Europe18: A week in West Wemyss, Fife

July 12, 2018 | 18 Comments

Travelling before an Urban Sketchers Symposium is always a delicate balance. In 2016 I travelled for 6 weeks before the symposium in Manchester which included driving through Scotland and Northern England (changing accommodation every one or two nights) plus visiting lots of friends (such as staying with Lynne Chapman). As a result I was totally exhausted and travel-weary when I arrived in Manchester and struggled with my energy levels during and after the symposium. So this year (being an even longer trip) I knew that it was really important to have a solo rest week before I head to Porto.

The result: A week in West Wemyss, a tiny village on the Fife coast of Scotland. I stayed in a gorgeous Airbnb and the plan was to rest and do some work (say 4 hours a day). I wasn’t expecting the village to be that interesting and so thought I might go on a few day trips to some of the more well-known fishing villages in the area (Pittenween, Crail etc).

But in the first evening I realised that this place was far more rich in history (coal mines and harbour) and scenic views that I expected. More about it here.

This map shows how small is it!

I got a bit obseessed with the Old Tollbooth clock tower and the harbour.

In the end I decided not to do as many day trips, but to stay in West Wemyss as much as I could. I also realised that I had more work than I thought – including all the blogposts I have shared in the past two weeks! It feels really good to have had the time to catch up with my work and articles here.

It was extra nice that the weather was so amazing – Scotland is having the best summer in decades. Even on a grey evening, I was surprised by the colours when I went for a 9pm walk.

I did a lot of sketching during the week I was in West Wemyss. So here they are in full.

Note 1. Keep scrolling as I will share some thoughts at the end
Note 2. I will share my day trip sketches separately


The Smithy, the Stables (for the pit ponies) and behind them, The Belvedere – an abandoned hotel which was orignailly a Miners Institute.

Tuesday (after day trip)

The Cozstool Building – used to house seven miners and families. Now also empty.

A very loose version of the Tollbooth and Main Street.


St Adrians – the parish church.

The view for the tiny cafe which is only open four days a week. I was talking at the time to a few of the other patrons.

First sketch of West Wemyss Harbour at midday. The lighting wasn’t great so I just drew the lines at the time. I then added some shading after attempting the scene in the morning.

Another version of the Tollbooth – this time paint only.

I was interested in the seemly random windows – but it was just that some windows had architraves and others didn’t.


Attempt No. 2 of sketching the harbour – further back and looking into the sun.

A productive late afternoon sketching session started with another version of the Tollbooth…

… and then I went into the carpark area of the Belvedere Hotel.

Finally that evening I did another sketch from the harbour. I only intended to sketch the Belvedere and surrounding buildings, but I could have continued and done the whole scene.

Monday (last afternoon)

In 1.5hour I did 6 small street scenes (so 15minutes each) – this is the street where I was staying. Note: I drew the top of the cars completely wrong, but just ignored the wrong line.

The Cross – where I parked my car. If I parked in Church St outside the flat I would have had to reverse down the street. No thanks!

Looking down the Narrow Wynd. I drew this way too small. Thought at the time: Can I make time to have another go in the morning before I leave.

The Narrow Wynd looking up.

The Coxstool building again – backlit this time. Hmm, another final morning sketch?

The Belverdere Hotel from Main St – a looser approach.

That was a very productive little sketching session! I then went back and did another hour or so of work, wating until the lighting was perfect for another harbour sketch!

One final sketch (for the day) at 7pm of the harbour at low tide when there was only mud!

And then I couldn’t resist this quick final final sketch for the day of the Tollbooth as I walked home.

Tuesday (final morning)

After I had packed up, I went out for an hour to do some final sketches. Another one of the Narrow Wynd – the lighting was very flat as reflected in my sketch.

A quick sketch of the Wemyss Chapel Gardens – more about it here. I had hoped to have sketched it closer up, but I ran out of time. Where did the week go?

Then I returned to the harbour and did a looser version of the village view, starting with shapes.

Here is the completed sketch.

And like the day before my final final sketch was a quick line drawing of the Tollbooth as I walked past it for the last time.

Oh! I love this place and could easily have spent two weeks here.

As for my sketches…

What is so surprising for me in this collection, is how many traditional ink and wash sketches I have done (ie. ink first then wash). I am not sure that I had an explanation for why, but it is interesting.

This week’s worth of sketching is another proof that I like sketching the same thing over and over again. Actually what was so cool about this town is that I was sketching the same buildings from multiple angles. Oh! it’s such a beautiful village!!



  • Emily D. says:

    I love studying your sketches, esp. the ink and wash! I love how you did the shadows in these.

  • pbass wil says:

    Liz, I’ve been following your blog for over a year. This is one of the – if not _the_ – biggest explosions of flow-y expression I’ve seen from you! Your work is beautiful, and it feels like all blocks & anxieties have been removed. What is happening on this trip?! Is it time to move to Scotland? :^)

    • Liz Steel says:

      Thanks that’s a nice comment!!!! I don’t think it’s Scotland per se. I’m always looking to improve my work but in recent years I’ve been so flat out. I’ve had more solo time to work on my art (and also catch up with Work so I can be more relaxed) and that might be it.

  • Yun says:

    Hi Liz, I bought your 5-minute sketching architecture book a while back and have been wanting to get started. I used to study architecture and really enjoyed the cultural and historical aspect of it. Today, after almost a decade, I picked up my pen and started sketching again. It’s not much and look horribly amaturish even when compared to back during my schooling days but it gave me a strange sense of accomplishment knowing that I’ve finally taken the first step in restarting onto things I’ve always enjoyed.

  • John Flames says:

    Those villages remind me the film LOCAL HERO. 😉

  • Carol Drummond says:

    wow, beautiful sketches!

  • Isabel Patchett says:

    Hello Liz, Oh! how much I have enjoyed your sketching/paintings you have done here in England and Scotland it has been a pleasure visiting all those beautiful places through your artists eye and hand. Your sketchings are beautiful . Thanks again Liz you have made my day. Enjoy the rest of your journey. Isabel

  • Isabel Patchett says:

    Hi again Liz I just noticed the comment above re Local Hero movie one of my very favourites situated in a Scottish fishing village up North I think you would love it well worth trying to find it. Isabel

  • Kathleen Shearer says:

    Hello Liz. A friend sent me a link to your blog because you were sketching in Fife, which is where I live. I know West Wemyss very very well – it always feels like a place time forgot and not in a twee touristy way. I’ve really enjoyed seeing your sketches and it’s made me think that I’ve actually got some great places to go and draw right on my doorstep.

  • Jennifer May says:

    July 18th
    Hello Liz, I will be in Porto tomorrow, and hope to meet you but where do you know will you be tomorrow from 10 on -roughly so I can head that way please. Thank for all your great work.

    • Liz Steel says:

      Jennifer. Great that you are in Porto. I’m flat out with Symposium duties (teaching etc) until Saturday afternoon at the ending public . Have a great time.

  • Kevin Haig says:

    Love the picture of my house, the yellow one, kitchen windows different sizes.

  • Sharon Reardon says:

    My father was born and grew up in West Wemyss, and many of my childhood weekends were spent in the Wemyss, staying in the house at Church Street visiting my grandparents. He always said he was a lucky boy to have grown up in such a place. When he was 15 he was to go down the coal mine as everyone else did, he joined the RAF instead! Thank you for capturing this very special little village in your beautiful paintings.

    • Liz Steel says:

      Hi Sharon – thanks for your comment and how amazing to grow up in WW – I loved that wee town so much!

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