Q: Many artists can’t bear to face “a blank canvas.” How do you feel about starting a new piece?

Starting a painting

Starting a painting

A:  That’s an interesting question because I happen to be reading The War of Art by Steven Pressfield and this morning I saw this:  

You know, Hitler wanted to be an artist.  At eighteen he took his inheritance, seven hundred kronen, and moved to Vienna to live and study.  He applied to the Academy of Fine Arts and later to the school  of architecture.  Ever see one of his paintings?  Neither have I.  Resistance beat him.  Call it overstatement but I’ll say it anyway:  it was easier for Hitler to start World War II than it was for him to face a blank square of canvas.

I’ve never understood this fear of “the blank canvas” because I am always excited about beginning a new painting.  When you think about it, every professional artist can say,  “In the history of the planet no one has ever made what I am about to make!”  Once again  I am looking at something new on my easel,  even if it is only a blank 40” x 60” piece of sandpaper clipped to a slightly larger piece of foam core.  Unlike artists who are paralyzed before “a blank canvas,” I am energized by the imagined possibilities of all that empty space!  I spend up to three months on a painting so this experience of looking at a blank piece of paper on my easel happens four or five times a year at most.  Excluding travel to remote places, which is essential to my work and endlessly fascinating, the first day I get to spend blocking in a new painting is the most exhilarating part of my whole creative process.  This is art-making at its freest!  I select the pastel colors quickly, without thinking about them, first imagining them, then feeling, looking, and reacting intuitively to what I’ve done, always correcting and trying to make the painting look better.    

Comments are welcome.

About barbararachkoscoloreddust

Barbara’s thoughts on art, the creative process, soft pastel, the inspiration she finds in travel, what it’s like to be an artist in New York, and other wisdom for artists as we travel our solitary and sometimes lonely roads.

Posted on October 7, 2012, in 2012, An Artist's Life, Art in general, Art Works in Progress, Black Paintings, Creative Process, Inspiration, Painting in General, Pastel Painting, Photography, Quotes, Studio, Travel, Working methods and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. that quote about it being easier to start a war than face a blank canvas is so funny- you simply have to know this life is yours. then its not difficult- its your life!

  2. thanks for the great post. it reminds me that i have to bring more structure into my blogging. your blog is very interesting. please let me know how to go for your rss blog. lista de email lista de email lista de email lista de email lista de email

  3. I read that quote about Hitler a few times even before I read Pressfield’s book. His notion that “.. it was easier for Hitler to start World War II than it was for him to face a blank square of canvas” struck a false note for me. It may be one of the most flippant remarks I’ve read in this context. Easier to conceive of and organize the systematic killing of millions of people than face a blank canvas? Hard to fathom.

    Hi Barbara, sorry to introduce myself with a criticism – not aimed at you, but at the author you quoted.. I came to your site from your comments on Brian Sherwin’s post on Fine Art Views, and I’m so glad I found it. Your work is truly wonderful, and your posts are inspirational and heartening. Thank you.

    • Mineke, I certainly agree about the Hitler comment. It is so outrageous I thought Pressfield must be making a joke. Thank you very much for the kind words about my work and blog! I deeply believe that artists must help each other as it’s a very difficult life.

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