Back Home from my CA18 Trip

December 7, 2018 | 18 Comments

I’ve been home from my Californian travels for just over three weeks now so it’s time to bring you up to speed with my everyday sketching.

I normally find that I struggle to sketch when I return from a big sketching trip. I might be quite mentally inspired from my overseas adventures but everyday life is super busy and more or less uninspiring. I always have good intentions to sketch more and often use my long haul flight to develop some plans to do this. But normally life takes over and my sketching slumps. Click here to read more about that.

This year after my 11 week epic European trip, I did manage to do a lot of sketching once I was back home, but this was mainly due to the fact that I had an insane amount of outings – practically every day – which gave me some sketching opportunities. I also changed my normal everyday sketchbook (Stillman and Birn Alpha softcover 8 x 10) to a smaller book (more about that later).

This time, I have arrived back to a normal state of work life – ie. lots of work to do with a few outings a week (meetings, appointments etc). And (drum roll please) I’m actually happy with what I have achieved. I haven’t done many ‘good’ sketches but I’m pleased with how I’m documenting my ‘boring’ everyday life.

So what’s different?

  1. Lowering expectations
    I have been inspired by Suhita’s beautiful messy journal pages. Somehow seeing her produce them in real life created an extra layer of inspiration. Not that she is doing anything too radically different from me (well, apart from sketching her family a lot – while I live alone) but we had some great chats about process and composition. And so, this time being back home, I’ve kept my expectations at a minimal. Success is simply doing a sketch, not how good it is.
  2. Smaller sketchbook
    I have been using the Stillman and Birn Alpha softcover 5.5 x 8.5 book and this size is really freeing me up to just go for it. The smaller size makes it easy to fill up whole spreads with a super quick line sketch. And it’s lightweight too.
  3. More comfortable with my people sketches.
    I still have a long way to go with the development of my people sketching skills, but I have become content with where they are at the moment. You will see an example below where I have added notes reminding myself of mistakes.
  4. Documenting every thing even if it’s ‘boring’.
    It’s easy to find your everyday life and surroundings uninspiring – particularly after travelling – but sketching for me is all about documenting my life and doing so in lines and shapes. Boring places are part of my life, but they can often have interesting shapes and compositions. So that is what I am focusing on.
  5. Using more line sketches.
    While I would love to get my watercolour out more, I’m happy just with a simple line sketch. It gets my hand moving and it’s a good record of the events in my life.
  6. Making time.
    I have been making sure that I allow myself a little sketching time at the cafe in the morning to sketch some people, and to sketch from the car park when I go out to the gym. Its only a short period of time (5-10 minute), so it’s totally okay to add this to my outings.
  7. Thinking long term.
    I’m trying to trust the process ie. that over time I will develop special techniques for making these boring sketches more interesting. But right at the moment I’m just concerned with doing and trying for 1% improvement each day.

So that enough talking about my sketches… here is a selection of what I have done in the last 3 weeks. I have grouped them by type rather than sticking to chronological order, but in general I’m filling two spreads per day.

Final pages of my Travel Sketchbook

Morning Cafe visits

Everyday outings (and other stuff)

Sketching Outings

Catchup with Jane Blundell (on a very windy day) – we wanted to go outside but stayed at her place sketching things from her treasure box.

Sketching with Angela (from Melbourne) and Lionel on a Friday evening.


One More…

Here is the title page for the new Alpha… and I’ve made a slight temporary change to my palette. More about that later – I promise!

So what about you – how do you go sketching the boring things of life? Do you struggle with the pressure to produce a masterpiece?



  • Maureen says:

    Hi Liz, I just discovered your blog a couple weeks ago. Love what you do! I even started your online watercolor class and am learning so much. Thanks!
    I think I’m noticing more nature in these sketches. Love it!

    • Liz Steel says:

      Welcome Maureen! Glad you like it.
      Well I do sketch the occasional tree, but the dried treasures was a result of a visit to Jane’s. So a little more nature, but not as much as I would like 😀

  • Kate says:

    I see a huge and exciting change in your Morning Cafe and Everyday sketches. Much more interesting and lively! Also, I enjoy that you are making the images a tad bigger so it is worth coming to your site to look.

