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How to Get Started on a Blank Canvas

Guest Author - Maribeth Lysen

Sometimes the blank canvas or art journal page can be paralyzing. We want what we create to match the vision in our head and/or the lovely artwork you see in galleries and online. We want our artwork to be beautiful and fully-formed. We don't want to waste time and money spent on supplies on a project we don't love. All of that can keep us from facing down the blank canvas. In addition to that line of thinking, if you're hoarding that special piece of paper, expensive brush, or new stencil for the perfect project you just might be caught by your fear of failure, by perfectionism.

Here's the thing, Nike had it right, you just gotta do it. To improve you have to give yourself permission to practice, to be a beginner. Think back to preschool. Preschool is the best. All the paint, paper, and brushes you could ever want plus you were allowed to paint with your fingers. Honest. Paint covered fingers totally socially acceptable. And whatever you created you loved. Thought it was the best thing ever. And it was. You thought this after every creation.

Now that you are a few years past preschool, you might find yourself to be self-conscious, criticizing, and thanks to the awesome vastness and sensory overload that is the internet, not as good as the other artists out there. Ditch all that. Give yourself permission to be the preschooler again. Delight in your creations. Push paint around the canvas with wild abandon. I'm even a fan of sticking up your work on the refrigerator.

The best way to get back to your creative roots, your creative beginning is to not take yourself so seriously. If you do something you hate, you can always cover it up with gesso and start over. Gesso is an amazing eraser.

The best trick I know to getting started is to give yourself permission to work in small snatches of time. You don't need hours of uninterrupted time to create. Ten minutes can get your first background layer down on an art journal or canvas. By working in small increments, there is less pressure to have to create a masterpiece. Telling yourself you only have to do ten minutes can help you get into your painting grove. A little bit every day counts. Each ten minute increment is part of your practice stage. Ten minutes can lead to twenty the next day and thirty the next. Each of these 10 minute moments become stackable. Pretty soon you have an entire painting finished, a whole set of art journal pages complete.

One great way to face down a blank canvas is to take a spray bottle (I picked mine up from a big-box home improvement store for a few dollars and its a tool I use on almost every project) and wet your entire canvas. Then drip some ink on your canvas and/or splash on some paint. Watch the way the water moves the color.

Still stuck? Grab some scrapbook papers or a picture from a magazine with colors you love. Next pull out some paints, pastels, inks, or whatever medium you want to work in that are in that same color family. Use the color as your starting point.

This is also a great time time pull out our inspiration sketchbook and mine the ideas contained within its pages. Flip through and pull out the first idea that catches your eye or inspires you.

Another way to start is the simple act of slapping on some gesso. Simply having a brush in your hand can loosen up your creative muscles. After putting down a layer of black or white gesso, you can cover your background with tissue paper, decorative papers, wall paper, a single paint color, color wash, or gel medium to get you past the blank canvas. Whatever gets you started is perfect. Once you've pushed past your initial resistance trust that the rest will begin to fall into place. If it doesn't, grab the gesso and start over (but sleep on it before you cover everything up. It may look different to after you've had some distance).

Setting yourself up to be ready to create anytime you can crave out those ten minutes is imperative. By making sure your work area is ready to go you are more likely to get going. This means you have to take a minute or so to clean your brushes and paints at the end of each session. My mom calls this being a good brush momma. You want to take care of your supplies and by doing this it helps set you up for success and saves you time and money.

Happy creating,

Maribeth Lysen
BellaOnline Painting Editor

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Content copyright © 2014 by Maribeth Lysen. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Maribeth Lysen. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Christine Sharbrough for details.

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