So I’ve just sat down and flipped through an entire year’s worth of sketching. Each year I do this on the 31st Dec and then share a few thoughts about my sketching for the year. Note: This is not a full yearly review as I’m just focusing on the sketching component.
2019 has been off the scale in terms of the number of sketchbooks I have filled.
15 sketchbooks – a mix of Stillman and Birn Alpha, Etchr sketchbooks, Moleskine, Hand Book and Hahnemuhle Nostaglie and Watercolour books.
13 A4 portrait Watercolour Moleskines from my 14 week trip to Europe, 1 x A4 landscape Moleskine for Brisbane trip and 1 x A4 landscape Moleskine for Port Macquarie trip
Teaching (SketchingNow Watercolour On Location Course):
2 x A4 landscape Moleskine, 2 x Stillman & Birn softcover 8×10 Alpha and 2 x Stillman & Birn spiral bound Alpha
Normally I complete somewhere between 15-20 sketchbooks, but this year it’s been well over 30!
And the amazing part is that 2019 has been a very demanding year – on par with 2016 when I wrote a book and released my SketchingNow Buildings course. This year I worked very hard on SketchingNow courses. My new mega course Watercolour On Location was a 12 month project and made a lot of demands on me during my 14 week remote working trip in Europe – there were so many videos for me to review!
But I also added a lot of new content(hours of video) to the Foundations and Edges course earlier in the year making the first 4 months very busy. There has been some big upgrades and changes to back of house tech stuff as well but despite all the work I’ve still managed to keep up with my blogging and posting to Instagram.
So it’s been a huge year – however I’m really happy to say that I was able to slow my pace in the last 6 weeks, so I’m feeling good at the moment and not at all burnt out.
Well, first my natural pace is fast – I work very quickly and the more I sketch the more confident my marks become and the quicker I’m able to complete my sketches. My big goal is to say more with less, so rather than trying to work faster, I’m trying to simplify as much as possible.
Secondly, I have low expectations for my work. My sketches are often simply a single line drawing and/or a quick paint only sketch. This is a standard formula I use for my cafe sketching sessions. All I need to do then is to add some text and there you have it – a page of my sketchbook filled in under 15 minutes.
PLEASE NOTE: It is really important that you don’t compare my speed and production with yours! While quantity has a quality of its own (something Marc Taro Holmes said to me in 2011) I really don’t care about the number of sketchbooks. What’s important to me is how well my sketchbooks record my life and how much my sketching has developed in the last 12 months.
So I just want to make a few comments about my everyday sketching, my travel sketching and my sketchbooks as a whole.
This year I’ve really upped my everyday sketching. This actually started in November 2018 after I returned home from an inspiring time in California and particularly seeing Suhita Shirodkar’s daily sketching approach. I kicked off 2019 with a lot of sketching over my summer break and then kept going.
In the first half of the year I really focused on sketching people during my local cafe visits. Sadly, this fell away somewhat in the second half of the year as I switched to afternoon cafe visits and focused more on working on my laptop (keeping up with my Watercolour On Location work) than sketching. My people sketching skills developed a little this year but not as much as I would have liked.
I established a habit of sketching from my car every time I went to the gym (even though the carpark is boring!) and tried to do a sketch every time I went somewhere. I’m really happy that I lowered my expectations of what these sketches needed to involve and realised afresh that a basic line drawing can tell enough of a story!
Using a very simple approach to Inktober this year has made me even more committed to keeping this practice up and also using my waterbrush to add some tone at times. (And I’m excited I actually finished Inktober for the first time this year!)
In the last few months I have been having a lot of fun testing different sketchbooks. As I mentioned in this article, the paper I sketch on is the most important variable for me and a lot of my usual techniques just don’t work on different paper. So it has been really good to experiment and discover ways of adjusting my normal way of using watercolour to suit these new sketchbooks. In particular I recently started using more dry brush when using 100% cotton paper – more here.
I haven’t been going out on dedicated urban sketching outings as much as I would like this year. I started in Jan to have a weekly outing but that soon fell away. But I was able to have a number of SketchingNow Adventures during the Watercolour On Location course and that was really good.
I realised while filming the bonus Sketching Day for Watercolour On Location, that there is a certain magic which comes from big sketching days. I do this when I travel but rarely when I’m home. This is something I want to change in 2020.
My teacup sketching was down – only managed 12 of my teacup collection.
And finally (for this section) reviving my sketching diet (sketching everything I eat – at the time) has been a wonderful way to create colourful interesting pages during days when I simply stay at home.
This year I had my biggest overseas trip ever – 14 weeks in Europe – and I filled 12.5 x A4 size portrait format Moleskine Watercolour books in that time.
