2017 Art Goal: Get more people in my sketchbook

January 31, 2017 | 21 Comments

I have a few goals for my art this year, but the number 1 goal is to get more people in my sketchbook. I have been saying this for years (I know!) and at times I have managed it – such as this week.

I have reached a point where I am happy sketching people in the train but I rarely catch the train. Sketching people in cafes or other situations when they move more often is another matter. And although my people sketches have improved a lot over the years, I am not at the point where I would like to be.

Last year was just too crazy and focused on architectural sketching for me to attempt ‘people sketching’ as a project. I realised early on in 2016 that I wouldn’t add more pressure to myself – there was more than enough of that just getting everything else done. And I know that when it’s the right time, the desire to push hard on developing my skills will come. (Note: I don’t believe in beating myself up when it comes to my art!)

As many of you know from reading this blog and my online classes, I am an in-depth type of person and so I don’t want to casually start drawing people without the time to accompany it with some serious research and development. But this year I want to do something about it, and share the journey with you!

Today, I am just going to give you a brief introduction to my plan:

1. Accountability

Not only am I making myself accountable to you by writing this article, but I also have a partner in crime: I have a people-sketching-accountability-partner. This sketch was done while I was waiting for her to turn up to our first meeting. I will share more in a future article, but for now I am going to leave you guessing who it is – I’m so annoying, I know!

2. Research

I am reading through my collection of people-sketching books and taking sketch-notes into a dedicated sketchbook. As an architect it is really important for me to understand structure – this applies to everything I draw, so I need to understand anatomy to a level that will give me the confidence I want. Drawing what I read is a great way to make it more memorable. Things are a little crazy for me right at the moment as I am getting ready to move, but once I am settled this will be a nightly activity and scheduled into my week.

If you are wondering, this is Gary Faigin’s book “The Artist’s Complete Guide to Facial Expressions”.

3. Finding the best approach

The obvious way to work at this stage would be to use some pencil first to capture the gesture or structure. But what I want to do is to just go for it in ink – this is a little scary!

I have tried doing some pencil setups but I have decided to stick with what I feel like doing – to draw straight in ink (using my beloved White Joy) and work out strategies to suit this, such as living with a wrong line rather than making a mess trying to correct it. In some ways, this will make it harder (it would be so much easier to use pencil) but I think it is the right way forward for me. BTW these sketches are done from photos.

4. Doing it and correcting it

I haven’t decided whether I should sketch directly into my daily sketchbook or into another dedicated people-sketching book (what I am doing at the moment), but I am committed to sketching people on location whenever I can, and embracing the 10,000 hours of progress sketches (ie. mistakes) that I have to get out as part of the journey.

But it’s not just enough to do these sketches – loose line drawings that are sometimes successful and sometimes not. I am also committed to reviewing them at the end of the day (coupled with the research mentioned above) so that I can learn from my mistakes. It is quite hard to break bad habits once they are set, so I want to be critiquing my work on a regular basis.

I will share more of my journey, but I think that is enough for today.

My final thought is that accountability is the big key for me, so I really need your help this year so I can reach my goal!

Can you prompt me if you don’t see any people sketches on my blog over a fortnightly period? I might not be able to write a dedicated article like this one every second week, but I want to make sure that I am keeping up the sketching.

Can you help me with this?

Do you have any art goals this year? How did you go with them in January?


  • Benedicte says:

    Dear Liz, this is very interesting! I’m passionate about sketching people and do it all the time (my goal for 2017 is sketching more buildings, which I find kind of scary 😉 – after taking your great course in 2016). But I sketch people intuitively (and somehow casually) and never took such a structured, in-depth approach to the subject. So following you provides huge inspiration and some thoughts about better organizing my work in order to progress. It will allow me to benefit from your research, and I couldn’t be more grateful for that! I will certainly check regularly for new posts on the topic!
    For today, I was just wondering which books about drawing people do you find most helpful?

    • Tami says:

      I too was interested in hearing what books you find most helpful. I caught the title you listed from Gary Faigin and will look it up, so thanks for this. Look forward to this. People add life to a drawing and of course not every drawing NEEDS people, but it depends upon the environment etc. Great work!!! Keep it up:)

      • Liz Steel says:

        Hi Tami and Benedicte. I am a little reluctant to share my books since I am referring to a lot of books (about 10 at a guess) and picking up a few tips from each. Lynne Chapman’s book is excellent but at the moment am doing more anatomy-volumetric exercises and trying to work out the best approach. So it is a little early for me to share which books are the best at this stage.

  • Viola Bloomfield says:

    Have you ever tried life drawing Liz? The ArtHouse hotel offers casual, drop in life drawing (untutored) sessions for $7 on Monday nights. I like the fact that you get to warm up with 1 and 2 minute poses at the beginning before getting into the longer poses.

