Back Home: Reflections on my Europe16 trip

August 12, 2016 | 24 Comments

I always like to record a few thoughts at the end of a big trip, and this time my trip was much bigger than usual!

I have mixed thoughts this year as I feel that it was less of a ‘serious sketching trip’ and more of a work trip – teaching, blogging, filming and producing new work for SketchingNow Buildings. Often my trips are a chance for me to spend time developing new ideas but this trip was a big experiment to see how I would go being away for an extended period, how I would find blogging enroute and and how teaching in a foreign country would affect my travelling. In summary the experiment was highly successful but it was a bit more tiring than usual and 8 weeks was probably a little too long.

So here is a big download of all my thoughts on my immediate return home:


General Comments

  • It was so wonderful to be able to teach in Lucca with such a great group of sketchers from 10 different countries. This is something I want to do more of – to be able to turn up and teach a 2-3 day workshop anywhere in the world so that I get to meet more of my readers. If you missed it reports of the Lucca workshop are here and here.
  • Teaching when travelling is very exciting but tiring. Note to self: make sure you allocate a few ‘down days’ afterwards to rest. (Ha! rest? what is that?)
  • I never have enough time in the UK to see all the sights I want to see and visit all my friends. But oh! it was so special to spend lots of time with my sister and family in July.
  • I still find it hard to believe I visited all those Palladian buildings and can’t wait for the Palladian Odssey workshops next year. Find out more here.
  • I thought it was pretty exciting filming on location for SketchingNow Buildings when I was in Italy, and it was. But the footage looks 10x more exciting now that I am home.
  • Going on a sketching trip before the Urban Sketchers Symposium was great as I arrived ‘in the groove’ rather than jet-lagged. However 1. I still needed the time to get a feel of the place and get the right watercolour mixes for the local materials. 2. arriving to a symposium somewhat travel weary is not a good idea! Another note to self: Travel beforehand is good, but not 5 non-stop crazy weeks.
  • I only had 3 or 4 days totally on my own during the 8 weeks. I do find solo travel with my sketchbook incredibly energizing – even though I push myself like I did on my Castle Howard day! Being around people more and maintaining the amount of sketching I normally do is a big challenge.
  • I really loved blogging at the time. It might have taken a few hours in the evening but I was motivated and inspired to do it while everything was fresh. The best part of all is the fact that I don’t have that horrible burden of scanning and posting ASAP now that I am home. I will scan my sketches but I won’t be doing any more blogging about my trip. I will be sharing scanned versions of some of my finished pieces first with those that sign up for SketchingNow Buildings (note registration is opening next week).

Art Supplies

  • My estimate of how much paint, ink and how many sketchbooks I would need was pretty accurate. In fact, I used less paint than expected and only used 1/3 of my sixth sketchbook – I was worried that I would need a 7th book.
  • The only thing I ran out of was Potters Pink but as that is easily purchased in the UK I don’t think I would have taken a spare pre-made pan anyway.
  • I didn’t use my extra fountain pens with coloured ink as much as I thought I would but apart from them, everything I had in my kit was used extensively.
  • The only brush I used all trip (except when I was actively testing a new brush) was my dagger.
  • I didn’t think I would buy any (much) new art supplies, but I came home with more than I expected. Will be sketching the collection soon.
  • Also, I will be making a change to my palette as I have a new grey that I want to have pre-mixed. More soon!

Travel Sketching and Sketchbooks

  • I am really pleased that I was able to mix it up more this year with my sketches – less full-page sketches and more journal style pages. Thought: these smaller sketches might be a reason why I used less pages this trip!
  • I really loved my new way of starting a day and my stamped date headings! More about this here.
  • I sketched way less food this trip. I think this is a result of how much I was with people this year and my A4 sketchbook is very awkward to use at a crowded cafe table.
  • For the record I had much less tea and cake this trip! No fancy teacup sketch at all and unlike many other sketchers I did not do a high tea in Manchester. I really don’t enjoy high tea – just give me a scone or two (or a slice of lemon cake) and I have more than enough.
  • I found myself doing a lot of sketches standing up and my board is the best! Thanks Marc for the idea – more here.
  • These days when I have a complex street scene I am just wanting to do a line drawing.
  • Despite it being a much more social trip I managed to stay on top of my notes and maps in my book. Only had one map and a few notes to add to my books on my arrival home. This is a major achievement.

Ideas from this trip to develop

  • How to say more with less – I have been trying to do this for years, but after Fred Lynch’s workshop, hanging out with Richard Briggs and seeing some of Suhita’s quick Rome sketches, I have some more ideas to explore.
  • Sketch more landscapes and trees – this is prompted by my journeys in Scotland and the wonderful activity by Robyn Bauer called the Body Language of Trees.
  • More mixed media – using coloured lines opens up lots of new possibilities.
  • Continue taking more risks even when using a big fancy sketchbook. I saw a number of inspiring small sketchbooks (eg. Angela from Melbourne) filled with quick sketches that were done on occasions where I wouldn’t bother opening my big book up. I went and bought a smaller book for my pocket on the last day in Manchester and hardly used it but the thought of it being there somehow prompted me to open up my big book and do a quickie.
  • And finally… the challenge is to continue with an exploratory mindset in my daily grind!