The new format (portrait rather than landscape) did affect my sketching significantly. Not only did I fill up the pages more quickly (working larger) but it was easier to handle and this encouraged me to open my sketchbook and go for it more often.
In the last few years as the work component of my travelling has increased, it’s been harder for me to find my sketching flow. This year I feel as if I found it again – and I proved this by having my biggest day of sketching on record – over 20 pages during a day trip to Venice.
I really love sketchbook pages which contain watercolour sketches of important scenes as well as other smaller details but in recent years using the landscape version of the Moleskine I found that the fun little sketches had disappeared. So because of the portrait format of the book and the return of my flow, I found that I had a more interesting selection of subject matter and techniques in my book. In particular, the weeks when I taught the two Palladian Odyssey Tours in the Veneto contained some of my favourite pages due to the rich variety of experiences we had. (BTW due to a few cancellations there are still a few last minute places available – more here.)
This year I sketched more complex scenes and less ‘hero sketches’ of individual buildings. I still love doing a portrait of a masterpiece of architecture as I learn so much about the design and composition of the building when I do that, but I also love doing street scenes where there is an interesting combination of shapes.
In terms of my watercolour painting…
Direct watercolour, which I had just started to develop in 2018, is now a big part of my work. (Aside: direct watercolour sketches often enable me to do super quick sketches so they are another factor in the huge quantity of work I have produced this year.)
I started using more water in my palette which created more subtle washes with a lot of pigment magic (especially when I was in Umbria) and it was really fun to focus more on values (a big part of the Watercolour On Location course!)
I had so many amazing experiences during my European travels that I can’t possibly even share all the highlights today – so please see my Reflections article for more.
I then went on two further week long trips in October – one to Brisbane for Sketchfest and a relaxing week at Port Macquarie. Both of those were more social than dedicated sketching trips focusing on my work.
I can certainly write a lot more about what I learnt this year through my travels… but I need to wrap this article up.
So onto the third aspect…
My sketchbooks as a whole
As I often mention here on the blog, I want my sketchbooks to be a record of my life. Whilst I’m always trying to improve the quality of my art, I am primarily concerned with documenting my life in a visual and written form. And so I’m always looking at ways to develop this storytelling aspect in my books.
This year I made a concerted effort to add more notes to my pages as a way of recording more of my daily grind, achievements and feelings (focusing mainly on the good feelings and never recording anything too negative). As I flipped through my everyday sketchbooks today, I really loved reading all the comments I had written. (For example, last year I wrote that it took me a full day to do my 2018 sketching review article – so that was a challenge for me to do this one in less time!) In order to run my own business more efficiently each year it’s super helpful to read the notes from previous years. And of course my text is such a very important element to the design of my pages.
Whilst I had a great year recording my ‘boring’ daily life, there is a lot more that I could do and I’m wanting to fill my pages with more objects and more scenes from home. Hmm, I rarely sketch my little home as I seem to be dependent on going out in order to sketch. So more home sketching is definitely a goal.
I also want to keep on sketching more people and make these ‘people sketches’ more of my friends and less of strangers.
Anyway… it looks as if this article is morphing into my sketching goals for 2020. Therefore it must be time to stop as I wanted to leave that for another day.
So, in summary – it’s been a huge year! After many years of being dissatisfied with my lack of everyday sketching, I feel as if I’m on the right track. So I just want to keep going.
It’s so special to be able to go through the past year as recorded in my sketchbooks – to take note of the less successful sketches but more often than not, to discover lots of gems – sketches that I have forgotten about or sketches that I struggled with at the time but which now look great.
I love taking a big picture view of my work as it’s easy to obsess over small things in the moment. When you view the year as a whole it’s always impressive – no matter what the quantity or the quality is. And I love seeing themes emerge as that helps me formulate where to go next.
I hope that by sharing my own assessments it will help you to look at your own work and celebrate your achievements in 2019 – whatever they were! If you have done any of my SketchingNow courses, you will know how important I think it is to be able to review your own work in a positive way and to find ways to motivate yourself to keep going.
Thanks so much for being a part of my journey this year. Your views and continued support mean so much to me!
And finally, a huge special thank you to people who take the time to leave comments. I spend a crazy amount of time preparing articles here on the blog (the words and the images) and while I love doing it and write mainly for my own development as an artist, it really helps me keep going when people leave comments. So thanks again so very much!
So… do you intend to look through all your sketches from 2019? Or have you already done so?
What are the main themes that have emerged? Are you pleased with what you have achieved? Are you making plans for what you want to work on in 2020?
I find it super inspiring to read about other people’s reviews, so would love to hear from you!