Scared to Start a Painting? 7 Ways to Beat a Blank Canvas

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Starting on a blank canvas can be scary! But with a plan, you can beat that blank canvas! (Photo by Steve Johnson on Unsplash)

We’ve all been there. 

Staring at a blank canvas or an empty still-life box with absolutely no idea how to start a painting or what to paint once you get started. 

So what do you do when inspiration doesn’t hit? And when it does, what do you do when you don’t know how to begin with the next big idea?

Not knowing what to paint or how to start it holds us back as artists. Even if you have been studying and learning, the empty canvas can be daunting. However, there are a few steps you can take when it feels like the first step of your painting is impossible. Keep reading to find out how!

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In order to get started, you need to start to generate ideas and make a plan. (Photo by Steve Johnson on Unsplash)

Generating an Idea

That overwhelming feeling of staring at a blank canvas, unable to start a painting has happened to most artists. There is a certain pressure that comes with being creative, and ideas don’t always flow naturally. 

However, you can develop creativity as an artist. It is a matter of looking for new experiences, experimenting with new techniques, or exploring other artists’ work. 

Having a curriculum and an instructor to guide you can also be very helpful for those who are struggling to generate an idea and get started on their painting. When what you’ll paint is predetermined, that can help you start to break the cycle of not painting. This can build confidence for those moments when you have to compose a still life. 

By developing creativity and having a knowledgeable guide or program to help you determine what you should paint will get you one step closer to actually starting the painting!

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Once your idea is concrete, you'll need to start your painting, which can be the hardest part!

How to Start

So once you have this idea, how do you actually start a painting? Well, in order to do anything, you have to have a system for doing that thing. 

This simply means that if you don’t know how to paint, starting a painting is going to be very difficult. But when you have a system for every single painting as a beginner, you can break down those ideas you have into manageable pieces and create a painting without fear. You’ll know where you’re going because you have a map. 

At Evolve, our students start every painting for the first three blocks by sketching out their composition and then finding and painting in the shadows. They then move into the lights, and then to gradients, reflections, and highlights. Because they have a clear system from start to finish, there is no guesswork of where to begin and when to be done. 

Once you have a process and system for making your art, you can feel confident to start a painting without fear of getting lost or starting in the wrong place.

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Spending time sketching and experimenting can help you get started with more confidence.

Tips on Getting Started

Here are some ways to start your paintings without fear or struggle!

Make a plan

Having a plan of where you want the painting to go, where you will start, and what you will do to get to the finished state will help you to feel confident from the beginning to end of the painting. Make a clear plan, but be willing to adjust it slightly if you make a mistake. Avoid jumping around in the painting, and stick to your plan as best you can. 

Ask for help

If you are struggling to get started, reach out to a trusted teacher or peer, who can help to encourage and hold you accountable. Sometimes bouncing ideas off of someone can help you to feel more confident in your idea and get started on your work. 

Get inspired

Take a trip to a museum, see new work, and get inspired to try some new things. Creativity needs to be cultivated, so in order to get new ideas flowing, feed your creativity!

Make mistakes

Though no one likes to mess up, making mistakes can help us to learn as artists. Of course, we try our best to do our work to the highest quality we can, but there is a lot to learn from making mistakes. If you are so focused on perfection, chances are you’ll be too afraid to ever start your painting. Embrace mistakes as opportunities to learn, study where you went wrong, and try to avoid making the same mistakes repeatedly. 

 Start sketching

Before you begin to paint, make some sketches. As a rule of thumb, your first sketch is never your best idea. Do at least four, small sketches of your subject, all of different angles and compositions. This will help unlock new ideas and get you painting sooner!


Generating a new idea can be difficult. Staring at a blank canvas with a big idea and no clue how to make it happen can also be difficult. But being willing to mix things up, ask for help, and give yourself the space to make mistakes

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