The Light of My Life likes to tell a story about how he learned one of the most important lessons an artist can learn about doing line-work well.

In the village of Masset in Haida Gwaii (the Queen Charlotte Islands in British Columbia), Mathew happened to wander into the studio of a local artist, Wayne Edenshaw, who works in the Haida Indian traditional style.

In case you’ve never seen Haida art, here’s a short YouTube teaching video, “Haida Art!!,” uploaded in 2020 by Art Around the World with Morah Brooke.  It shows some of the “form line” shapes and patterns that are typical of the style.

For a taste of the directions modern artists have taken this Northwest Coast Indian art style, here’s an image of “Hummingbird Copper Dress” a wool dress that was the result of a collaboration between Haida artist Dorothy Grant and Haida-Tlingit artist Robert Davidson.

“Hummingbird Copper Dress” by James H. via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
The dress was part of an exhibit, “How Native Women Artists Guided the Creation of Hearts of Our People,” at the Renwick Gallery, a branch museum of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Cool, huh?

After admiring the artist’s works in progress and the finished stuff around the place, Mathew turned to the artist and said, “Wayne, those are the most beautiful lines.  How in the world can you draw lines that exquisite?”

Wayne replied, with a mischievous grin on his face, “I’ll show you the secret!”

He walked over to where Mat was standing and admiring a drawing in progress on a large drawing board.  Next to the drawing board, hanging off the side, was a string.  On the end of the string was dangling a huge eraser.

The artist laughed as he explained, “You just keep doing it until the line is right!”

“Erased” by Kim Jones via Flickr [CC BY-ND 2.0]


Whenever it was that people started making marks and symbols on assorted surfaces in an effort to communicate, to keep records, or to make it all pretty, it’s been a given that they also spent a bunch of time removing the marks they made and substituting other marks.

Corrections and drafts, rewriting and copying, as well as updates and revisions have been an integral part of the writing and drawing processes since the beginning.

People who worked in clay, wood, and stone had assorted ways to disappear the marks they made to make way for other marks they wanted to make instead.

“Face Erase” by CJ Baker via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]
English engineer Edward Naime is credited with developing the first widely marketed rubber eraser for an inventions competition in 1770.

The inventor said he inadvertently picked up a piece of gum arabic (also known as caoutchouc, its ersatz Native American name) off his work table instead of a bit of bread and discovered that the thing worked way better than bread bits for making the offensive marks disappear.

By 1778 everybody was calling the plant-based substance “rubber.”

“harvesting rubber” by tiffany renee via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
However, raw rubber was perishable.  It got crumbly over time and icky in humid weather.  It rotted and smelled bad after a while.  In 1839 Charles Goodyear figured out how to cure rubber to make it durable.  He called the process “vulcanization.”

Rubber erasers became common once that happened.

Then, on March 30, 1858, Hymen Lipman of Philadelphia received the first patent for attaching an eraser to the end of a pencil.

The patent was later invalidated because somebody or other pointed out that this innovation was simply a composite of two devices rather than an entirely new product.  Lipman lost his patent.

“erase” by WELS net via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]
 Nowadays erasers are made from a wider variety of materials, in all kinds of shapes.  The cheapest ones are made of soy-based gum or synthetic rubber while the higher-grade stuff can be made from vinyl, plastic or other gum-like materials.

Erasers come in all kinds of sizes as well.

‘it has to be this big; I make huge mistakes” by McBeth via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]


“Do and Undo” by Earl via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
The thing is, us humans do come equipped with a natural, inherent Big Eraser.

This self-correcting mechanism is called “developing mindfulness.” It includes things like “noticing and rethinking old, dumb habits,” “revamping or creating new routines,” and “practicing the new moves until you get blue in the face.”

Those moves don’t come with buttons.  (For one thing, their names are too long.)

“Erasing is Hard Work” by Sarah via Flickr [CC BY-ND 2.0]
De-bugging your mind follows the same pattern as the one used by software programmers all over the virtual world.  I found a really cool step-by-step while surfing Quora.

