Last Week: Reconnecting with my sketchbook

May 23, 2016 | 17 Comments

I had an up-and-down time of it last week. I was tempted to write a ‘tough week’ but that would have been too negative as despite a few major challenges, there were numerous very good events and as always, many many things to be thankful for!

As a result I didn’t sketch as much as I had hoped (I had actually planned some sketches!), but unlike a few weeks ago I felt connected with my sketchbook. Why?

Well in my recent lean weeks (new tag for those!) I was starting my day in my sketchbook (writing notes from my morning readings and sketching my coffee) but I then didn’t touch it at all for the rest of the day. Now, I am making a conscious effort to pick up my sketchbook each night and at the very least, I am stamping the date and jotting down a few notes from the day’s adventures.

This simple act of opening up my sketchbook is making the difference. And the main reason for that is that I’m more actively designing the pages – and this act of playing with composition is hitting the spot. But it is also true that I am doing a few working pages where the composition doens’t matter as much. So it is a combination of designed and working, but the important thing is that I am using my book!

I am still struggling with the dilemma of what to sketch at the end of the day. I know that many of my readers who are busy working or have a family struggle with this too. The two big options are sketch an object or two from around the house or sketching from a photo. I get bored with the first especially if it is not specifically relevant for the unquieness of the specific day (one of the reasons why Everyday in May no longer hits the spot with me – more about that here and here and here) and well, sketching from photos often leads to flat sketches – sketches that are missing a degree of engagement that is present when you sketch from life. Photo sketching does have a place, and I am actually doing it myself at the moment with a specific goal in mind, but in the long term it is not the best solution.

Anyway, enough ramblings for this week, its time for the pages from last week.


Further from the previous post about sketching to prepare for my visit to Scotland, I am thinking about the challenges that I will have in regard flat light and dark dull stonework – actually I wrote “drab materials and dull light” in my book. It sounds negative but I can assure you I LOVE Scotland. So I wanted to test out of few mixes and approaches now so that when I’m there my sketches will be subdued but lively and atmospheric. This day I was just playing with brown mixes on a quick line work of Dunvegan Castle. When I sketched this view on location I was attacked by midges which affected my linework (see the full day from my trip in 2009 here). On this occasion hiccups were affecting my lines.

And oh! sketching my ideas when I am sewing (which I am pleased to say I am doing at the moment) always helps.

Last week’s coffee spread was pretty important in terms of the current theme of designing my pages. I started with the heading in the middle and had to work my way around it all week. How to fit Friday’s sketch in was particularly challenging.

My coffee sketches were purely reflex this week (often blind sketches in fact) as I have been playing with snapchat (if anyone is on it, my username is lizsteelart). Trying hold the record button on my phone and talk for less than 10 seconds at the same time as painting was a new extreme sketching challenge – I primarily was watching the phone, not my subject or my page. Super difficult but lots of fun.

A very loose sketch (from another grey Scottish photo – this time of St Giles Edinbugh) at the end of a hard day. I can read into my linework how I was feeling at the time, but the words I recorded were all the nice aspects of the day. A tip I got from jessicia Wesolek many years ago was to only record positive things.

Another super quick sketch from the car (more about this soon!) before rushing to an appointment, and Diana’s Shelley cup.

My evening thumbnails from the book of photo of Loughborough – more here.

Thursday – sketch free (apart from the morning coffee of course) and then on Friday evening I used my sketchbook to test a few things. Thanks to everyone that made wonderful suggestions about stamping ink. I got the Rangers ink.

Sadly, Rangers bleeds through the Alpha paper. The only ink I have that seems promising is a red ink from Studio Calico. Whether their black ink would bleed through too is another question.

Along with thinking about Scottish lighting, landscapes and stonework, I am also thinking about the colours of Lucca (teaching a 2 day workshop there at the end of June). As part of my workshop prep (more about this soon) I was testing a few mixes.

I am going to make up my ‘big trip palette’ this coming week, and as always I am deliberating on the inclusion of DS buff titanium. I find that when I paint a scene I often think “oh! buff would be good for this” but whenever I do a test back home of what I can mix using other colours in my palette vs buff, I always prefer the mixes. Stay tuned for my final selections!

A quick end of the day sketch of my sewing machine and overlocker – most of you call it a serger? I don’t have a lot of energy or spare time for sewing but discovered last week that having the machines out and doing one hour a day in the evening is really achieving a lot.

