The Blank Canvas | Betsy Schoettlin, Guest Blogger

“It’s so fine and yet so terrible to stand in front of a blank canvas.”
Paul Cezanne

I’ve been buying art supplies for 30 years. Canvasses, canvas pads, tracing paper, acrylics, oils, mediums, brushes, pencils, pastels, graphite paper, smudge sticks, big easels, small easels, table easels, outdoor easels, the list goes on and on. I can’t even imagine how much money I have spent on my passion for painting.

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And, up until now, I’d never touched a canvas with a brush. Or with anything else. For 30 years I have been buying and storing and then giving away, or otherwise disposing of, my art supplies without a single drawing or painting to show for it. One time I managed to get a sketch onto a canvas but was so dissatisfied with it that I erased it.

I’m not normally a fearful person. I regularly do things that are outside of my comfort zone, that stretch me beyond what I think I am truly capable of both physically and emotionally. Except painting. And yet, I keep buying art supplies.

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In my mind, I have all sorts of reasons why I haven’t been able to paint. But the real reason is because I am afraid. Not that other people would see what I painted and be unimpressed. I am afraid that, if I actually put brush to canvas, I will know, finally, whether or not I can paint. So much better to not have tried, to be ready to try, to have the option to try, to not know.

And then I found a few painting apps and a real hold-in-your-hand-with-a-brush-end “paintbrush” for my iPad. In the digital world I could “paint” right on top of a photo or a drawing. The iPad felt like sort of like a canvas. I could hold it in my lap. And I could “undo” my mistakes. It was nearly free, no wasted oils or embarrassing failed canvasses. No struggling to get a sketch onto the canvas. I started painting on my iPad and it was amazing and fabulous. I experimented and played, and erased and deleted and started again. And again, and again. And every now and then, something came out pretty well. SO exciting. And there was no pressure, it was just playing. But I still didn’t paint.

Last spring I placed a big order at Rex Art for more art supplies. Again. Gorgeous, silky oils in beautiful little wooden boxes, luscious hand rolled pastels and some new paintbrushes (you can never have too many). I arranged them in a stately old bookcase, with the brushes artfully placed in a vintage pitcher. They looked fabulous. But I still didn’t paint.

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Art supplies arranged on shelf. So pretty & pristine.

Have you ever jumped into a freezing cold lake or off of a high dive or cliff? You stand there, looking down, knowing you can do it, watching your 10 year old niece do it over and over, and yet every fiber of your being is focused on preventing you from jumping. So, for just a second, the blink of an eye, you shut down your brain, create a blank space, stop thinking, grab hold of a bit of faith, and step into the abyss. And when you hit the water you sink and it’s cold and you’re not sure if you can get back to the surface in time to breathe and then you do. And the water is viciously cold, but it’s a different kind of cold than you thought, bracing, exhilarating, survivable. And you did it.

A few weeks ago, I got a postcard from our local art center. I went to the website and I stood there on the cliff, staring down into the icy water as I had so very many times before. And I stepped off. I signed up for “Dare to Try: A Painting Workshop for the Complete Novice”. That was Monday, September 16th. The class started on Tuesday, the 17th. Which really wasn’t a problem because, hey, I already had a crap load of art supplies, beautifully arranged in my bookcase.

To be continued……

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One comment

  1. James Murphy says:

    The cost can be an artist, I have tried to use recycled materials, and have achieved good results, thanks for the article.

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