Learning and Gemstone Art

After a busier-than-average Saturday, I found sleep elusive. For several weeks, Zentangle artists have been posting drawings to the Mosaic app of beautiful gemstones. At first, I thought they were gluing gems–loose or set–to their tangle tiles. The comment sections proved me wrong. Since pets and husband were all asleep, I thought I would see if there were any instructional YouTube videos.

Well, there are more videos on drawing gemstones–most aimed specifically at tanglers–than could be imagined. Just type ‘zentangle gems’ into the search parameter. The media range from color pencils to markers to paints and inks. Hours and hours of tutorial entertainment are listed, with many videos longer than 30 minutes and closer to an hour in length. I selected a few and marveled that the demonstrators talked about how easy their gems are to produce. Three o’clock in the morning is far from an ideal time to draw, but learning how to draw–observing–is another matter. 

This morning, I thought I would take a stab at drawing a few imaginary gems. 


My first two gemstones! The yellow stone was the first, followed by the purple one. I have a long way to go before I get good, but these are not bad for a first attempt. 

Blending colors has always been a problem for me, but the videos made it a lot easier to understand the layering and blending process–much easier than any of the books I have on drawing with color pencils. For years, I’ve known I am a visual learner. Oh, sure; I can learn a great deal from books and pictures, but the act of watching an actual person do something has always helped me learn better. This has been the case for working with color pencils, which is very different from coloring in a coloring book. After an attempt or two on my own, I generally begin to select bits and pieces of techniques, combining those that work best for me to produce the results I want. But I am just starting to learn about realistic art using color pencils. 

The yellow stone–my first attempt–incorporated the use of a white gel pen for light accents. It took no time at all to figure out that I do not like using the white Gelly Roll pen for accents. First, if I make a mistake in placement, it is difficult for me to recover or incorporate. Certainly, I haven’t used this technique a lot with color pencils, but I know I don’t like it. Second, right now there is too much of a learning curve for the gel pen process. Later, I will take more time to master the technique.

For my second attempt–the purple stone–I chose to color in the light accents in white after leaving space with the first applied color. The highlights may not be in the right places, but I like the effect I get doing it this way. Somehow, the lights look more natural to me, more “artistic,” too. Of course, I will need a model to get the accents in the correct places, but it is the highlights themselves that I spent time drawing this time. Later this week, I may also play with adding light accents with acrylics and watercolor (or watercolor pencil), just to see the results. Maybe there’s a video for that, too.

For me, the best way to learn is by watching, following up with practice and experimentation. As needed, I keep notes so I can replicate or improve. In the case of the gems, I recorded the color pencils I used so I can use the same mix, or modify the colors to see what effect I get. For example, for some of the shading for the yellow stone, I used indigo blue, but wonder if I should try a gray or a violet next time. I also used carmine red for the veins in the stone, but may try a brown or darker red next time. The notes help remind me what I was thinking after I assessed my work. Also, if I find a photo of a stone–or an actual stone itself–with similar coloration, I have a starting place for color selection, which is a difficult task for me sometimes. So keeping notes during experimentation is a nice, scientific way to record for future reference and attempts.

There are many people who are quite adept at learning art techniques from books. Most of them already have an affinity for artistic endeavor. I can learn a lot from books, and have learned a lot about color mixing, perspective, specific techniques, and much more. However, I am not naturally artistic so, for some things, I really need to watch how a pro does it, paying close attention to those things that I would not have considered if left to my own experimentation. And not just for art. For example, from my ex, I learned a great deal about how to fix things around the house simply by watching him, asking questions, and fetching tools. From YouTube, l learn Zentangle techniques and patterns when the books and apps fail me. 

From writers and authors, I learn the use of words to create descriptions and conversations and tone. And plots, and the things that drive readers crazy, and invention and triteness and…  Well, you get the picture. The keys to writing, I think, are much like the keys to learning (or learning more about) any new or developing craft: observation, practice, assessment–in perpetuity. 

As I continue on my journey to learn to create, I will continue to leave my mind open to trying new things. Those things that do not work for me now I will try again later, when I am more confident about failing. And that’s a topic for another time.

Happy learning!

About DrEMiller

Certified Zentangle Teacher (CZT). Home: Sint Maarten. K-12 teacher for 13 years (Special Education for 10 years); Post-secondary educator since 2002; Education consulting since 1995. When teaching, held teaching certificates in K-12 special education, reading specialist; and secondary social studies. Doctorate: Educational Psychology Programmer/analyst for 10 years, including project management and training of corporate execs.
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