Hi! I’m Liz Steel.
I’m an obsessive sketcher from Sydney Australia who loves sketching my life and sharing my adventures.
I’m the creator of SketchingNow Online Sketching Courses where I share essential sketching concepts and techniques to help you develop your own style and sketching habit.
I’ll sketch any time, anywhere – even if I’m in a gondola! I’m much more interested in the experience, in having fun sketching on location, than I am producing a masterpiece.
This is my personal blog where I share sketches of my daily life and my traveling. There is no doubt that sketching has changed my life and this blog documents the entire journey!
I want to inspire you to start or continue on your own creative journey.
Here is a selection of the most popular/useful articles on the blog:
Everyone is obsessed with materials and finding new tools. You don’t need the perfect kit to start sketching but if you want more information these articles are a good place to start.
- My latest sketching kit with link to my latest palette
- Recommended basic watercolour palettes: 6 colours and 12 colours
- Fountain Pen Sketching
- Permanent ink for fountain pens
- My favourite dagger brush
- My favourite fountain pen – Lamy Joy
- How to choose a sketchbook
- Best paper/sketchbook for quick urban sketching
- FAQ: How do I create my date headings?
- FAQ: How do I draw the guidelines for my text?
Keeping a sketchbook and recording my daily life is what my art is all about.
- Some of my favourite sketches
- Teacup sketching!
- List of prompts for everyday sketching
- A few vlogs showing how I fit sketching into my daily life
- Are you afraid to sketch in public?
- Sketching people: My strategy
- My ‘last week’ series, sharing all my sketches from the previous week
- ‘Why do you sketch so fast?’
If you want to see some of the places that I’ve sketched…
Big sketching days
These days are a good example of how much I like to sketch and how many amazing things happen as a result.
- Venice 2019 – possibly my biggest sketching day ever!
- Lisbon 2018 – a fun day hanging out with a bunch of different Urban Sketchers
- Castle Howard 2016 – a non-stop day of sketching at one of my favourite grand houses in England
- Tasmania 2015 – interesting that this blogpost only shows a few of my sketches that day!
- Rio 2014 – sketching Sugarloaf and Copocabana Beach with USKers
- Sao Paulo 2014 – sketching with Marc Taro Holmes
- Penang 2013 – a very special solo sketching day in Georgetown and my thoughts at the time about the tensions of solo sketching are here.
I’m an architect by profession and a little over 10 years ago I was bogged down with the grind of a demanding career. I spent a lot of my spare time indoors (reading architectural history and theory books) and when I was on vacation, I took photos non-stop in a desperate attempt to capture everything. I would occasionally do a few little sketches (in a black fineliner) but longed to have a consistent sketching habit and actually complete a sketchbook.
It all changed when I discovered that there was such a thing as watercolour pans in a compact field kit. I knew then that it was what I wanted to sketch with, so I rushed out to buy one. I then started training for a five-week overseas trip. I filled 2 sketchbooks during the trip and as a result was completely hooked.
Sketching (and using watercolour in particular) has given me a way of responding to the world around me in a loose and spontaneous way. I don’t want my sketches to be perfect, instead I want to take risks and have fun at the same time. And in the process of my regular sketching (much of which I saw as practice) I was creating an incredible record of my life.
After 6 years of obsessive sketching I made the big decision to leave my architectural job (which I loved) and have a 6-month break to ‘do more art and a little teaching’. As soon as I did that, things started to happen and I knew that I would never go back to architecture as my primary career.
Now, I am working full time as an artist, blogger and teacher.
My big desire is to share with you the ideas behind my loose and fast sketching and to help you have more fun sketching.
My looseness is in fact grounded in tight thinking – a result of my architect’s brain which is highly analytical. I believe in digging deep and discovering core concepts which will enable you to build a solid foundation for your own style of sketching.
Sketching my life
My work is constantly changing and developing but I am passionate about spontaneous sketches in watercolour. Most of my work to date has been ink and wash but I also enjoy experimenting with mixed media – pencil, pen, watercolour pencil and watercolour.
My favourite subjects are Renaissance/Baroque architecture, urban spaces and local tearooms. Yes, tea… I drink a lot of tea and sketch a lot of teacups… but I will sketch and paint anything! In recent times I have started using a local cafe as a place to work so coffee cups and cafe scenes are filling up my sketchbooks.
I teach on-location sketching workshops in Australia and throughout the world.
Since 2017 I have taught week-long Palladian Odyssey sketching tours in Italy. These are always a highlight of my year as not only do I get to sketch with a great group in a beautiful part of the world, but I also love seeing significant growth in the work of each participant.
I offer a collection of online courses at SketchingNow.com classes. These courses contain in-depth instruction for urban sketching and will equip you to sketch any subject in your own style.
