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Embracing Pentimenti – Why You Should Make More Mistakes

Image courtesy of Quinn Dombrowski

“Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.”

~ Scott Adams

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From an early age, along with my pencils, I was provided with an eraser, and encouraged to rub out any mistakes I made, both in writing and drawing.

I suppose the idea was to aim for perfection, and removing any trace of errors was a good way to achieve the illusion of perfection. I remember the excitement of starting a new notebook in school, and trying to keep it error-free for as long as possible, before the eraser or tippex had to come out. I believe this was the root of my perfectionism.

Some years later, I was introduced to the idea of pentimenti (plural of pentimento). Pentimenti are mistakes in a drawing or painting that are intentionally left intact, or lightly erased so that you can still see them. When used effectively, they can add a lot of dynamism to a drawing and really bring it to life, whereas a ‘perfect’ drawing with no mistakes can look flat and lifeless in comparison.

If you look at the work of Robert Liberace (from whom I actually learned the term pentimenti), you will see he uses this technique to great effect. He will often draw an arm in one position, and then reconsider and move it slightly, but leave the original arm where it is. As you can see it really creates a sense of movement.

Pentimenti vs. Perfectionism

I think we can apply the principles of pentimenti to all aspects of our creative pursuits, as a means of combating perfectionism.

If we start to see mistakes as desirable, as something that can improve our artwork, then we will no longer need to put things off for fear of falling short of perfection. We will be eager to make mistakes, to add life to our work, and our artwork will improve as a result.

So next time you find yourself procrastinating because you’re afraid of making a mistake, get yourself into pentimenti mode, and just let those mistakes happen!

If you want to learn more about pentimenti in drawing, check out Robert Liberace’s Drawing the Figure In Motion (not an affiliate link). This is where I first heard the term, and it’s one of the most useful instructional videos on drawing I have ever watched.

Are you afraid to make mistakes, or do you embrace pentimenti in your work? Tell us about it in the comments below?

One Comment on Embracing Pentimenti – Why You Should Make More Mistakes

  1. Pingback: Research point: pentimenti « Carol Stimpson's Student Art Blog

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