Fair Game — And a Bottle of Gamvar

Over and over, I hear the same thing. When it comes to drawing, anything is fair game. Even the simplest and most ordinary objects can become works of art, or, well, at least subjects for works of art.

In the hands of a talented artist, everyday things can truly be transformed. Just take a look at these “30 Clever Drawings Completed Using Everyday Objects” by illustrator Christoph Niemann. These are from a series he has created called “Sunday Sketches.” You can see more of his work here.

Definitely he uses these everyday objects in surprising ways. For most artists, drawing something ordinary means just that — drawing an ordinary object around the house. And, indeed, this is a practice highly recommended by many art instructors. No need to search for things of beauty. Just draw whatever is close at hand.

It’s great practice, of course, although, to be honest, the practice has never appealed to me all that much. I first became aware of the importance of drawing anything and everything soon after I began learning to draw. One of the first posts I shared in this blog was titled “Just Draw… Everything“. Of course, I was still thinking more in terms of landscape art. I wanted to draw rocks, rivers, trees, flowers. Anything outdoors was fair game for my fledgling pencil skills.

Yet over and over, time and again, different authors of art instruction books pointed out the need to draw ordinary, everyday, household items, or items from our art desks. Anything, these artists point out, is fair game for drawing practice.

I have followed along now and then. I’ve drawn staplers, ink bottles, and yes, I’ve even drawn a freshly-washed load of laundry. But why? Well, in answer to that question, I can only say, “Why not?” Yes, I’m finally starting to appreciate the idea of drawing very ordinary things.

I’m at a point now in my art studies where I want to improve my drawing abilities. Doing that, however, requires me to be realistic. I’m not Leonardo da Vinci. I’m not Albrecht Durer. While practice does lead to improvement, no amount of practice in the world will make me an outstanding graphite or charcoal artist. Continued study and practice will only make me better at being the artist I am. What this all means for me now is that a large part of “learning to draw better” involves letting go, giving myself permission to be who I am, and finding artistic freedom. It means doing the best I can without trying too hard. It’s moving forward step by step, but not pushing or pressuring myself.

With this new attitude, I’m finding that drawing everyday items really is a helpful practice. Just as when I drew that ridiculous drawing of our laundry, I really can’t take myself too seriously when I’m making quick sketches of things around the house or the studio. A case in point, a bottle of Gamvar.

I’m getting ready for an upcoming art show, so I got out my Gamvar to varnish a painting I’ll be entering in the oil category. The Gamvar was sitting out near my desk, so as I reviewed my drawing lesson for the day — remembering to stay focused on the object not the paper — the little bottle of varnish made a very good subject. The drawing doesn’t look like much. Well, I hope it does look like a small bottle of Gamvar, despite the imperfections.  

Today’s drawing practice, as mentioned above, was to focus on the object, to look closely at it, to examine it — and not be constantly looking at my sketchbook. I put on a playlist of relaxing sounds — seagulls and ocean waves — and I settled into a relaxed state.  I allowed myself 20 minutes to complete my drawing, and I quickly found myself fascinated by what I was doing. It was the cap that intrigued me the most. I noticed how the lighting made it lighter in some places and darker in others, how, when I looked closely, I could see the back edges of the cap surrounding the neck of the bottle. I liked seeing those little up and down grooves and the wider solid band at the bottom.

You can probably tell that I spent most of my twenty minutes drawing the cap and then quickly filled in the basic shape, the label, and a suggestion of words. I also used the side of the pencil to add a light background, and I put in a bit of shadow — neither of which shows up very well in the scan I did.

As I drew, I thought again about how silly it might seem to spend time drawing a bottle of varnish. But I thought, too, of how comfortable it is to do “throw-away” drawings like this. Other than posting the image here to share it on the blog, I won’t be carrying this drawing around, showing it off, or asking anyone to look at what I just drew. It’s not intended to be a true work of art. It’s a drawing practice. It was an exercise on focusing my attention as I draw. It was an opportunity to relax and do something without feeling pushed or pressured.

Now, I’m joining the ranks of all those artists who talk about drawing ordinary things. We don’t have to go to great lengths to find things we want to draw when we sit down to practice. Anything is fair game, even a simple little bottle of Gamvar.



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