5 Tips to Overcome First Page Fear

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Does starting a new art project make you nervous? Do you save empty sketchbooks for months because you’re worried about messing them up?

An empty page, particularly if it’s the first page in your sketchbook, can be really intimidating if you’re anxious about your performance.

The key to getting past first page fear is to remember that this is just one drawing out of millions of things you’ll draw in your life and that nobody is as harsh on yourself as you are. Follow these tips to be calm and satisfied with your next project beginning!

1. Remember that drawing in your sketchbook is not a performance.

You don’t have to make your drawing process look like a speed paint on YouTube. You can erase, start over, paint over your previous painting, and make as many mistakes as you need to make to refine the expression of your idea.

Nobody’s judging you for drawing some anatomy wrong and needing to fix it a couple of times. Take deep breaths and remember that if anybody treats your art-making like a performance, they are looking at it wrong.

2. Remember that everybody has messy sketches.

Every artist on earth has messy, ugly, anatomically incorrect sketches that they don’t show the world. If an artist shows messy sketches on social media, those were the ones that turned out a little less messy because they got lucky that day.

If a sketchbook flip-through video on YouTube is honest and real, a lot of those sketches will look bad, and if they don’t, then that brings me to my next point...

3. Remember that if someone’s sketchbook is full of flawless finished pieces, that isn’t really their sketchbook.

For art pieces to really look stunning, there’s a lot of pre-planning and sketching that goes into them. If someone is showing you their sketchbook, and every piece is a well-executed final illustration, with no preliminary work - guess what, the preliminary work was done in a separate sketchbook.

If it’s a strictly observational painting sketchbook, then there’s a very good chance that there was no preliminary work done elsewhere, and if the paintings are that good, then that’s because the artist is experienced.

But, if the paintings in the flawless-looking sketchbook are from imagination, and they all look fabulous, then there was probably a lot of messy behind-the-scenes sketching.

4. Try having a dedicated sketchbook just for trying new things and making mistakes.

You will make mistakes in your nice fancy sketchbook, and there’s no way around that. All of us are human, and none of us can escape that.

However, suppose your mistake anxiety is so bad that it keeps you from starting a really nice quality sketchbook. In that case, it helps a lot to do your preliminary and experimental work in a cheap sketchbook that you don’t care about.

Maybe even use printer paper or a sketchbook meant for children. This will take all the pressure off and help you breathe easier while you’re trying new paints and new techniques. Sometimes, the medium you’re using means that a cheap sketchbook won’t work.

You can still find a less expensive nice one or one that’s less “pretty” if you can’t bring yourself to mess up your most cool-looking prized sketchbook. I myself keep two Etchr sketchbooks going at once, one for pieces I’m confident about and one for experiments. Many mistakes are made in both, but having one where I’m “supposed” to mess up really takes the pressure off.

5. Have the first page of your sketchbook be either a simple observation or a very familiar subject matter.

The second, third, fourth, and seventeenth pages of sketchbooks are much easier to get started on than the first because you’re not so concerned with the unrealistic concept of your sketchbook being a perfect portfolio.

What helps me on the first page is to give myself an easy win for that drawing. I’ll either draw from observation so I don’t have the pressure of imagining something realistically, or I’ll draw a really familiar subject matter that I’ve drawn a bunch of times.

Would a few sketches of your hand like blind contour drawing be a good warmup? Would your colour theory be sharpened by painting a still life? Or would you enjoy drawing your favourite celebrity yet again?

These are all really good options for low-stress ways to fill your first sketchbook page and give yourself a win right away. The last time I started a new sketchbook, I did this super low-stress cartoon of John Lennon in Magical Mystery Tour.


Hopefully, these tips help you feel braver about starting your new sketchbook! Remember, the more sketchbooks you go through, the less big of a deal it is to start a new one. You’ll go through so many!

Elsa Wahlstrom is an illustrator and graphic novelist based in Minnesota. She specializes in all things cozy and calm, but adds humor where she can. When she isn’t drawing, she enjoys playing musical instruments, but you’re more likely to see her staring at some silly tree or something. 
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