How many tangle patterns do I need to know before I can start doing Zentangle?
What if I can’t remember the patterns I learned in Zentangle class?
Which patterns are the right ones to learn?

These are all great questions, and questions I have asked myself at various points in my Zentangle journey, especially at the beginning.  There are pages and pages of Pinterest posts, Facebook groups, websites, and hundreds and hundreds of tangle patterns.  It’s so easy to get lost and give up because you can’t navigate the ocean of patterns and ideas out there.  So here are my answers to the questions above; I hope they’ll help you.

A monotangle of the pattern Static

So how many tangle patterns do I need to know?
How many do you know now?  You can do a lot of tangling with just one favourite pattern, partly because there are often many variations you can use, and partly because the purpose of Zentangle is to draw with pleasure, enjoying the process, not to complete something art-worthy.  Look up #monotangle online and you’ll see lots of examples of tangling with only one pattern.

Zentangle® co-founder Rick Roberts suggests you start with the patterns you know and enjoy drawing and just stick with them as long as you feel comfortable.  You can try out different ones that strike your fancy and add one to your repertoire when it’s a tangle you love. (Clue: if you find you can’t stop tangling it, it’s probably a keeper!)

CZT Teachers in a Zentangle Basics class usually cover 6-8 tangles (depending on the length of the class and other factors).  There are likely a couple that you had fun drawing.  Start with them, and just enjoy the process.

You truly don’t need to know a ton of patterns.  If you’re comfortable with 6-8, that’s a great start! It’s surprising how much variety you can get with mixing and matching just a few patterns and adding a different twist to a pattern here and there.

What if I can’t remember the patterns I learned?
You may not remember all of the patterns you learned in class and that’s okay.  If you look at the tiles you drew there are probably one or two you can remember how to draw, even if you don’t remember their names. That will be enough to get started.  If you remember the pattern name but not how to draw it, go to a website like tanglepatterns.com, or musterquelle, or for ‘official’ Zentangle patterns, tanglelist.com .  These sites are great for finding stepouts (directions) for drawing patterns.  Don’t get overwhelmed by all the patterns, just look for the one(s) you want.  Every once in a while poke around and see if a new pattern calls to you to try out, and just play with it. You don’t have to commit to learning it, just have fun.

Even two patterns can make a tile

Which patterns are the right ones to learn?
My rule of thumb is that a tangle pattern should be easy and fun to draw, and easy to remember. If I haven’t drawn it in a while and have to look at the stepout, it should be just a reminder and then I’m off again.  There are usually only 1-4 steps in my chosen patterns.  Patterns that require even or correct spacing, fancy line work or multiple steps – or the stepouts in front of me all the time – are not patterns I consider relaxing.  My favourite go-to tangles (my ‘mac and cheese’ tangles) are ones that come to me without any prompting at all.  Printemps, Bales, Static, Flux, N’Zeppel, Purk, and Ixorus are some of my current ‘mac and cheese’ tangles.

That means some ‘official’ Zentangle patterns like Bucky and Assunta don’t speak to me, and some of my favourites like Garlic Cloves and Sandswirl are not official patterns.  It really doesn’t matter.  If I like drawing it, if it gives me pleasure and is intriguing enough for me to use time and again, then it’s for me.

As I started to write this post, an email from Sketchbook Skool popped up in my Inbox. Their ‘Draw Tip Tuesday’ video for the week was called “Don’t Forget to Play’. I loved the title.  That’s the crux of the whole thing, really. Are you having fun with Zentangle? Do you feel like it’s play? If you do, the rest of the questions don’t really matter.

I often ask my students – ‘how do you know when you’ve drawn enough lines’? The answer is ‘when you don’t want to draw any more’. The same goes for choosing patterns, for filling in spaces on your tile, for completing your drawing session. Are you enjoying yourself?

That’s the only priority for Zentangle that matters to me.