Computer programmer Bikash Paneru laid out the process for de-bugging a program that keeps glitching up:

  1. You discover the problem.
  2. You look around and find out what caused the problem.
  3. You try to come up with solutions.
  4. You pick the solution that you believe will work best.
  5. You try to fix the problem with the solution that you came up with.
  6. You run the software again.

This Smarty Pants does point out the one major downside to trying to shoehorn the de-bugging process into the conundrums of dealing with Real Life issues.  Like my young friend, he noticed that there was no “reset” button you can poke to run the new programming.

With life, you have to move forward and fix the problem WHILE you live your life….You have got to make sure that the solution you came up with won’t mess up other things that are working right.  You don’t want to make something work while breaking some other things.”


“Still Thinking” by Guy Daudelin via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]


Self-made millionaire and business book writer Keith Cunningham is regarded as “one of the world’s foremost authorities on business mastery,” it says here.  He’s taught top-flight executives and entrepreneurs not only how to make money, but how to keep it as well.

In this 2015 YouTube video, “Thinking Time – Getting Unstuck,” which is derived from his musings in his 2006 book, KEYS TO THE VAULT: Lessons from the Pros on Raising Money and Igniting Your Business, Cunningham presents a common-sense message about the need to ask the right questions.

Cunningham’s 2017 book, THE ROAD LESS STUPID:  Advice from the Chairman of the Board, is my current “break feast” book.   It sits in my Kindle reader on my computer waiting for the times when I need to get my head reset after yet another series of pounding my head against the wall of my own general dumbness.

In one of the first chapters in the book, Cunningham lays out what he calls the “Five Core Disciplines of Thinking:”

  • Find the unasked question — create a question that will result in clarity and generate better choices.
  • Separate the problem from the symptom – identify the real obstacle that is blocking progress.
  • Check assumptions – differentiate the facts from the story you’re spinning.
  • Consider second-order consequences – clarify the risks and the possibility or cost of being wrong.
  • Create the machine – create the executable plan and identify the resources (people and money) required to solve the real (core) problem and make forward progress.

Of these five disciplines, the one that seems to best work with my young friend’s puzzlement is the second one, separating problem from symptom.

Cunningham suggests three questions to ask that will help you get clear about the root problem or obstacle you’re facing:

  • What are the possible reasons I am noticing this symptom?
  • What isn’t happening that, if it did happen, would cause the perceived gap (between where you are and where you want to be) to either narrow or disappear?
  • What is happening that, if it stopped happening, would cause that perceived gap from disappearing.

It’s certainly a great way to avoid looking at a problem that isn’t!

My young friend now has a copy of that book.  I gave it to her.  I also gave her a brand new sharpened pencil with eraser intact.

“Clean up your mistakes and get to the point” by Carol VanHook via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]


My lesson from all of this stuff is that “old-style” works just fine.  That’s probably how a particular way of walking got to be one of the go-to styles of walking for people living in other times and other places.

“I think I’ll start a new life” by Noukka Signe via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
Here’s a poem:


Promises unkept


And here we are

Standing with bated breath

As the fateful domino teeters

On the edge of falling over.

I already see in my mind’s eye

The lines of black rectangles

Falling over,

Falling down,




Compounded excuses hang in the air,

An incipient, obfuscating cloud gathering,

Trying to obscure the Real

Of something left undone,

Still unfinished past its time.

Righteous anger wants to be unleashed

And all the insecurities, all the fears

Are circling ’round

Like scavengers waiting on another death.

A sourness grows

As entropy breaks down structure

And the whole ferments, rotting.




The wait-and-see card is in play now.

So what happens next?

It is a given, you know:

I will continue with this dance.

It is a thing I do.

Whether you continue is yours,

Not mine.

Whether the dance continues

With you or without you is your choice.

There’s always Plan B.

There’s always Plan Z.


Only the uncertainty remains:

How to untangle this mess

Of promises unkept,

How to get back to grace.

By Netta Kanoho

Header Photo credit: “CANS FESTIVAL” by JOHN19701970 via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]



(Click on each of the post titles below and see where it takes you…)


Thanks for your visit.  I’d appreciate it if you would drop a note or comment below and tell me your thoughts.

