Blank Canvas

“It is so fine and yet so terrible to stand in front of a blank canvas.”  Paul Cezanne

Every artist and creative person understands Paul Cezanne’s quote about the blank canvas.  What can I paint?  What does my artwork say?  How can I explore this subject in a way that feels new and fresh to me?  These questions can be asked by any creative person: writer, dancer, poet, chef, musician, weaver, photographer, etc.

The creative block in the quote does not necessarily relate only to canvas.  The month of January has been a challenging blank canvas for me.  The art classes I am teaching start in a couple weeks and I did not want my classes to be the same as they were before.  All month I poured over previous lessons, new art books and supplies in fierce determination to make my classes even better.

Last night at 8:30 p.m., I felt like I accomplished my goal for all of the classes.  I think my students will learn new and interesting techniques, try new art supplies, and learn fun facts.  But I couldn’t have gotten to that point without facing my blank canvas. 

To all artists and creatives feeling the challenge of the blank canvas, you will make it through.  It is only through facing our blank canvas moments that we become stronger, better artists.

Between the Folds

I recently watched the documentary “Between the Folds” from filmmaker Vanessa Gould.  When I reserved the film I knew it was about Origami.  What I was not prepared for was how much more than just Origami this film is about.

origami polar bear

The documentary was released in 2008 and runs for 55 minutes.  Less than an hour long, this film is full of interesting information and beautiful images.  Like the origami polar bear above.  

Archival footage of Akira Yoshizawa shows the grandmaster of origami working on his art.  He is credited with the elevation of origami from a craft to a living art.  Akira estimated in 1989, that he had created more than 50,000 models of which only a few hundred designs were presented as diagrams in his 18 books.

The film talks to artists about the fine art of origami.  One of the artists makes the paper that he uses for his origami creations.  Others talk about the evolution of the art over time and their inspiration.  This documentary features the following notable origami artists: Erik Demaine, Martin Demaine, Tom Hull, Eric Jeisel, Satoshi Kamiya and Robert J. Long.

Origami top

“Between the Folds” talks about how the art of origami inspires teachers and helps their students with mathematical challenges and creative solutions.  Several very cool math teachers, who use origami in their class rooms were featured in the documentary as well. 

One portion of the film that I found incredible and fascinating, was how the art of origami enabled scientists to solve problems not only in mathematics but other areas of science like physics and medicine. 

Between the Folds was given the Peabody Award in 2010.  An award that I feel it greatly deserved.

An amazing illustration of creativity over vast areas of the human experience, I highly recommend the documentary “Between the Folds.” 

Cake Box Books

I got the idea to try making Cake Box Books from Esther K. Smith in her delightful and informative book, How to Make Books.  If you are interested in the art of book making, I highly recommend this book.  The instructions are laid out logically and come with illustrated diagrams.  There are a wide range of books to try for every book making skill and interest level.

Another delightful aspect to this book is the commentary and stories included with the  description and instructions for each book.  The following is from the section on the Cake Box Book:

“I began seeing box covers sewn into books in 2000.  At a time when high craft and the preciousness of artist books seemed like the macramé of the nineties, these frank, simple, funny books were fresh and unpretentious.  I have not thrown a box away since, and they are piling up.  I like cake-mix boxes especially, with their tempting serving suggestions and glistening frosted cake slices, but you can use any box that is about the size of a hardcover book.”  -Esther K. Smith

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The first Cake Box Book I made was not neat and elegant.  I was so worried that if I didn’t have lots of holes for sewing the spine into the cover that the book would fall apart.  I didn’t trust the instructions or my abilities.  I ended up making a lot more work for myself.  It turns out that four holes recommended by Esther K. Smith are the perfect amount and will align and hold the codexes (groups of pages) firmly in place.  Each Cake Box Book I made, the process became easier.  It was through trial and error that I got to a point where I began to trust my abilities.


In fact the process has become fun for me.  I have learned to relax and enjoy the creative process that it takes to make a Cake Box Book.

There are many creative processes.  It doesn’t matter what you are trying to learn: creating a Cake Box Book, painting with acrylic paint, sewing an apron, baking a cake, riding a bike, knitting a sweater, making paper, playing the piano….  We all start as beginners.  We learn through trying things.  Some of it works.  Sometimes it doesn’t.  It is only through practice and experimentation that we become comfortable with the process.  Once we become comfortable, we can have fun with the process.


I challenge you to learn something that you have wanted to do.  It may require taking a class, doing research, reading a book, finding someone to teach you.  Whatever it is, take the time to learn and become comfortable with the creative process.

Risk = Growth = Rewards

All of the artwork featured in this blog post was created by students of the Art Sampler class that I taught in the fall of 2019 at Flathead Valley Community College.  The paintings are pallet knife paintings.  Two of the students had previous painting experience but not painting with acrylic paint.  None of the students had painted using a palette knife before.


