Last week: Working smaller

February 4, 2019 | 9 Comments

So last week was the first week back in the smaller book (5.5 x 8.5 Stillman and Birn, Alpha softcover) and it felt so good. Having a smaller, lighter book makes a big difference in terms of the weight I carry around everyday and it also feels more personal – more like a diary/journal than the bigger book (8 x10) does.

And it has taken off a lot of pressure from my morning cafe visits. Yay! As I mentioned in the previous Last Week article, the bigger pages made me feel as if I needed to do a full scene sketch of the cafe. But the smaller pages allow for a quick vignette – and it’s been nice that this has meant I have done more watercolour sketches this week.

The two negatives of the smaller book are:

  1. Less compositional options – a big deal for me as designing my sketchbook pages is just as important as the sketches themselves.
  2. Going through the book too quickly – I have filled up one third of the book already!

So here are the pages:

Title Page: You can see a video of my doing this here.

Monday cafe: working quickly drawing over my watercolour washes so a few ink explosions!

Teacup #2 from my collection – more about the project here.

Tuesday: Forgot my paint so using my emergency dot card (in the back of my BuJo) and a busy morning of work.

Quick watercolour carpark sketch trying to capture some back lighting.

Wednesday: A very hectic day (it’s my filming day for the Foundations Re-Run) so I just did one spread that included both my morning cafe and afternoon gym outings.

Thursday: I was determined to do a watercolour cafe sketch!

Extremely hot day (38-40C) so this sketch was drawn in my car and then watercolour added later.

Friday: I was extremely focused on the work I was doing during my cafe visit (working on my next course) and so my sketches were super quick.

I then headed out for my outing with my head full of ideas. The staircase sketch was an example of a ‘nothing’ sketch ie. no clear idea of what I was doing, randomly working without a plan. I did this sketch as a way of clarifying some of the common problems I see in my student’s work – the problems I will be addressing in the new course.

It was a grey day so this is a subdued version of the Sydney Opera House (SOH).

A context view of the SOH and the SHB (Sydney Harbour Bridge).

It started to rain so I ended up at the Palace Tearoom (in the QVB) again and did a super quick ink only sketch of the view from my table. The QVB interior is very complex so it was fun to do this simplified version. I filmed bits of the teacup sketch – see here.

Saturday: Rushed visit to Goodfields for my Saturday coffee – so the sketch of the two baristas wasn’t totally finished.

Sketches during a 40th birthday brunch – an example of reflex sketching.

And the teacup I was drinking out of.


BTW 1. There are two spreads which I did this week that are missing from this collection as they will get separate articles.

BTW 2. One other advantage of this book is that it fits on my scanner so one third the time to prepare images for this article!

Ah! that was a good week of sketching – how was yours?



  • Kate Powell says:

    This is SO not a comment about your nice images, but for me, I rarely will cross that line. I feel like I am not giving my sketches their due. But I love smaller books for most things (I keep one A4 landscape Watercolor Hahnemuhle going). Finding the very nice A5 LANDSCAPE hardbound books really does it for me. Intimate, as you say, feels more like a journal in some ways — and I use it for that whereas I don’t use the A4 for that — but I get my layout in without having to cross a line except very rarely (think WIDE vista.)

    • Liz Steel says:

      HI Kate – thanks for sharing. I agree about the Hahnemuhle sizes – they have some great sizes and I love a book that feels personal like that. Enjoy!

  • Leonie Brennan says:

    About to travel with a small (22.5 x 15 cm) Stillman & Birn Landscape book.
    Small quick vignettes is exactly my aim for this book so this post is timely.
    I am hoping that it will speed up & build confidence in my sketching if the composition is a small focus.
    First time using landscape as well .. I am liking this as well.
    It fits snuggly in my travel bag, not to heavy & I can carry it with me everywhere .. no excuses!!
    thanks for all the inspiration & helpful hints!

  • May says:

    nice sketches!

  • Tina Koyama says:

    This 5.5×8.5 S&B softcover really is a wonderful, versatile format. I use it more at home than as a daily-carry, but it is thin and light enough to put in my bag, too. I’m glad to hear that it has taken the pressure off of creating full “scene” sketches and allows just making small vignettes instead. I remember a long time ago you were pondering how to find the right balance (book size/time available), and this seems to be a good solution. I make my small vignettes in a pocket-size sketchbook (usually ink only), and it’s very liberating not to have to think about color, composition, context, etc. if I don’t have time.

  • MaryElizabeth Calais says:

    Liz, I’m ready to signup for one of your classes, so I ordered a Sketcher 1/2 pan set from Blick. I’d like to purchase more 1/2 pan colors , but I can’t find a retailer who sells them. Could you please direct me? I’m excited to start your courses. Thanks a bunch.
    You don’t have to post this. I’m fine with just an email. Liz

    • Liz Steel says:

      Hi Mary Elizabeth, the half pans are only available in the starter sets – so not available anywhere. You have to fill up from tube – which is much more economical anyway.

      I hope the course really helps your sketching.

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