Sketching review of 2023

December 27, 2023 | 16 Comments

It’s time to take a photo of all my completed books for the last 12 months and do a little review of my sketching.

This year I filled 13 sketchbooks:

  • 8 x A4 Hardcover Alpha (by Stillman and Birn)
  • 2 x 8″x10″ Softcover Alpha
  • 3 x Square Softcover Alpha

Note: I have also filled a few additional teaching sketchbooks which contain all the demos I’ve done as part of the Live Versions for my SketchingNow courses.

This number of sketchbooks is less than in previous years because:
1. The A4 sketchbooks are significantly bigger and with more pages than the softcover Alphas
2. I only went away for 6 days this year. When I travel I do a lot of sketching (filling a sketchbook a week) and so the fact that I didn’t do any big trips has meant fewer sketchbooks.

It’s always interesting to compare quantity from year to year and it’s interesting to note that my comments above are practically the same as last year. And if you want to see a year where I did a lot of travel check out my massive 2019 collection!

The number of sketchbooks represents how consistently I sketched and when it comes to everyday sketching the fact that I put pen or brush to paper is often an achievement in itself. But the more important thing to consider is whether I enjoyed my sketching and/or feel satisfied with my results.

Overall I’m very happy with my sketching this year. I’ve managed to keep up with my everyday sketching, filling at least one double-page spread each Monday-Saturday (I don’t sketch on Sunday – the Lord’s Day – as it’s my day of rest and worship). A big part of the reason for this success (my goal is to use my sketchbook to document my life so I want to sketch daily) is my morning walk-coffee-sketch morning routine.

Another big feature of the year has been my ongoing experimentation. Constantly trying new things, allowing myself to take risks and potentially produce ugly work as a result has helped me stay inspired to sketch the same subjects over and over.

This year I used:

  • Watercolour (of course – my main media!) – details of the palette is here.
  • Ink – I’ve almost exclusively drawn with my 55-degree Sailor Fude de Mannen pen this year and it’s all black De Atramentis Document ink at the moment.
  • Brushes – my go-to brush is the  Series 772 Dagger by Rosemary Brushes (sizes 1/2 inch and 3/8 inch) and some water brush used recently.
  • Coloured pencils  – I use a combination of different brands – Faber Castell Polychromos, Caran d’Ache Luminance, Derwent Coloursoft and Bruynzeel Design.
  • Watercolour pencils – all Faber Castell Albrecht Durer.
  • Markers – mostly Faber Castell GoldFaber Aqua but also some Tombows and other cheap brands.
  • Graphite  – Faber Castell 9000 is my favourite pencil!
  • Crayon – Caran d’Ache Neocolor I and II (mostly II- the water-soluble version).
  • A little testing of Pastel pencils (by Faber Castell)


I’m also thinking about some sketching goals for 2024 but I’ll share those in a separate article.

Today I just want to do a brief recap of the main themes of my 2023 sketching…


Local Sketching

As mentioned above I go out sketching most workdays and so my sketchbooks are filled with sketches of the Lindfield shopping area and in particular the Village Green (as it’s the most comfortable place to sit, sip my coffee and sketch).

This year my afternoon visits to Lane Cove have almost totally stopped. I can’t imagine how I managed to make time to visit it almost daily in 2021 and 2022.

On rainy days I often visit a cafe but I still prefer to sit outside so sometimes I shelter in a bus stop/ taxi stand and hope that the wind doesn’t drive the rain onto my page.

In the place of my Lane Cove National Park visits I have been going for later afternoon walks locally and when I do that I often pause for a few minutes to do some really quick sketches with ink (fude pen) and coloured pencils (I have a small selection of 12 colours). I really enjoyed doing these rapid sketches.


City Sketching Outings

The biggest change to my sketching this year has been my weekly sketching outings to Sydney City. Combining a little sketching before attending the mid-week services at my church has meant that I’ve done a lot more sketching of complex scenes.

Some weeks I didn’t get much done and others I filled 4 double-page spreads – or more. But the discipline of getting out mid-week has been great.

Just like my Lindfield sketches, there was a lot of experimentation and mixed media explorations this year in my City sketches.

The most enjoyable of my experimentation sketches was this one – when I simply relied on my instincts and worked intuitively, not looking at the overall composition until the end.



I spent a few months sketching a LOT of teacups in preparation for my Teacups course which we went through for the first time in June 2023.

Rather than just doing my usual direct watercolour sketches of highly decorated teacups, I had a lot of fun creating no-pressure risk-taking teacup combo pages – sketching every cup of tea I drank each day and constantly changing the cups that I drank from.