Painted by Amy Kanewischer

In college, I took a class on American women’s history.  The class started with the  colonization of the original 13 colonies.  It focused on women who settled in the north (the area of what is now Massachusetts) and women in the southern colonies. 

The women who settled in the north were primarily wives and daughters.  They arrived with their husbands and fathers.  As long as they stayed within the confines of society and family these women had comfortable lives and very little risk.  

The women who settled in the south were wives and daughters also.  But most of the women who settled in the south went as indentured servants (their voyage is paid for by a third party [usually farmer or landowner in the southern colonies] and then they had to work for a certain amount of time to pay off the debt).  Once the debt was released, they were free.  They could buy land, start businesses, etc.  These women faced huge risks but if they survived the rewards were big and they had the opportunity to make choices for themselves.

One could argue that settling in the original thirteen colonies was a huge risk in and of itself.  And they would be right.  Some parts of those colonies were wilder and riskier than others.

The bonus question on the exam for this portion of the class asked where we would live if given a choice?  Would we live in relative safety of the civilized north?  Or would we live in the wild south?  We had to explain our reasons for why we made our choice.  I chose the south because if I could survive, I would earn my freedom and the ability to make decisions for myself.  There were only two of us in a class of 20 who chose settling in the south or greater risk for greater rewards.

“If you risk nothing, then you risk everything.” -Geena Davis

Where is all this talk of risk going?  Creativity is about risk.  I was talking to a friend recently about how the images in the sketchbooks doesn’t always turn out like the finished piece of artwork.  That the artwork is often better than expected.  Creating a piece of artwork, writing a poem or a novel, acting in a play, taking a photo, any and all creative pursuits are about risk.

Think about it like this, if everyone only listened to the music of Mozart it would get pretty boring after awhile.  But there is a lot more than the music of Mozart to listen to.  There is rap, jazz, blues, polkas, chants, rock, pop, etc.  You get the idea.  Here is the important part to remember the next time a song that you like comes on, the artist who wrote that song and the artist who is singing it (it may be the same person) had to take risks to get that music on the radio.  They had to have faith in their creative choices.  They had to be willing to grow creatively to reach the rewards.


Painted by Judy Territo

Speaking of creative choices.  My friend Samantha was at a point where she needed more business cards.  When she went to reorder ones like she already had, they didn’t have that design any more.  Samantha felt that she was at a crossroads.  She had branded herself with the old design.  Did she want to keep the old images?  Could she still keep her brand and create new and exciting business cards?

Samantha chose to take a risk.  She created new business cards, using new images and her original business name.  And the new business cards turned out beautiful.  So beautiful that Samantha ordered a banner with the same design.


Painted by Diane Whited

Teaching art classes can be a challenge.  Teaching often forces me to grow as an artist and an individual.  As an art teacher, I take risks in teaching my students.  There is standard techniques that one can teach over and over to each class.  And teachers often do this to make sure that their students learn the basics.  But teachers can take the time to really get to know their students and tailor the class around the skills and abilities of the students.  It is these subtle additions that really makes the difference from an okay class to an amazing one.  I decided to teach the acrylic technique of palette knife painting with this group of students because I knew it would be a positive challenge for them.  My taking a risk, helped my students grow and the reward was to see the amazing artwork they produced. 


Painted by Arnold Kanewischer

Just because you take a creative risk does not mean that you will not have anxiety and fear.  Part of taking a risk is learning how to manage the fear and anxiety that comes with it.  Not every risk you take will produce a reward.  Some risks will turn into creative disasters.  That is okay.  There is opportunity to learn from failure and that is one of the ways in which we grow.  That growth helps us reach future rewards.

What do you need to do today to take that next creative step?  What risk will help you grow regardless of success or failure?  How can going further with your art and creativity provide you with an opportunity to learn and challenge yourself?  What reward are you seeking? 

Remember risk causes growth.  Growth helps one reach rewards.  Risk = Growth = Rewards

Tools for Boosting Creativity

Part of my goals or resolutions for the new year included adding a once a month post about creativity tips, tools and techniques.  I felt the need to write this kind of post after reading an article in the magazine “Artful Blogger.”

The author of one particular article was talking about managing creativity.  At first, I thought the idea of managing creativity to be odd.  But upon reading the entire article, I understood where she was coming from.  Her point was that part of the reason that people feel like they cannot or are not creative is because they have unrealistic expectations of what creativity is and the skills necessary to be creative.  For example, the first time you pick up a paint brush you are not going to paint a million dollar masterpiece.  One has to learn how to use the brushes and the paint.  The article pointed out that managing creativity is really more about managing expectations.  For that first canvas, if you don’t expect a masterpiece but want to have fun, you are more likely to meet that expectation.

