED me so much with pain management and other things I was not about to let a little brain tantrum stop me. I WILL get there eventually, and become a certified Zentangle Teacher!

    bakayaro onna (DSmith) on

  • It’s rare that I find myself stuck, but this is a wonderful resource of ideas for those occasions. Some I’ve already used but others are new to me. I’ll try one of them next time!

    Margaret Bremner on

  • When I get stuck, it is because I did not sit down to tangle. Recently in the middle of a chaotic day, I walked by my desk and wished I was tangling. I decided to take that “pause that refreshes” and tangle. A quick break is just what I needed.

    Jeanne on

  • I rarely get stuck, but when I do not know what to tangle I go back to basics and/or take a Zt book (by any CZT, though the Primer-1 gives great excercises!) and follow the directions given there.
    Or indeed try a new medium and combine it with tangles, and that will always be my Mc&Cheese or go-to tangles like msst, printemps, tipple and static.

    Arja on

  • I keep it simple, just black and white. Monotangle. A really easy one. No thinking and making decisions. After a few strokes I realize that I am on the way back to normal. Except after a disease, than it takes me more time getring back to non-wonky strokes.

    Inge Frasch on

  • I am so glad to see that I’m not the only one! Ever since my daughter died very unexpectedly, it stopped my tangling dead in its tracks, as well as teaching. I’ve finally pulled out of the rut, went to ZenAgain…then my daughter in law had a seizure and drowned in her bath! I am finally, finally starting to venture out again and am so thankful for this community for always being here (especially in Mosaic), always encouraging. I have armed myself with all of the writings here, including comments, for the next time I might find myself in a hole! Love you fellow tanglets

    Kat van Rooyen, CZT 20 on

  • Love the suggestions!! As Martha says, when am stuck, I too find that getting back to basics, a white tile, black pen, following the wonderful 8-step guideline, along with breathing with every stroke helps me get into the flow of relaxation and tangling!

    Vandana Krishna on

  • I love these suggestions, although, for the life of me I cannot do the tangles on the Bijou tile. I also feel you have advanced to far for me. I am not that talented. No less, I love looking at them.

    Gratefully ,

    Joanne Vacalebre on

  • I like to use a tile that already has some design on it. ie the round tiles with a design/starting point. From there, echo the shapes and evolve into some tangling. Thank you all for sharing your suggestions!


  • When I’m stuck, it usually means that I’m all judge-y, not just in my Zentangle life, but in life in general. The project packs and going to my favorite tangles can usually help me find my way back. Recently I stumbled across Maria’s video describing how she discovered mooka, and the joy in her voice was all I needed to bring mr back.

    Lorna Aaronson, CZT 9 on

  • I have been in a funk since having surgery on my right hand in October. For most of the first six months I wasn’t able to hold a pen, which was torture! I am Tangling again but find I have difficulty starting a tile. I have been going to some of the wonderful Zentangle groups on the internet. My CZT colleagues post wonderful tiles and projects which inspire me to try to reproduce the beautiful new tangles.

    While in my funk my work area became cluttered. I wouldn’t by any stretch of the imagination consider myself a neat freak but I have found the clutter makes me feel weighed down and overwhelmed. So, sorting and clearing the clutter in my space is very liberating.
    My conclusion? I can be inspired by being exposed to talent, beauty, and order!

    Betsey Youngs, CZT 20 on

  • I have been in a tangle funk for awhile now. I just cannot seem to get my tangle on. I am going to try some of these suggestions to see if I can get going. UGH!!!

    Victoria Smith CZT on

  • I rarely run out of ideas, but when I do, Linda Farmer`s is my go-to place. Then I have some books, other internet sites, etc. However, lately, I`ve been looking at some polished Mexican Crazy Lace Agates and am wondering if Zentangle HQ could maybe use those as a jumping-off point for their next Project Pack! They sure are beautiful and very tangle-able, though I wouldn`t think they come down on the “easy” side!

    Rosemary Turpin on

  • There must be a mind-reader out there as I’ve been stuck for a while, too. I think it came from tangling for others instead of for myself, as it was when I first found the Zentangle Method. After being lovingly praised, accepted and validated by my CZT teacher, now friend, as well as on the Mosaic, I’ve stepped back to find the initial, innocent joy of tangling. I now tangle for myself and post on one social media group. I also found a couple of challenges that are helping me learn tangles I probably wouldn’t even attempt. What joy to rise to a challenge and find my initial zen space I’ve been looking for.

    Beth on

  • When I’m stuck, I turn to my sketchbook and practice drawing tangles. I try drawing them in different variations, colors, shading, pens. “Doodle” is a loaded word around here, but that’s exactly what I do in my sketchbook—doodle. Often I’ll have an “ah ha!” moment where I discover a cool trick and want to try it on an actual tile.

    If it’s a bad rut, I walk away for awhile. Trying force creativity doesn’t work for me. I’ve taken long breaks and always come back with new enthusiasm.

    Sadie Slays on

  • I was exactly in a rut today. I started a pagen my journal, but nothing was coming…going back and revisiting my journal.

    Suzanne H Crisafi on

  • First of all, I have to tell you that I’m trained as a reference librarian. In short, I help people, including myself to “find stuff.” For my own enjoyment, I have automatic feeds from my favorite blogs and web sites. When I see something I like and may want to use later (e.g. a new tangle, a different technique, a new theme), I add a note and its source to a journal I keep online. When I need something for a special purpose, that journal is my go-to. Keeping it online helps me to search for keywords such as tangles that show motion, <>< themes, special techniques, animal tangles, crazy media, principles of geometry (yes, really) . . . it’s a long list. Since I’ve been keeping this journal, I don’t recall that I’ve ever been stuck.

    Linda Dochter, CZT 16 on

  • Put some inspiring essential oil in my diffuser, grab a piece of paper from the stack always on my table and just start marking it up. Maybe a dot, a string or directly to a tangle from my memory or a new one in my always on the desk tangle log from trying to add a tangle or two every week from those I find online from Tanglepatterns, facebook or pinterest etc. Always gets me going

    Sue Leslie, CZT on

  • This can feel like a catch-22. I use Zentangle as a tool to clear my mind and I need to tangle with a clear mind. Somehow it all settles out when I pick up the pen and take that slow breath.

    Kathy on

Leave a comment