Blank Canvas

March 12, 2008 at 1:56 am 6 comments

blank canvas

The phrase “blank canvas” gets used a lot in everyday speech. It evokes an image of a blank white surface, waiting for the first mark, the first touch of paint.

It’s pristine, unblemished, expectant. It’s intimidating. It calls to mind Gene Fowler’s description of writing: “Writing is easy. All you do is stare at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.


But in fact this isn’t how you go about creating at all. No one in their right mind starts with an utterly blank canvas or blank sheet of paper. They’d just end up staring at it helplessly. Creativity doesn’t work like that.

No, first you go off by yourself, nowhere near a canvas. You think, you muse, you ponder.

You look around, go for a hike, take in a movie, riffle through your sketchbook, look at art books, magazines, photos. Ideas bubble to the surface, inspired by what you’re looking at, or maybe jarred loose by thinking about something utterly unrelated.

You scribble, sketch, jot down notes, make an outline. You play with colors, messing with paints or pastels or crayons or colored pencil. There’s no pressure at this stage. No finished product is expected. You might use scratch paper, or a scruffy sketchbook, or a private journal. There’s freedom to erase, redo, scratch out, throw away.

At some point, after all this messing about, you’ve got an idea cooking. That’s when you pull out the paper or canvas.

You start writing down the names of your novel’s main characters. You outline the main plot points. You rough in the main masses of your painting, lights and darks, basic shapes. You make sure that it looks like it’s going to work, then you proceed to refine, adding color, texture, details.

Before you know it, you’re painting or writing and that blank canvas wasn’t a hurdle at all. Quite the opposite: it was a natural part of the creative process.

Anyway, for me a blank canvas isn’t white. It’s red.

red canvas

I don’t paint a canvas red until I know exactly what I’m going to do with it. Bigger ones like this one (which I just finished painting red) take longer to prepare. This delays the gratification of jumping into the actual painting process, but I think the delay is good for me. The anticipation builds my enthusiasm for the task ahead.


Entry filed under: Creativity, Landscape, Painting, Process, Quotes.

Back to Phthalo Blue Blank no more


  • 1. Cynthia  |  March 12, 2008 at 12:01 pm

    Thanks so much for the visit! I couldn’t have said that better myself. When I used to paint – I painted my canvas orange before beginning the actual painting.

    Now with clay, I have so many things I want to do, I force myself to choose.

  • 2. Blank no more « Barbara J Carter  |  March 14, 2008 at 4:06 pm

    […] is just a small part of the no-longer blank canvas shown in my last […]

  • 3. Peggy C.  |  April 14, 2008 at 10:49 pm

    I love it! For you, a blank canvas isn’t white. It’s red! That struck me as funny! And with the canvas showing the transition-perfect.

    It’s a pleasure watching you work.

  • 4. “San Joaquin Prairie” painting « Barbara J Carter  |  May 15, 2008 at 12:15 pm

    […] the way, this painting is the finished version of the canvas shown in my posts “Blank Canvas” and “Blank no more“. Yes, the big ones do take a […]

  • 5. jenny  |  December 25, 2008 at 7:59 am

    can you tell me what to paint on really small canvases???

  • 6. Work in Progress - the Grid « Barbara J Carter  |  February 10, 2009 at 8:40 pm

    […] steps I go through before I lay paintbrush to canvas. The first layer of paint on the canvas is a solid red coat, all over the front as well as all 4 sides. But this is all just preparatory to the real painting […]

Barbara J Carter

I'm an artist. I make paintings with dots.

I work in acrylic paint, in a couple of distinct styles: landscapes and abstracts.

Native to California, I've lived elsewhere and only recently returned to my home state. I now live in Los Angeles.

I mostly show my art in outdoor festivals in California. I also occasionally show my work in art galleries or open studio events. You can see an up-to-date list of upcoming shows on my website (click here).

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Why I call my landscapes neo-Pointillist landscape paintings

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