And for the record, my teacup collection grew this year quite significantly!


Smaller book and dry media

My sister and family from Scotland visited in July and I spent a lot of time with them. Trying to sketch while hanging out with them was challenging so I moved to a smaller lightweight book (Alpha Square softcover) and put my watercolour away.

I just didn’t have time to wait for watercolour to dry – and on some occasions (such as our big family reunion) I could only manage a quick line drawing. 

As much as I love the large A4 book, using a smaller and lighter book was liberating! I spent over 2 months without watercolour – using a combination of watercolour pencils and markers. I also started sketching standing up (I should do more of this!)


More experiments

Faber Castell sent me a box of materials to use for their annual #colour4life event and I had a lot of fun using colours that I wouldn’t normally use.

The collection of Albrecht Durers that they sent me didn’t have any browns, greys or subtle blues so I had to use oranges and purples instead. This was a particularly good challenge as it made me realise how dependent I am on my types of colours!

I also started sketching in graphite and fell in love with a humble pencil. This was a real surprise to me!

In the middle of my dry media period I had a wonderful 6-day road trip to historic towns around Bathurst. I had a lot of fun drawing these tricky street scenes with watercolour pencil and marker. I also found myself doing some simple line drawings with graphite as well.


Sketching Buildings

During the last few months I’ve been focusing on sketching architecture (as part of the Live Version of my Buildings course) and it felt great to be tackling some complicated buildings once again.

I even tried using Neocolor crayons for a few sketches. It was another fun challenge to use a rough and loose medium for some detailed buildings.


Despite all the fun mixed media work I’ve done in my own sketching this year, my love for watercolour continues to grow.

And so I’m finishing 2023 with a focus on creating more watercolour magic on my sketchbook pages and gearing up for the Live Version of my Watercolour course starting on 10 January 2024.


So to recap…

It’s been a good year of everyday sketching and it’s been a year of experiments!

The constant exploration of different materials and different colour combinations has been the way that I have maintained my motivation throughout the year as I mainly sketch the same scenes over and over.


What about your 2023 sketching?

Have you taken some time and looked through your work for 2023? Was it a good year? What did you learn? Did you see some development in your work? Did you sketch as regularly as you wanted to?

I would love to hear about your 2023 sketching so please let me know in the comment section below.

(If you are reading this via email, please click on the article title link below and add a comment on my blog. Thanks!)



Thanks for sharing this review of my sketching in the past 12 months and for being part of the whole 2023 journey through all my regular blog articles. And a special thank you to all of you who have taken the time to leave a comment during the year. It means so much to me! 

Stay tuned for my 2024 sketching goals in the next article!




  • Jamie C says:

    How impressive your year has been and fascinating to see it all together in one article! I’ve really enjoyed this journey with you! I’m interested in your goals for next year, too. I’m working on my own.

    Most of my sketching journey this year has been in your classes with my best joys and successes being the Teacups class and exercises. I fell off in August due to some big health changes, so though I’ve sketched less since, I still pick up my sketchbook from time to time. My biggest goal for 2024 is to try to do a daily spread, or even just a daily sketch! Tips for a successful daily practice are always welcome!

  • Kimberly Ester says:

    It’s such a treat to read your sketching review Liz. I have read them for several years, so I noticed that I was looking forward to it again this year. I appreciate the way you so effectively model for me/us how to review our work. I have picked that up in different ways in your classes. The detachment is so helpful.

    I am admiring of your 2023 sketches! I am especially attracted to what you did with the dry media and experimentation. It feels energetic and your love for what you are doing puts a shine to it. It’s exciting to see your successes.

    On my side, it first appears that I am all over the place. But I don’t think that is actually true. I have taken 3 classes this year to continue to up my skills and am happy with the time spent that way, and seeing the developments. I pushed myself for a month doing a challenge, and that was wildly successful for me. It was hard, and everyday facing all those things that come up, but I learned so much about the process and myself. I was also happy with the work. Where would I like to improve in 2024? I would like to have more regular sketch on location sketching. I love the buzzy energy of that. I’d also like to make time to pursue a focused studio practice, while keeping the rest of my life in balance. My goal is going to be to start with 2 days studio practice, and once a week on location sketching. I’m not sure if this is sustainable for me, so I will have to see and adjust as necessary.

    Thanks for having this space for us to reflect along side you. I really appreciate that Liz. Best to you in 2024.

