kieferart  FAQ: Blank Canvas

"I'm staring at a blank canvas. Where do I start?"

I think the answer lies in why you're staring at a blank canvas at all. Here are a few questions to ask yourself:
  • Am I starting another painting because I'm inspired and really want to?
  • Is my hesitancy technical or due to an undeveloped idea?
  • Why did I choose my subject? (be specific)
You don't have to paint unless you have a commission deadline or are being prodded by a gallery owner. But if you are inspired and truly want to paint, there are a million reasons why beginning a new piece can leave us scratching our heads. It's the same blank page writers stare at. It's the same empty stage choreographers need to fill. It's the raw block of marble a sculptor is faced with. The inability to begin is often due to a lack of thorough exploration of your idea. Remember, creating art is not a "thing", it's a form of expression. The medium is simply a vessel for your idea. If your idea isn't solid, you will stand there a very long time. Frustration is your enemy, so do everything you can possibly do to avoid it. Sit down, have a cup of camomile and think through your idea. Stay away from your tools entirely. Concentrate on your subject.

Are you working from life or a photo? Both have their issues. Life is so literal and endless it forces us to condense it drastically and also presents the challenge of changing light. Working from a photo has a built-in periphery, but most often the image is small and sometimes vague in terms of color and detail. Study your subject carefully. Ask yourself specific questions about it.
  1. Does this image reflect MY PERSONAL INTERESTS or is it just something that others would find acceptable?
  2. What WITHIN the subject is visually exciting? Specific shapes formed by light and shadow? Is there a visual "flow" created by that light (inner movement)?
  3. What attracted me to this image? Is there a "story"? Did I have an emotional response?
  4. Are there at least three points of interest (visually) in this subject that I can point to?
  5. Would this image work better as a photo or is it suited for interpretation in my medium?
Write down your answers. Take this examination seriously. You may find that this subject is not worth pursuing after all. Move on. There's nothing worse than being halfway through a painting and realizing it's boring (believe me, I know).

But, if you discover that you just LOVE your subject and that your idea to translate it to canvas is sound ... well then, I'm guessing you're having a technical problem. Once you've analyzed your subject, it should just fall on the canvas. For instance, if you know without a doubt what your points of interest are, you will instinctively place the image on the canvas so that they will be prominent. Those points will visually have focus because you will use sharper edges, more saturated color and a more dynamic value range compared to the rest of the image. You're a human so composition (balance) is natural. Something else to keep in mind ... people, hopefully, will see it. The biggest mistake beginners make is to place the image too large on the canvas. Give your viewer some credit - INVITE them into your world gently. If you want to grab them and yell in their face, go ahead and make the subject YUUUUUUGE, use PRIMARY COLORS, but most often a work of art stays on a wall much longer if it's friendly and inviting.

If after all this you still hesitate, you might want to take a refresher course from someone. It never hurts to review the basics.


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