To listen to this post, please click here:A Cherished Mistake
In my late twenties, I heard a recording of an early American Folk hymn, “God Is Seen.” (You can hear it performed here on YouTube by the Ohio University Chorus.) It so strongly moved me that I went to an artists’ colony to illustrate it.
I prepared for a month–studying visual literacy and the color wheel, carefully planning and sketching twelve 16’ x 20 “ images. At last I mixed my watercolors and joyfully, confidently painted all twelve on luscious Arches paper. The final touch I planned was to apply narrow outlines using a pinpoint nib and India ink.
If you know the delicate crowquill nib, the toothy surface of French coldpress watercolor paper and the ineradicability of India ink, you know a perfect collision was waiting to happen.
It didn’t have long to wait. The moment I put pen to the first painting, shocking black spattered all over it, spoiling the image.
I was overcome, I was nauseous, I wept. No undoing these black blotches. The splatter was too extensive, the ink intractable. I was crushed. More than one painting was ruined–eleven others had to coordinate with it. A month of work wasted! I was furious. I felt punished. This was a book about God, for God’s sake!
I finally calmed down enough to hear my only solution: “Pretend you meant to do it.”
I grabbed my toothbrush, the ink and the pen, practiced spattering on scrap to see possible effects. Then I intentionally spattered all twelve. Suddenly the paintings were dynamic, their texture and energy newly alive.
If I could have hit “delete” at the first spatter, would I? You bet your sweet art I would have. But this visceral experience taught me lifelong respect for the spontaneous in art and in life. While I love our world of deleting with so much easily erased or rearranged, there are rich lessons in things we can’t undo, in discovering how to abide, appreciate or even cherish them.
Is there a mistake you cherish?