Advice on drawing ordinary and uninspiring environments

A very common problem people have, when they start to draw, is about not seeing something they consider interesting enough to draw or something that could potentially result in a good drawing. I want to talk a little bit about this and I will start by mentioning the work of an American photographer that I like very much: William Eggleston.

drawing of Ofir, Portugal
Fão, Portugal, 28.02.2020

Eggleston photographed the mundane, ordinary, world. His everyday life. And he photographed not in B&W but color film. Those times, color photography was not being seen as an artistic media, comparing with black and white. In that sense, Eggleston was an important contributor to opening this door bringing color photography to the galleries and museums. But it is not just about using color. It is also about working with the everyday, ordinary and mundane life as a subject matter. If you don’t know his work already, I recommend you to do a little pause right now and take a look at his photographs.

Nowadays, this approach to photography, is not something unfamiliar. Take, for example, Instagram.

Eggleston was living in a very, very ordinary, mundane, American city. According to this documentary, one of those that no one really cares because, in its appearance, there is really nothing to see or appreciate. Although, in that environment, he did amazing photographs…

So, why I’m bringing Eggleston and his work to this discussion? Because I want to give you an example on how to approach an environment that you find ordinary and uninspiring. I want to show you that your environment doesn’t have to be boring and without interest. The point in here is that you are seeing it like that. The value of your surroundings is in the way you see it. Not in the things attached to themselves. Let me to suggest you an exercise. When you see yourself in a place without knowing what to draw because everything seems dull, boring and without interest, pick your phone and open the camera. Then, look your surroundings through the screen of your phone. Don’t take any pictures. The idea is to just use the camera to find interesting frames of the things around you. Go more close or more far away from an object or scene. Look around through the screen and I’m sure you will find nice frames of the things around you. Then, draw that specific view that you are seeing on the screen of your phone.

Stop seeing your environment as “ordinary” and “uninspiring”… because that is something in our heads. And there is another thing in here. Eggleston made his surroundings beautiful and interesting for a lot of people not just because of the subjects he was choosing but because of the technique he was using too. The images work because he shoot color and he was very interested in the printing process. He was printing his images with processes that made the colours pop. He wanted them very saturated. According to his point of view this is how they were beautiful and interesting.

What I want to say with this is: It is not just about choosing the subject matter. Personally, I would say that it is more about the way you draw and compose and not so much about the choice of the subject in itself. This is a very personal view… Some people see my drawings and they ask “how can you draw something that doesn’t have any interest so beautiful and nice?”… a lot it is about the way you draw it. The codes and rules of visual communication, the contrast, the composition, etc. More about this in the future…

So, one final advice. Keep experimenting with different materials. Eventually, of course, you will have a preference, but once in a while pick something new. It can be a new brush, a new pencil or pen, a new color, etc. but keep experimenting. You will be more excited and interested in the process of drawing and the final results.