My sketching diet

February 5, 2020 | 10 Comments

Q: Why have I been sketching so much food lately?

A: I have been on my sketching diet – sketching my food in order to lose weight.

The history of my sketching diet

It started in 2008: As part of a maintenance program for my big weight loss diet ( I lost 23kg in 5 months) I had to start to keep a food diary and record everything I ate and count carbs. This seemed too tedious for me, but then I had the crazy idea of drawing my food instead! For some reason this seems easier, and definitely more fun. I had only been sketching for 1.5 years and in the obsessive learning phase – always looking for ways to sketch more.

I had a wonderful time sketching everything I ate for a month – even though it got rather repetitive after a while. I continued to lose weight and the sketching really helped develop a lot of fast sketching techniques. The full set is found here.

I have tried my sketching diet a number of times since, and whenever I stick with it for longer than a few days, I always see results. The hard part is sticking with the sketching component!

The rule of the sketching diet is simple

I MUST sketch at least the outline (or paint a few shapes) before I have the first bite. It’s okay to work on the sketch afterwards (using a photo reference) but I’m not allowed to sketch my food from memory at the end of the day.

It’s not the recording of the food that’s important – it’s the actual act of sketching it at the time. The sketch doesn’t have to be fancy, but it just has to be done before or while I’m eating.

And there are no rules about the actual food I’m eating because, as I will explain shortly, that aspect of this diet simply gets sorted by the process of sketching my food.

And just for the record I do break the rule at times and sketch after I’ve eaten, but the goal is to stick to the ‘before I eat’ rule!

The benefits of the sketching diet as a diet

– I become accountable for what I eat and I honestly think that just being more intentional every time I consume food is my number one issue particularly when I have a crazy work load (which has been the norm for many years!) and I eat when I’m stressed!
– I can instantly see if I have enough variety by the colours on the page – am I eating enough green?
– The additional time it takes to eat and sketch, slows me down and fills me up.

The benefits of the sketching diet for my art

it keeps me sketching throughout the day
–  when I did it in 2008, my sketching diet helped me have more confidence with my lines and helped me to really get to know my paints well
– I get to use lots of fun bright colours in different combinations (sometimes I even have to make adjustments to my palette to have foods more suited for foods)
– it’s great for training fast sketching techniques
– as I eat a lot of the same food after a few days of sketching I feel the need to change it up and come up with some new ways of sketching them and/or experiment with different page layouts. I love these types of challenges!

Logistics of the sketching diet

I will admit that having to sketch everything I eat becomes a chore at times – especially difficult when I’m hungry. But as there is no rule that every sketch needs to be an ink and wash masterpiece, a simple line drawing is fine.

The hardest time to sketch my food is actually when I’m out with a friend at a cafe or restaurant with small tables. I always choose my seat carefully (to suit the fact that I’m left-handed and/or what side of the sketchbook I will be working on) as my position at the table can make a big difference. (Note. The photo at the top of this article was during breakfast with a friend and notice that my coffee cup is on top of my sketchbook! The sketch just above is my record of this fun breakfast with my friend.)

I normally get the minimum down and then eat, often leaving a few remnants to use as reference at the end when I start sketching again. I normally take a photo too, but prefer sketching from life (the remnants). At this stage (when I’ve started sketching after eating) I often ask my friend to tell me all about a topic which they have a lot to say about and this enables me to sketch and listen but not do a lot of talking. My friends and family all know that even though it might appear that my focus is divided, I’m actually embedding the conversation into my artwork. (Note. I have the best family and friends!!!!)

At home, I have a sketching kit in the corner of my dining area so that my paints, pens and water are all there ready to be used… and as of this week, I’m starting a separate food diary sketchbook, so the book stays there too.

When I’m on my own, or at a table with plenty of room, I’m able to eat and sketch at the same time. I’m left-handed with my brush/pen but use a fork with my right hand! You can read more sketching food tips here.

Important Note: I will not sacrifice hot food for the sake of my sketch so I either have to work fast or compromise on the quality of the sketch.

The 2019/2020 Sketching Diet

In this latest round of the sketching diet I have been doing a few different things. I started it over the holiday season, with my City Break and then the two weeks around Christmas and New Year. This made for some interesting food sketches as I did a lot of eating out!

I loved the compositional opportunities and the variety of colours which results from mixing my food in with the rest of my sketches. However, it made it look like all I did was eat non-stop all day!

I’ve been testing different sketchbooks, so in the first month of my sketching diet I sketched food on 4 different papers – Hahnemuhle Nostalgie and Watercolour books, Global Handbook Travelogue and Kunst and Papier Watercolour. The Handbook was extremely difficult to use for food sketching, but the others worked well.

I find that my Sailor Fude pen with its expressive lines is a lot easier to use for quick captures of food. A lot of the time you can’t really tell what my meal actually was as I’m working so loosely, but that’s fine. The important thing is the record of my food but of course I am using this project to improve my food sketching.

After completing the month of my sketching diet, I took a week or so off, but am now back at it, sketching in a special food diary.

And if you are wondering… does this crazy diet actually work? Yes, it does! Despite all the fancy food over the holiday season I’ve lost over 2kg… I have a long way to go, but I’m heading in the right direction and building long term habits.

Just for the record: the sketching part of the diet is not a long term habit but I’m going to keep it up for the time being and see where it takes me creatively.



  • Wanda Eichler says:

    Great post! I read some of it out loud my husband. We enjoy your approach to nutrition and life in general as reflected in your text.

  • Tina Koyama says:

    Fascinating that this works for you, Liz, as it seems counter to many weight-loss program that emphasize avoiding eating while doing other activities (so that the eating becomes more conscious and intentional). But it sounds like sketching is what makes eating more conscious and intentional for you. It’s fun to see your colorful pages! Good luck!

  • Love your post. I would have a hard time doing this, but I guess you can make any kind of sketching a habit.

  • Gabrielle says:

    I can’t say that I enjoyed this post, since 95% of diets don’t work and most people who go on diets will regain the weight they lost and more. I understand you are deep in the diet culture but I encourage you to learn about Health at every size (HAES) and intuitive eating (check out Christy Harrison, a anti-diet dietitian, she has an amazing podcast and IG). Talking about weightloss and diets it fatphobic, I’m sorry to see that an artist I admire and follow does it.

    • Liz Steel says:

      Hi Gabrielle. Thanks for your comment. I’m not really following a diet simply documenting my food and trying to make a long term permanent change to my eating habits. I agree that many diets are fads and don’t really work for me.

  • Barbara Butterworth says:

    Love your art and your commitment to your work. You food sketching seems a great way to eat with more conscious awareness. I’m sorry to say my mindless eating habits have not served my health. Again Liz you are a creative thinker. Thanks for sharing your process.

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