Melbourne Trip 2016 Part 2: With the Watercolour Society of Victoria

March 15, 2016 | 10 Comments

The whole reason for my recent trip to Melbourne was an invitation by the Watercolour Society of Victoria (WSV) to run a workshop and do a demo/talk for their members. There are no words to describe how honoured I felt in receiving this invitation because the Society is made up of many incredible watercolourists including some of the big names – Robert Wade, Joseph Zbukvic, David Taylor etc. (BTW I didn’t meet any of those guys but their names were certainly mentioned a lot during my stay!)

I feel like I move in a completely different sphere to the ‘traditional’ painting culture of producing large paintings for sale and exhibition: I am a blogging artist! So it was a completely new (and exciting) experience for me to hang out with painters for a number of days.

Of course the HUGE thing we have in common is our love of watercolour!

I will come back at the end of this post with a few ‘takeaways’ from my adventures, but will simply just give you a blow by blow account of my time with the ‘WSV watercolourists’.

I caught an early flight (getting up at an insane time of 4:30 am) and as always felt compelled to sketch in the plane! Plane sketches are not my favourite but at least doing them is a signal to my brain that I am heading out on a sketching adventure, and well, I just have to record a Jetstar Row 3 seat, don’t I?

I spent the morning with the president of WSV, checking on the location for my workshop (the upstairs room at Senior Art in Malvern) and deciding that I would take them out in the afternoon on the busy main road and not a quieter residential street!

We then went checked out the Monday night demo facilities in the Vic Arts Building. This photo is from the balcony which can only be assessed via a storeroom, so it is a fairly rare view of the city of Melbourne. We had a lovely lunch (which I didn’t sketch!) and lots of great chats about the history of the society and differences between the traditional watercolourist approach and the brave new world of sharing online  (being a blogging artist!)

I was staying with a great watercolour painter Patricia Winnett – sadly I can’t find any of her work only and am kicking myself I didn’t take any photos to share with you! After a brief cuppa tea and the start of what would a long inspiring dialogue about watercolour over a number of days, I rushed into town to meet up with a few Urban Sketchers friends. My 4.30am start was taking effect so this quick sketch of City Square was all I achieved that afternoon.

Saturday Workshop for Watercolour Society of Victoria

The next day I had a great time teaching a one day workshop to a group of watercolourists. It was very exciting to teach people who already have a good knowledge of the medium (hmm, some of them have been painting and teaching for over 40 years… at least!) and for no one to care about what colours I had in my palette!

I was teaching them all about taking risks, working fast and spontaneously –  taking them out of their comfort zone! When someone is used to painting with watercolour in a controlled way it is a huge deal to work quickly. Therefore  I thought for my first demo I should set the standard and so, on the spur of the moment, I decided to sketch the teacup I had borrowed from Pat, standing up! I had done a very quick test sketch of the subject earlier that morning – this one.

And this is the version I did as my demo in 6:42 minutes (including my talking!)

Note: when I teach I rarely do a full ‘proper’ demo. Instead I start a sketch to show the principles.

We did a number of quick sketches exploring ideas about ink and wash and this is a photo of the final exercise. I was very inspired by some of the interpretations of this complicated building (working from a photo).

And ok, I was asked one question about colour: what was the strange mix on the bottom left hand corner of my palette?

In the afternoon we headed out on the streets. I forced the group to sketch at a busy intersection and then I started a sketch working instinctively and making it up as I went along!

I hadn’t done a dry run at all for this, so I was in the same boat as the participants. Here is my incomplete sketch – I did wish I had had time to complete it, but I wanted everyone to get sketching!

We laughed when a van blocked out view…. actually I think someone is making fun of me at this moment!

Some people found some table and chairs (belonging to a wine bar) to sit and sketch in style, but of course you all know that I am happy to sit on the pavement (sidewalk) any time!

I don’t have a photo of the final collection, but here is an upside down version from the overhead mirror. (BTW was nice having one of those for my morning demos.)

It was a great day and a real privilege to teach such an advanced group!


Monday Demonstration and Talk for Watercolour Society of Victoria

Sadly I don’t have any photos to share of the evening – so here is the opening image of my slideshow. I talked a lot about my experiences and incredible journey over the last 8 years – how exciting it is to get out and paint on location and how sharing it online has changed my life.

I did an insane quick demonstration (part of the time holding a microphone in my right hand!) pretending that I only had 5 minutes to sketch a Baroque facade as my travelling companion was getting me gelato. So once again an incomplete sketch.

I then got a few interesting questions. The highlights were:

  • “Do you have a problem putting on weight (because of all the cakes you eat)?” I mentioned this and made a few comments recently.
  • “Do you ever sell your books?”
  • “I am worried about you, if you don’t sell paintings, how do you support yourself, do you get enough to eat?”

Anyway, this post is already long enough. But I just want to finish with a big thankyou to Wayne and the WSV for inviting me down and for the lovely Royal Albert teacup gift.

Also a HUGE thankyou to the wonderful Pat for looking after me so well, and for all the amazing watercolour (and Scotland/Ireland) conversations we had during my stay. I have a lot of ideas in my head as a result of many conversations over the few days.

Whilst spending all my time working on planned full sheet paintings is not a goal of mine at the moment, I do have a desire to do a few more finished pieces that can be hung on a wall. And just because I haven’t produced any work to sell to date doesn’t mean that it is not on the radar.

This weekend hanging out with WSV watercolourists has certainly increased my desire to branch out a little – down the track, one day! Until then I will keep sketching my life and sharing the experience!


  • Tricia Kidd says:

    Hi Liz! LOVE your work and I really enjoy your blog. I so admire your spontaneity and fluid sketches. What advice do you give to your students, to help get them out of their comfort zone and loosen up? Many thanks.

  • Jean Mackay says:

    What a nice post. Thanks for sharing your teaching experience!

  • Cyd says:

    Delightful post, Liz! I don’t often comment but nearly always read your updates. Sharing your sketching experiences has broadened & influenced my sketching life tremendously. Thanks for being you & all your efforts to get the info out into the world! All the best to you.

    (And to all those who are considering….yes, DO take her online classes!)

  • Denise Robotham says:

    Hello Liz, I found your site a couple of weeks ago when I put in a search for waterproof fountain pen ink, because I wanted to do pen and wash sketches (hate fineliners!).It has been a revelation not only on the ink front, but on the whole urban sketching phenomenon. I read an article months ago about I guy who called himself an urban sketcher and thought he was a one off! You have to be very committed (or maybe you should be committed) to go out sketching through the English winter. However, thanks to your website and I have found a group of urban sketchers about thirty miles away in Bristol and am hoping to go out to meet them on Saturday at Bristol docks . I already have a collection of pens and have been putting them to use with my new bottles of De Atramentis ink. Fantastic! Just one question which you may have dealt with before, but I haven’t found it yet. Do you water down your ink in the pens at all? If so are there any pitfalls? Thanks again.
    P.S. I’m saving up for your online course and awaiting your boo with bated breath.

    • Liz Steel says:

      Thanks Denise! there is a dilution solution for De Atramentis ink.Just adding water to most of the permanent inks will possibly take away their permanent properties…but it is not something I have done much of.

  • Denise Robotham says:

    Sorry. I’m awaiting your book too 🙂

  • I am so thankful I found you, Liz! I am an amateur sketcher and watercolor painter, but your videos and your blog are truly helping me improve! I also love reading the Bible Scripture you add to much of your work 🙂

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