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How to Shade Zentangles and Zendoodles

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Drawing, doodling, painting, art journaling, sewing and crochet are just some of my favorite things to do.

Shadows help to accentuate highlights in zendoodles.

Shadows help to accentuate highlights in zendoodles.

Zendoodle and Zentangle Shading

Zentangles, or zendoodles (as they are sometimes called), are beautiful little pieces of art created with nothing more than paper, pencil, and a fine pen. It's quite easy to learn how to create a zendoodle!

When I first started, I often found it difficult to add shadows and shading to my drawings. Sound relatable? Follow along with this short tutorial.

Zentangle bare-bones

Zentangle bare-bones

Draw Your Zendoodle

This is how my drawing started. As you can see, anyone can do this; you don't have to have any special skill. If you are looking for a step-by-step tutorial, this page might help: Zendoodle, Zentangle: How To.

Finished zendoodle sans shading

Finished zendoodle sans shading

Unshaded Zentangle

Here is the zendoodle without any shading added. It's okay, but the elements are not cohesive; they just look like pretty patterns. Adding shadows will anchor the image, bring the individual tangles (patterns) together and make parts of the drawing pop.

Where Is the Light?

First I had to decide from which direction the light is falling. Almost every drawing or painting has an imaginary light source. If there is light, then there must be shadow, yes? I generally see my drawings with a light source coming from the top left or right, depending on the way I prefer the drawing to be. Note: turn your zendoodle until you find it 'right way up' - every Zentangle has one, and it might not be the way you started.

In this one, the light is coming from the top left side of the drawing. Therefore the shadows will be formed on the lower right side of each element or 'tangle'. I also want to add shade where the drawing is to look 'deeper'. This will provide a pleasing three-dimensional look.

I recommend you use an HB or B-grade pencil for shading. Anything softer will be too black and heavy, and harder graphite will not blend nicely.



Get Into the Shadow

With your pencil held at about a 45-degree angle or perhaps a little less, begin to shade the edges and sides of the tangles that are farthest from the light. Keep it as even as you can. You can see immediately that the scaly-looking tangle here begins to take on a roundness.

Take a paper stump or tortillon and gently smudge the shading, bringing it out and away from the tangle to form a shadow. This is my favorite part.

Shadows makes other parts pop!

Shadows makes other parts pop!


Adding shading and shadows to your work makes parts of the drawing recede into the background and causes other parts to stand out, like these pebble-like tangles.

I have added shading to the underside of the rows of 'beads' too. If you add shadow beneath them they would look as if they are resting on a flat surface. I have chosen not to do that here.

Adding shade to the undersides of these 'beads' turns them into jewels.

Adding shade to the undersides of these 'beads' turns them into jewels.

Continue working over the drawing, adding little bits of shadow where you think necessary. You can see I have shaded the 'leaves' by simply using the 'dirty' tortillon rather than the pencil.

Make it float!

Make it float!

Add Lift by Erasing

This part is optional and should be used sparingly. When you have finished the drawing, take a clean eraser and use one edge to carefully lift a little shadow from the edge of the tangle. This has the effect of making the tangle seem to float by bringing a little reflected light underneath. You can use this technique in any drawing or painting. It's very useful when drawing things like branches.

Finished zendoodle!

Finished zendoodle!

© 2011 Bev G

Do You Doodle Too?

Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on December 01, 2019:

Thank you, Shravz. Yes, give it a go, they are very easy to do.

Shravz on November 30, 2019:

These are beautiful... almost looks like mehndi designs...since i put mehndi designs these kinda looks like it...i ve always thought of giving these a try ...

Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on April 28, 2013:

Thank you, pstraubie! Appreciated every which way :)

Patricia Scott from North Central Florida on April 27, 2013:

Wow. these are gorgeous. This is not my strength but I am inspired to at least try it. Thanks for sharing. Voted up and shared and pinned

Sending Angels your way :) ps

Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on January 05, 2013:

Yes, give it a go - it's so relaxing and lots of fun. Thanks for stopping by, lupine.

lupine from Southern California (USA) on January 04, 2013:

First I've heard of zen doodling, looks like a piece of jewelry. Will try to draw.

Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on May 19, 2012:

My pleasure, Natashalh.

Natasha from Hawaii on May 19, 2012:

This is amazing! I'd never even heard of Zeendoodles. Thanks for sharing this information.

Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on April 15, 2011:

Thanks for stopping by jafabrit. Yes, some of the patterns are reminiscent of eastern traditions. If you take a look at "Totally Tangled" by Sandy Steen Bartholomew, she has a whole section devoted to them.

jafabrit on April 15, 2011:

Your's is lovely. Many of the doodles remind me of middle eastern and indian patterns (some used for henna and embroidery patterns). One of the things I love about doing art and embroidery is the mediative quality as I work.

Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on February 15, 2011:

Many thanks, lindacee. I can't do geometric zendoodles but there are plenty of people who can.

Linda Chechar from Arizona on February 15, 2011:

My husband doodles. He is into geometric shapes. This is absolutely beautiful. Way beyond doodles. Great Hub!