Break the curse of the blank sheet of paper

That blank sheet of emptiness taunts our self doubt.

That blank sheet of emptiness taunts our self doubt.

“Imagination is the highest kite one can fly”.

Lauren Bacall


I remember a time when a blank sheet of paper had the power to chase away every creative thought. It’s a mind trick. It seemed like a mirror reflecting dead air and silence in my head, with not a whiff or a hint of an idea floating off in the distance.  I call it a trick, because if we could ever behold what our imagination is capable of, we would fall down in awe. Imagination is the thing that get’s you wide awake at 3:30 am rooting around the workshop making a racket and having a great time of it. But we seldom tap it in our daily routine, so a little thing like the emptiness of a sheet of paper becomes a wall too high to breach.

Cooking up an idea and letting it stew.

Cooking up an idea and letting it stew.



I said “remember” because now it’s my privilege and joy to guide many woodworkers past that stumbling block. That was brought home to me the last few weeks teaching a series of design workshops for the Guild of Oregon Woodworkers and at the Port Townsend School of Woodworking. Over and over came the words, “This is awesome! I don’t have to get stuck anymore staring at that blank sheet of paper” , or “This is 1000% better, I can get off square one and get the juices and ideas flowing”.


Sure – the first drawings were shaky dead ends and mud pits. And yes, the trash cans overflowed with crumpled paper and the maintenance guy had to vacuum up a bushel of eraser dust. But ideas flowed, designs took shape,  and those designs improved quickly. Best of all, woodworkers who doubted they would ever break free from the blank page came in sleepy eyed on day two, after staying up till 3:30 am.

I’m not sure who was more pleased. Forty six fired up workshop attendees, or Jim Tolpin and myself who had the honor of witnessing it.



George R. Walker

About walkerg

Woodworker and writer
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5 Responses to Break the curse of the blank sheet of paper

  1. Carlos says:

    That’s great but how do you break the curse . . . or do I have to buy the book?

    • walkerg says:

      The book or a workshop help as they equip you with some basic knowledge about organizing a design with proportions. The key is to actually just start “doing it”. Start drawing, even if the designs look lousy – keep drawing. Even if you think your designs are lacking, it’s a sign that your eye is recognizing something better it’s asking for. That’s probably why the results in the design workshops is so dramatic. In a structured setting, it frees one to ride that bike.


  2. Tim Raleigh says:

    Without giving anything away, what is the context for these “ideations” do you just say design something or is it more specific such as design a 5 drawer cabinet?

    • walkerg says:

      Here’s a start Tim. Without thinking too much, draw a few thumbnail freehand sketches at the bottom of your blank page. Draw them quick and pick out one and expand on it with a larger drawing. A sideboard is a good example to play with proportions and begin to experiment with ideas.


  3. Tim Raleigh says:

    BTW, I love this column and the book By Hand & Eye.

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