The Scariest Part of Painting | 3 Tips for Facing Your Fear of the Blank Surface

As Halloween approaches, we are again surrounded by all things scary. While readying treats to ward off the threat of tricks being played from throngs of costumed neighborhood children, I was reminded of the scariest thing that artists confront: the blank surface.

facing the blank canvas

Pastel artist, Janis Ellison, contemplates a blank pastel surface.

The instinctual desire to communicate with other human beings has lead to the creation of books, music, paintings and various other forms of self-expression.

As passionate as most artists feel about working, many also express apprehension about getting started. This desire mixed with trepidation reminds me of downhill skiing. The delight of a planned day of skiing often leads to the purchase of new equipment, a wonderful journey to a destination, the exhilaration of the ride up the hill, and the anticipation of the trip down the slope. No matter the excitement, when it comes time to step off and begin the journey, there is that moment of fear: What if I fall? What if I hit a tree? This same aversion to failure is what causes hesitation at the easel with pastel in hand. Here are few ways to encourage confidence and overcome the panic of a blank surface:

Three Tips for Facing Your Fear of the Blank Surface

  1. Consistently use the best equipment possible. Inferior products and ever-changing equipment can lead to a wobbly experience. Painting is like a muscle being trained. It will adapt to the situation. Higher-grade pastels have vastly superior tinting strength. Various pastel surfaces accept pastel very differently. Product experimentation has its purpose, but consistency will make you more technically confident. Would you purposely wear different skis each time you hit the slopes?
  2. Look for coaching from others with more experience. The benefit of their experience an help you avoid repetitive mistakes. It’s difficult to rationally determine the merits of our paintings on our own. Receiving feedback, whether from a class, workshop or mentor can greatly bolster confidence.
  3. When the skier steps off the edge, he is in motion. So too is the painter. Both require instinctive responses. The more we do it, the easier it becomes, but few people ski everyday. If we approach every painting as if it is our shot at the Gold Medal in the Winter Olympics, the more pressure we will feel. Left unchecked, this can lead to anxiety and paralysis. Some days we swoosh down the hill; some days we snow-bunny, occasionally we tumble and might even end up in the hospital. It’s not the individual run that is precious; it is the lifetime of experiences.

Painting, skiing,—even answering the doorbell on Halloween—require confidence. One never knows what awaits. So go ahead, make that mark, step off the edge, and open the door. It’s the surprise that makes it exciting and, of course, being armed with a big bowl of candy is always wise!



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