It’s been said that the scariest thing for an artist is the clean white page or canvas. This is true, especially with a brand new sketch book. I can tell you that I have this glorious sketchbook I bought in Italy over 20 years ago – fabulous because it’s cover is embossed with a detail of Botticeli’s Primavera and every time I see it I fall in love all over again.
Truth – I haven’t put one mark in it. In fact, aside from the few minutes it took to take its picture, it’s usually tucked away on my bookshelf collecting dust bunnies.
Honestly, I have a ton of other sketchbooks that I am using more then ever now that I’ve started on my surface design path and rediscovered my love of sketching so I’m sure I’ll get to my Botticelli baby in the next few months. But the truth is, a white page is totally intimidating. Same can be said for a blank white wall when I’m about to start a mural. That first step is always the hardest. It’s a fear of creating something imperfect on that perfectly pristine piece of paper or that perfectly white wall. If you can’t relate, I can tell you, it’s a horrible feeling. But, it can all be solved by just getting started with a simple mark.
This reminds me of a book I recently came across called ‘The Dot’ by Peter H. Reynolds. It’s a children’s book about a little girl who doesn’t think she’s an artist. The teacher tells her just to make a mark on the paper – so she does. She comes into class the next day to see her paper framed and hanging on the wall. She goes on to create an entire series of dots that are utterly fabulous hung together on the wall.
The part that really stuck with me is that each dot may not have been fabulous, but together they were magnificent. So yes, you will most definitely draw some duds in that sketchbook , or have to redo your first few marks on the wall or canvas, but it will all come together in the end. You just have to get started.
Here are my 5 tips to get started on a white surface, whatever it may be.
1. Splatter it – Start with watercolor or inks and a watercolor brush. Stick to light colors to achieve a subtle texture that you can draw over. Saturate your brush with water and a bit of color, then tap your bush on your finger so the paint splatters onto your page. Now you have two choices…you can wait for it to dry then draw over, or go with the marks that you’ve made to create something unexpected.
2. Tint it – Get rid of the problem altogether by tinting your page. Watercolor is a great way to do this if your paper is on the thicker side. You can also use charcoal or soft pastel to lightly tint the entire page with color. If you opt for charcoal you use your eraser as your drawing tool and pull out the lights. You can then go back in with your charcoal or pencil to put in your darks. If you’re a coffee or tea drinker, use either to stain your page. Who doesn’t love a sepia toned page. It’ll give your sketch that old world charm.
3. Frame it – It’s amazing how much a frame elevates an artwork but this is usually the last step in the creative process. What if we flip that around. Start by drawing a frame along the edges of your page. It doesn’t have to be elaborate – just start with a simple square or rectangle and see where it takes you. It may turn into something pretty fantastic. Think vintage hand painted signs. I have a friend Phil McKenney who does this with each of his pieces.
4. Add Text – The simple act of writing a word or phrase on a page can help rid that initial hesitation. Maybe it’s written along the binding of the sketchbook or in a curve across the top of the page. However you do it, use it as your starting point and run with it.
5. Fold it – Fold your page in half or thirds toward the center binding. Start from the corners and fold in origami style. You can even crinkle the page. The idea is to make that page less pristine and add some texture. Now unfold and use all that new character as a starting point.
Whatever method you choose, go at it with gusto. It’s just a page after all. Don’t let it collect dust, let it live.