Thursday, 3 September 2015

Commission for a Zentangle Book

The second of two posts today.Edited – picture of book cover.

I have been approached by Jane Marbaix, a UK Certified Zentangle Teacher (CZT), who is writing a new book on Zentangle – she already has more than one in print – she had found my tangle “Y-Ful Power” and wanted to feature it. She asked me to submit the step-outs for it, and also a piece of art using this tangle, and some text giving details of the inspiration behind it. She asked if the art piece could somehow reflect the story of my cancer journey this year, as the publishers were keen that the book should inspire people.

I was a bit daunted at first because the deadline was so short, for which she apologised; she said she needed it within three weeks, but effectively for me, that meant by the end of the week, because my next chemo treatment is due then, after which I will be fit for nothing for another fortnight. Her timing was actually very good because I was just starting to feel better for my third week in the cycle, and I’ve been able to pull out all the stops and get it done in time!

I felt a bit daunted for another reason too, which was that I have very little experience in expressing my thoughts, feelings and experiences in the form of art. This is definitely something I have felt the need to work on for some time, because I have been wanting to get into art journaling. Hopefully next year after the chemo is finished and I am getting my life back, this will start to happen, and it’s good to get in a bit of practice in advance!

I feel extremely flattered to be invited to contribute to a published book. To be sought out like this and invited to take part is very exciting indeed, and I am so pleased that Jane is so delighted with what I’ve come up with – I wanted really to do this thrilling project the justice it so richly deserves. Jane is one of only a small number of UK-based CZTs and it’s very good to be able to support and encourage her in this way, and to give her a bit of publicity.

My original thoughts on a suitable design for this ZIA (Zentangle-Inspired Art) came to nothing and got chucked out – my thinking was too literal, and my initial sketches were a disaster! I spent most of that first morning trawling the Internet for inspiration until I decided to look on my own Pinterest boards to see if anything struck a chord, and I found this image of the most amazing and beautiful spiral staircase.

Spiral Staircase

I have no idea where this staircase is located. I have always been fascinated by spiral staircases and the intriguing shapes they produce, and in this context, I could see this as a picture of my journey – a journey of the heart from darkness to light.

Here are some pictures showing the progression from initial pencil sketch to the finished drawing.

01 Initial Sketch

The initial pencil sketch shows the spiral staircase emerging from a 3-D heart, both of which feature prominently my tangle “Y-Ful Power.” I wanted the bottom part of the picture to be dark. The small heart on the right is an attempt to get the perspective right – I had some trouble with this!

The next picture shows how I began the first tracing of the shapes, using my light pad – a flat panel illuminated by LEDs for the purpose of tracing. This is an extremely useful tool which I acquired a few months ago on Ebay, and had yet to put through its paces. I have wanted a light box for many years, and am very glad that I did not invest in one at the time because these new panels are so much more convenient – lying flat on the table with very little thickness, and the LEDs do not make it hot.

02 Beginning First Tracing

The next picture shows the first tracing complete.

03 First Tacing Complete

I have drawn a pencil grid over the spiral staircase and the heart, for the placing of the dot grid to construct Y-Ful Power, which you can see complete on the first draft I made from that tracing, on plain paper.

04 Y-Ful Power on First Tracing

I was still not happy with the heart, which looked rather flat, but which I thought might be improved with some shading. I made several attempts at drawing the heart, using different grids, until I was satisfied.

Here is the completed draft.

05 Completed Draft

I didn’t like the overlap of the rays of light from “Footlites” on the left, and these needed to be altered.

My first “fair copy” of the drawing did not pass muster because the bottom of the heart was very dark, and there was not enough contrast with the background, into which it appeared to merge without trace! It looks better on this photo than it does in real life. I had put too much in the way of embellishments on the Y-Ful Power on the bottom of the heart, and this needed to be reduced. I wasn’t keen on the way that the embellishments followed the line of the handrail of the staircase, either. There were some other problems too, such as the hole in the centre of the spiral coming out too small and losing the impact of the spot of light towards which the butterfly is moving. Also, I didn’t like what I’d done with “Finery” on the bottom right – the black embellishments were too strong. (I edited this scan and made it come out a bit too dark – the shading isn’t that strong on the original.)

