Monday, 5 December 2011

The blank canvas syndrome

This article was first published in "Frequency Magazine" – December 2011.

Writers have blank page issues and painters may encounter the blank canvas syndrome: a dry spell where we lose the energy to paint, the appetite for creating or the habit of drawing. We become too busy with our life or feel in a rut, making again and again the same painting.

A period of rest from the easel is not a bad thing if it’s not for too long. I find pauses necessary to incubate ideas or assimilate new explored territory. However, there is a risk that you break your good habit of creating daily. One way to take a break without really stopping is to explore a different medium or a new technique.

If you have stopped painting for some times and you feel down because of it, the best way out is not to ask yourself “why?” but just to take small steps to get back into it. Artists are “makers” and it’s by making that we find again our artist way. Here are five suggestions to end a dry spell:

1. Start small: do a small sketch or a small study in oil, watercolour or acrylic. It will only take you ten minutes to an hour – not much time really. The main obstacle is often to get started and if you tell yourself “I am just going to make a small study, nothing much really”, your brain stops worrying about it and you passed the first hurdle.

2. Go plein-air. Painting plein-air (i.e. on location) offers a different sensation. As you are outside of your house, distractions will not get on your way. As you go on your painting expedition, you carve out painting time in your schedule. The change of scenery is also good for your morale and feed your inspiration.

3. Visit a museum or an art gallery. Looking at art always gives me the urge to paint. Seeing art works “in the flesh” is different from browsing mere reproductions. You can see the texture and feel the touch of the artist.

4. Read art books and art magazines. Read widely: artists’ biographies or correspondence, artists’ writings, art instructions books and articles. Read for 30 minutes and then start a small work.

5. Consult your idea file. If you don’t have an idea file, it’s a good time to start one. I have a notebook that I carry around and make notes of ideas for future paintings. It can be anything from subject matters, a particular location where I could paint on site, a quick thumbnail of a composition or a possible title for a future piece. Going through your old paintings may also prove a valuable exercise, by bringing you ideas on where you want to go next.

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