That Old Blank Canvas syndrome

That Old Blank Canvas syndrome

Do you have artistic block?

What do you do when you see a blank canvas? Do you freeze up or instantly start working on it? Many artists find that moving from a blank canvas to creating a new work very intimidating and often simply do not know where to start.

It happens because we want a painting to come out right; there is this huge fear that the end result will not be what we imagined. If it's also been a while since you painted last, you may think your skills might have become rusty; and you’re unsure of what you're capable of, so that to can be so inhibiting. We artists see our paintings as an extension of ourselves, its like we invest a piece of ourselves into them and want them to be perfect, which sadly it is usually not always going to be possible.

I find for me that if I start with prepping my canvas with a coloured background, that it gets me started and past that initial hurdle. If I’m painting a scene I start with the sky colour, I suggest you only add the main colour like a medium to light blue, don’t worry about blending or adding in clouds or other colours at this stage. While that’s drying, try sketching in the rest of the scene with a light coloured pastel pencil (I use white as my background base is usually a beige or grey colour so it shows up well.) the pastel pencil comes off easily and doesn’t affect the painting like a lead or charcoal pencil will. This works with any style of art too not just scenes or still life's. I usually plan out my abstracts and therefore sketching them in is possible too. You will find you can then move onto adding in the clouds or other colours etc as you have broken that blank surface and should now be on a roll!

I also suggest you don't set out to do a finished, complete painting in the first sitting either. Start off creating smaller studies of the idea you are planning. It’s easier to rework a sample piece than a real painting. If you don’t expect too much form yourself to start off with it’s a lot easier to deal with.

Try displaying some your paintings around you that you've done and that you like; this will remind you that you can do it. If you've done it once, you'll be able to do it again. Painting requires perseverance it’s not just about talent.

Another popular solution is to mess up the canvas before you have even started. Create a mess of wild strokes with no purpose or style, then wait for it to dry, and paint over it. Everything you then do to it can only be an improvement after all. This approach works best if you work in textured styles as you do risk the paint strokes showing through, to prevent that you can water the paints down so they dry flatter for that initial mess up. It also pays to work mostly in opaque colours, though, as these will hide the lower layers! 

 All in all, don’t let a blank white canvas become intimidating for you. It’s all just a mind set that you can work around.

Main image is titled 'Lens' an abstract by Collette Fergus

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Posted: Saturday 20 February 2010


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