Reflections from my Hunter2022 trip

June 3, 2022 | 4 Comments

Before I focus completely on Watercolour related topics it’s time to wrap up my articles on my recent Newcastle/Hunter region trip and share a few reflections. I always love doing a Reflections article as it’s a way to consolidate thoughts (and developments) during an intensive period of sketching,

Three thoughts about the trip as a whole

1. Very relaxed pace

For a dedicated sketching trip, I did less sketching than normal and generally, after a few hours of sketching I was content to call it a day. I still did plenty of sketching, but I didn’t feel my usual desire to keep going all day. At this point, I need to add the usual disclaimer that I’m reflecting on my own typical output and it’s very important that you do not compare yourself with me! Got it? 🙂

There is something special that happens during a full day of sketching and if you have never experienced this (or think that it’s a bit obsessive) I do recommend that you try it sometime. (BTW this is the theme of one of the lessons in my Watercolour On Location course). I have some wonderful memories of some big amazing sketching adventures in the past such as days in  Venice, Tasman Peninsula, Sugarloaf and Penang. This trip didn’t have any of those, but the slower pace felt good!

I think that the fact I was travelling so close to home meant that there was zero pressure to document the places I visited as best I could because it would be so easy for me to return to Newcastle on another occasion. Instead of thinking to myself “oh, I love this scene, I’ll sketch it now” I was thinking “oh, I love this scene, I can sketch it next time.” So the big challenge now is to make sure that I do indeed return to Newcastle soon!

2. Easy sketching positions

Half-way through my first week in Newcastle, I realised that I wasn’t carrying around my seat (Backjoy – see here for more details) at all! So this means that I was able to find somewhere to sketch from – either a seat, bench, picnic table, step, low wall or a cafe! The only time I can remember sitting on the pavement (sidewalk) on my Backjoy was when I was sketching with the USK Newcastle group.

In the second week when I was walking along the main street in Maitland I realised I was looking for somewhere comfortable to sit (and then seeing if it had a good view) rather than deciding on the best spot to sketch from. This is somewhat out of character!

I’m extremely comfortable sitting anyway to sketch as I know that when I’m in an obvious spot I often get the most fun interaction with people passing by. So it was interesting that I became a little mentally ‘soft’ in the second week, because I hadn’t been fearlessly sketching in the first week. I wasn’t at all afraid to sit on the ground but just opted for the easy option. 🙂

This is just a good reminder to all of us that when it comes to urban sketching confidence and ease comes from doing!

3. Perfect combo – city vs country

In the first week of my trip, I was so happy to be in Newcastle and to have a city-based sketching trip. Walking lots (minimal driving), lots of interesting things in a small area, being around busyness and having lots of great cafe/restaurant options! I haven’t had this kind of sketching trip since Amsterdam and then Brisbane in 2019. I do love cities!

But then in the second week once I was driving along some country roads I was reminded of the wonderful feeling I had last year during my big road trip. There is something super special about being in the countryside, in large expanses of open space, seeing the rolling hills and lots of cows. (If you miss the comment in an earlier article, both my parents grew up on dairy farms so I had a special connection with cows!) I also love visiting small country towns and villages. More about that below!

So this trip was the perfect combo of city and country.

Five sketching-related reflections

During the trip I tried lots of new things mixing coloured pencils (and WCPs) with watercolour so it involved more experimentation than usual. I have shared extensively my techniques in the earlier articles so I’m not going to repeat specifics here. Instead, I want to pick up on five themes that I haven’t really emphasised previously.


1. Experimentation is limited while travelling

When I’m travelling and sketching non-stop for an extended period  I always see development in my work. If a trip involves meeting with and sketching alongside other artists (eg. an Urban Sketchers event) then I normally pick up new ideas and techniques along the way. I sometimes add a new pen or a new colour but that’s often simply a variation to my normal sketching kit – not a radical change.

But on this trip, I started without any idea of what I was going to do! It was a big unknown!

The first few days I tried a number of things with limited success – I started with CPs, then switched to WCPs and then back to CPs.

But halfway through the middle of the first week I realised (thanks to the red pencil under a shadow wash in the above sketch) that I would limit myself to ink drawing and then CPs under watercolour. Once I settled on that, I felt freer to just sketch and not worry so much about what technique I should use each time.

I did manage to get into a bit of routine with this new way of working but by the end of the second week, I was ready to come home so that I could more seriously experiment further.

So the big point for this first reflection is…

When you are out and about, trying to travel and explore new places it’s hard to continue to experiment. I remember thinking in 2010 towards the end of my first big 11-week trip that although my drawing had improved a lot, my watercolour was in a rut and I needed to do more study at home to change my painting.

So in essence I realised that travel sketching is great for limited experimentation but to really develop new techniques there needs to be work done back home in a controlled environment.

2. The most colourful sketchbooks ever!

There is no doubt that using coloured pencils added another dimension to my already fairly vibrant watercolour sketches.

I especially enjoyed adding CP to shadow areas and have become too obsessed with my Ultramarine Bruynzeel Design pencil.

3. The importance of perspective

While I’m not an artist who strives for perfect perspective I was reminded a number of times during this trip that a little extra time and care with perspective at the beginning of the sketch goes a long way.

I think that working larger (in effect many of my sketches were A3 in size) makes any out of whack lines harder to see at the time when I’m working. At a larger scale, these inaccuracies seem more obvious.

I’m always wanting to improve my perspective without losing liveliness and so I’m developing a few different techniques for doing this.


4. Out of practice drawing verandahed buildings

Australian buildings with verandahs are not the easiest to sketch quickly, but last year during my big road trip I became really comfortable drawing them. So it was really interesting to discover how out of touch I felt at the beginning of this trip with overcoming my object brain.

What I’m referring to is the placement of the verandah posts in relation to the doors and windows (and vice versa). The object brain wants to position the windows/doors centrally between the posts… but unless you are looking straight on, that is never the case!

For the first few verandah sketches, I initially put the windows/doors in the wrong place. My reflexes were off… so I had to pause, carefully observe and re-train my visual brain and then the sketches started to flow.

5. How much I love Australian country areas…

… especially small towns and villages. There are so many interesting places to explore so close to home and I’m really committed to finding out more about my local history and geography etc.

Most of these towns might have a few historic buildings scattered throughout but they are not all picturesque. So often there needs to be a fair amount of exploration and interpretation needed to determine what to sketch. I’m also particularly interested in developing sketching techniques (which might include small drawings, diagrams and maps as well) to document ‘a sense of place’ for each town I visit. I didn’t really attempt to do this during this trip, but I certainly want to explore this idea further next time.

Well, there is a lot more that I could write about… but these five reflections are a good summary of the main thoughts I’ve had in the past two weeks since I returned from the Hunter region.

Thanks so much for coming along with me. I’m looking forward to continuing my experiments with CPs and with watercolour in the coming months.


  • Kate Powell says:

    Are the Bruynzeel Design pencils aquarell or normal pencils? How do they compare with Caran D’Ache?

    • Liz Steel says:

      Hi Kate – they are the coloured pencil version. Certainly not as soft and creamy as the CaranD’Ache but I love some of the colours. I’m not trying to blend or layer with them so can’t really comment on typical CP qualities. 🙂

  • Jamie C says:

    I love your reflection articles. I absolutely get that desire to capture the sense of place and I seek more of that myself.

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