- Foundations – fundamental concepts for drawing and introduction to adding colour (watercolour and watercolour pencil).
- Watercolour – in-depth course explaining the fundamental properties and techniques for painting with watercolour – with an emphasis on watercolour sketching.
- Edges – how to create depth and focus when making ink and wash sketches of various subjects.
- Buildings – specific techniques for understanding buildings in a way that makes them easier to sketch.
- Watercolour On Location – specific techniques for improving urban sketching including telling stories, working with values, ways to sketch different elements (skies, trees, water etc) and making decisions on how to start and what techniques to use.
- Sketchbook Design – Design beautiful layouts for every page by learning how to add elements, preserve white space and think about placement before you start sketching.
- Teacups – Learn how Liz creates her famous teacup sketches and then apply the techniques to sketching teacups in your own style.
I am the Sydney correspondent for the international group of Urban Sketchers and the founder of Urban Sketchers Australia. There is no doubt that being part of Urban Sketchers has made a huge impact on my sketching and my life. Everywhere I travel there seems to be urban sketchers who I can sketch with… or they come to Sydney. Meeting sketchers from other parts of the world never ceases to inspire me.
I’m a regular instructor at the annual international Urban Sketchers Symposium and have attended all of them since the first one in 2010.
My approach to sketching and keeping a sketchbook
I have been drawing in some way all my life but never been able to keep a sketchbook as I always thought I should (ie. architects should carry a sketchbook around with them everywhere).
As mentioned above, in December 2006 a friend introduced me to watercolor pans in a field kit and I instantly fell in love with them. Inspired by her use of them and Danny Gregory’s Everyday Matters book I started my own in Jan 2007 with the intention to sketch regularly as ’training’ for a trip to Europe in September that year. Not only did I achieve that goal but the almost-daily habit has become an end in itself!
Here are five important aspects to my sketching:
1. Sketching as a way of slowing down and appreciating life
One of the things that I love about sketching is the fact that it slows you down, making you stop to look and appreciate the world around you… and especially the every day things that you often are too busy to notice.
2. Sketching and being an architect
Although I am no longer working in an architectural office, I’m still an architect at heart.
Sketching is the way that I think and communicate. I draw all the time when I am trying to solve a design problem – it is almost a reflex action of my brain and the simple action of drawing over and over can reveal solutions. Once I have a solution I draw to explain what is in my head. But when I started sketching from life, I had to make a big switch – I had to stop and learn to look.
This stopping and looking has helped my design skills as an architect. The observation needed for sketching gives me insights into the mind of the original architect and the discoveries that I translate to paper seem to be permanently registered and inscribed into my memory for inspiration and re-interpretation in my own real life projects.
These architectural drawing skills are an important part of how I approach my art and work now that I’m a full time artist and teacher.
3. Sketching on location
I sketch anywhere, anytime but especially enjoy sketching on location. I thrive on sketching in outdoor conditions that can’t be controlled – hot, cold (not that we have real cold in Australia!) glary sun or rain, wind, insects, curious onlookers or uncomfortable seating arrangements. It is these variables that often lead to a more exciting and dynamic sketch than I would produce in the calm and controlled environment of a studio.
I am happy to sit down anywhere in order to get a sketch…on the pavement(sidewalk), on the side of a mountain…but naturally prefer the comfort of a good café (of course this includes a good cup of quality tea and some scones!)
4. Having fun sketching my own way
The most important thing for me is the excitement of really starting to ‘see’ the world around me. Often the visual exploration of an object or scene gives me a real buzz – in a way, the resultant sketch is less important than this discovery although I think this excitement is often reflected in the sketch.
Also my sketchbook journal is the celebration of the little things in life – the everyday becomes special and worthy to record and it is a great way to realize how much we have to be thankful for – even in hard times.
The final thing is that…
5. My sketchbook is MINE
It’s there for me to fill with sketches of the things I like, the things that I want to remember, the way I want to sketch or the way I want to develop my skills. So I make no apology for how many teacups and coffee cups you will see in my pages!
And because it is my work, looking through these pages will reveal a few things about me – firstly I drink and sketch a lot of cups of tea, secondly I have a liking for sketching crazy over the top Baroque architecture…but thirdly and most importantly I am a Christian…I am leaving by far the best and most important thing in my life till last!!
My ‘religion’ is not just something that I add on to my life by going to church once a week. I have a real relationship(don’t really like that word but it is the best one) with my Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. I start every day with hearing from Him in His word (the Bible) and often record these thoughts in my book so that I can carry with me throughout the day. You will often see these on the side of my pages.
I waited patiently for the LORD; and he inclined unto me, and heard my cry.
He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings.
And he hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God: many shall see it, and fear, and shall trust in the LORD.
Blessed is that man that maketh the LORD his trust…
Profile Photo © DomLee