“Give it three years” and three other helpful quotes from my friends

December 18, 2015 | 12 Comments

Well, it is three years since I “quit my day job to follow my dream!”

It has been a grand adventure and there is no one more surprised than me at what has happened! I wasn’t intending to leave my architecture career to become a full-time artist but rather have a ‘sabbatical’ for 6 months to do some art and some teaching and work out how to combine my art with my architecture. But a lot of amazing stuff happened in that period and I knew that I just had to run with it and see where I would end up.

In July 2013, at the end of my six months break, I went to Barcelona for the international Urban Sketchers symposium. Everyone was interested in finding out what I was doing and I was overwhelmed by the support I received. After Barcelona I went to London for a week and had a lovely afternoon with the inspiring Adebanji Alade. He also was full of encouragement for me to pursue my dream and his words of advice were:

 “Give it three years!”

At the time I thought that I wouldn’t make it to that point – I just couldn’t see how I could ever support myself with my art – but here I am at the three year mark still going! And I have lots of ideas of how I can continue doing what I love! It has been an incredible journey with lots of ups and downs. I try to keep the down times away from my blog, but I can tell you that there have been plenty of them – times when I have been discouraged, questioned myself, felt like giving up and going back to a normal life with a stable job. But this piece of advice has been in the back of my head, reminding me of a suitable time frame for reviewing where I was up to and not to judge too early.

There is a lot I could tell you about ‘my story’ but what I want is to do right now is to share three more quotes from some of my Urban Sketchers friends that have really helped me along the way over the last three years – well even before then, the last four years.

“Teaching is a form of aggressive learning”

Matthew Brehm

In many ways this is the quote that changed my life. Matt was giving a lecture at the symposium in Lisbon in July 2011 on “Teaching and Learning” and he included this statement in his introductory comments.  For me it was an incredible lightbulb moment – “hey, that’s me, I am an aggressive learner!” I had been told previously by a number of people, including Matt himself, that I should try teaching but my response was always that I didn’t know enough! So this concept liberated me from thinking I had to know everything! I was very inspired by further comments in the same lecture that the most dynamic teaching experience is when the teacher is just one step ahead of the students. It was funny also to suddenly realise that all of my siblings are associated with educational institutions and teaching in some form, not to mention the fact that my mum was a teacher as well –  I had teaching in my blood but never realised it!

I knew that I couldn’t start teaching with my current commitment in the architectural profession, that it would need a lot of clear air and thinking time, so one of the goals for my break was to ‘try a little teaching’!

“Teach what you know and share from the heart”

Paul Wang

When I did start my break it was only a matter of weeks before an opportunity came my way – for a 8 week course sharing the basics of sketching on location. Being an aggressive learner I spent time looking up lots of classic art books in order to fill in the gaps of my knowledge (as I had come from an architectural background). I also spoke to a number of very well respected teachers and everyone had a different set of rules and they were all conflicting!  I wanted to find out the best way to teach and got myself in a muddle as a result. I really can’t express in words how much Paul’s advice to just ‘teach what I know’ helped settle me and clear my head.

What is ‘right’ and ‘best’ anyway when it comes to art? The best thing is when you have enough confidence to do your own thing! So I put all the books away and started looking at my own sketchbooks – trying to dig deep into the foundations concepts behind how I work and also how that relates to architecture. I soon realised that my architectural background and lack of art training give me a unique take on things – such as merging architectural design principles with painting composition!

As for sharing from the heart… well that is something that is the very core of what I do on my blog but teaching takes it to another level – and I love that.

“Blogging is never a waste of time”

Chantal Vincent

I soon discovered how much I loved teaching – not just the process of codifying my approach, working out exercises and then delivering my ideas, but the interaction with people and trying to help them convert their unique responses to places into lines and shapes on the page! Wow – I love it so much that I find it hard to write about it without getting a tear in my eye!

But underscoring all this was an obsession to blogging. I just love sharing my sketches and the thoughts about the process of sketching. This was particularly the case when I came back from a big sketching trip when I was bursting at the seams with amazing experiences and ideas. I often felt that I should have been doing other things rather than blogging – painting on loose sheets of paper to sell, making art prints, advertising for more commissions etc. I honestly felt guilty doing all my blogging, even though I was convinced of its enormous benefits for development as an artist (blog post about that here).

Anyway last July while talking with my local friend Chantal about my plans for my SketchingNow online classes I said that I often felt like blogging was a waste of time… ‘it’s never a waste of time’ she replied. Exactly what the context of this conversation was I am not 100% sure, but I latched onto the quote and it has helped me push through on the days when I am spending hours and hours on a single post (like right now!) I have since realising that blogging IS the core of what I do and I now tell people that I am a blogging artist!

Of course having my own online classes has changed some aspects of my blog, but rather than taking away from my sharing of free content, it is supporting me to blog more. I am working full time on my blog at the moment (yes, that Fountain Pen Sketching series has taken over my life!) and I will be sharing more about it in the new year – but I have big plans for 2016. I am completely committed to improving the quality of my blog posts … so please  stay with me as I work on this!

