How to Overcome the Fear of a Blank Page

When you're stuck on an empty page, it's easy to feel like you've failed. Blank page anxiety overwhelms us, and we feel uninspired.

Every single one of us, at some point, has experienced this.

We take our art materials out, sit down with the best intentions to draw and then... NOTHING.

What now? What can I draw? Maybe I suck at this; real artists would not feel this way... etc.

The doubt creeps in, and we feel stuck.

When you first approach a blank page, you are met with nothing but unlimited possibilities. Decision paralysis! Do you practice gestures? Perhaps anatomy? No, not today. Perspective?

I haven't met a single artist who hasn't experienced this to some extent.

The endless options overwhelm and paralyse you. It can leave you feeling incompetent, and you tend to lose your sense of confidence.

Additionally, if you've told yourself there is no way you can draw the thing you want to, you've already detached yourself from the possibilities a blank page can offer you.

But what if you took the fear out? What is the least you can commit to?

Bauhaus teacher Paul Klee prescribes 'taking a line for a walk'.

Paul Klee describes this in his Pedagogical Sketchbook of 1925 as:

"An active line on a walk, moving freely, without a goal. A walk for a walk's sake. The mobility agent is a point, shifting its position forward."

 Paul Klee - In Angel's Care

Paul Klee - In Angel's Care. This is a file from the Wikimedia Commons. Source: Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation. United States public domain.

What does that mean?

From what I understand, Klee asks us to wander the page, without a goal, without the need for a 'perfect' image. This is something that all of us have done as children. We pick up a pencil, crayon and just draw. Who cares, even if it's on the wall, the sheets, or the floor?

We lose this sense of curiosity just to explore as we get older. I think it is highly important not to forgo it altogether. We must squeeze in the chance to let loose and just 'wander'.

All of us have the ability to explore. By that, I mean anyone can draw. Anyone can experience the inexpressible benefits of drawing. Irrespective of whether we feel shackled to our beliefs of how capable or not we are.

So how do we put these ideas into practice?

Here are 5 tips to help you overcome your fear of the blank page

Silence Your Inner Critic

Don't overthink what your next drawing should be about. Ignore the loud voices in your head criticising every idea you come up with. Pick a topic and just run with it. What's the worst that could happen, a bad drawing? So what?! Embrace your mistakes and imperfect work. They are all learning experiences.

Silence your inner critic to draw more.

As you draw, more ideas will come to you. Drop the ones that are not working and develop those that are good.

Get Random

Jump right in and learn to listen to your impulses. It was so natural as children, yet we struggle to be spontaneous as we grow older. Pick an unusual colour to draw with. Open your sketchbook to a random page rather than going chronologically. Pick a medium that you normally avoid. But don't let your inner critic stop you from having fun.

Drawing prompts for artists.

Need a little nudge with ideas? Try my drawing prompts list. Download it here.

Build habits to support you

If you have been following this blog, then you know I preach about keeping a sketchbook habit. Getting good at drawing takes practice and patience. You must draw every day or as often as possible to improve your skills.

Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work." - Stephen King.

Don't wait to feel inspired. Show up daily and commit to it; then, the blank page will not seem so intimidating.

Draw What You See

Don't know what to draw? Sketch what's around you. Everyday items such as your lunch, table, chair, cap, toothbrush, etc. can serve as inspiration. Drawing mundane things around your house is a great way to improve your observation skills. The best part is that these sketches are added to your mental visual library.

Draw everyday items in your house.

What do you love to do? What's your favourite book? What kind of stories do you enjoy telling? Figure out what makes your life distinctive and draw those objects representing you.

Celebrate your mistakes

Often, we are filled with dread when we notice a mistake in our work. Does it matter? Not really. Just move on to your next drawing and use your mistakes as a learning experience.

Most times, the drawings that make you cringe are the ones that others might admire. While the errors might be glaring to you, others won't even notice them. Be brave and accept that you are going to make errors. You're human. Your errors give your work character and flavour it with your personality. Learn to embrace these 'flaws'.

Yes, I understand that it's easier said than done. I am right there in the trenches with you, my friend. I struggle with needing my work to look perfect too.

But we must remember that we don't need to create masterpieces every time we sit down to draw.

A drawing has the potential to be just an exploration or the start of a structured plan to study something. We need both, the exploration and the plan, as a way to keep that child who began to draw when she first held a pencil alive.

Perhaps we can just try to wander and 'take a line for a walk' and see where we end up.

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