Fear of the blank canvas

I will never forget that moment, frozen in time. It’s like a Polaroid photo in my mind, with sentiment and smell and emotion attached to it.

It was a warm, sunny summer morning, and I was sitting with my friend Chrissy on the concrete steps behind her house. We were shaded by the trees and back awning, sitting there in our shorts with art supplies strewn around us. I was six.

We were coloring some pages and decided to stop coloring pages with lines on them and instead draw what WE wanted. Excitedly opening the book of paper on my lap, I grabbed my instrument and froze. I didn’t know what to draw. My mind was blank.

I was sure at that moment that my entire system of creative juices had completely dried up for the rest of my life. Of course, as a six year old, that wasn’t entirely devastating, more of an inconvenience. So we ran off to play in the yard instead.

Many years later, I still experience that ‘fear’, but I know I’m not alone. I also know that when I let myself stress about it I actually CONSTRICT the process (my shrink told me so). So after relaxing a bit, I go to some great resources (books, internet sites) to get those juices flowing.

Recently I was making a farewell gift for someone, and knew I wanted to make something special, and have it be comprised of quilting rather than a quilt pattern, since that is really my forte. What did that give me? A blank slate.

the blank slate

the blank slate

It happens that the giftee was moving out of state. It also happens that at that time I was making a tshirt quilt for a client and had the shirts on my sewing table. I went over to them to arrange the shirts and de-stress my mind about the blank slate. And there it was: my inspiration!

my inspiration!

my inspiration!

I thought this would be a great going away gift – a flag of Texas made from thread! WHEW!!!

I used the tshirt panel to make measurements on my blank slate and quilted the outlines. Using painters tape, I made the outline for the star.

the outlines

the outlines

I stitched hearts in the white, lines in the red and meander around the star in the blue. I plan to make another one I liked it so much!

the Texas flag

the Texas flag

Often, the blank canvas freeze comes over me, but I’ve learned to adapt and overcome.

I knew I wanted to outline the churn dashes on this quilt, and try the curling feather in the border. But I had no idea what to do in the remaining space. So I laid on the floor under the quilt with my books and started looking through them for inspiration. They are little softcover books by Darlene Epp and contain mostly simple stitches, but are great for fueling creativity!

churn dash

churn dash

I drew some ideas out but wasn’t entirely pleased with any of them. Then I went to Flickr, which is my other go-to place for creativity. I knew I wanted to incorporate the feathers from the border into the blank spaces, but also knew with a confined space (around the straight lines) and those being ODD shaped spaces, I had to do something viney or with echoes. So I looked up feather quilting photos.

I found a few that urged me to draw some swirls and paisleys with echoes and single sided feathers around some. The feather tied into the border and the echoes would allow me to fill in any weird or small spaces. Ahhhhhhh, victory!


feather swirl paisley echo

feather swirl paisley echo

SOOOOOOO pleased with how this turned out (as was my customer)!!! I have plans to use this stitch again soon!

The moral of the story is this: don’t let the emptiness of a blank slate overwhelm you. Don’t let your analysis of what to create paralyze you. Draw an idea out and if you like it, quilt it! If you don’t, modify it and draw something a little different. Walk away if you need to so it can marinate a little bit, and then try again. Keep trying until you like what you draw and then QUILT IT!



2 thoughts on “Fear of the blank canvas

  1. I love this idea. The state flag as a sham for a pillow…..I imagine each child having their own “state sham”–you were born in RI, you get the RI flag. Awesome!

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