Help, I Have a Blank Canvas

Starting a new painting is much like a writer starting a new project. Writers are told to just write if they are stuck. Just do stream of consciousness until the brain kicks into gear. Well sometimes it’s the same thing for a painter. Sometimes just experimenting with colour and strokes is enough to engage the creative side.

No matter the level you are at, everyone experiences writer’s block, or for us, painter’s block. I tell every beginner and even some experienced painters, this is where a large sketch book or scrap book come in handy.

I have learned that if nothing comes to you when you sit down to paint, stand up. Just kidding. Writing or journalling in your sketch book is a great habit to get into. You can write what you learn from someone else, an idea for a painting, or an experiment. You can sketch an idea and work out the best composition before you start.

In other words, there is no bad journaling. Plus it gets the creative juices flowing. I have even done acrylic paint sketches in the book. If you don’t want to commit to a canvas or board, use paper. I like to experiment in my book though because I want a record of my progress. It’s sometimes encouraging to see that you did progress, especially on those days when you hate your work and yourself.

I encourage people of all ages new to the world of painting to start their first sketches and tests in a book. But a big roll of newsprint is ideal for multiple experiments. I have a friend who has an ideal approach to experimenting with color and technique. He cuts off 10 sheets off a roll of whatever size suits him and then proceeds to experiment until he is happy with his technique. Then he does a finished product on canvas or watercolor paper. This is an ideal approach.

When you wade into painting for the first time as an adult, cut yourself some slack. First of all. Everything you try will be rough, ugly and way below your expectations. That is to be expected. Determine that your first 100 paintings will be crap. If one shines, be happy, but don’t think you have arrived.

What most painters forget, or fail to see, is that the journey is the reward. The first handful of sold paintings will affirm your belief in yourself, but you have countless efforts to go. Now I was, in my opinion, very lucky to have struck oil on my first attempt. It went rapidly downhill from there. But after another 50 or so paintings, I began to sell paintings. Boy was I ever tickled when the first one sold. It never gets old.

I have a theory about finished, successful paintings. Even if they sit in the attic for years, someone is going to see it eventually and fall in love with it. It was the person who was meant to see it. I feel the good paintings belong to someone, I just don’t know who yet. It makes me so happy to see someone fall in love with my work. Putting money where their mouth is, verifies the compliments.

Let’s Go!

There are several ways to start a painting. The first is similar to writing. You don’t know what you’re thinking until you start writing. So in that vein, begin with cheap paint and a disposable medium like inexpensive paper or canvas pads or canvas boards.

I like to use disposable paper palettes, much like waxed paper. You can use something disposable like a plastic lid or foam plates and put out a variety of colors. I recommend starting with your three primary colors, red, yellow and blue. Add spots of white and a little black if you must.

Then select some common inexpensive paint brushes and begin your experiments. Use a pallet knife to mix your colors and wipe it off on paper towel. Keep a container of water nearby and you’re off.

Begin by mixing some colors together to see what happens. I’ll get into color theory later but for now just have fun mixing paints together and take some paint on a brush and start making marks. Experiment with different size brushes and see what you can make with each brush. Don’t worry about making a picture, just see how the brushes work. Try angle brushes (they taper from one side to the other at a 45 degree angle). You can make a huge variety of strokes with just one brush. Many watercolorists use the angle brush a lot for maximum flexibility of strokes.

Do not leave your brushes sitting in the water for too long and certainly don’t leave brushes with paint on them sitting on the bench for long. As you will find, the beauty of acrylic paint is it dries fast. paradoxically, the good thing about acrylic paint is it dries fast. So user beware and adjust.

Speaking of dry paint on brushes, I’ll detour for a sec. You can rescue them mostly by dipping them briefly in methyl hydrate or rubbing alcohol. The alcohol melts acrylic paint like magic.

I know this is painfully basic stuff at the moment, but I can’t assume everyone is advanced. Moving on. Let me be clear. You never achieve all the effects you’re looking for with brushes or palette knives. It has been said that every painting is a success because you learn something new from it. Even if you only learn what doesn’t work. We are always learning, so if you can’t succeed in making a “nice friendly tree,” right away, the practice session on scrap paper or in your notebook will always be a great place to learn.

One thing that bothers or distracts new painters is what kind of media to use. Even the most experienced painters will switch from one type of paint to another on occasion. Painters are always growing, adjusting, experimenting and combining methods. We will even use thing not intended for paint. Some will use cement or grouting trowels on a large canvas. Monet used a six-foot long stick taped tpo his brush to get a better vantage point and to force himself to use looser brushstrokes.

Media- As In What To Work With

Oil paint is workable for a long time and has a unique texture

To Live and Die with Art

I’m a painter. I’m not even ashamed to say so. The palette knife is my favorite tool but I do use the brush. I’m not the worst or even in the middle among the millions of artists around the world.

But let’s face it. No matter how good we think we are, there is always someone better at expressing themselves in our chosen area of expression. So the only person you can and should compare yourself to is yourself. That is so easy to say but human nature is irresistible. So the best we can do is to remind ourselves that improvemnt is the real goal, no matter what level you’re at.

It’s not for me to tell you how you should paint, or which style is best. In the following blog spots, I will always swear at you by saying the only thing you SHOULD do is…..PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE.

You still here after seeing those words? ALL methods, ideas, techniques and styles always come down to practice. I will try to share my knowledge, some methods, and some ideas, but let’s be honest with ourselves; there’s no magic method. No door, once entered, to greatness. If you don’t spend the time to perfect your art, you will never get anywhere close to satisfaction.


Artists don’t have to be driven. They have to be disciplined. Ouch! That applies to me as well. Because of my own family commitments, I have only two mornings a week in which to practice my art at a nearby art clubhouse studio. Yes, I study online but hands-on time is limited. So I try to make the most of it.

Working together on occasion is an asset to any kind of artist. I reccomend it to everyone. Sometimes I sit and chat with one or more of the painters who show up as well. Painting is often a solitary exercise, but rubbing elbows with other artists can invigorate you and inspire you. You can learn a lot by watching or chatting with each other. The only real requirement is to want to continue to grow as an artist. But even on those days, I will force myself to sit for a few minutes and at least journal in my scrapbook.

It’s always great fun to poke around on YouTube, Pintrest,  Google or social platforms for ideas, but it still comes down to breaking out the tools and doing something. I’ve heard it said that it takes 500 paintings to begin to create your own style and be ready to begin to be called a painter. 

I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to unload a handful of paintings but on the whole, I’m still practicing my technique. The less you practice, the longer it takes to become confident in what you do. But the more you work at it, the better you understand what you do. In today’s internet age, we are so blessed with an embarrassment of riches to study. People used to have to art school or university or even college, to be exposed to the wealth of artists we see for free through Google, YouTube, Pinterest and Instagram.

So really my only foundational advice for beginning artists and hobbists, is PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE. 

Next Blog: The Wonderful World of Painting.