You know the feeling. You’re ready to start a brand-new painting. You pull the plastic wrapping off the canvas (or prepare whatever ground it is you’re working on)… and there you have it. A blank, white stretch of nothing, ready for you to put your mark on it.

And there you stall.

I can’t count how many times I’ve done this. Can you?

So what do you do to leap that hurdle — to get something on that page and make a start?

Disney’s Mary Poppins said “Well begun is half done”, and that applies here. More than half my real mental work is accomplished before I put a mark on the canvas… I usually start with some kind of concept, and my first step after preparing my ground is to draw my composition on it.

The composition is pretty important, but it’s hard to get a finished product over the top of a white ground.

What you do next will depend on your process. My favorite next step after drawing is to cover the whole canvas with a toned wash. It’s easy to do in acrylic; thin the paint down with water or some other acrylic medium, and use a large brush to apply a thin wash over the entire thing, leaving no white showing.

Painting with a red wash

Painting-in-progress, starting with a red wash

I like to use a blend of Cadmium Red Medium and Burnt Sienna. It gives the entire ground a nice warm starting point, and even if I’m going to have a blue background, it really pops when there is a complementary color underneath; the red/burnt sienna combo yields a rich dark-orange.

I like to work in layers — often several different colors, before I get to the final one on top — so this method really works well for me.

So what’s your favorite blank-page breaker? What do you do for your first mark?