Conquering the Blank Canvas with Zelda Devon

Ever get stuck staring at the blank canvas, unsure where to start?  On ArtStation Learning, Zelda Devon reveals the power of just starting and the psychology of how to get out of your own way by using The Pomodoro Technique. Her course shows you how you can add brand new pieces to your portfolio with minimal anxiety.

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Currently based in sunny Los Angeles, Zelda Devon creates visuals for the entertainment industry. She has 15 years of experience in concept boards for advertising, including movie posters and storyboards. Her focus lies in rich storytelling through movement and vibrant color, evoking a sense of magic and whimsy.

On ArtStation Learning:

“It’s super-valuable to gain insight from those who have cut their teeth in the industry and figured out some of the hard stuff for you. These videos could have saved me years of struggle if they were around when I first started in my career. The tutorials are organized in a concise way and it’s easy to click on all or part of the session. They’ve been endlessly inspiring.”

Read on for more about the course and how Zelda achieves that beautiful traditional look for her paintings in Photoshop.

Behind the course:

My goal is to encourage artists both young and old to abandon fear of the blank page and make it not blank as soon as possible. You don’t have to do it perfectly, you just have to start. My speed paints, illustration exercises that take about a day or so, have yielded a lot of professional work. They’re a solid way to make quick personal pieces that can lead to getting professional clients.

When I was younger, I heard this story of an old professor who told his students to buy an expensive sheet of watercolor paper. Afterward, he suggested to promptly run it over with their car. His goal was to melt the fear of the blank page by destroying the paper a little. Get a little wrinkle in there to dispel the fear. My course is inspired by that story. Just begin where you are and with what you have. Trust the process. The drawing will tell you what it needs or where it wants to go.

Most memorable learning experience:

I might have stumbled upon my most memorable learning experience just this past week. I’ve always been interested in deliberate practice. My quarantine buddy and I started this silly game which has produced massively magic results. We start with a prompt, for example –  Chicken. The rules are: Draw a chicken out of your head with no reference for like 5 minutes with an ink pen. After your ego has dissolved into a puddle on the floor, Google it, and this time using reference, try again. For like 5 minutes. Do it every morning. These quick sketches have created impactful and immediate results. It’s an easy low-brow way to bolster the visual library in your head while having a good giggle. I’m learning how to look and see through this warm-up as well as how to get out of my own way.

One piece of advice:

It can be daunting out there as a newbie. We are not taught the fundamentals of conquering obstacles. There’s so much confusing and contradictory information, not knowing how to begin can be paralyzing. The Pomodoro Technique has been my number one secret sauce for nailing deadlines and getting over the initial fear of starting. Set a timer for 25 minutes. Do your work and nothing but the work. It’s only 25 minutes, how bad could it be? Now set a timer for a 5-minute break. Do a silly dance, check Facebook or the mailbox, but only for 5 minutes.

Now that you have a solid start, even if it’s shaky, you’re probably on a roll. Set another timer for 25 minutes and commit. Do your work. Repeat this cycle until the marks start looking good. I get so much done through this tried and true technique, it’s bananas. The brain loves limits and limits are powerful.

Achieving a traditional look in Photoshop: 

I love all the Golden Age illustrators from long ago. I grew up with those books on my mom’s shelves when I was young. I’ve always been inspired by their traditional look but wanted to achieve it in a digital way. I try to replicate that juicy pencil in Photoshop by using one of Kyle Webster’s wonderful already installed brushes. I color my flats in Photoshop, often sampling colors from antique prints, plates, paintings, or photographs. Then, I layer pre-made watercolor splatters on Overlay at a low opacity. It’s immediately satisfying to get rid of the Photoshop-y brand new car smell.

ArtStation Learning courses are included in all ArtStation premium subscriptions. Find out more >

See more of Zelda’s work here.

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About the author

Sierra is the Editor of ArtStation Magazine.