Blog » 7 Tricks to Overcome Fear of the Blank Page (Tuesday, 24 May 2022)

A coaching client the other day was talking about how the perfect white page or canvas feels intimidating and terrifying. I know the feeling. Still. Yep - even after all these years, sometimes the unblemished foundation can stop me in my tracks, like an impala that just got a whiff of lion scent on a passing breeze.

It's our beautiful, clever brains that are the problem. You see, they think. They talk to us in words and tell us how much we suck (you don't), how we're probably going to fail (you probably won't), how we don't really know what we're doing (you really do), and so on, and so on, and so on, and... I'm sure you're familiar with the experience. You're here, reading about how to overcome blank page paralysis after all. 

One of the beautiful things about your brain is that it believes whatever you tell it, so over time I've learned a few tricks to convince my brain it's safe to start. In no particular order, here they are:

1 Write it out.

This trick is a favourite - especially in my art journal, where I go to tend my wounds and feel better about life. Grab a pencil - graphite, coloured pencil or watercolour pencil works equally well - pour out your fears, grumbles, heartaches and furies. Now by pour out - I mean LET.  IT.  RIP!! Go to TOWN and write all the things. The benefits of this are twofold. First of all, it gets those thoughts out of your head - which can only be a good thing. Second of all, you've probably written stuff you don't especially want anyone else to read, so you're already motivated to smear some paint around to obliterate your words, nicely overcoming any concern about that pristine page you had earlier.

This technique has a built in bonus that I love: As you make some art and cover up what you've written, you physically transform your words from thoughts into art. You breathe life into something beautiful, obliterating your fears and furies. The benefit of it does not end at a physical level - something happens in your brain to those thoughts as well as the transformation on the page. They ease, loosen and lessen their grip.

2 Use an old book page

Apologies to the bibliophiles out there, but ripping pages from old books and using them as the foundation for artwork is great fun and the resulting art has a quality you can't get any other way. You can justify the sacrilege as giving new life to something that would otherwise become landfill. Use them to create Found Poetry, as collage elements, sketch onto them, load them with luscious layers of paint and scratch marks into the paint while it's still wet. Using a foundation that already has something printed on it removes the blank page trauma completely - try making art on old sheet music, junk mail, scrap paper - even empty cereal boxes! The less precious the material, the freer you'll feel. 

3 Take a pencil or ink loaded stick for a 'walk'

Using your non dominant hand, push, pull and drag a pencil or stick loaded with ink across your page. Let yourself get absorbed in the quality of the marks, and how it feels to move the pencil in this unusual way. Now have a look at the marks - turn them upside down and side to side. What can you see? Is there something wanting to come to life on the page? Can you use these marks to build on? Maybe they suggest a landscape? A face? Play with what's there, add shading and some colour and see what evolves.

4 Try Neurographic Art

This option comes with a warning - once you begin this you may not want to stop! Essentially, you begin with a random scribble, then thicken the connections everywhere lines cross one another. You can click here to watch a time laspse of the process over on my Instagram account. 

5 Smear paint with an old debit card

Squeeze a few small blobs of paint randomly across your blank surface. Grab your expired credit card and pull it through the paint like you would a squeegee. You get extra joy points if you use two or three different colours and pull through them together so they mix on the page. Now you have a fun, fast background to draw or paint or collage over.

6 Glue Something down

Grab a few papers - old book pages, printed napkins, sheet music, gift wrap, magazine clippings - anything you can glue down! Cut, tear and glue yourself a collage

7 Trick your brain

You might find it easier to start if you tell yourself that this is just a piece of paper. They make more! Promise yourself that no one ever has to see it - you can go so far as to promise you'll burn it when you're done. Try telling yourself you're exploring, test driving techniques to see what happens. Lower the stakes as far as you can, then lower them some more. This is supposed to be fun. Approach it the same way a three year old would - scribble, be enthusiastic with your movements, loose and free.



Bonus Tip - for longer term relief

Keep a sketchbook near you and draw or paint something in it every day. A small journal in your pocket or bag, or by your armchair to scribble, doodle and sketch when you're in a waiting room or watching mindless TV, offers lots of opportunities to build a habit of conquering the blank canvas. This blog post goes into more detail about a practice I call "Couch Art". 


Hopefully this arms you with a few new ideas to try next time the freeze hits - because what I know for sure is that it WILL. Because that beautiful brain of yours is wired to keep you from taking risks, and making art is risky business. But it's also healing, happy, fun business, and if you're anything like me, you want more healing, happy fun in your life.




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