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The Shades of Gray between ZIA and Zentangle

The Shades of Gray between ZIA and Zentangle

Rick writes:

In 2007, we started BLOG Zentangle and began our enjoyable series of conversations within our Zentangle community.

In reading through these blog posts with their insightful comments, we decided to bring a few of them to your attention from time to time. It is easy, for me anyway, to sometimes think of old information as stale information. But these insights and conversations are anything BUT stale!

Today, we invite you to revisit this blog from 2018...

                     Begin previous post . . .                  

Molly writes:

This topic comes up often. We see it discussed through different social media portals. People offer many different answers and often ask us to clarify it.

The truth is the definition is a bit gray and we do not get so caught up in finding a fine line to land on. The term ZIA (Zentangle Inspired Art) was organically started to describe artworks that are not drawn on a Zentangle tile but still use the Zentangle Method in the creation of them. For instance a pair of shoes that are tangled, a large canvas covered with Zentangle art, a ceramic dish with a tangled border, a butterfly filled with tangles, a fox, a turtle, etc.

A ZIA is often representational while traditional Zentangle art is almost always non-representational. It was sometimes said that if it had color then it was a ZIA, but in recent years color has become another layer to the complexity that the Zentangle method has to offer.

I feel the Zentangle Method has grown organically as this very simple method continues to bring forth art that is far deeper and more sophisticated than we ever anticipated. And really it is because of all the amazing enthusiastic Zentangle artists all over the world challenging and creating. I am so humbled and thrilled with how awesome it is. The slow addition of color has been delicate and appropriate to what the method stands for. So I realize this doesn't really answer the question.

A basic original Zentangle is a done on a 3.5" square piece of white paper with black ink and shades of gray. It is non-representational. It is created using the Zentangle Method.

That being said we still consider other works Zentangle art as well. Ones that are slightly larger, may include color and so on. We have decided to purposely not get too caught up in this definition and enjoy the grayness in the description ... after all the whole idea is to get people to put pen to paper and enjoy the process.

Tangle on my friends.

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We are blown away by all of your thoughtful and creative responses to our last blog, What do You Call a Group of Tangles? We are still going through all of your suggestions and we will reveal the winner in our next blog. We promise it will be worth the wait!

Molly Hollibaugh


  • I find it interesting that this topic keeps popping up. I recently read a tremendously eloquent essay, “On Understanding Zentangle. . . A Post with No Pictures” by Sandy Hunter, CZT that I found on Linda Farmer’s site, . . Sandy’s post was so well written that I have reread it 4 times. It actually helped me to understand why I am so drawn to Zentangle and why Zentangle has helped me to grow artistically. . . Shortly after I read this post, I went to check on my 2 year old granddaughter who was watching “Mickey Mouse Club”. Much to my amusement, Mickey Mouse was encouraging Goofy to enjoy his art and not to compare it to others! Maybe we all need that lesson! :)

    LLS on

  • I may embrace a too broad interpretation, but to me anything created on paper, no matter the size, is a Zentangle & creations on objects such as seashells, ornaments or canvas bags, etc would be considered a ZIA. I don’t spend any time compartmentalizing or labeling each & every creation. Do I need to reconsider? 😂

    Jan ~ Sailandbejoyful~ on

  • Does there have to be a distinction between the two? If you have used the Zentangle method to create your piece of art and it has brought you joy and allowed you to switch off and enjoy the process, then surely it can still be called Zentangle irrespective of colour, size or surface? The original tile, created with black ink, is just Zentangle in its simplest form isn’t it? I love all of it – I love the boldness and delicacy created by black and white, but the addition of colour brings a whole new dimension and excitement to the artwork and should be embraced – it is still Zentangle in my view!

    Gloria King on

  • I understand and appreciate the difference between a “Zentangle” and a ZIA, however, I hope people don’t get too caught up in definitions. The mindset, spontaneity and flow of creativity is what really sets this artform apart. Black and white with shades of grey or adding color – it’s all done because of the love of creating art and being able to finally express our god given talent. Thank you for finding a way to give us this outlet!

