Sketching review of 2020: Learning from what I achieved this year

December 31, 2020 | 6 Comments

Yesterday I sat down and went through the sketchbooks which I completed in 2020 – all 24 of them!

This is an annual ritual and it’s always an incredible experience. But this year it was especially powerful. 2020 has been such a crazy year and there is much which I could write about it, but instead I just want to focus on my sketching over the last 12 months. In general, I’m really pleased with the amount and type of sketching which I managed to achieve!

I’m a little surprised that this year I completed 24 sketchbooks as this means it’s my second most productive year (in terms of number of sketchbooks). I normally complete somewhere between 15-20 books with last year (2019) being off the scale with 30!

This collection includes:

  • 17 x Everyday sketching books (various sizes and formats – more about that below)
  • 4x A4 Landscape books from my Virtual Trip to Europe
  • 1 x A4 portrait book from my North and South Coast trips
  • 1 x 8×10 softcover Alpha book containing all the theory pages for Sketchbook Design
  • 1 x A4 landscape book containing: Colours in my Palette

Note: I have filled another 4 sketchbooks from my teaching – demo videos, livestreams etc but I’m not counting these.

Sketchbooks Used

  • Stillman and Birn Alpha – 8×10, 5.5×8.5, square (all softcover)
  • Stillman and Birn Epsilon – 8×10 softcover
  • Stillman and Birn Zeta – square softcover
  • Moleskine A4 Portrait
  • Hahnemuehle Watercolour A4 landscape
  • Clairefontane Goldline Natural Sketchbook 20x20cm
  • Global Handbook Square
  • Derivan Accordian Book (A5 portrait)
  • Seawhite watercolour book A4 landscape
  • Kunst & Papier Aquarellbuch 24×20.6cm, 17x24cm

 I started the year with the intention of trying out some different books so I definitely achieved this. The most variety ever!

As I looked through my 2020 sketchbooks a number of clear phases emerged.

Buildings, food, people and lots of sketching outings (Jan – mid March)

I started the year with lots of fun sketching:

My overwhelming thought as I looked through the first few sketchbooks of the year (remember these are summer months here in Australia) was “Wow, I got out so much to sketch!” Even though in Sydney we had a lot of freedom in the second half of the year (for which I’m super thankful) these days I stay in my local area mostly. So the amount of movement I had earlier in the year just feels weird!

A few articles for this time:


Keeping my sketchbook open all day (mid March – mid May)

I was super busy during our stay at home period…

  • Hosting Group Run-throughs for both Foundations and Watercolour (including new bonus videos each week)
  • Beginning my virtual trip to Europe (more about this later)
  • Creating a virtual Palladian Odyssey Tour with Mike Botton and some significant extra bonuses for the 2020 group
  • Setting up for livestreaming and more!

As a result of all these activities my everyday sketching time was minimal!

However as I wasn’t constantly going out, my sketchbook was constantly sitting open on my desk. So the current sketchbook page became a part of my day and often I would pause to add a quick sketch to it, or to think about the overall composition of the layout. Even though I wasn’t sketching a lot I really developed a stronger bond to my sketchbook!

BTW more Foundations Friday articles here.

Sketching Local (mid-May – Sept)

When our restrictions began to lift I had a new appreciation for how much I love sketching on location – being in my own little world while being surrounded by movement. I realised how much this energies me but also how easy it is to get rusty if you don’t regularly go out urban sketching.

Even though I was free to sketch in other parts of Sydney, I decided to stay in my local area. I got really addicted to challenge of finding something interesting to sketch even though I was returning to the same seating locations over and over again!

A huge part of my motivation during this time was the Group Run-through for my big Watercolour On Location course. It went for 3 months and I hosted weekly livestreams where, in addition to answering questions in real time, I shared all the sketching I had done in the last week.

So many articles from this period – a sign that I was super inspired!


A break (Oct)

When Watercolour On Location finished I went away for two weeks. One week to Port Macquarie (North) and one week to the South Coast. Both of these were relaxing trips at the beach (much needed and appreciated) with only a little sketching. So my only two weeks of travelling this year were not my usual sketching trips.

Focusing on Sketchbook Design (Nov-Dec)

Since returning from my beach vacation my big focus has been on preparing my new course Sketchbook Design – starting next week. As described in my recent Behind the Scenes article, this has been a huge but super rewarding project to finish up the year! It has been highly satisfying to put together another big course. I also enjoyed the challenge of filming it by myself and I’ve been really inspired by the insights I gained from looking through my entire collection of over 250 sketchbooks.

