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.
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:
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.