    LaJuania D on

  • I have just attended a ‘retreat’ in Cairns, the first one for Australia, organised by CZTs, something I enjoyed wholeheartedly, being freshly inspired by all the Zentangle happening around me. Yes, there was colour used, yes, tiles were different sizes, yes, papers were different colours…..and yes,we all regarded our efforts as Zentangle. The common ground is the focus of mindfulness, of the premise of concentrating on one
    Stroke at a time and the feeling of calm appreciation and surprise at the end of a piece of work……I have been seriously tangling since 12th February 2012 and really I love what our tangling is called (Zentangle) but it could be called ‘hobbledy hoi’, and I would still feel the same, as it is how it makes us feel inside which matters and I shall forever remain grateful to Maria and Rick for drawing our attention to this wonderfully rewarding Art form. 👏👏👏👏👏❣️❣️❣️❣️❣️

    Sue Zanker on

  • “Frisson” : a sudden thrill of excitement, as in what we feel when a tangle comes together out of random lines, dots, S-curves or when we mosaic a bunch of tangles, hence a “frisson” of tangles.

    The creators, a group of tanglers could be a “Flux” just as the pattern Flux has many leaves and can curve into a circle, so individual tanglers meet and usually form a circle.

    Viv on

  • Thank you for this information….I just thought that ZIA was another form of zentangle….an eye opener for sure….

    Connie T on

  • For me, Zentangle has embodied not only the original steps and appreciation, but the expansive growth that happens when your mind and hands are freed to express themselves. You cannot stop that creative process, and the embodiment of the Zen that happens as we create. Just like I refuse to be “pigeon-holed” by labels, so it seems Zentangle goes. There is flux and flow in knowing our minds see beyond what may be presented, and our hands itch to put it down on paper, or canvas, or ceramics, etc.

    Ginger White CZT 34 on

  • I am always amazed at how your family manages to remain non-judgemental. I do find that I like to do a more traditional tile sometimes, and other times I like to focus more on the art side of it. I suspect the distinction of ZIA will evaporate as the lime blurs more and more. It will all just become Zentangle.

    Lisa Hoesing on

  • To Jody’s comment: I, too, was/am a watercolor artist, making my living as such for nearly 50 years and while I thoroughly enjoyed my career, it was accompanied by deadlines, shows, public inter-actions, accounting, galleries, etc., etc. I found zentangle a few years after I retired. Now my artistic expressions are purely just for ME. That freedom brings joy. I don’t plan, I never know the outcome and that is vitally exciting and energizing. Whatever medium one chooses, the piece created should satisfy one’s soul first.

    Viv on

  • All this time…I didn’t know there were classifications. I just jumped in at “zentangle” and have gone from 3 1/2" squares to bookmarks, Bijous, postcards to send friends to spread the zentangle word and now, ATCs. Along the way I experimented with color, monotone and full-on. My joy is adding a little sparkle with “gems” that jump off a black and white tangle! My heart belongs, though, to pure black and white (shaded) on an artists’ trading card. Kudos to all those who run with tangling of all sorts! Just makes the world go ’round.

    Vivian on

  • This is a timely essay for me. I am a watercolor artist and have recently noticed the process of creating a painting does not share the same joy I have when I sit down to zentangle. Wondering how to find that freedom in other creative processes? Thoughts??

    Jody Czt 21

    Jody Church on

  • If the original impetus behind Zentangle was to teach and inspire people who previously thought they could not draw or create, then why castigate them when they take the method and run with it? I was an artist and calligrapher before I found Zentangle. For me, it is just another welcome tool in my ever growing toolbox. What I do with it is limited only by my imagination, not by some narrow minded purists’ rigid “rules and regulations.” Those only serve to stifle creativity, not foster it.

    Jessica Dykes on

  • Thank you for bringing back the Zentangle and ZIA topic. I have been a CZT for almost ten years. Way back when, it was easy to differentiate because we only had the basic white 3.5” tile and black ink. As Molly mentions, a work of art became a ZIA, when colour was added, or the piece was larger or done on a canvas bag. It was easy to tell the difference. As the Zentangle art form has evolved over time, I find myself feeling that whenever I am creating a tangled work of art, whether its a traditional tile or a ZIA, the most important thing is how I feel. I don’t get hung up anymore on trying to define what is what. Obviously a 3.5 “ white tile drawn with the Zentangle Method is the basics, however if I add colour and that makes be happy, really that’s all that matters to me. As long as I am following the steps of the Zentangle Method, and not thinking about definitions, the size or the end product etc, I feel that then is a Zentangle. If I plan, have expectations etc, then it’s a ZIA.