“Writing IS hard”

Chris Ruiz Velasco

I said three quotes but I couldn’t help myself!  After the Barcelona USK symposium I had an inspirational conversation with Chris who is a Professor of Literature (that’s him in the blue T-shirt). I started the conversation by saying I wanted some advice on writing because I found it hard, and this quote was his response!  Although I have always loved writing letters (and more recently blog posts) I never saw myself as a writer because I found ‘proper’ writing really difficult. What followed that day on the train to Girona was a conversation that was full of light bulb moments, encouragement and motivation to keep writing.

The reality that writing is all about editing and re-writing to make the idea clearer seems so obvious now – but sometimes you need to be told something for it to sink in. The quote that I wrote down in my sketchbook at the time was “let your ideas be elegant and beautiful and keep your language out of the way” but the one that is in my head constantly is “writing is hard!”  I am working hard to improve my writing but there is still much more to do, so it is a good reminder that it is the ideas that have to come first.

And finally the most important quote of all (ok, now I am up to 6 in total!) the one that I live by is

Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.

Proverbs 3.5-6

Yes, in many respects I am ‘living my dream’ doing something that I really love, but I am always conscious that none of us know what ‘a day may bring forth’. We don’t know what is around the corner, let alone what a whole year will bring, so I just try to live one day at a time, committing my way to the Lord.

But finally I just want to shout out a huge THANK YOU to so many of you that have supported and encouraged me over the last three years. My heart is very full, thinking about you all (tears in the eyes forming again!) There are many Urban Sketchers who have given me incredible advice, encouragement and inspiration and personal friends who have put up with me being a slack friend (I am always working nights and don’t do much socialising these days)… and my incredible family!

Thank you to every one of YOU that reads my blog – I know that every ‘hit’ is a real person that I would love to meet. Even if you don’t comment the fact that you come to read encourages me to keep going. Thank you to all those that do comment – it has been very special to have more interaction in recent times on the blog.

And a special thank you to those who have enrolled in my face-to-face or online classes. Blogging is like sending out a letter, but a SketchingNow class are like inviting you into my home, sitting down, having a cuppa and really sharing the ideas that mean the most to me. The interaction and connection I have felt with many of you in my classes is very special – thank you for supporting me in this way, so I can continue to …

Sketch my life and share the experience!


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  • Liz Steel says:

    sadly all the orginal comments to this post were lost in the conversion of my blog from blogger to wordpress in March 2016

    • Cindy C says:

      I just read this for the first time today and your words lifted me when I was down. You are amazing….Keep on Sketching!

  • Alisa Sauer says:

    I’m so new to the sketching world and recently found your blog. I love it! Also +1 to quote six:)

  • kim baker says:

    Liz, you are such an inspiration! I have painted for 2 years and wanted to find a way to squeez in drawing. Your website has excited me and I began sketching. I find it so rewarding. I’m going to give your foundations course a whirl. Your appeal is not just your artistic talent and teaching fibesse but your heart and soul that comes through loud and clear! thank you!

  • Keila Rosado says:

    I came to your site through a YouTube artist that I follow. She recommended you and I’m so glad I came! I didn’t even know that my favorite kind of art is called “urban sketching”. I’ve learned so much from just a few posts! I look forward to getting to know your work further. Thank you for posting! P.s. The scripture you included at the end was lovely. I’m going to use it in my bullet journal for the new year. 🙂

  • J. Ferguson says:

    Thanks for sharing at Sketchbook Revival. Thanks for sharing these quotes..they are resonating with me…especially the last one-especially. Trying to figure this all out as I’m still excited about art, but with an auto accident, and memory swiped, my brain functions totally different. So what is that to look like now? I really don’t know-yet. But Ps 3:5. 6 is where I need to be, and stay there. There is a plan….sketching is for growing into the plan, even if it doesn’t look like it is suppose to be in my mind. But it will in the end show its the step to just the plan He has in mind. Thanks for your cheerful encouragement and sharing!

  • Carol says:

    You are an absolute delight. I have been a studio artist for decades and finding artists like yourself on the internet is wonderful. People who share and who you can identify with and might not have a chance to meet otherwise. I love the idea of urban sketching and have no idea if I will ever get to that point..ha. But i love reading about your adventures. And you write very creatively. Am actually going thru all the blogs you have written and enjoying them thoroughly. I so much appreciate all the information you share! Sure did help me find pens I would like 🙂 Wishing you all the best in your art career and hoping the coming yrs will hold lots of fulfillment for you xx

  • Marie Sheel says:

    Wow, Liz, this post is so encouraging to me. In a month, I am flying to Mexico to try 6 months of learning Spanish and playing with writing and drawing/watercolors. I have made the decision. Yet, I keep reviewing it and wondering if it is the right thing to do. It’s nice to see that other people do wacky things and it all works out in the end.

    Thank you for writing this post.


  • maria bergman says:

    You are amazing Liz! I’m taking 3 of your classes now and reading your story just confirms to me even more how amazing you are. I didn’t know how you’ve come to teaching. All I have to say is you a wonderful teacher. So engaging. A font of information and your devotion and focus on your art is so inspirational. I am so glad my interest in urban sketeching lead me to your blog and classes. Forever grateful.

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