Ok, I think that’s a wrap!

So, I am interested in hearing from you… do any of these points surprise you?


  • Great summary – and good to see that pacing tip in there! As we both know breaks for timeout on your own only happen if you programme them in on a regular basis – and then protect them! 😉

    I’m also looking forward to seeing those videos about sketching buildings which you talked about.

    It was great to see you again. Let’s also keep the dialogue going on those other topics we talked about at the National Gallery.

    • Liz Steel says:

      thanks Katherine. Was so great to catch up and as always your comments stay in my head. Always an abundance of good stuff!

  • Sheila Roote says:

    Hi Liz
    As always it’s a treat reading your posts. I really appreciate your blend of personal anecdotal experiences blended with technique and supplies. The balance is wonderful and very readable. I’m always inspired to pull out my journal more often and record the moment. Thanks

  • Wendy O'Callaghan says:

    Fascinating reading you manage to take me on a journey. I am off to New York next month and reading your blogs inspires me to commenced my travel sketching. How about a workshop in New Zealand. Living in the central North Island surrounded by mountains and Lake Taupo it would be an ideal spot. Many thanks Liz for sharing your craft.

    • Liz Steel says:

      thanks Wendy. Have a great time in NYC. Yes I would love to come to NZ but staying put for a little while. Will definitely get in touch when I am ready to think about the next adventure

  • I do like the way you write! I find your posts, whilst informative, are written in a beautifully personal style that engages me totally! I created a couple of travel journals on my 2013 European trip and know the dedication it takes when travelling constantly and socialising too. You inspire me to want to do more! Thank you for sharing yourself and all that you do!

  • Mary Catharine McDonnell says:

    Thanks so much for taking the time to make all these points Liz. They are extremely informative and so helpful. I followed your blog while you were away, so the summary is especially meaningful. You are so generous in sharing your thoughts, observations and learnings.

  • Thanks for your review and suggestions. I like the idea of a board beneath the sketchbook. I may use that idea while I am off sketching in Venice! Clipping things to the board makes it look more stable.

  • Kristy Brenner says:

    The Body Language of Trees — that sounds wonderful. And I love that you constantly evaluate and re-evaluate your process and materials, adding and stripping away. Thanks for inspiring us to keep moving too.

  • Annie Fortenberry says:

    Wonderful trip, Liz, and as usual, I feel I have made it with you–as I am sure many others also feel. Your gorgeous St. Paul’s sketches. I have a special feeling for St. Paul because our family in the States felt very close to events during The Blitz, and, since our aunt worked for British Transportation in NYC, she brought home many stories, each night in the early 1940’s. I love your feeling about trees and your sketches. As always I learn so much. I liked seeing the boards and clips and I have ordered brushes from Rosemary. A 1/4 and 1/2 Dagger and am ordering a pocket dagger. Plus some very pointed other brushes. I have saved every Parker video I can find–bless the CC–and when you make some, I’ll save them, too. A silly question I should not ask because I know you are busy and it is off-topic: Do you heat your teapot before pouring in the tea and water? (Well, maybe tea is never off-topic?). So thanks for the UK trip and tips, Liz.

    • Liz Steel says:

      thanks Annie!!!! What a special connection with St Pauls. Enjoy your daggers and YES! I normally heat the pot by pouring water over it (the lazy method) first

  • Sheila Roote says:

    Hi Liz,

    Quick question. Wondering how you travel and carry your brush safely without it taking up too much space. I spend a lot of time in the back country. I’ve yet to figure out a way to carry my good brushes along with me that will keep them from getting crushed and not take up very much space. Wondering how you manage to carry your brush(es) when you travel?

    • Liz Steel says:

      Sheila- please check out my sketching tools page –
      Travel brushes and a toothbrush holder.

    • Sheila Roote says:

      Hi Liz, just tried the link but end up with a “Page Not Found” message?? Tried cruising around your site and as always found lots of interesting tidbit, images and good reading, but no couldn’t find anything about how you keep your brushes safe.

      • Liz Steel says:

        I only carry one normal brush in a toothbrush container. Rosemary Brush 1/2 ” sable blend dagger with sharpened end so that it fits inside the toothbrush container (with blu tack at the base) The others are travel-pocket brushes so go in with my pens. it is listed and described in my sketching tools section

  • Samantha Schubert says:

    Hello Liz, been having fun looking at your wonderful artwork. I realize I am a bit late to this post but hopefully you will see this question and answer it for me…what are the colored dots on your sketchbooks for?

    • Liz Steel says:

      Hi Samantha! The dots are just my numbering system – no special significance with the colour so. It’s just what I had left in the set.

  • Femke says:

    Hi Liz, I was curious about how you carried your ink supply with you, and how much ink you used during your trip! Taking along extra pans of paint seems relatively straightforward, but carrying extra bottles of ink that hopefully don’t leak? I’d be interested in hearing your strategy :).

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