Getting past new sketchbook anxiety

We've all had it. You bring home a beautiful new sketchbook, all shiny and pristine. It has lovely paper that you're sure will transform all your drawings into pure gold. You can't wait to start in it. Finally, you crack it open... and this very, very clean white page stares back. Suddenly you remember that you really need to get a load of laundry in.

The paper
Piety
The Artist
Anxiety
And sensing a win for inanimate things
The rug
looked smug.
-- Dave McKean, Cages

Here are a few techniques for winning out over whitepageophobia.

  1. Ruin the first page. Scribble all over it with a graphite pencil. Smudge it. Make it so terrible looking that your sketchbook automatically downgrades from Precious Object to Working Tool.
  2. Let someone else ruin the first page. If you have a kid or know one, put a crayon in their hand and let them go to town all over that first page. They won't have any of your qualms about it. Obviously, be careful they don't help you out with the rest of the book too!
  3. Start with something less intimidating than art. Collage in a few small images - maybe a giraffe is sticking its head up onto one page, and there's a map of Andalusia covered in watercolor ground on another page. It might feel easier to glue in something you know is pretty than to draw that first line that you are worried won't be pretty, and once there's something on the page it gets easier.
  4. Use something less precious. At least temporarily, it might make sense to use something that doesn't feel so special. I recently corresponded with the amazing crafty powerhouse Sister Diane, who was having trouble starting an intended Sketch-A-Day project. I recommended going to something less precious such as junk mail envelopes. Well, she went to town with that idea, as you can read about in her blog post. And she just let me know it has continued to be a successful solution for her! She has been sketching every day on those bits of paper that feel less pristine than the pretty sketchbook she had intended to use. Hopefully, she'll get to that sketchbook eventually, when she's feeling in the groove.
  5. Prep some pages with watercolor or acrylic. It's fun to draw onto another color, whether you're using one color across the entire page (as I do here on Moleskine notebook paper) or a variety of colors and shapes (as Urban Sketcher Tia does here). Once again, altering the page in advance can make it less threatening AND more inspiring to start on, at the same time!

At least we're not in this alone. Most sketchers have hit this wall at one point or another. The most important thing is to find a way to make that next sketch without losing too much time to white page angst - even if it means using napkins for awhile.