Shadows and Mistakes

I have had high school on the brain lately. It will be ten years, this year, since I graduated. (I’ve been musing over the prospect of a reunion and other things over at my personal blog.)

I was working on a landscape scene in my art book. I was infatuated with these Derwent Watercolour pencils. They were just like ordinary pencils, only after you coloured in with them you could grab a wet paintbrush and give the illusion that you painted – rather than drew – the scene.

The scene I was working on featured a large tree in the foreground. I drew the scene, coloured it in, and then gave the scene a brush with a damp paintbrush. For some reason I decided to use a black felt tip pen to outline the tree. I guess I didn’t give this very much thought because while I was working my way around the tree I smudged the parts I had already done. It was awful. I felt so despondent. I started shading over bits of smudged pen, hoping that would make it better but it only made it worse. Not knowing what to do with the smudged picture sitting in front of me I explained the situation to my visual arts teacher, Mr. McCoy.

He gave the picture a quick glance and uttered one word. “Shadow.”

I was perplexed. Perhaps he hadn’t heard me? I explained my situation again. He seemed slightly agitated. Clearly he would have to fill in the blanks for this clueless student.

The lesson was both simple and profound, and for all the things I learned in that art room nothing stayed with me more. He told me to embrace my mistakes. Creativity is a process not a destination, not a product. You might start out with an idea of what you’re trying to achieve but you might end up somewhere else entirely. Indeed your mistakes might take your work down more interesting paths and to more interesting destinations.

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