Using an Eraser
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.
‘Artists don’t make mistakes, so don’t use an eraser.’
‘Don’t rub anything out. Incorporate everything into the drawing.’
Ever been told anything like that? I think I have, but I don’t think I ever took much notice. Here’s the news: artists make mistakes and some of them need to be removed, so don’t be afraid of using an eraser. Of course, some marks are stubborn and refuse to disappear completely, leaving echoes of the work in progress. These resulting ghost marks, half—steps, incomplete gestures and so on can all add to the rhythm and density of a drawing. This is one of the qualities that distinguishes drawing (and painting, to a degree), from the other arts. When looking at a drawing we can see the work from start to finish; it becomes a palimpsest.
Matisse worked and re-worked images, creating drawings full of half-removed lines that show exactly what I mean.
It goes further than that, though. Erasers don’t just remove marks, they can make them, too. They can blend, smudge, blur, bruise, and partially remove. In conjunction with charcoal or pencil (the softer, the better), erasers can make all sorts of marks that would otherwise be impossible. Through experimentation, a complex vocabulary can be developed.
Look at the charcoal heads of Frank Auerbach to see complex multi—layered images that rely on initial marks being removed, shifted and veiled. He implies the image, and that’s down to the way marks are added and (partially) removed. Only a few of the marks are unadulterated, most are amended in some way.
It’s worth trying out lots of different types of eraser as they don’t all work the same way. I favour plastic erasers (the ones that often come with a cardboard sleeve), as they can push graphite around as well as remove it. Even really cheap rubbers can produce interesting effects. I’ve got one (sadly almost worn away), that is no good at completely removing pencil, but it does a wonderful job of softening it. Putty rubbers are fine, but they don’t hold a hard edge, so aren’t suited to really detailed work. You can now get cheap electric erasers which spin a small eraser at high speed, meaning it can be used incredibly specifically. Lay down a field of graphite and you can also draw with it.
One of the joys of drawing is its immediacy. It’s low-tech and visceral. Working back into a drawing with an eraser — sculpting, if you like — can open up all sorts of possibilities. Draw, erase, then draw again.