Using mistakes as a source of inspiration can open up a world of possibilities that our tools of correction often negate.
I fondly remember a drawing lesson I received in Art School in which our teacher outlawed the use of an eraser.
Such a simple restriction caused havoc for us all.
Using an eraser to correct and control is so ingrained, so integral to the pursuit of excellence and perfection that we did what any mature, experimentally leaning artists would do, we started whining like a puppy farm on fire. Our teacher would hear none if it, and to further “complicate” matters he forbade us to hold our pencils in our conventional grips, further ensuring we would make a slew of those dreaded uneraseable mistakes.
The Eraser has a god like power, rub-rub swipe-swipe, and voila history is altered, time is erased and a new cleaner better evolved line appears where a scratchy dirty mark once lay.
The eraser, although an essential tool, herds our sensibilities and artistic expression, and more often than not facilitates errors on a much larger scale. It allows us to micro-edit and lose focus on macro issues such as arrangement and composition. It keeps us on the straight and narrow path of what we think a picture needs, or “should be like”, and locks us into our own standardized patterns of artistic ideals.
This situation is like a creative sheep pen.
The eraser then is a sheep dog to sheepish creative desires – it keeps ideas in line and chases away the wolves, and trust me, all interesting creativity runs with the wolves.
This is why our art teacher told us to throw the damn thing away.
So what transpired in the art lesson was a cacophony of groaning and moaning and complaining and the crick-crack of pencils snapping like ship masts in a great storm.
Murmurings of mutiny quickly spread through all decks.
Throwing away the eraser rocks the boat you see, hard enough that some, or all of your sheep will fall out. The sheep dog is marginalized and the wolves can swim in and do some creative hunting. (These wolves have scuba gear and are always following the boat.) At this point the sheep have to start swimming for their lives and desperate creatures can be very, very creative.
That is why not reaching for the eraser when you have drawn an erroneous line and rather watching the sheep flail about in the water as the wolves paddle in can lead to more interesting things.
It is a form of losing control and it works wonders. Suddenly that accidental line across the face you are trying to sketch can’t just “disappear”, it has to be incorporated somehow, turned into a workable aspect of the composition, used against itself in a kind of workflow Aikido, which can, and does, lead you to creativity you would not have consciously reached.
In workflow, mistakes are inevitable and arguably even necessary, and learning to cope with and use these “mistakes” to our advantage is a key step towards unlocking a creative monster that once unleashed eats erasers for breakfast.