5-minute graphite sketching

April 15, 2024 | 16 Comments

The other day I did three quick sketches in minutes just before rushing to appointments, using a Castell 9000 2B graphite pencil. 

I think I have a new ‘fast tool’! A fast tool is one that I know I can use for super quick sketches and typically they can produce a variety of line quality. They also have to be able to move smoothly over the page.

There is just a lovely feeling when drawing with this Castell graphite pencil that perfectly suits sketching during in-between moments. On all three occasions, it would have been easy to tell myself ‘I don’t have enough time’ and so I’m super happy that I pulled out my graphite pencil and now I have a record of these events in my sketchbook.

I still want to explore different ways of using graphite pencils but for now, I’m just loving the feeling of freedom when I draw with them.

The first sketch of the day was a 4-minute sketch done from my car in Crows Nest which filled a double-page spread in my A4 Alpha sketchbook. In hindsight, I should have drawn a little smaller!

Next: a 5-minute sketch at St Leonards Station. I had a LOT of fun doing this one.

And finally, a 6-minute sketch of Town Hall in the fading light at 6pm. This sketch also filled a full double-page spread.

Ah! there is something so satisfying about a quick simple line drawing. I know that there is a certain pressure these days to constantly produce Instagram-worthy watercolour artwork, but for me, it’s more important to capture the little moments of my life in whatever way I can. There is such freedom in using a humble graphite pencil!


  • Ginie Udy says:

    I love these Liz! First of all: having just done Lesson 3 Edges Indoor Exercise (3.06) and learnt that not only my own but many of my fellow sketchers favourite sketches were our 5 minute versions of our ‘messy work space,’ I’ve also become attracted to sketching simpler and faster! I’ve felt a new confidence in my work! And as you said, I’ve experienced greater likelihood to sketch even in very limited time slots.

    Plus I’m in Crows Nest often (used to live there, still have GP there and I am on the board of the Crows Nest Centre) so I felt very at home looking at your renditions of this area!

    • Liz Steel says:

      Thanks Ginie – that’s great to hear. Simpler sketches often require more thinking and that;s why I’m drawn to them. Great to read that you recognised Crows Nest.

  • I could not agree more about the humble pencil. I “rediscovered“ graphite in the form of pencils and lead holders sometime back after many, many years of working primarily with inked lines for sketching. And while my pens are never going away, it was such a joy to simply scribble with a pencil. It’s immediate, never leaks in your pocket (!) and you can intentionally smudge it if that’s your thing. Frankly, it’s the ultimate lightweight sketching tool, right? Just stick it and a small sketchbook into your pocket, and off you go… Absolute freedom.

  • Dosinda Gomez says:

    Hi Liz, I love the spontaneity of these sketches. Do you plan to colour or somehow “complete” them or are they a unit in themselves for you?

    • Liz Steel says:

      Hi Dosinda, Absolutely no colour 🙂 They remain exactly as they are. A quick 5 minute capture of a moment

  • Lois Courtright says:

    Thank you for the inspiration!

    Just maaaaaybe I will give it a try!!!

    ; D

  • maria bergman says:

    Thinking of you and the events of this weekend.


    Wondering about the smudging issue when you close your notebook. I love the feel of graphite on paper, but shy away because of smudging later. Have you found that is an issue? or does it not mater to you?


    • Liz Steel says:

      Hi Suzanne. I have some cards that I put in between the pages. Once I’ve filled another 10 spreads or so it’s not a big issue. Only using 2B helps too!

      • Skint Student says:

        Pencil smudging used to drive me barmy but did the same thing with my watercolour swatching tests too (on A4 journals). Started using greaseproof/baking paper torn to size. Works but looks daft- not great outside though, in windy spots.

        Grabbed a couple of Winsor Newton journals that have “interleaved tracing paper” and they seem to do the trick.

        I love using pencil at present- colour swatches but also with graphite. I’m loving FC new Matte graphite as I find the softer pencils great to sketch with but the shiny is off putting. (Love charcoal but far too messy.) The smudging is annoying when unintended but the tracing sheets work pretty well at preventing it.

        The pages aren’t as well attached though so they aren’t as “batterable” as the wire bound or even stitched journals WN do. Your mileage may vary…

  • Jamie C says:

    I’m amazed how much can be sketched in just a quick five minutes! You’ve captured such life and vibrancy!

    • Liz Steel says:

      Hi Jamie! It takes a fair bit of practice and intention but yes, 5 minutes is a long time when you just use a simple tool!

  • Patricia Wafer says:

    These are great and I’ve been trying to do this more with landscape drawings. I’m so glad you told me about John Blockley. The sketches in that book you mentioned have really inspired me to find a calligraphy of my own for doing relatively quick landscape sketches with graphite and pens and markers. I noticed he used to combination sometimes for whatever work the best.

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