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Kneading

     I was a needy art student who needed an eraser. There were way too many choices, each with a specific job, and made of a variety of materials –– plastic, vinyl, and for the Vegans there was even a soy version. But I wanted an inexpensive (cheap) do-it-all, so I bought a rubber, kneaded eraser.  


     Before rubber erasers were invented there was bread. Artists had only to break off a piece of their lunch to correct their drawing. In 1770, the Englishman, Edward Nairne, discovered that rubber erased –– but it smelled bad and was brittle –– so bread was still better. In fact, the substance was called “rubber” because it could rub out marks. In 1839 the American, Charles Goodyear, invented vulcanization, named for Vulcan, the Roman god of fire. This chemical process made rubber longer lasting and rendered it pliable –– useful for things like automobile tires –– and erasers. It was a revelation!


     The kneaded eraser is nothing short of magic. It is so functional and multi-purposed, yet tactile and strangely satisfying to use. And it does not stink. Best thing since sliced bread.
It eradicates mistakes by abrading and absorbing the dirt of charcoal and graphite dust. It glides across expensive drawing paper without marring or tearing. It does not leave crumbs. No residue is left behind. And it’s self-cleaning, to boot. Silly rubber, gray gummy, it’s putty in the hands. Warm it and pull it like taffy (so fun and calorie free) until it returns to a virgin, pristine state. For a novice artist, it was comforting to know that my sins could some times be forgiven, that I could start over. I’d made the right choice.


     Less is more. This simple tool is as important for creating as it is for destroying errors. It can be shaped into a tiny point to bring up a highlight or wedged into a hunk for exorcizing big swaths of darkness. Subtractive drawing! It brings light out of the darkness –– yin and yang. This is a very zen gadget. And there is the added benefit to the meditative, repetitive action of kneading –– it eases stress.
Play with it. Carry a scrap in your bag to have fun when you’re bored. Make a tiny sculpture on the subway. Supple, able to be shaped and molded, it’s pleasing to feel.


     I’ve owned my eraser for so long I can’t remember when I first removed its cellophane wrapper. True, if it gets cold, or is neglected for a long time, it tends to harden, but kneading and the warmth of hands makes it elastic and smooth again.


     It outlasts every other kind of eraser, by far, but it does not last forever. Sadly, there comes a time when its usefulness is over and it ceases to renew itself. It is brittle and just can’t take anymore. It ultimately dies of exhaustion –– of extreme old age. My student days eraser has served me well but now I need a new one. Farewell, Eraser.

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