a blank canvas photo

Why is the blank canvas so intimidating and more importantly what can we do to counteract this phenomenon?

When you are first beginning to paint, confronting a blank canvas, is a bit like a performer going on stage.  Actors call it stage fright. Artists – well I call it Pencil Paralysis – as it applies to the white page as much as the pristine canvas.  Why do we fear beginning so much?  

Fear of failure would be my guess.  Particularly adults.  Have you ever watched children who are given a box of crayons and a piece of paper? Do they take ten minutes trying to decide what to draw? Do they worry about what it’s going to look like – hardly!

children drawing photo

When it comes to creativity adults are at a distinct disadvantage. Why? Ego is the main reason.  We have a facade to preserve.  A certain reputation to uphold. We have learnt somewhere along the way that failure is not ok and heaven forbid that we might look stupid! Learning something new always brings up those anxieties, we feel stupid even though we don’t want to look stupid.  So we often feel that it’s better to not begin at all. If I don’t begin – I can’t fail!

Oddly enough this kind of paralysis doesn’t just happen to beginners. Veteran actors and musicians have been known to have terrible stage fright before a performance, even though they have been performing for years. The fact is that every new canvas, every new performance, brings up performance anxiety.  Will I do OK, will I make a fool of my self, or will I outright fail?

Something I often talk about as an artist is the concept of failing forward.  teaching ourselves that it is alright to fail, to not measure up to the high standard we set for ourselves. If we can grab onto the fact that every failure leads us one step closer to success, we can learn to see failure, as not a bad thing, but a positive step.

Every artwork that has ever been created has been done so along the path of many mistakes. There is, however, something particularly daunting about a white canvas.  So one solution is to give it an undercoat of some kind.  I usually give mine a thin coat of acrylic burnt sienna or raw umber.  For some reason, it is easier, to begin with, a coloured background than it is on a white one.



blank_canvas,Undercoated canvas,kdira_jennings

Undercoated canvas



Other artists will draw up their picture and then put a very thin layer of paint as an undercoat, in different colours on different parts of the canvas.

Many artists offer the advice of just putting some colour onto the blank canvas.  Where is not important – it is breaking through the white canvas barrier that is important.

So why not give it a try? Allow yourself to be daunted by the tyranny of the white canvas – no longer!


This Weeks Question: How do you overcome pencil paralysis?

Look For Next Week’s PostWhat Is Unfolding In The Studio This Month?












Pix Credits: 

Photo by ReillyButler