  • Lesley Childs says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your work with us all year, Liz. You are a total inspiration to me and I can proudly say that I have now completed just over a year of sketching something every single day, thanks to you. I have just had an eye operation so my recent sketches have been “interesting,” but they are still there in the book. I am very proud of myself, and very grateful to you for teaching me to paint last year. You have given me a huge amount of pleasure. Thank you.

  • Sandie Ingram says:

    Look at all you’ve done this year, Liz! I absolutely loveded your experimentation with the unusual palletes, in particular. The sharing of all your exploration has continued to give me support to take risks and relax some in my art work. You are the consummate educator, always reflecting, and encouraging that practice in others! I was just looking through a sketchbook begun about this time last year, noticing changes and growth. This year’s Teacups course was a highlight and taught me much more than painting a teacup! I’m looking forward to 2024, and it’s challenges to share what I see in my own way!

  • Lise Gauthier says:

    Hi Liz … just tell you big thanks to create spark in my soul each time I read you

    Just tell you even if I put aside momentarilly my sketching practice in 2023 and consequently your amazing and great courses (except get a look partially at your tea cup course in june) … to get a look at your e-mail and your works and propositions put sparks in my artist soul, and believe me it is very great and stimulate for me by now … I hope to take time to visit more your courses in january 2024 if not to continue to stay in touch with your work!

    You are a very nice and good person!

    Enjoy your good Life in 2024!
    Happiness, Well-Being, Health, Love and Peace for every day of 2024 and more … all the Best that the Life may offer to you!

    Thanks so much Liz, again and again, very happy to know a good person as you!

    Lise Gauthier from Quebec, Canada

  • Dawn Holder says:

    Love seeing your full year in review, all the new media you tried, and the subject matter you tackled during the year. I mainly want to say “thank you” for being so inspiring. Your determination, consistent sketching habits, and “can do” attitude are truly inspirational! Thank you for sharing your work with us throughout the years. This next year I plan to do some kind of sketch every day – even if it’s just a doodle. May the Lord richly bless you in 2024.

  • Jacqueline Lee says:

    Hi Liz, you are an inspiration. Love your discipline and I hope to be as disciplined as you. Thank you for sharing your work and your thoughts with us.

    I am still far from being a true “urban Sketcher” and even farther from being a “daily sketcher”. Being so disciplined will be my area of growth. I am preparing for retirement in 2026, and hence I have 2 years to take all of your classes (and repeat them once at least). My goal is to be able to enjoy travel and sketch some of places that I go to. By doing that, I hope to see more and remember better.

    Thank you for all your work in sharing urban sketching with so many people. Your whole program has been just amazing in so many aspects. Keep going…. Love to someday get a peek into how your sketching and your spiritual life mesh together. May God continue to bless you abundantly and light your path in 2024. Happy New Year.

  • Lynn Armocida says:

    Love, love, love getting glimpses into your simply gorgeous sketchbooks! I’ve filled many sketchbooks, but not many lately….my goal for 2024 is *regular* sketching, whether it’s daily, thrice weekly, whatever….just to get back at it and put marks on paper!

  • Thank you for this fabulous blog! I thoroughly enjoyed seeing all that you’ve accomplished this year, including details of materials and of course the photos. I especially loved following your trip around Bathurst this year as I lived there for 10 years before moving to New Zealand; I’m now back again but in Melbourne. I have just won a prize of a wallet with sketching pencils and charcoals and my goal for 2024 is to sketch much more. You’re an inspiration plus I love your sketching style. And thank you also for your weekly blog/newsletter and all that you share.

  • Ginie Udy says:

    Dear Liz,

    Thank you for being the kind of teacher who walks alongside us, sharing your learnings, engaging in interesting reflections with us, and always encouraging us to realise our own potential. I love your sketches in the Rocks area of Sydney. And yes that experimental one you love, is also one of my favourites!

    The Neocolour crayons are so soft and I have bought a couple this year too.

    My learnings from this year are #1: My breakthrough moment in Lesson 11 of your Foundations course when you explained about the difference between ‘urban sketching’ and traditional watercolour. This was very significant for me as I had only really experienced traditional watercolour by seeing my mum do it for so many years (and be particularly good at it!). That was kind of my standard. I wasn’t sure where the use of a sketchbook fitted into that.

    But your explanation made everything fall into place. Observing and recording own’s life, our world and experiences of it in a journalistic fashion is its own discipline, and has its own techniques, while still utilising many watercolour skills.

    This helped me enormously to become more confident in what I was doing, and enjoy it more.