06 1st Fair Copy

So I re-drew it, yet again. This next photo shows the final drawing complete, or so I thought until I realised that I had left out some shading that I wanted to put on the underside of the spiral staircase. (The rest of the shading shows more true to the original than on the previous photo.) I was a lot happier with the heart, “Finery” and “Footlites,” in this final rendering.

Rising Towards the Light - Missing Shading

By this time I had scanned the image, and done a bit of digital tidying up, and I didn’t want to do all that work again, so I printed it out, and attempted to add some shading to this scanned image, which I then scanned again. This was a mistake because the result came out very grainy, so it was “back to the drawing board” as I had to decide what to do. To save myself a lot of work I decided to add the shading digitally, to the underside of the spiral staircase. This is the final drawing.

Rising Towards the Light

I was a little concerned at how blue the shading (real and digital) appeared in the image – I tried desaturating it and converting it to greyscale but the result was the same. I am hoping that the printers will get a true greyscale image when they prepare it for the book. I have now sent the files of the drawing, the 2 step-out sheets for Y-Ful Power, and the text to accompany the drawing, to the publisher as well as to the author, and the publisher says that the scans are fine, so presumably the picture prints out OK in a true greyscale.

Looking at these pictures, superficially they appear pretty much the same, but it’s a bit like those “spot the difference” pictures! There are subtle differences which probably only my perfectionistic nature would fuss about, but this is going to be published, and I wanted it to be the best I could make it – I’d never be satisfied knowing that something I had drawn was being published, that I wasn’t 100% happy with.

A Word about Shading

In the past, I have always shaded my Zentangles with a soft (4B) pencil and then blended it with a paper stump. However, being graphite, the shading didn’t usually photograph or scan very well because it is slightly reflective. I have wondered for a while about suitable alternatives, and recently discovered soluble graphite pencils – watercolour pencils in shades of grey that can be applied and then blended with a water brush. I bought a Derwent Graphitint pencil recently in Warm Grey (Shade #19), one of a range of greys that they produce, which I think probably doesn’t have any graphite in it because it is completely non-reflective. Blending with the water brush is easy, and the results are very good, so this is going to be my shading tool of choice for the future.

The symbolism in the picture

You can see that there is an emphasis on upward movement throughout the picture, from the dark beginnings to the light in the centre. The symbolism is best expressed by quoting an extract from the text which will accompany the image in the book (this may be edited by the publisher for length):

“My piece of Zentangle-inspired art depicts my journey from my bowel cancer diagnosis in January 2015, which is essentially a journey of the heart – it is all about attitude. It is not the circumstances and events in our lives which define us, but our attitude to them – we can either cave in under them and complain and be miserable, which will affect everyone around us in a negative way, or we can face them head on, and make use of them, to help us become a better person, which will have the added bonus of inspiring those around us. This second choice is the one I have made. Only once, on the day of my diagnosis, did I say, ‘Why me?’ and immediately afterwards asked, ‘Why not me?’ A positive attitude also helps towards a positive outcome to the illness and its treatment…

“This has been a wake-up call and a life-changing experience, which I have attempted to express in my art. The upward journey has not been a straightforward one but has taken some circuitous routes. From a relatively dark and cluttered existence I am rising towards the light; the butterfly represents metamorphosis from one state to another, taking flight from a lowly existence into the brighter light of hope and joy. Before this event, my life was going on much as before, in a fairly chaotic fashion, and looking back I realise just how much time I was wasting, and how little I was doing for – or even thinking of – others. This journey has changed my priorities.