I’m really attached to this new course as in some ways it is the most personal! Inside the course I share a lot of my work throughout the years including some early work which is only to be seen here in my blog buried in the archives! It is also the most fun SketchingNow course I’ve created as there is no pressure to produce masterpiece sketches. Simply adding a little design to our pages will make us much happier with our work and this in turn becomes a huge motivation to keep sketching!

I can’t wait to see what everyone does with the lessons – what I’ve filmed to date is only the beginning. The real magic will happen when the group starts sharing their own interpretation of the concepts. (You can find out more about the course here – it starts next week on Monday 4 Jan)

Sketching Projects

I managed to complete three big sketching projects this year in addition to my everyday sketching described above

  • 11 week virtual trip to Europe – mostly following my planned Itinerary as planned from late Apr – early July. This was surprisingly satisfying – see more here.
  • Sketching my way through my teacup collection – I started this in Jan 2019 so it was good to finish it this year and now have more freedom in the cups I chose to drink from
  • Colours in my Palette – this is something I have been wanting to do for years!

Indexes of my articles for these projects:


A big year for my SketchingNow Courses

This year I managed to go through all of my courses – Group Run-throughs for Buildings, Foundations (twice!), Watercolour, Watercolour On Location and a 4 week Course Refresher for Edges. This is significantly more than I had originally planned for the year.

As well as revisiting the lessons for these courses, I also filmed a huge amount of bonus material (especially for Buildings!) and hosted live Q&A sessions. I ran over 30 livestreams in 2020 and these were nearly all done inside SketchingNow courses. Each Group Run-through created a wonderful supportive bunch of sketchers who were so inspiring to hang out with. There is no doubt that a lot of the sketching I did this year was a result of these Group Run-throughs – so a huge thanks to you if you were part of them.

I’m sure there is more that I can add to this article… but I think this captures the main events.

So in summary….

Despite not having even one full day of urban sketching this year (let alone multiple days in a row) and not having many occasions when I was out sketching with fellow sketchers (both of these are the two most important factors in enjoyment and development as an artist) I’m really happy with what I have achieved this year.

If you are signed up for my newsletter you will have received an email today with my five sketching goals for 2021. I’ll expand on this in an article next week – so stay tuned for that. But in the meantime…

Happy New Year my friends!

How about you? Have you had a chance to review your sketching this year? What are you most happy with? Have you set some art goals for 2021?

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  • Tina Koyama says:

    As usual, Liz, you had an impressive output of sketches this year! I just did my end-of-year review too, and despite the strangeness of the year, it was very productive (in terms of my creative growth). Since I couldn’t go out with my USk group or travel at all, like you, I challenged myself to find inspiration in the overly familiar and mundane. With the additional free time, I pursued other types of drawing that I rarely have time for (because I would rather spend it urban sketching): drawing from memory and imagination. And I’ve been drawing my hand every day since the pandemic began: Today was Day 290, and I am still learning from this exercise every day. I would never have embarked on such a project if it weren’t for this weird year. Happy New Year, Liz, and best wishes for whatever you have planned for 2021!

  • 20 sketchbooks? Very impressive. I didn’t even come close to that. Looks like I’m almost thru two. But that’s two more than I have ever completed in a year’s time. And for the second year in a row I’ve participated in the Inktober challenge. 31 days – 31 sketches. Flickr featured the Inktober challenge in one of their Explore pages and two of my sketches made it into that feature. One of those went over 20,000 views and for some reason still draws 10 or 15 views every day. Haven’t figured that out. Anyway, I have increased my sketching and do a lot from Google Street View. May not be the best way but at least I’m sketching. A few weeks ago I ordered three new sketchbooks that have heavy watercolor paper in them. Two Stillman & Birn, Delta, square, wire bound, 7″ x 7″. and a Zeta series 5.5 x 8.5. And a Hand Book Journal Landscape 300 gsm sketchbook. Haven’t unwrapped any of them but will very soon. Liz, I look forward to your emails as they do inspire me to sketch. So looking forward to 2021, may we all be healthy, happy and are able to get out more to sketch and observe this world around us. Happy New Year

    • Liz Steel says:

      Well done Douglas! and congrats on the Explore! Good to read that Flickr is still going strong 🙂

  • Fiona says:

    Happy New Year Liz! Thanks for the inspiration and taking us on your journey. My sketching was not as consistent as I’d have liked but there were a couple of months were I was able to give it more time and found some progress. So on with 2021 and creating more time and freedom for sketching.

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