We All Make Mistakes

I’m going to guess that when you look at my drawing exercise today, you won’t have a clue what it is. Am I right?

I’ve deliberately darkened it a bit so the lines show more clearly. This was done using an HB pencil which results in a fairly light drawing compared to softer graphite leads.

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My exercise time today was all about restatement, which is a nice way of saying making and correcting mistakes. For me, this is an interesting approach in many ways. Not being a natural artist, I’ve long had this mistaken belief that artists — real artists — simply pick up a pencil and draw, that they somehow know exactly where and how to place each line. Real artists, I’ve always thought, don’t have to erase and start over or make changes to their drawings.

Not so, I’m learning. Even the greatest artists do make mistakes. I was actually astounded when I found this drawing by Edgar Degas:

Dancer with a Rose by Edgar Degas

So, exactly how many times did he draw this dancer’s right arm before he got it right? It looks as though he made a few changes on her tutu, as well. And how about her legs? Hmmm… lots of lines there, too. The more I look at this drawing, the more I can see places where Degas made changes. Or, to put it politely, he restated his drawing. In other words, he made a lot of mistakes which he then corrected.

I took heart when I saw this dancer with a rose — and several “false starts” for her arm. During my drawing practice I’d faced a similar situation. When I completed my first “rough-in” of the object I was drawing I studied it a bit closer and realized I was way off on my proportions. I had to widen the drawing considerably to make it anywhere close to accurate. There I was, feeling down-hearted, thinking of how badly I’d failed to capture my subject correctly.

When I saw the Degas drawing, my eyes grew wide. Oh, my goodness! He had to re-do his drawing, too. He had his proportions off. He had to keep adding lines, searching — as I so often do — for the right line in the right place.

That’s what today’s exercise was all about — not knowing where the lines go, but figuring them out, so to speak. Today’s exercise was about making not one perfect line, but drawing lots of lines as I observed my subject, not erasing bad lines or wrong lines, but just adding more, going over the sketch with more and more lines in search of just the right ones.

Now, I will admit to grabbing my eraser a couple of times. I had so many lines in so many wrong places that I was confusing myself a bit. So, yes, I cheated and erased a few, just enough to help me see and understand what I was drawing.

The point in all of this is recognizing that we don’t make art without making mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes, and doing so is actually a vital part of the process of drawing. Making and correcting mistakes leads us to drawings that somehow seem more alive and energetic than those composed only of perfect lines.

What we’re looking at in drawings like the dancer with the rose or my morning exercise is the process itself, replete with “oopsies” and “oh, that doesn’t go there.” The results can be messy, but life is messy at times, and as I’ve always said, creativity involves making messes.

So, for me, learning to draw better involves learning to make lots of mistakes, to freely explore my subject with lines here, there, and everywhere, and to make very messy-looking drawings.

I’m going to encourage you now to do the same. Be brave, be bold, and try drawing without erasing mistakes. (Or, at least, as I did, to erase as little as possible.) It’s actually fun, and it is exciting. I like knowing that I’m in good company, that I can make just as many mistakes as Edgar Degas! I can draw anything now, and if it doesn’t look quite right, what difference does it make? I’ll just keep making more lines, adding more little scribbles, and through it all, I’m going to enjoy the process.

 

17 Comments

  1. Your post reminds me of the times I saw an art exhibit that included the artist’s sketches for the final painting. Those sketches were great to see the artist trying out different approaches before finding what they thought worked for the final product. Mistakes used to frustrate me much more. They still can have that effect, but I now accept them as part of the process of creating. Mistakes mean you’re trying new things, different things. Experimenting. Mistakes are inevitable, and they help shape our path forward.

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    1. I’m glad I’m learning how important mistakes can be… and best of all, it is reassuring to see that other artists make mistakes. When I started learning to draw, I was really focused on “results”. I’m learning now to focus instead of the “process” — which does, of course, include lots of mistakes. It’s really helping me develop a more natural approach to art. The exhibit you saw must have been interesting, for sure!

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    1. Thanks! It was really eye-opening (in the most literal sense) when I came across the Degas drawing. It is so reassuring to see that even the most famous artists made mistakes in drawing.

      It’s great when mistakes become “happy accidents”. Sometimes it’s a mistake that takes art to a whole new place!

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  2. I have an eraser in my hand the whole time I draw and use it a lot. If it’s ink and you can’t erase, that’s a different story but if you can make a drawing better by erasing then why do artists not erase? Maybe Degas got into something else and forgot about that drawing or never expected it to be seen because it was a first draft.

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    1. It is important to correct mistakes… definitely. For me, practicing drawing without an eraser is a good way to help me relax. It’s teaching me not to worry about mistakes, that it’s all right to make them. It’s just one more interesting approach to improving my drawing. If things get so messy that I can’t tell where I am, then I will do a little erasing, but as much as possible I’m trying to practice “restatement” instead of erasing. The Degas drawing was really a surprise when I saw it. Now, as I look at many of his other drawings, I can still a lot of “restatement” lines. It’s sort of “If at first you don’t succeed, just keep making more lines until you do!” It’s making drawing more fun for me right now.

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    1. Who knows! The drawing really surprised me. I think I’m going to take a look at some of the books written about the dancer drawings Degas made. Maybe it will tell a little more about his process.

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  3. Restatement sounds like art jargon to me. I don’t understand why artists don’t erase a bad line. Would an author keep a badly worded sentence? Would a quilter not fix a bad seam? Would a musician have a flat note in a recording? They want to do the best they can. Erasing bad lines improves the drawing. It’s not cheating. It’s fun to do the best you can do.

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    1. All true … except as part of a learning exercise. 🙂 I’m finding it helpful to make a lot of lines instead of drawing, erasing, drawing, erasing… all in search of the “right” line. Knowing I can just keep drawing more lines until I get it right is really helpful for me right now. It loosens me up and keeps me from worrying about results. So, yep, it’s art jargon, and probably designed for artists like me. 🙂

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    1. Thanks. Seeing the Degas drawing really makes me feel good. 🙂 I love thinking “I can make just as many mistakes as Degas.” Maybe that’s silly, but it sure makes me smile.

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  4. I love this post. Being someone that doesn’t actually draw like artists do makes it hard for me. Most of the time I’ll give up and leave it out. Yesterday I drew a flower from a gear stencil and I wasn’t allowed to erase. I used paint, pencil, then and ink pen. I wanted to erase and throw away so bad. 45 minutes later, I was happy with how it turned out. I actually looked at it a few more times more before bed and it made me happy.

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    1. What a marvelous story! Seriously, doing drawing practices without erasing is really interesting. It’s helped me understand that it really is all right to make mistakes, everybody makes mistakes, and if we just keep trying — adding more lines — we can fix the mistakes. It means messy drawings, but what’s wrong with that as we’re learning? In time, maybe we’ll become more accurate, and sure, if we’re working on a special drawing we can always go back and clean it up a bit with an eraser. I’m starting to really like the “feel” of drawings with lots of lines. They do seem to have so much energy and life about them.

      I’m so glad you did a drawing that made you smile. I love it when that happens. Sometimes I set drawings out and just look at them from time to time because I really am happy with what I did — even if I didn’t think I could do it!

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  5. Thank you! I like all kinds of pictures, but the ones with sketchy lines and roughness are my favorite. I can always understand what’s behind someone else’s work, but I’m not so easy on myself. I’m glad to have into you here. I look forward to binge reading your posts. Lol

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