Getting back to urban sketching around Sydney

July 2, 2020 | 3 Comments

Here in Sydney we’ve been able to sketch out on location since the middle of May (when the restrictions lifted and allowed us to go outside for recreational purposes). But until yesterday I had not left my neighbourhood for the specific reason of doing some sketching. The last time that happened was Friday 13 March – the last day of the Oneweek100people challenge! So early this week, it was super special to drive across town to the Manly area and to spend a few hours sketching with Chantal Vincent.

We visited the beautiful Forty Baskets beach which is one of the locations where I filmed an outdoor demo last year for my SketchingNow Course, Watercolour On Location. So it was a fun place to be… especially as I’ve just opened up the doors to this course again (keep reading to find out more). It was an absolutely gorgeous winters morning and it was fun to see the workers rebuilding the pier and tidal pool (including some deafening construction noise at one point). My first sketch was trying to draw and paint the whole scene and work out what I was looking at.

The second sketch which was done in about 10 minutes was more focused on what the workers were doing.

Even though I have been doing numerous quick sketches in my local area (as I go about my normal day) and lots of sketches from photos as part of my Virtual Trip to Europe, I felt really rusty doing these sketches. It was the first time sketching in a complex scene in months. I was surprised at how out of sync I felt – my observational skills didn’t feel sharp. It felt a little like I do after a long haul flight when I’m slightly jet lagged and I’m starting to sketch in a new city.

And just for the record this is the first time I’ve seen water in months and months as well. So getting used to the moving and constantly changing pattern of reflections and waves was a shock to a system.

But oh! this slight strangeness was good – so good! – and it has motivated me to get out sketching more.

It’s just made me realise afresh that urban sketching is a muscle that needs to be flexed regularly. Sketching from photos is good for some aspects of training our techniques, but it can only go so far. You just have to get out and sketch on location and do it often enough so that it starts feeling comfortable!

But even though it was a bit strange and I didn’t feel in the flow, it doesn’t mean that it didn’t feel great to be outside sketching with a friend again. Oh ah! I’m in my happy place when I’m out urban sketching.

The unknown of what lies ahead spurs me on to make the most of opportunities I have right now – while still being extremely careful and cautious. And of course it’s always hard for me to carve out time for sketching with my usual workload. But I’m going to make more of an effort – especially as I’m hosting a Group Run-through for Watercolour On Location. starting next week – Wednesday 08 July.

To help with this, I made a big change on Tuesday and changed my everyday sketchbook to a Hahnemuehle A4 landscape watercolour book. I’ve been loving using these books for my Virtual Trip and so I thought it might be good to try them for everyday sketching. Normally my everyday sketching is a more casual book – more lightweight with thinner paper. I’ve been really loving the new-ish Square format softcover Alpha since the start of lockdown but it was time for a change.

I’ll be sharing more about Watercolour On Location. in the coming days, but if you want to find out more details straight away just click here. Enrollment is open and there is already a fantastic group warming up with the Intro Lessons inside the classroom.

Have you been out sketching much? How does it feel?


  • Maria says:

    Hi Liz. Thank you for sharing your feelings about getting out and drawing a complex scene. Thanks to your courses (Foundations and now Watrercolor on Location) I am sketching in public places more often. I have begun to carry a small set of things that will fit in my purse for those planned or unexpected moments when I don’t need everything. I’m still a beginner and getting myself to go out is the first uncomfortable step. Once I’m involved in the sketch, I forget to be uncomfortable. Thanks for reminding us that this is an ongoing process and needs practice!

  • Conrad says:

    I was just getting into urban sketching before quarantine. Sadly in the US the reopenings in may were bungled and we’re back to lockdowns and mandatory masks. It’s also a viciously hot summer in the northern hemisphere. Hopefully things will be better in fall and I can get back to sketching on location!

  • Tina Koyama says:

    Oh, I so envy you being able to go out sketching again. I’ve been sketching close to home all along (not many people out in my neighborhood), but it’ll be a long time before I feel safe enough to go out in the “full” public. We are so far behind in the US. I hope my sketching muscles don’t get too flabby! 😉

Leave a Reply