When I say canvas, I mean “page”, if you write, “source code file”, if you programme, “blank recording medium”, if you are a musician, or “spatial void”, if you sculpt. You get the gist. How do you overcome that fear of having literally nothing in front of you except a blank medium, with infinite possibilities to choose from, but with nothing yet committed?
What works for me, when I paint, is to fill the canvas as quickly as possible with something. Anything. It can be a wash of colour, applied with a sponge, some large and outlandish brush strokes made with a huge brush, some scumbled patterns applied with the biggest palette knife you can lay your hands on, or some coloured squares or swirls. The important thing is to get rid of that blankness, as quickly and fearlessly as you can.
What I find is that, having obliterated the blankness, the stuff that exists immediately begins to suggest what to do next. It’s a form of magic, this. You find yourself very quickly and very confidently blocking in. The blocking in process begins to suggest more relationships and before you know it, you have the bare bones of a promising painting, at best, or a series of shapes you can now go back and adjust, in the worst case. What you don’t have any more is a blank canvas.
My way of painting is to keep using the biggest possible brush or knife I can until I just cannot physically render the finer details I am working on. By the time I get to that stage in the painting, it’s mainly all there. The rest is simply a progression to finer and finer tools to adjust the details. Sometimes, I don’t even bother with the details.
I suggest this is a good method of overcoming any blank page scenario. Put something on it. It hardly matters what, at first. Just don’t leave things blank for too long. The mark you make begins the dialogue between artist and medium. It’s the ice breaker. Once the conversation starts, it generally takes on its own momentum.
Making the first mark is easy if you choose to make it something broad and sweeping, with panache. If your aim is firstly to achieve coverage, then you won’t find yourself obsessing with details prematurely.
Try this out. It can be extraordinarily liberating.