  • Dawn Holder says:

    You have inspired me, Liz! I tend to get intimidated when it comes to sketching people. I like your method of studying the structure of the human form. Thanks for posting this!!

  • Cathy Dwyer says:

    Hi Liz. My goal for this year is to get back on track with my sketching in general-the fall and winter has not been kind to my family-four beloved members, including my Father passed on. I was unable to complete SketchingNow Buildings, which I was so into. But, I’m going on a PALLADIAN ODYSSEY-second session-and I really need to practice drawing buildings in order to get more confident when I’m actually in Italy, sketchbook open, pen in hand. So my goal is to try to sketch a building everyday!

  • Linda T. says:

    Sketching more people was my goal last year. I am confident drawing portraits from photos now, but from life continuous to be a challenge. But I do it nevertheless – as you mentioned we need to put those hours in! I have found this ‘recipe’ particularly helpful: http://davidrankinwatercolor.macmate.me/David_Rankin_Watercolor_Site/Faces_files/Sketching%20Faces%20Faster.pdf

  • Cyd says:

    Liz – another lofty and inspiring goal! I read most of your blog posts so will be looking for your sketches of people. Is there a chance you could make a list of the books (or other resources) you are using for guidance? It would be helpful to so many of us. Thanks!

  • pam Cunningham says:

    I am on the same “mission” as you, so i shall be following your path with great interest. …especially interested to see how things go with sketching people who are basically in motion…walking in public spaces has been, so far, for me, very frustrating..Once they move, … then , I have only my memory to use for the follow through…

  • Carmel Campbell says:

    My goal is to sketch more buildings. I am taking off for a 5 week trip to Australia. My first stop is your workshop in Sydney then onto all the beautiful buildings in Tasmania. I draw too many people, that is my problem. So the reverse of yours. I have Gary Faigin’s book. It is a great book. He has a class on Craftsy more or less based on the same book. My other, ongoing goal is hands, so hands and buildings. There is also another great book Classic Human Anatomy by Valerie L. Winslow. –The Artist’s Guide to Form, Function and Movement. It is not one of those dry anatomy books.

  • Marji Webb says:

    My art goal this year is to be at a level to get the most out of the Symposium in July. Redoing your SkN Foundations and Buildings coursework; finally taking some of the Craftsy classes I’m enrolled in: Sketching the Energy of Places (James Richards), Figure Sketching Made Simple (Suhita), and Travel Sketching in Mixed Media (Mark Taro Holmes) in particular.
    I look forward to reading about your progress with sketching people.

  • Lynne Francis says:

    Hi Liz,

    My goal is just to sketch more of anything and stop making excuses! I have a calendar to record when I did a sketch so I can see how many blanks I get – too many at the moment. I also did my first watercolour sketch standing up on Saturday as my usual excuse is there’s nowhere to sit! The techniques I’m learning on the Foundations course are a great help and I did my Saturday sketch in record time by abstracting shapes. Hope your goal goes well. We’ll be watching!

    • Ania Drozd says:

      I do repeat the course as there is so many valuable information and I feel that some techniques need to be explored and exercised in depth by me. I really enjoy and appreciate all the content and effort that Liz is putting in her teaching.

  • Ann Greitzer says:

    Hi Liz, I am focusing on figure drawing and like you, I prefer to skip the pencil and just go straight to ink and see where I land. Sometimes, I do sketch a quick gesture first with a very light brush pen, and work those light shades into the final drawing. Thanks to you, I am working on Feeling Edges, Abstracting Shapes and Constructing Volumes as I apply those to the human form!

  • Tina M Koyama says:

    Excellent process you’ve laid out for reaching your goal! So focused (compared to the “let’s just wing it” method most of us use)! I agree that going straight to ink is the way! Your subject will be long gone if you take the time to erase! 🙂 In response to some of your ponderings, I’d say put your people sketches into your regular daily sketchbook because they are all part of the same process — you are just way, way ahead in drawing architecture, but you’re still always learning even with buildings, right? Looking forward to seeing your process in action!

  • Gaelle1947 says:

    My goal is to keep following your wonderful posts. That won’t be a hard resolution to keep. I also want to get back to more regular people sketching, in particular musicians performing live (I always chuckle when I use or hear that expression, because how the heck could they perform if they weren’t alive!!!). Thank you for mentioning that Gary Faigin’s book – I found a copy at the library so am really thrilled about that! All the best in 2017, the year of the Rooster – so we all have full permission to “strut our stuff” like that cocky critter. LOL

  • Liz Steel says:

    thanks for all the comments everyone – will try and reply soon!

  • Ania Drozd says:

    I’ve also found a great movie of Milton Glaser where he states that drawing is thinking, and also a fundamental tool of understanding reality:

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