Conquer your Blank Canvas - in Life and in Art

That fear you feel when facing a blank canvas? It’s huge! And it often parallels how we feel when facing a future without the person we lost.

Grief Victims are paralyzed by a blank canvas. They tell themselves, "I can't do it!" "What if I mess up?" "What if something goes wrong?" Because grief victims are so afraid to start, they keep putting their "start" off for another day - the result? They never do.

GRIEF ARTISTS take a deep breath, set their worries to the side, and just start. Grief artists make something out of their "start". They bravely choose to take a seat (even if it's uncomfortable), and they simply welcome grief into the room to have a short little chat.

We’re starting a series where we’ll focus each week on one aspect of what it means to be a “grief artist”. We’ll have a few ways you can apply the lesson both in life, and in your art.

Here’s some simple ways to face the blank canvas this week:

In life:

  • Start small - it’s the key to starting at all. Maybe you’ve retreated from relationships for a time because it was too much to handle. Maybe you stopped eating healthy and exercising because you were simply trying not to collapse in a puddle. The way to “get back” on track, or to starting new habits or relationships? DON’T make huge goals right now. Take things “low and slow.” For diet, this means making one healthy snack choice a day, or simply changing into exercise clothes (not even intending to exercise yet!) just to start the habit. It could be setting a half hour coffee date with one friend this week. Whatever it is - start small. It’s a start, and you’ll be glad you did.
  • Tackle a little bit at a time. There are so many overwhelming tasks when you face a loss: cleaning out an old house or closet, an endless string of phone calls, etc., when all you want to do is curl up in a ball. These tasks do need to get done, but not all today. Conquering a small to-do item, or even a fraction of one to-do item every day gives you a small “win” that will accumulate into a larger one.
  • Realize progress already made. When you get caught in a depressive hole or find yourself triggered by a difficult memory, do yourself a favor and get your cry out. THEN take one minute to remind yourself of one thing you’ve overcome or grown in this week. Example: Maybe you were triggered into a crying fit when you opened up the attic for the first time, BUT you held it together for your daughter’s ballet recital - AND actually smiled to yourself when you thought, “her dad would be so proud of her.” This is just an example, but it’s so important to remember just how much you’ve overcome already.
  • Be OK with leaving things unfinished - today. Maybe your home is messier than you’d like it to be, or that memory scrapbook you promised you’d finish is still on page 2. The thing is, after loss, you come realize there’s a lot of “fluff” in life that doesn’t actually matter. The unfinished things are likely the less important ones. They’ll be there when you’re ready to take them up again, but for now, go hug the little one or friend right next to you and set aside the unfinished things, just for today.

In art:

  • Start small - often a small piece of white paper is easier to fill than a larger one. Starting small means there’s less risk (so what if you have to throw away a half sheet of computer paper!) and therefore less excuses. Another way to start small is to go into an art session with only one goal: cover up the white paper/canvas with color. While you’re doing it, experiment with how the paint feels and with the different kinds of brushstrokes you can make. Don’t make it pretty, just cover that white now. When you come back to paint another day, you’ll have already conquered the blankness. Also, acrylic paint covers up layers quite nicely. ;)
  • Tackle a little bit at a time. Artists are notorious for working sporadically- why would it be any different for you? If there’s a bigger project you’re wanting to tackle, try setting a timer for 10-15 minutes and doing only what you can in that time frame. This works best if you pick a small corner that you can dedicate to “unfinished projects”. That way, you’ll see the project and be reminded to work on it, AND you’ll be able to leave it easily and pick it up just as easily when the desire or inspiration strikes.
  • Realize progress already made. Framing your work and hanging it on the wall is likely something just way too much to handle right now. BUT you CAN get a cute little folder for $0.59 at an office store and tuck every little drawing or project you make into it. When you get discouraged, when you need inspiration, or when you feel the “imposter syndrome” asking you why in the world did you think you should try to use art in your recovery - that’s the exact moment you should go to that folder and leaf through all the little things you’ve made so far. Tell that imposter to “go home”, because you can see the progress you’ve made already.
  • Be OK with leaving things unfinished - today. Sometimes you might have the desire to start a creative project, but you end up hitting a roadblock - emotionally, psychologically or spiritually. Give yourself full permission to set that art piece aside and work on something else for a while! When you’re ready, you’ll come back to it. AND if the piece never comes into fruition, what have you gained or lost? Nothing! The value is in your process, not in the finished/unfinished product.

May you find the courage to simply start today, and may you find yourself immensely proud for that first step of progress made,



Comment: What are the ways you've been facing your own "blank canvas"?