Since launching the 30 Day Sketchbook Challenge 2018, I have observed a certain theme among some of those that have decided to join me – the fear of the blank page! It’s a form of artist’s block, but it is that fear of looking at the first page (or any blank page) of a sketchbook… and freeze, not very much happens.
To be honest, I totally identify with this feeling, as I have a fear of the blank page as well. A fear of opening a sketchbook for the first time and making a mark. Sometimes I can sit in front of my blank page and think: What do I draw? What if I go wrong? How do I even begin? It’s ‘deer in the headlights’ time.
So in this article, I would like to provide a few helpful tips for getting over this fear. Some of these are my own tricks and tips and some of these tips have been suggested by other artists I know and people working on the sketchbook challenge.
1. Don’t start with a blank page
If a completely blank page is what is preventing you from drawing, don’t start with a blank page! Why not stick in cuttings from magazines, postcards, leaves, images of other artists that you like or photos things you want to draw. Stick in tissue paper to work on, newspaper, old drawings or prints – anything you want so that you don’t have a completely blank page. Some people even suggest spilling some tea or coffee on the blank page!
2. Do the same thing every time you open your sketchbook
Perhaps when you open your sketchbook instead of starting work on something you care about, just do some quick 30-second drawing exercises. This is something I recommend in my book Learning Linocut: A Comprehensive Guide to the Art of Relief Printing Through Linocut, where I list a number of quick exercises that ask you to take an everyday object such as a cup, pair of scissors, spoon, bottle etc and sketch it in different ways. This will help to loosen you up and get you ready for working on something else that you care about.
3. Don’t start on the first page
Personally I much prefer working in a sketchbook that is half full or already started. Opening a completely new sketchbook is where I freeze. I therefore most of the time I start my sketchbooks on the third or fourth page. Weird I know but it works for me! Maybe try that too? Or go find an old half-full sketchbook to work in when you get this kind of artist’s block.
On a similar theme of not wanting to go wrong, sometimes buying a sketchbook that is too nice can put you off from starting. Try working instead in a really cheap sketchbook that you don’t care about. There are some really good shops around that sell cheap sketchbooks or exercise books for £1 or less.
4. Go to art classes
Sketching and drawing can sometimes be a little lonely and also just too big to know where to begin – where do you start? So many topics it is hard to choose. Why not join a local drawing group, life drawing class or art class to give you some handy topics to get started? You will also meet other creative people and this can help to have people to talk to and share your experiences with. Very often they will have set themes they will be working on and this can give you some subject matter to work on.
5. Try writing or journalling instead
Journalling can be a very helpful way of unlocking your creativity. Ideally on a daily basis, just open a notebook or journal and start writing whatever comes into your head. If that means you write about what is stopping you from drawing, then write about that. In Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way: A Course in Discovering and Recovering Your Creative Self she calls it her morning pages – three pages of writing before you start the day. Maybe this will help you to unlock your creativity? Or, instead of a proper journalling task, why not just write a few lines or words in your sketchbook? Who says that sketchbooks are only for picture or images – start writing instead of drawing and maybe this will lead you into some sketches.
6. Process not perfection
I am a typical Virgo and seek perfection in what I do. I also think too much about the end result, especially when sketching. Can this be used in a print? Can I use these drawings in my next book? I really have to remind myself with a mantra such as ‘process not perfection’ that I am sketching for sketching’s sake. No one has to look at my drawings other than me and they aren’t finished works of art, they are sketches. In fact some of the most fun I have had sketching is late at night, home alone with a glass of wine in hand! I just relax and enjoy the process.
7. Narrow your topic
If looking at your blank page makes you think – ‘I don’t even know where to begin’, try narrowing down your topic. Come up with a theme or topic to work with and set yourself a project. Sometimes there is too much choice and like a deer in the headlights we just freeze rather than do anything at all. If you have lots of project ideas (which many creative people do), list them all and then pick the one you feel most comfortable with. Park the other ideas for now – you will have time to come back to them later.
8. Take a walk
A tried and tested method and a very good one. If your inspiration has dried up, don’t sit there looking at your blank page for hours, go take a walk. Let it go and just enjoy the walk. You may well find that by the time you come back, you have an idea or two to work with. And if not, don’t fret, you just had a lovely walk in the fresh air!
9. Seek inspiration from the things around you
Still life studies of things around you can be a great way to just get yourself started with drawing or sketching. Sit down with your sketchbook and pencils/pens and then look to your right and left – what do you see? What every day object can you draw? I see a fruit bowl, a laptop, a make up bag and bottle of PVA glue and a few pens right now… Any of these would make great subject matter for drawings. Try it!
10. Take up a sketching/drawing challenge!
And if none of the above get you past your artist’s block or fear of drawing / getting started, then take up a drawing or sketching challenge. I am running a 30 Day Sketchbook Challenge starting on 01.01.18, which will provide everyone taking part with a drawing prompt every day for 30 days. There is also a Facebook support group so we will be a big happy family of people building up a regular drawing habit. Sometimes, something like this can give you the motivation that you need, taking the thinking out of it and force you to work to a set theme every day. Click here for more information.
Good luck with your drawing and sketching!
Don’t forget that drawing, sketching and creativity is a habit and skill that gets better and more developed with time – the more you do it the better you get.
Enjoy your sketching and let’s get rid of that fear of the blank page!