How to Overcome Your Fear of the Blank Canvas

I fear the blank canvas. It’s irrational, I know, but when I’m faced with a blank canvas, there is a moment where I suddenly need to do something else. I want to eat corn chips or put a load of dirty clothes in the washing machine. Any task will do as long as I don’t have to make that first mark on the white canvas.

Procrastination is real for me. I can avoid the “right thing” to do until it’s too late. Then I beat myself up for not doing it. You know what I mean?

When it comes to my art, I genuinely want to make something. Sometimes I have an idea that is so compelling and formed in my head that nothing can stand in the way of getting it done. But that’s rare.

How did I figure this out?

I can’t depend on the Muse to get my work done. I want to create on a regular, hopefully, daily basis. I just need to get started.

I’ve read a lot about the fear of the blank canvas. Plenty of artists have it. But reading about other’s problems isn’t always helpful.

I had to figure out what would help me get started. I began studying art techniques and paying attention to how other artists put down their first layer. And I found what I was looking for.

One of my favorite artists uses red paint as the background in every piece he paints. I started noticing that his technique isn’t all that unusual.

But I’m not really a painter. I call myself a mixed media artist because I use many materials and tools to make my art. I could just cover my blank canvas in a paint color, but that didn’t satisfy the mixed media part of me.

But it did open my mind to putting down a layer that is unexpected.

What is my first unexpected layer?

The answer was in a trunk of old magazines that I had been holding onto for 30 years.

Here’s a picture of that trunk.

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My husband and I have been married 48 years. We’ve moved houses 11 times. This trunk has moved with me since 1988 and hadn’t been opened in decades. Really.

Why, you might ask, would I haul around a trunk of old magazines? I wrote about it here, if you’re interested in that story.

I wanted to use these magazines for something. And they have become the solution that I now use in most of my work.

Pasting little pieces of paper printed with text as my first layer has eliminated my fear of the blank canvas.

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Then I can add layers of gesso, paint, paper, fabric, etcetera and it all flows for me.

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The added benefit is that this technique has become part of my creative voice. It unifies my work.

Can you see the text under the layers of color?

Can you see the text under the layers of color?

Pasting little pieces of paper on the blank canvas has calmed my irrational fear of the blank canvas.

It might not be the answer for you.

But if you would like to give it a go, I made a copy of one of my backgrounds and saved it. You can download it, print it, and paste it down as your first layer. (The .pdf measures 8½ x 11inches)

BW text.jpg

If you have a solution to overcoming the fear of the blank canvas, I would love to hear about it!

Just reply in the comments.

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Carol WebsterComment