    I don’t find things boring — they are familiar because I’ve sketched them many times (our coffee cups) but the colors thrill me which is why we use them. I don’t try for masterpieces in my journal — it is my journal and it is rather messy anywho… always been that way, just now I do better watercolors and have lovely colored inks to work with! What I struggle with is that I often can’t share my pages — because of what I am writing about along side the images…

    • Liz Steel says:

      Thanks Kate!
      – Ha, I use ‘boring’ mainly in comparison with when I travel… and I know that the everyday sketches are often the most interesting done the track as they are not the things you remember as much
      – as per size. I’ve been limited to 700 pixel wide due to my email platform but hoping to change. Of course the sketches are bigger because the sketchbook is smaller 😀
      – cafe sketches: It’s mainly a result of allowing myself to take the time to do a second sketch. I’m still busy but the extra 15 minutes of so is so worthwhile.
      – understand about the personal notes- that’s why I obscure some of it 😀

  • Lis Barton says:

    What excites me about your sketches, which you call ‘everyda’y or ‘boring’, is the simple fact that you ‘do it’ rather than aspire to it as I do so often!, well most of the time!! Your actual sketches have such an aliveness about them, always, and you make the fact that everyday life can seem a boring life to travelling or other trips and journeys, and that’s ok…but I reckon that this is over half of what Urban Sketching is for most of us…we can’t go somewhere special every day, we have good days and bad, free days and hectic ones, but just that ‘showing up and doing it’ is the main thing. You encourage me so much to try and do much the same thing in my own way as time goes on….I have the kit, I have the time, or I can make it, so I simply have to follow your lead and ‘show up’ on my own and ‘do it’!!

    • Liz Steel says:

      Thanks Lis – yes the doing it is the most important thing. I feel as if I’m just turning a corner this week with these’ boring’ sketches ie. things are starting to get more interesting – but for the first few weeks it all about just doing it! All the best!

  • Tina Koyama says:

    I like the “everydayness” (rather than “boring-ness”) of your sketches. . . all the ordinary things that most people’s lives are filled with. I have tons of those too, but even if the subject matter is mundane, I try to make them challenging for myself in some way — hatching if hatching seems difficult, a difficult angle of a parked car, very limited time, whatever. And once I find the way to challenge myself with it, it ends up not being boring at all (to me — it still might be boring for someone else to look at! 😉 ). And by the way, you may have lowered your standards, but a couple of spreads a day is still an amazing amount of output!

    – Tina

    • Liz Steel says:

      Hi Tina. I prefer the term everyday to boring too and I don’t actually truly consider daily stuff boring hence the ‘ around ‘boring’. Sorry if it didn’t read that way. I think everyday stuff is actually more challenging and that is certainly not boring ?

  • Fiona says:

    I notice a really big change in your sketches, they jump out of the screen at me. Really strong and confident.
    Have always enjoyed your sketches, these made my eyes pop!

    • Liz Steel says:

      Thanks Fiona!!!! Interesting that you say that as I don’t think they are radically different. What’s different is that I’m sketching these scenes everyday rather than just occasionally but maybe that is making a difference.

  • I think your new plan for sketching is working out well. You still are doing so many sketches and a little less perfectionism works nicely too. I like the color sketches but the line ones are strong too.

  • Mayela Lameda-Lyver says:

    I love, love your everyday sketches. They’re lively and full of interesting details of your daily life. The page layout is quite nice as well. I told Suhita how much I liked her new style of sketch journaling. This is so much personal and interesting, in my opinion.

  • Hi Liz! Beautiful, beautiful pages. Much needed inspiration! To answer your question, I have started your fundamentals course several weeks ago, but it has been so busy I still haven’t managed to complete Lesson 1, and your reminder emails only manage to jerk my guilt =) So yes, it’s a struggle at the moment. No fear though, I have high hopes for the Christmas break and hopefully having some free time to indulge in sketching and learning.

    Can I ask you a question, too? I live in your area and have not yet found a favourite cafe nearby; would you share what are your go-tos?

    Thank you!

    • Liz Steel says:

      Hi Yulia – All the best for the Christmas break. I have plans for Foundations in the new year – email going out next week.

      Where do you live? I just went to all the ones in my local suburb and then picked the one I liked the best.(I did this at the last place I lived as well) I don’t really have a list of suggestions as I just go to my local cafe but if I go to a new area I do some research and make a best guess.

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