The Blank Canvas


I’ve been tackling a small pile of commissions these last few weeks. Charcoal portraits. Watercolor on paper. Acrylic on canvas. I am not finished with the pile by any means, but have noticed that it takes a HUGE amount of effort to work through the resistance that comes with a blank sheet of paper or canvas.

I do not normally have this issue with my sketchbooks. Perhaps it is because I see those lovely empty pages as possibilities. Or maybe it is due to the fact that I can add to the page completely as I wish, without any thought as to what another may want to be there. Whatever the reason, I face these swaths of unknown with trepidation, all manner of stalling and diversion, big deep breaths, and finally I plunge in, head first with a plea for help from above.

One of my stalling tactics ways of dealing with the blank-canvas-fear is to work with it in my sketchbook. This is actually a great way to get the creative juices flowing and open the ground for any work which may need to happen before the work-work ensues. Danny Gregory had just posted this awesome video on hand-lettering, which then inspired me to make a page with some of my own lettering…which seems so elementary compared to the wonderful examples he offers, but that’s that, and I shall not dwell on comparison any longer! (How’s THAT for a run-on, stream of consciousness sentence? Oi!)

I wrote in my sketchbook what I was feeling and thinking as I faced a morning of tackling one of these commissions. “I face a blank canvas today…” and then it struck me…

I face a blank canvas EVERY DAY!

Every single day of my life I plunk my feet down onto virgin soil. Yes, it’s the same carpet I’ve set my feet to each day for the past, oh thirteen years or so, but it is nevertheless new and untrod for that given day. My footsteps have yet to make any marks on the blank page of the day ahead of me. This was encouraging to me:

If I face blank canvases every day, then I can face this one too.

I can plunk down my marks and begin.

I do need help to begin. Being a beginner is hard stuff. So yes, please, bring on the grace, the strength, the boldness, the light, the motivation and the love I need to move forward.

I’m happy to report that help came! It always does. Wow. I’ll need it again today. And then tomorrow. But maybe blank canvases will now represent places I face each and every day rather than new uncharted territory I’ve never even seen before.


Stress & Creativity


“Stress can be addiction and worry can be our lunge for control and we forget the answer to this moment.”

-Ann Voscamp, pg. 143 One Thousand Gifts Devotional

There they are, words on a page that leap out at me in the semi-dark, silent, not-quite morning. I had previously stumbled onto a site online where a woman was recounting the horrific problems she had had following the exact surgery I just had. That familiar grip in my belly… the room bending in and out of shape. I grabbed hold of worry, perhaps as if it were a blanket that might soothe me, only to find it was filled with nettles, prickling every inch of me. Stress, worry, even fear…surely we all face these things. Yet it doesn’t make them any less gripping, nor does it make them go away.

“…we forget the answer to this moment.”


I’ve discovered an amazing connection between creativity and battling stress and worry. Early on, my artistic pursuits were propelled by sheer joy. I simply loved putting paint to paper and canvas. Still do. I also knitted up color as if it were paint and found that same joy bubbling up. But as the years went on, I realized those endeavors also had a way of calming my fears, lowering stress, diminishing worry.

I’ve often been asked how it is I do these things in the midst of a busy life. “They are my sanity!” I say. “And I need a lot of sanity!”


The interesting part is that with each stroke and stitch, gratitude wells up. As I draw the everyday things, places and people of my life I see what I’ve been given and that it is beautiful. As I stitch with needles or hook, prickly worries are chased away by the swords of color and form.

For Ann Voscamp, “The answer to this moment”, is gratitude. The answer to moment’s of worry or stress is to be thankful. Her methods for connecting with and calling out this thanks lies chiefly in writing them down and photographing them. I too write them down in that list form she challenged me to begin three years ago when I read her book One Thousand Gifts. But I also draw and knit to find the gratitude I need to chase away what can so easily paralyze me.


Therefore it is NOT a silly thing that one might make Art Before Breakfast (Danny Gregory’s latest book out soon!). It’s a rightful ordering of the day’s priorities. Nor is it crazy that another might take their knitting project bag along with them everywhere–fitting in a few stitches of gratitude around the beautiful and not-so-beautiful edges of our everyday lives.

So the next time worry threatens to choke me, I’ll continue reaching for my pens and paints, my sock knitting or in-process crochet blanket.

Won’t you join me in this battle against worry and stress? It’s lovely to have traveling companions!

Fear Not


Tomorrow is Halloween. And I’m thinking about spectres. Spooks of a different kind that do not just come out to haunt at Halloween, but which tend to hover and linger all year round.

We are a Harry Potter loving family. Would that there was something like chocolate I could eat or do to banish the dementors. Something that I could ingest that would stop the life-sucking fear and drive it away. Oh to be able to conjure a patronus– some ethereal line that becomes a stag or a doe, or a bunny…to ward off the looming spectres.

As I’ve been ruminating this morning, it occurred to me that I do have something like chocolate. Ancient words, true and trustworthy, written for me to ingest into my being and let them work through my mind and spirit: “Fear not, for I am with you.-Is. 41:10”.  “Perfect love drives out fear.-1 Jn. 4:18”. Each time I read them, say them, ingest them, my pulse slows to normal and I’m restored, if only for the moment, to a less fear-ridden state.

I even have a wand with which to conjure a line into a deer, bunny, or a vase of flowers. Drawing acts like a force-field that keeps the spectres of fear from penetrating the boundaries of my heart. Like a patronus charm, drawing repels the threatening spooks as if they were rag dolls, keeping them at bay while I happily draw  my world.

Truth and drawing…that’s what I need this Halloween and beyond!

A chocolate frog and a mug of butter beer wouldn’t hurt either!