“The upward journey is from a heart full of gratitude, and a desire to make a difference in the lives of others. My new motivation is to help others, to inspire them, and to become a better person…

“Where will this journey lead? Who knows? Hopefully to a cancer-free life, but to have made a difference is all I ask.”

Tangle Patterns Used in the Piece

I included a list of the sixteen different tangles that I used in the piece:

Y-Ful Power, Cvetic, Lily Pads, Lotus Pods, Footlites, B’twined, Miander. Copada, Bilt, Intwine, Finery, Zinger, Verdigogh, Float Fest, Barber Pole, and Heart Rope. I wonder if my fellow tanglers will be able to spot them all!

Details of the Book So Far 

The book title will be “Inspiring Zentangle Projects,” and will be published in May of next year, all being well. Jane has now sent me a jpg of the cover. She says that between now and publication, this may be changed, but this is the working version.

Inspiring Zentangle Projects - Book Cover

It is being published by Arcturus Publishing – I visited their website today and they’ve got some very intriguing titles on there, including several adult colouring books, and to my great delight, an adult dot-to-dot book! I used to love doing these as a child, and the adult ones look highly complex and interesting. Definitely something to try! I expect you could colour them afterwards, too. They do quite a few art and craft books, and one of Jane Marbaix’s earlier Zentangle books is in the catalogue, too – “Mandala Zentangle.”

I hope you will all buy a copy of her new book when it comes out!


  1. Oh wow, your work is absolutely stunning! I love seeing the different stages of development, and it makes it more special knowing the symbolism behind it. I'm completely blown away by the beauty of it and the exquisite detail.

  2. OMG !!! OMG !!! OMG !!! OMG !!! OMG !!! You didnt tangle for a long time, what a comeback. Please let me know what the book is called and when it is for sale and how I can get one. And i want it autographed LOL

  3. My goodness, what a lot of work, but so worth it! It's beautiful and inspirational. Good luck for Friday. I've had my endoscopy, and everything was normal (as it was in 2011, when I had the low blood count before) Waiting for the colonoscopy now. Thank you so much for your support. Blessings.

  4. Wow!!! Proud doesn't even start to express my feeling about this, I am at a lose for words.
    It's gorgeous and I am so very PROUD OF YOU !!!
    Connie :)

  5. FABULOUS!! What a thrill to read this post. I LOVE what you did with your tangle, and how inspiring.I will be getting the book when out!In the meantime I will buy the one you show. This is just so lovely top hear!!
    Judy xx

  6. lovely work Shoshi, and it was nice to see the process. I am amazed at the tangle; everywhere I look I see something new, but that's the whole point is it not?

  7. Wow! Shoshi, that is a work of art! Thank you for showing us the process. I can look at it for ages. And the symbolism behind it of course gives it another dimension. Well done for being published.

  8. Wow Shoshi, I'm now really proud to have met you & your husband? friend? (Sorry, feel like I should know!) at Dunsford Art Show! What an amazing, detailed, well analysed and inspirational set of work. I've only just visited and can tell I'm really going to enjoy exploring your blog. Your beautiful soul shining is quite apparent here :) Karen x

  9. A truly beautiful piece of art Shoshi. I will watch out for the book when it's published.
    Take care my friend, Angela x

  10. Oh my goodness, Shoshi - that's so exciting. And what a beautiful piece of Zentangle art you've created for the book. It's a really fascinating post about your process too, from the inspiration photo to the perfecting of the work through the drafts. Thank you so much for sharing it all with us, and I'm sure the book will be a big success.
    Alison x

  11. Congrats on being approached to contribute to the book....the spiral staircase is stunning! I'd be happy with that on my wall as I love's amazing!
    I tried to email you but am not sure if it got through.....can you email me so I can pass on what I know about Shaz privately.
    LLJ xxxx

  12. Your artwork is absolutely totally amazing, Shoshi!!! Not sure what else I can say:)

  13. Congratulations, Shoshi! Amazing artwork and very touching sentiments behind it. Best of luck with the rest of your treatment. Stay strong! xx


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