14 thoughts on “USE YOUR BIG ERASER

  1. DashDNations says:

    That dress is stunning and I liked the history behind erasers and what artist used to have to use. This is a great piece. 

    It true how sometimes modern society overcomplicates things and in doing so it opens up the subject to a lot of things that can go wrong. 

    Look at coffee, it’s coffee grounds steeped in hot water but the more we try to make it better by overcomplicating the process the worse our coffee tastes.

    1. Thanks for the visit and for sharing your thoughts, DashDNations.  I like your coffee analogy.  It’s just so, so true!

      Please do come again….

  2. Love this!  I used to think of my life as a story on a piece of paper that, over time, had mistakes, and bigger mistakes, things crossed out, scribbled out, smudges, erasures so hard you’d rip the paper, tear drops, and even blood from a paper cut… and it was a bit crumpled.  I used to think that I my life was so messy and ruined that i just wanted to throw away the paper (my life) and start over.  

    But you know what, that’s not an option and life is messy and that’s ok.  You just keep writing the story and work with what you have.  Get out your big eraser and erase and then write over it!

    1. Molly, I do thank you for your visit and for telling your story.  I agree with your conclusions, of course.  I’m glad the post resonated with you.

      Please do come again.

  3. It is unbelievable how this article made me feel. So happy about the wisdom and about how human tendency toward perfection takes a beautiful path made up of legendary stories. When I was about to finish this piece of art article, I returned to the top to remind myself of the title again, and I smiled with so much contemplation; of course, it was “Use your Big Eraser.”

    1. Your comment makes me smile, Jeeda!  (My work here is done….Hee!)

      Please do come again.

  4. I like this concept very much. While I am utterly impressed with those who get things perfect on their first try, I don’t think there is anything taken away when the process includes a few corrections and adjustments along the way.

    It’s nice to know that even the most highly respected artists utilize the mighty eraser in order to achieve amazing things!

    1. Aly, thanks for the visit and for sharing your thoughts. 

      From what I’ve seen, the most highly respected artists almost always work that big eraser constantly.  That’s how they get to be highly respected, I think.

  5. I love your story telling to guide the reader to your major point of trying again in life. The information about the eraser history and using the eraser analogy is so creative and keeps us engaged and your poem brings it all together.

    You are a creative talent. Beautifully done.

    Thanks for the great read. Best regards to you, Netta

    1. Delois, thanks for the visit and for sharing your thoughts.  I do appreciate it.

      Please do come again.

  6. Parameter says:

    I agree with you that we humans come with a natural eraser. In the pursuit of purpose we do a lot of writings on the wall and we are left with no choice than to erase them until we find the right part.

    While some like Cunnigham are able to find the right answers. Others continue to write and erase in a bid to find it. 

    1. Hee!  Parameter, I love your image of all of humanity as graffiti artists scribbling away on the wall of life.  It makes me smile.  Thank you.

      Please do come again.

  7. Your article on the importance of having a “big eraser” in life, much like the one artists use to correct their drawings, is a valuable reminder of the power of self-correction and mindfulness.

    The story of the artist Wayne Edenshaw’s response to a question about drawing exquisite lines serves as a metaphor for the iterative nature of life and the need to correct our course when necessary. It got me thinking about how, in our fast-paced world, we often forget to take a step back, identify the real obstacles or problems, and make the necessary adjustments.

    As I read, I couldn’t help but wonder how we can encourage and teach these skills of self-correction, problem separation, and thoughtful questioning to the younger generations, who are growing up in a world that often prioritizes speed and immediate results.

    Additionally, have you personally found a particular practice or method that helps you navigate these complexities and challenges in your own life? Your insights on these questions would be greatly appreciated.

    1. Ashley, thanks for your visit and for your thoughts.  I do appreciate them.

      Myself, I think I’ve figured out that the best way to teach the young ones anything is to go live your life out loud. 

      If you make your song a good one, they might be moved to backtrack your trail and follow your footsteps to see where you came from and find clues for why going in the direction you went led to wherever you are. 

      (If you screw up, well…then you make a really good bad example.)


      Please do come again.

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