So want do you think? Would setting aside some time in the evening to open your book make a difference?
Also  do you struggle with knowing what to draw?
(aside: I started a great prompt list for myself 6 months ago… I really should look at that shouldn’t I?)


  • Sandra James-Talbot says:

    I’m definitely going to open my sketchbook and sketch something every night now, after your post. I’m feeling too busy with work and studying at the moment to sketch, but I really miss it and I’m worrying I’ll forget what I’ve learned from Foundations and Edges. And I’m off to The Lakes (UK) on Saturday for a few days and I can’t wait to get my paints out up there. Sketching is good for our emotional wellbeing – we should give it a higher priority! And you’ve reminded me, I must get my sewing machine out again, as summer’s the only time I get a chance.

    • Liz Steel says:

      thanks Sandra! I was thinking last night that the approach of attempting to do some sewing (even if only 15 minutes each night) will similarly get me closer on my sewing goals. Have fun in the Lakes region!

  • I have a family and a four day job, so I have to take pictures if I want to sketch every day. This way, I succeed in reaching that goal. Sketching = meditation after a long day!

    • Liz Steel says:

      hi Sara – that is certainly a great way to record your day. You might also on some occasions try to a quick 5 minute sketch (a simple line drawing) at the time as well just to mix it up so that you are sometimes doing a sketch in the moment. Keep it up!

  • Corinne McNamara says:

    Your question really made me think about my sketching habit. There are many days when I don’t know what to sketch and don’t open my book. But today, I bought a bunch of sweet-peas (a beautiful mix of deep reds and ultramarine violet), and now I have a lovely subject – so, no excuses! I feel I do better sketching in the morning, but I’m more likely to have time in the evenings. I think the time of day is less important than simply sketching. A few lines and a splash of watercolor and it will be done. Something is better than nothing, and I need to draw.

  • Elsie Hickey-Wilson says:

    Liz, thinking about your Scotland trip prep. and needing paint for buildings and rocks etc., I love DS Bronzite Genuine for such. It has a little glint as rocks and stone buildings often have in light, but does not over-do it. Even a little of it in a mixture works so well. I love reading about your testing of materials and uses for travel!

    • Liz Steel says:

      Oh no Elsie – don’t tempt me further …please!!! Ha ha! Honestly I always love hearing peoples suggestions. will check it out.

  • I am always amazed at how much can be done in 15 minutes!

  • Tina Koyama says:

    I struggle with this every winter when it’s too rainy to sketch outdoors. I have never gotten into EDM for the same reason as you — the prompts seem random and irrelevant to me. I sketch from photos and still lives at home sometimes, but I think the most educational subject matter (as it applies to on-location/from- life sketching) is selfies in the mirror. 😉 Nothing quite so humbling as sketching one’s own face repeatedly! But an added benefit is that your face (expression, mood) will be of direct relevance to recording your day.

    – Tina

    • Liz Steel says:

      Yes, the self portrait is a good idea but I can’t fill a ‘public’ book with that. I have gone through stages when I have done a few on a regular basis in a separate book. A good idea to revisit

  • Sharon Nolfi says:

    How do you mix a color similar to DS buff titanium? I’ve wondered if I can get by without it.

  • Pam Thorburn says:

    When are you coming to Scotland? Will you be in Edinburgh? Want a local guide? Even if she is Australian?

  • Ioana N says:

    Oh, I had a weekend full of sewing! I managed to knock off some 7 sewing projects, and I am so happy about that, but I have not opened my sketchbook for a while now, and that is no good. 🙁 I am again and again overwhelmed by the inner critic on my sketching skills, but I read your post Liz, and I am addicted to your spontaneity in sketching. That is what makes me pick the pen again and again! Give it 3 years, you said??? 🙂 Lovely post. Thanks for picking us up, with reminders that life is beautiful still, even in the most boring of the days.

  • Tami says:

    Noticed in your new 2017 palette that you do not have any Schminke included- any particular reason. I have been reading more and more about the various brands and like you deciding what to put in my palette. I want to
    choose colors that I will be using most. Thank you for your helpful reviewing of products, i.e. brushes, paints and sketching books and encouragements! While watercoloring is not quite the investment that oils can be, I still want to choose selectively.

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