    Brenda Shaver CZT on

  • Hi! I am SO new to tangling – I kept hearing the word, so I finally googled it a couple weeks ago, watched a couple of youtube videos, and took off on my own path :-) Now, I learn that ZIA is what I’ve actually been doing. What puzzles me is why people talk about ZIA like it’s some sort of inferior form of tangling, like those of us who do ZIA’s are somehow reducing the purity of the art. I’ve always thought that creativity is an essential element for true artistic expression, and while I love maintaining the purity of the original form, I certainly admire (and emulate!) those who have the imagination to bring even more to life using the basic skills and ideas presented to them. Aren’t people who are able to come up with creative new ideas usually applauded? (Think how excited we are that Zentangles were invented.) I’m just confused by what seems like a very slight prejudice against those who have stepped out and taken tangling to new heights. Please forgive me if I’m reading something into the articles that isn’t there; it’s just something I seem to sense across the board in the different articles I’ve read so far.

    Lisa on

  • This has always been a bit of a puzzle to me, whether a tile (whatever size) is Zentangle or ZIA. I am in the habit of adding tiny touches of just one extra colour to a tile other than black, for instance just brown or just Burgundy, to help emphasise an area to to help a pattern “pop”. And yet strictly speaking, from what I understand, that touch of colour suddenly turns my tile from Zentangle to ZIA ! Zentangle, like people, changes and develops over years (I have been doing it since Feb. 2012) and personally I think that adding tiny touches of just one extra colour, still makes it a Zentangle in my eyes, plus of course the “ up, down,sideways, test”. Maybe we should be able to also label our pieces that contain only one extra colour (besides black, and graphite) and still pass the up, down sideway test, to still be “Zentangle” ? 😁 however, I am quite willing to continue as I am, as I NEED to tangle every day for my health’s sake, so to me it can be called anything and I would still be doing it no matter what. This note is just a friendly suggestion to think about……..😁❣️

    Sue Zanker on

  • You put 3.5" tile.. but even your ‘official’ tiles are of different sizes, biggest being the apprentice which is bigger than that, and the smallest being a bijou tile… and then the 3z and rounds. All in addition to the standard 3.5". Not everyone knows about all of those…even as wide spread as zen is! I’ve had people ask me how big to make tiles… and how thick. As not everyone can afford official ones. 😘

    Andrea Kine on

  • Great appreciation to the family at Kripalu this weekend for the Zentangle workshop. Love the spirit of togetherness, love for the creation one stroke at a time, but most of all putting all our contributions together into a mosaic. What a demonstration of the beauty and spirit-power of community when the whole looks greater than the sum of its parts. I would advocate that future workshops break up into smaller groups of say 4 and create mini-mosaics as group projects. This could also be used in therapy sessions, classrooms and overall bonding. Thanks again Molly and Martha for making the atmosphere so congenial.

    George Weiss

    George Weiss on

  • Muy claro Molly! Gracias!!

    alejandra schiavoni on

  • Thank you!

    Wanyi on

  • I`ve been tangling for almost 3 years and have done 550 tiles of “regulation” size but with lots of colour. I`ve also had two ZIA shows of my work in small restaurants in Montreal. I call all the larger ones ZIAs because it is a convenient term, even though some really have no Zentangle in them at all. However, I would NEVER have done them if I hadn`t discovered Zentangle first, so they really are INSPIRED by Zentangle!

    Rosemary Turpin on

  • I’m so happy to see this post. I also see it as a grey area and with your confirmation I will no longer wonder if a piece is ZIA or not. I will let my students decide for themselves. In the end I believe it’s unimportant. What is important in my opinion, is just making art!

    Brenda Campbell on

  • I think it is up to the artist who creates the art to decide whether it is Zentangle or ZIA, no one else can say what is right or wrong, that is the Zentangle way, or at least how I understand it!

    Dolly Bolen on

  • I like your explanation! Letting the flow guide us all is very Zentangle principled?.

    I think for me, no up or down is the Zentangle Method while orientation defines ZIA.

    Laura cZt22 on

  • I like the thought of choosing not to over think and still defining ZIA over Zentangle. Zentangle is best when black and white. However, colours add life to any piece of art and are mood lifters. Creativity is boundless and is purely a person’s state of mind.

    Mudita on

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