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Destructive vs. Non-Destructive Editing

Destructive vs. Non-Destructive Editing

This summer I made it one of my goals to be more artistically expressive. I am learning a lot along the way and reflecting on a lot of questions. First let me give you a little background. I am a K-12 teacher and not formally trained in artistic technique. However, I am trained in Art Ed and Art Therapy working with children with autism. Hence, my training is more about expression rather than skill.

Most of my art is a work of love and sometimes frustration. My grandpa was an engineer by trade, but used to oil paint and I used to love watching him paint growing up. However, I am not as technically skilled as he. Hence, the frustration. I have a vision in my head on how I would love to have a painting look, but then sometimes, most of the time it goes awry. I've been going back to fix it, but then mess it up even more. I think of giving up. I take some and cut out the parts of don't like or paint right over them which makes them usually a murky green color. Then a new day arrives and I have a fresh perspective.

When talking with my husband who is trained in the arts and majored in film studies in college. He asked me why I cut my paintings or paint over them. I said because I don't like them and want to keep the good parts or paint something new without wasting paper. He then shared with me that I am doing Destructive Editing. I asked what that was. He said that with Destructive Editing one destroys the original image and with Non-Destructive Editing one can save the steps of the editing and see the process of the editing. 

He referred back to one of my paintings and said that instead of cutting out a part we could scan it and Photoshop part of the painting. That is Non-Destructive editing. I though, 'hmmm'. I've been modifying my photographs digitally for a while as a fun hobby, but I hadn't thought of modifying my paintings. I am thankful I have a wise husband. Overall, I got his point that I need to stop being a Destructive Editor if I don't like my paintings but relish the creative "process" with each step, misstep, and kick ball change. Cheers and happy creating! Enjoy the process!



I'm truly intrigued by what you wrote. I love hearing about the creative outlets and expressions of artists who are not "classically trained," being one among that group myself.  I'm also very drawn to the story of your transformation into a non-destructive editor. It feels very familiar to me - and a bit like a revelation I had with my creative work not too long ago (although my path was somewhat the reverse of yours).

I have inherited a penchant for "always saving my work" from my dad (a science guy) and a tendency to be prolific in making stuff and images from my mom (an artist). I am primarily a builder of small things and photographer. Until a few years ago, I had never thrown out, spot-toned, or otherwise altered a negative, nor had I ever deleted a digital photo or discarded a creation I'd made - not even the failed ones. Let's say that I was somewhat obsessed with not "destroying" anything. My mother, who is an oil painter and happily painted over her own work when I was a kid (it used to horrify me), must have been baffled. 

For me the turning point was losing a sculpture-in-progress and a 60GB hard drive (mid-back-up, no less) at around the same time. It was catastrophic. Afterward, I decided that if all of all this stuff was so mutable, so lose-able, and fragile, I had to be OK messing it up - but I had to do so on my own terms. That's when I started accepting breakage in the items I was physically making and deleting my stray digital images. For me, the experience of throwing out / deleting, losing, and breaking my work has given way to greater appreciation of those things. I'm still a definite adherent to non-destructive editing almost all the time. And of course, as a web guy, I'm a devotee to version control. But I'm also glad that I learned to deal with, and create from, my mistakes - at least here and there. 

It seems you started in the place I struggled to arrive at... It's enlightening realizing that we've both gained similarly fulfilling insights from our differing explorations of destructive versus non-destructive editing in our artwork. Thanks for giving us all the opportunity to think about this kind of transformation as part of the creative process. Thanks also allowing me re-experience my own explorations by virtue of reading about yours.


Hi Demos, 

It is interesting to learn of your art process as well. Thank you for sharing!! Take good care and happy creating!!

Best Wishes,

Mechelle :)