    And then #2 just having a small book that was very portable and being excited to record something everyday. I took my tools on two short trips this year in November. I did so many sketches while away with family and people loved them. This was very encouraging to me, and just being committed to do something everyday, and make it part of who I am was a step up.

    Goals for 2024: I’m looking forward to completing the Buildings course that I paused recently. And then I’m aiming to join the Edges course in March or so.

    I’m still on the hunt for the best daily sketchbook for me. I love the Alpha paper but also like a small size, and I like to feel I’m working in a Visual Diary not using ‘watercolour’ paper. So that’s a goal for 2024, plus continuing my daily practice. I’m inspired by Lesley’s achievement of a sketch every single day for just over a year and that will be my goal for 2024 too. To do that I’m going to have to have a new journal ready to go when an old one ends.

    Plus complete Edges, and the Sketchbook Design course!

  • Lois Courtright says:

    2023 was an awesome year for sketching with both Edges and Teacups on my slate!

    I’m learning a ton and having a blast, both from your classes and your archives dating back to 2008! What an incredible gift!!!

    Also I’m SO GLAD that you sketch the same scene over and over!

    Brilliant strategy for
    building confidence!
    simplifying a scene!
    pushing colors!

    The plan for 2024 is to
    a) keep sketching the same scenes over and over;
    b) continue study of your archives;
    c) take Watercolour On Location;
    d) find adventure by more sketching outdoors!


    Thank you, Liz!

  • Barbara Ross says:

    I’ve taken a deep reflective dive and come up pretty pleased with my 2023 sketching practice.
    I sketched on location on average once a week, right through the four seasons at 43 North latitude – a first for me!
    I sketched my days (roughly 4 per week), no matter how trivial the content seemed. My blank page anxiety is down and my hand-eye dexterity stays more even than when I sketched in fits and starts.
    I sketched my “more serious” interests: historic architecture in Canada, the garden and the woods, and a few performances of live music. This deepened my appreciation and is helping me share.
    I had a lot of fun and I sure met some characters. Sometimes it’s the journey, sometimes the destination, and sometimes we are rewarded by both in one sketch – you never know until you’re in it (at least I don’t). And I learn something with every entry in my book.
    Mine was a year of many sketching firsts: in the car in winter, in a heavily-touristed urban area (alone), on the beach. Hurray! It’s all feasible, given a few precautions. I did two 5-day intensives (close to home) – my first such forays in 20 years – and I am now much better prepared. I even dared to sketch at table while conversing with a non-sketching friend. That last is a frontier that waits for future exploration.
    Do I sound “hooked”? Yup. And so much of this was inspired and guided here. Thank you, Liz for the thought and ethic and energy you put into your teaching approach. Thank you, Sketching Now-ers for the kind camaraderie in the doing. With my prayers for a healthy, creative and peaceful 2024 for everyone. /BR

  • Liz Steel says:

    oh ah! I’m absolutely loving reading all these comments and reflections!

  • Marta says:

    Your struggle with sketching during your nieces wisit was the most transformative lesson for me since I’m reading this blog (and it’s been about 10 years now…). I thought I am just that bad. Turns out it’s just that hard. I took your lessons with me, and started experimenting with watercolor pencils and markers more. I am trying to create some meaningful content as wel, and I know that allowing yourself to be vulnerable helps a lot, but I sotop questioning it only when I’m “the consumer” of it.

  • Thanks so much for sharing, Liz! All your posts and sketches have been a regular companion to my sketching journey again this year! You are appreciated! As an architect, I am much more comfortable with sketching buildings, but I spent the first three months of the year trying to sketch at least one person a day- many from life, and sometimes from magazines/photos. While I need to stick with it, I have become significantly more comfortable with it and am getting more satisfying results. I don’t need to do portrait quality work, I just don’t want super-wonky people to spoil my sketches- and don’t want to be afraid to include them, since they add so much to the scene. Thanks for your continued heart to explore, learn and experiment- this inspires your readers/followers to do the same! Happy New Year, and God be gracious to you in 2024!

  • Kim T says:

    I’ve been following you for ages and I don’t know how I’m still surprised and awestruck every year with your sketchbook recap. I love that every sketch is a celebration of daily life and that you consistently capture and share it with us.

    In past years I’ve only really done creative journaling/memory keeping. But, my sisters gave me six(!?) A5 sketchbooks for Christmas and I can only wish to be a quarter as prolific as you are. Honestly, if two get filled up, I’ll be happy haha. Your tips and lessons on having a pleasurable habit (walk, coffee, sketch) and trying new things are invaluable.

    Wishing you the best for 2024! I look forward to all that you do.

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