Seven Reflections from my Chicago/Montreal Trip

August 21, 2017 | 12 Comments

It’s that time again, time to pause and reflect on my recent trip (to Chicago and Montreal). This is my third trip this year – you might like to read my reflections from my trip to Europe in May/June and New Zealand in January.

Let’s get straight into it:

1. More beautiful in real life

Chicago has always been in the top 5 American cities that I have wanted to visit – as an architect there were a lot of important buildings I wanted to see. But my interests have changed since I’ve started sketching and I am less interested in the hero buildings and more interested in streets and a sense of place. I just couldn’t get a feel of this from the photos of Chicago I saw beforehand. I mainly saw skyline pictures of the city and I couldn’t connect with them – just a fancy modern American city.

So it was great to arrive and discover my favourite bits in the city – in particular the beautiful river and the spaces it creates, and the gritty elevated train line. But there were so many other parts I loved as well and slightly ironically, I did become very attached to the skyline – the parts (the individual buildings) and the whole.

And yes, I found “my SOH of Chicago” – The Wrigley Tower. The term ‘My SOH’ (Sydney Opera House) refers to the iconic building that I find myself drawing over and over again.

Montreal: I knew Montreal was going to be amazing, but I didn’t have any time to research beforehand. I was blown away by how beautiful it was and very sad that I didn’t have more time there.

2. Conquering Skyscrapers

As I have mentioned before, architecture with lots of repetition is not my favourite building type to draw so I’m really happy that I now feel comfort sketching them in my own loose style. Refer to my workshop report for full details.

3. Full-On

This is the best way to describe this trip. I made a comment that my Europe trip was a little too hectic and I only had 2 full solo days. This time I had none!

A USK symposium trip is not really a vacation for me – and each year it just gets bigger and more demanding. The teaching component (this year with an extra demo) takes a lot of prep and energy (these days me my friends and I try to conserve energy and get back to our hotel rooms before 9pm each night).

Even though I turned up in Chicago really early this year, I found that more symposium related activities were filling up my time… and I’m not even on a USK committee! For example, this year I had a TV appearance thrown into the mix (more about that separately, I promise) but there were a lot of other things that I was coordinating during the non-symposium days. I had to be switched on the whole time!

And then my 5 days in Montreal were jammed packed as well – in the best possible way! Sketching hard during the day and talking art in the evening!

I loved every minute of it, but it was tiring and I found it hard to find re-charge time.

4. A few good-old sketchcrawl days

But despite the craziness, I had a few wonderful highly productive (but relaxing at the same time) sketchcrawl days with my friends. My USK friends and I seem to have passed the ‘non-stop obsessive sketching stage’ and end up making the most of our time together catching up on life and work, and swapping notes about how to survive as a full time artist. These catch up sessions are very important and helpful but it was really special to have a few of these old-style fun sketching days during this trip.

5. Instagram stories are the best

The fact that I didn’t get a chance to do any blog posts and also struggled to post images to my Instagram feed was a sign of how ‘full-on’ this trip was. I just didn’t have any time in the evenings to do much social media. However, grabbing 15 seconds, a few times during the day, to record some video was so much fun! There were lots of special guest appearances.

Thanks to everyone who followed along!

For those that missed out, I hope to throw all the snippets together into a youtube video soon.

6. Connecting artists with their hometown

It’s hard to put into words how rich the experience was to visit the local neighbourhoods of Marc Taro Holmes and Shari Blaukopf. It was so amazing to walk (or drive) the streets and see their own local areas through the lens of their artwork. I had a realization of how different the Point Claire area is (where Shari is) from old town Montreal (where Marc sketches) and how in many ways their style relates to their neighbourhod..

It was a big lightbulb moment for me: I am best known for my teacups and Baroque (Italian Baroque) buildings – but how much does ‘Sydney’ relate to my sketching style? Right at the moment (when I’m not travelling) I am not really sketching Sydney. I need to work out how to schedule some ‘sketching Sydney’ time into my daily life. Sigh! I say that all the time but never do anything about it!

7. Art on the wall

The last takeaway is in direct response to visiting both Marc and Shari’s homes and loving how much art they have on their walls (their own and others). My walls are all blank at the moment and I need to do something about that.

This photo is of the artwork above the bed I slept on in the Holmes home.

Well, there you have it. These 7 points are the things that are most prominent in my head at the moment, and it’s interesting that they are not as ‘art-related’ as they normally are. Perhaps that is a good reflection of the trip: although I was sketching a lot, there was little time for personal reflection on my work.

And another aspect is that I have returned home and immediately jumped into ‘hustle mode’. Note: ‘hustle’ is being used in the modern sense of good intensive work to achieve a big goal, and not the traditional ‘hustle and bustle’ which is more negative.

What’s Next?
I am flat out preparing to relaunch Buildings in a very limited time frame. Why? Because I have another trip (yes! another one!) coming up in under a month. No teaching in this trip (it’s a trip just for me!) but I am working with some local friends to organise a public sketchmeet day in San Francisco on Saturday 23 September. No more details are available at the moment so stay tuned for that. Please note: I will not be available for any other sketching events while in California.


  • Marissa - August 21, 2017 reply

    You are already planning a trip across the ocean to the USA! I am impressed. I wanted to hug the ground here after my flight back from Chicago I was super jet lagged and just plain ill for a week. I don't know how you do it! Love your sketches and love reading about your impressions and it was great to see you even briefly in Chicago.

    • Liz Steel - August 21, 2017 reply

      So sorry to hear that you were so sick Marissa - not fun at all. this will be my third overseas trip in a few months - with just 4-5 weeks inbetween. As an Australian long haul flights are the only option if you want to travel so I have intentionally taken a positive approach. My sleep isn't great for 5-7 days when I return, but I always push through the day and thankful that I dont get too much jet lag. this year is a bit hectic!!!

  • Janice L-H - August 21, 2017 reply

    Hope to sketch with you in SF in September!

    • Liz Steel - August 21, 2017 reply

      that will be nice Janice!

  • Elena - August 21, 2017 reply

    Will you be offering any workshops in connection with your San Francisco trip? Please?!

    • Liz Steel - August 21, 2017 reply

      Sorry as mentioned above, this is just a vacation trip. Teaching and the prep involved would take away all the time I have - so not this trip!

  • Minerva Ferrel - August 21, 2017 reply

    When Shari and Marc announced that you would be in Montreal I couldn't be happier, only to notice that it would be during my vacation time 1000 km east of the city! I hope you will visit again! Anyway, I am thrilled to see some of the sketches you made here and read about your process. I wish you peaceful and replenishing time to recharge your batteries after these sketching marathons. Looking forward to reading all about SF.

    • Liz Steel - August 21, 2017 reply

      oh so sorry you were away at the time Minerva. I do long to return to montreal!

  • Joan Tavolott - August 22, 2017 reply

    I don't know where you get all your energy from. You went non-stop in Chicago and then went and did the same in Montreal. Plus you had that killer of a flight both ways. It is always fun to see your reflections about your trips and the lovely sketches you create. I'm glad you got to see a bit of Marc and Shari's worlds too. And then you are off again to SF.

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  • Bianca Caruana - March 14, 2018 reply

    Hi Liz, It’s Bianca Great blog!

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