The Blank Canvas: Part 1
Almost ten years ago, I went to a workshop at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, Massachusetts. The class was geared toward teachers to model Carle’s process of collage. I wasn’t a teacher. I just went for fun.
I had a plan for the perfect picture—a landscape with clouds, hills, and maybe a little brook running through. But when we sat down at a table with an array of paints and tools, the instructor told us not to think about the final product. She told us to just make pretty paper.
Okay, I thought. I can do that. So along with the rest of the students, I covered papers with color. I dragged combs through the paint, stippled dots, stamped designs, and painted swirls. I made lots of papers in greens and blues. My final picture was going to be a landscape after all.
We set aside our papers to dry and left the studio for another part of the museum. When we came back, our papers were mixed up on a table. I couldn’t find mine. And what was worse, someone had torn them into pieces!
Now, the instructor told us, look at the papers on the table. Don’t just seek out the papers you made. Take the pieces that speak to you. Play with them. See if they spark an idea.
I’m usually a woman with a plan. This experiment was totally outside of my comfort zone. But I tried it anyway. I tried to forget about the landscape and simply picked up pieces that had colors and designs that I liked.
Then I saw a piece with a big red dot.
I started ripping the paper in even smaller bits and strips. I started pasting. And I made a planet.
I hung Jupiter in my office to remind me that the creative process is not about making a plan. It’s about discovery. It’s about letting go of control and just letting things happen.
Flash forward to this past summer. I repainted my dining room and decided one of the walls needed a big piece of art. So I bought a blank canvas. I hung it up to make sure it fit the space. I joked during the holidays that it was a painting of a snowstorm. But I still haven’t painted anything on it. I’m procrastinating—because I want it to be perfect, and I haven’t been struck with any “brilliant” ideas yet.
But a few weeks ago, the instructor’s voice popped into my head: just make pretty paper. I don’t have to worry about the final product yet. And that idea was liberating.
So I bought myself a pad of tracing paper. I painted sheet after sheet in solid colors. I tied a string across my office and hung them up to dry.
Next, I gathered a bunch of “tools” from around the house. Plastic container lids, a comb, onion bags, rubber pencil grips, non-slip rug liners, Q-tips, bubble wrap, and foam stickers. I played, creating layers of colors and textures.
Now that the papers are all dry, I have a pile of inspiration! So the next step in the process is to rip up these papers and play. I’m a little nervous that I don’t have a plan…
Tune in to see what happens!