Saturday, March 19, 2011

Are painters afraid of a blank canvas? Here's what some of you commented

"Skull of a Skeleton with Burning Cigerette," Vincent van Gogh (1885 - 1886), oil on canvas

“The canvas has an idiotic stare and mesmerizes some painters so much that they turn into idiots themselves.

"Many painters are afraid in front of the blank canvas, but the blank canvas is afraid of the real, passionate painter who dares and who has broken the spell of ‘you can’t' once and for all.”

Vincent van Gogh, October 1884, in a letter to his brother, Theo.

My 19 Feb. post (ArtTraveler hits the wall (with paint): Are painters afraid of a blank canvas?”) inspired your responses to Van Gogh’s challenge and my question.

Here are some of them:

Jill Price: I used to be, but I have found a little trick to help me break the ice with the pristine surface. Before I start a painting, I do a wash of colour on top of the canvas. The fear just seems to fade away with the immediacy of this action.

Another ritual I read about, which helps people get over the value of the raw materials and maybe a little bit over themselves, is the act of making and immediately destroying their work. 

I have torn up paintings when still wet!

Ginny Gaura: I’ve gone through periods where I am afraid of the palette, not the canvas. I am an oil, acrylic and watercolor painter, and the solution I found for myself is to shift to a different medium, like ink or pencil on paper.

Sergio Scalet: I love a blank canvas. I need it. My brain is full!

Gary Falkenstern: Just think of the possibilities! Like diving into a pool of water, you may not want to get cold and wet, but once you are in, then the fun begins.

You need something to bounce off of. It could be a drawing, real or abstract, a gesture or just colors. If you go into it with a preconceived idea, I feel you can be closed off to many other possibilities.

Also, I never gesso a canvas. I apply rabbit skin glue and leave the natural cotton duck to my background. That way even white becomes a color.

Sabine Vess:  Yes.

Miguel Dominguez: Are painters afraid of a blank canvas? Not the Rothko types.

Dawn Blair: Blank, no. It’s usually if I’ve started with a plan and added some color to the canvas that I start to feel the fear.

If I hate the underpainting, I know I usually have a good painting coming. But if I feel indifferent about it, that’s when the fear comes. Should I continue, shift gears or proceed?

Often I end up staring at that canvas for a long time (sometimes months) before I know what I need to do. Any one else go through this? (Emphasis mine.)

Miguel Dominguez: A very good friend of mine, Ruth Anderson, tells me that before she creates any of her art, be it painting, photo or sculpture, she already has a vision in her mind as to what she wants to do.

I, on the other hand, have an idea that I constantly elaborate on as I go along.

Ken Church: Me, I sit in wonderment at this blank space. I wonder what it will become which for me, is quite exciting, and even though I know it won’t be that good!

S. Hatter: I have gotten to look at white as a blank canvas whether it is a wall, a sheet of paper or canvas. Add a little paint and you just start creating on that blank canvas. It’s exciting to place my brush full of paint, making that first stroke.

Symone Colina: Maybe…when I get a nice, beautiful, almost naked canvas, in its shyness, this blank canvas in my hands. I get my brush and paint, and off I go, covering it up, like I cannot stand the look of it and in the end I even frame it.

Marcia Dietz: No. It is when I launch my baby out into the cold hard world of art criticism that scares me. (MFA student.)

Karen Penrith: Why would there ever be fear? Personally, I approach the creating of beautiful art works with joy, excitement, mental and emotional stimulation.

It is the job of art to be provocative and controversial and to stimulate thinking and discussions, to make social statements.

Creating beauty is the highest form of intelligence. It requires artists to have courage, to be bold adventurers.

Iwas Willbe: No, there should be no need for fear to exist unless the painter has no idea what to do, in which case he or she needs to go back to square one and develop concepts further. 

This may mean questioning, researching, analyzing, testing and sketching your chosen subject matter.

Your subject matter that you are interpreting is most likely something you closely understand or feel about.

Michael Gallagher: Tabula rasa is the essence of art…I hold a rock or view a large piece of wild marble, perhaps a slate piece from a Scottish hillside.
The form in itself is art; its angst maybe wants to emerge. 

I hold it, the raw feel of what it desires to become, or to remain raw…then only nature or the loneliest of artist or sculptor or mason can appreciate that the blank canvas is all.

Katy Mutton: Just about every artist I know has that feeling with a blank surface. Those who paint and draw or printmakers with clean copper plates. But it really makes that initial mark so exciting.

Meikie Knappert: I’ve been there, sat with a pencil in my hand, sketch book empty! However, at the moment so many ideas in my head and not enough time to do them.

Should I save some for a blank canvas day?

Susan Y.: I usually have a painting in mind, build the space and start.

With that said, here is my confession: I have several blank white canvases on my canvas cart, bought ‘on special.’ I have yet to fill. 

I think I have an issue with square compositions, even though I have loved the work others have done within that format.

John Alcock: Yes, indeed a vast sea of white canvas is intimidating as we feel we must have a creative idea or concept to consume it. Our very creative nature demands an answer to this perplexing problem.

Ann Mundy: I find art an addiction. It's a way to lose myself and calm me down. Regardless of the outcome, I always learn something.

Andrea Spinelli: I paint to earn a living every single day of my life. Usually, I receive commissions-orders from art dealers. I am not afraid at all. It has become a natural and spontaneous thing like eating or breathing.

Rock on and practice love and peace.

Stefan, the ArtTraveler ™

New ArtTraveler video: My street comes alive on 7 March in flash fiesta celebrating Carnival in Canillas de Albaida, Andalulsia (59 seconds).

"Changing Weather," photograph by Stefan van Drake
Check out a walking holiday or week-long sculpture or mosaics workshops in our mountains, about 40 minutes drive to the Mediterranean coast: 

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