WHITE OUT – Page Fright!

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What better way to start a blog on field sketching and painting than by talking about a nearly universal fear called ” page fright ” or what I call



I'm OK ! -cropped 96

I’m not afraid!

 When I stare at a blank white drawing pad or journal page it reminds me of the Midwest “white out” snow storms of my youth, and having lived in Alaska for twelve years I can remember snow conditions being so blinding that you almost come to a halt …you know you must proceed forward but it feels so scary!   If you’re a seasoned artist you have probably found ways to deal with this but if your just starting to draw nature from life, keep sketchbooks or start a nature journal, it might comfort you to know that any fear of a blank page you may have you do not face alone.  Artists and writers alike deal with this in some form or another.

JCP painting Avocets465

Facing that blank sheet – how do I start?

It’s different from “writer’s block”… when you just can’t think of what to write or paint.  Some artists say it’s the feeling of not wanting to ruin a good clean page in a sketchbook, an expensive sheet of watercolor paper or a page in a fancy empty book that causes such a stressful beginning.   When I first started sketching outdoors a combinations of things caused “White Out”:  little experience in drawing moving objects, not being very familiar with my subjects (birds), and an unhealthy fear of failure as an artist.  I fed my fears with that little voice inside of me,  whispering, ” you can’t draw very good and to try will only prove it!”  I also questioned if my subject was important enough to justify marking up a clean sheet of paper… “Little Voice” might say, “maybe you should draw on scrap paper; therefore, if it doesn’t turn out you’re not wasting another page with a silly little sketch”.  That approach may seem to make sense at first but it implies that I ‘m not good enough to use a”real” sheet of paper!  I needed to learn how to control such negative thoughts, not feed them.  Alternatively, start by using an inexpensive spiral bound sketchbook to just practice drawing in.   Think of this sketchbook as personal, you don’t have to show it to anyone.   A musician often practices just warm-up scales in addition to his repertoire of songs – but he never performs a “Warm-up Scale Concert.    Do practice sketches of different things, not just what you like best, all in the frame of mind that they are just “scales”,  and do not judge them too harshly.   I doubt I will ever rid myself completely of “White Out fears” but I have learned ways to control them … and I know practice is one of the best ways!

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Freedom at last – I don’t have to erase! (but I still want to)

With me, page fright is mostly psychological.  It is about my skill and confidence level – how I view myself, but, what I think others may expect of me plays even a bigger role in dealing with this fear.  Over the course of  my adult life, not so much my youth, I have been dealing with an inferiority complex about drawing.  That said, I know my main weakness is my lack of confidence in my drawing ability.  Having never gone to art school (or counselling!) I  had to find my own way to deal with this complex.  About thirty years ago I reasoned that if everyone else seems to think I’m an artist, than OK  I give up –  I’m an artist.  Continuing that line of thought I reasoned that if I am an artist than “wrong lines” were not mistakes after all,  just artistic expressions!   At that time I was mostly using a pencil for drawing, which allowed me to erase, and erase, and erase…often ending in a smudgy mess.  Now, thinking if every line I draw is an artistic one (in theory) I no longer need to erase.  After all, why would I want to erase an artistic line?  From that time on I started drawing with an ink pen so as to take erasing out of the equation.   Sure  it was scary, but by drawing lightly at first, when searching for a shape, then applying bolder lines to define the subject I surprised myself.  This technique was much like my pencil work, but now, without the added stress of erasing, it started to build my confidence in drawing.  Notice in the above Bald Eagle sketches how all the “mistakes” simply add gesture and movement to the work.  Also notice the more times I drew it the better it got!

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Find the pen that works for you.

A ball point pen works well for this, but make sure it is “light-fast”.  A Bic Ballpoint Pen is not stable and fades with sunlight exposure.  I could not find a light-fast ball point pen so I now use various gel-ink pens that I will talk more about in later posts.  The pen trick has helped build my confidence as an artist to the point where I now draw fearlessly with a pen or a pencil and erase only to benefit the sketch and not out of fear that someone might think I can’t draw.

 If the ever-expanding universe is God’s creative energy at work, as I believe it is, then we are part of that energy…free to let it guide our creative desires onto the canvas.   Take a creative act of faith and make those first marks!

All material in this blog is strictly copyrighted by John C. Pitcher 2014 – 2015


2 thoughts on “WHITE OUT – Page Fright!

  1. I’m a big believer in the power of pen over pencil. Sketching only in ink really helped me with my confidence too when I decided to (re)learn to draw — the only problem is that now I feel like I’m cheating whenever I pick up a pencil! And as for ‘mistakes’… I prefer to think of wayward lines as unexpected outcomes. Happy blogging, Anna


    • Thanks for the comments Anna,
      No need to worry about using a pencil. Using a pencil now is no more cheating than using your pen was to build confidence! Feel free to use what ever it takes to get the look you desire. JCP


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