This got me thinking about what made teaching creativity classes and one on one creativity coaching sessions successful.  What lessons, tools, and techniques do I use with my students to help them become more creative in their lives?  How can I break down complex lessons in a way that will make sense and be helpful?  I reviewed class notes and requests for specific lessons from students.  I looked at my extensive library of books focusing on creativity.  I reviewed favorite blogs that I follow on WordPress.  I decided to take parts of larger lessons and break them down.  Each month I will try to focus on specific tools, tips, techniques and the ideas surrounding creativity.  Please do not hesitate to comment or contact me on my Contact page if there are specific questions that you have or areas that you would like me to address.

This is the first post of my new creativity series and it focuses on three tools.  What does a creative tool do? Creative tools help bring out your creativity and prepare you to do your particular creative work.  These particular tools are meant to help with our creative subconscious.

Morning Pages 

Anyone who has read The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron is familiar with her creative tool, MORNING PAGES.  I can hear groans from some of my creativity class students.  I started writing morning pages when I took the Artist’s Way class in 2005.  You are correct in your analysis of the last statement that I still write morning pages.  Like Julia Cameron, I believe they are a very important tool for a successful creative life.  The following is a description from Julia Cameron of what morning pages are and why they work.

“Morning Pages are three pages of longhand, morning writing about anything and everything.  You may complain, whine, grumble, grieve.  You may hope, celebrate, plan, plot.  Nothing is too small or too large to be included.  Everything is grist for the creative mill.  Why should we do Morning Pages?  Morning Pages prioritize our day.  They render us present to the moment.  They introduce us to an unsuspected inner strength and agility.  They draw to our attention those areas of our life that need our focus.  Both or weaknesses and our strengths will be gently revealed.  Problems will be exposed, and solutions suggested.”   – Julia Cameron, Page 2, The Sound of Paper.

Morning pages are hand written.  No, you may not type them on your laptop.  Three pages.  The number of pages is negotiable.  If you need to end a sentence or two early or go over a little, it is okay.  No one and I mean no one gets to read these but you.  You write them for yourself.  It is a tool for your creativity.  You are never required to share them.  Yes they need to be written every day.  I am not perfect, I do not write them every single day.  But I do write them almost every single day.

They are called morning pages for a reason.  Do them right away in the morning or generally when you wake up for the day.  If you are like me and are not quite human until that first cup of coffee, by all means, get your coffee first and write second.  The reason these are written in the morning is to get all of the clutter out of our brains and onto paper.  This way we can focus on what really interests us.  Morning pages are a way to capture anything and everything, allowing us to be focused and productive.

Confession.  I did not love the morning pages when I first started writing them.  I didn’t even like them.  I did allow myself to trust the process and started writing them every day when I first took the class.  About six weeks into the process of writing them, I had a break through.  I actually felt like the pages unlocked a creative block that had been holding me back.  From that moment on, I became a believer in the power of the morning pages.  They have helped me creatively in a multitude of ways.  I cannot recommend doing morning pages enough.

Dream Diaries

This tool is exactly what it sounds like.  It is meant to record dreams.  Messages from your subconscious.  It is recommended that one keep a notebook and writing utensil next to their bed.  Either during the night when you wake up after having the dream or first thing in the morning upon waking, you write down the dream or dreams, in as much detail as you can remember, into your Dream Diary.

You can share your dreams with whomever you choose.  You can look up meanings in dream interpretation books.  Call a friend and share the dream with them.  Maybe you know someone who is good at interpreting dreams.  Write notes about insights you have learned.  Dreams can be used for creative prompts in artwork, writing, composition of music, etc.

If you are writing or planning on writing Morning Pages, you can combine these two.  I personally use my Morning Pages as my Dream Diary.

Gratitude Journals

Unlike the previous two tools, this one you do before you go to bed at night.  I came across the Gratitude Journal in the book Simple Abundance by Sarah Ban Breathnach.  Find a beautiful blank journal.  (There is something about a blank journal that speaks to ones heart and soul that adds to the effectiveness of this tool.)  Each night before going to bed write down five things that you are grateful for.

Some days will be easy to make a list.  Here a few examples of positive blessings: I saw double rainbows when walking through the park after the storm.  My herb bed has started growing on its own with volunteer plants.  A friend arrived home safely after completing a tour in Iraq.  While on a drive, I was able to stop and take photos of the fall foliage.  Today, I helped my niece make her very first snowman.  

Some days are harder to think of what we are grateful for.  On those days I write down the basics: My family.  My home.  My cat.  My health and the health of my family.  My friends.  Having food to eat.  Being safe.  Life happens.  There will be days that just living and breathing are hard, let alone being grateful.

Why is the Gratitude Journal an important part of creativity?  I think it is an important part of living.  When you become consciously aware of your blessings and give thanks for them every day (even on the rough days) you will change.  You become aware of the world around you in a new way and open yourself to the blessing of possibility.

I hope that you will experiment and try one or all of these amazing creative tools.