Reflections from MyLGA2021 Staycation

September 20, 2021 | 6 Comments


I don’t normally do a Reflections article for short local trips, but my recent two-week break exploring my Local Government Area (LGA) and 5km radius was so significant that I absolutely must record my thoughts. I know I haven’t posted my pages in detail yet (that’s coming soon, I promise!) but I want to share some important themes before I do so.

Earlier in the year, I had an incredible 6-week road trip driving through NSW (west and south) with visits to ACT and northern Victoria. It was as good as any overseas trip and I was extremely thankful at the time to have been able to carry out my entire itinerary as planned despite the ever-present threat of state border closures and lockdowns.

I totally fell in love with my state and in many ways I was embarrassed at my ignorance of so many interesting and beautiful locations so close to home. I told myself “I’m more than content to stay in NSW and explore it further.”

That trip now feels like a dream!

My world has become limited to my LGA and/or a 5km radius from my home. But I’m happy to report that I have found an overwhelming amount of inspiration within these current restrictions.



After my big Road Trip…

In preparation for collecting my thoughts, I reviewed my RoadTrip2021 Reflections here and I want to pick up on two sentences in that article that bridge the gap between these two breaks…

This trip has greatly revived my interest in local history, Australian architecture and geography. I intend to do ongoing research and I’m excited about how the discoveries on this trip tie into Sydney’s history, architecture and geography.

It was one of the best trips I have been on and one of the most significant. Time will tell how significant, but watch this space for ongoing projects related to my recent adventures.

I can now confirm that I have been able to bring some of the excitement from that road trip into my everyday sketching. (Note: transitioning back to everyday sketching after a big overseas trip was always hard.)

On my return, I went into a serious James Barnet (JimmyB) research mode and had a few sketch outings in the City (Sydney downtown) to track down a few of these buildings (see here and here). I realised how significant his buildings were and it gave me a whole new way of seeing the city. I’m very thankful that I managed to get those two outings in before our current lockdown started at the end of June.

I also started researching Australian vegetation and geology. I’ve always been interested in trees (rather than flowers or gardens) and so I started looking more carefully and trying to identify the eucalypts on my daily walks. This has been happening a lot behind the scenes and is something that I’ve been sharing glimpses of in my daily sketchbook pages.

So my big road trip did have a big impact on my everyday sketching and appreciation for my local area… and this morphed into my plan for my local trip (yes… I’m actually thinking of it as a trip).


MyLGA2021 Trip

I had two weeks dedicated to exploring my LGA as part of my daily allowed exercise. In the first week, I explored some of the more wealthy suburbs (with huge houses) and also visited its perimeters, north, south, east and west. These outer edges were all bush (Australian for forest). In the second week, I  just focused on the bush and in particular Sydney Blue Gum trees.

I decided on a two sketchbook strategy – using a large 30x30cm square Clairefontaine Goldline sketchbook and a small Greenwood journal. I explained this in more detail here.


Research and Exploring

I did some research beforehand – looking up council maps (zoning, heritage and biodiversity) – and then in the first week, did some walking around a few heritage conservation areas with significant architecture. I managed a number of quick sketches of these areas (mainly large houses in my Greenwood) but the watercolour sketches were done back home from photos in my large sketchbook. Some of these houses were designed by important Sydney architects and I also did a little specific research on that. But I was enjoying sketching the bush more and so I’ve shelved this theme for later (it will tie in beautifully with my upcoming Group Run-through of  my Buildings course starting 13 Oct!)

I visited Bobbin Head (and discovered a Sphinx), Ku ring gai Wildflower Garden (a place I’ve been wanting to go for years) and Headland Lookout (a place to go for a big vista). In some of my earliest research back home after my big road trip, I discovered that this part of Sydney used to be blue gum high forest so I tracked down two remnant forests – The Glades Reserve and Hay-Dalrymple Reserve. But the place that excited me the most was Lane Cove National Park.



Focusing

As mentioned above, in the second week I decided to focus on Sydney Blue Gum trees and specifically to track them down inside Lane Cove National Park (LCNP).

LCNP has some special memories for me as it was where we had many picnics when I was a child. It wasn’t a National Park back then and entry was free. I haven’t been back there for many years –  the $8 daily fee is probably a big reason why.  I recently invested in a yearly national park pass so now I’m able to visit as much as I want.

What makes Lane Cove so special is the fact that there are 30 different picnic areas so it’s easy to park my car in lots of different spots. I also love the sense of space created by the various grass areas and picnic/BBQ shelters.

The understorey bush isn’t in great condition (badly affected by weeds) but there is a huge variety of trees! As mentioned in an earlier article, it’s also busy enough during the week that I feel safe walking solo in the bush.

Last year I really enjoyed the challenge of sketching the scenes in my local suburb over and over (see more here) but it’s hard work to be inspired by the sameness. So I’m now super excited to discover a place that I can go to sketch with lots of variety – over 30 different picnic areas, every changing seasons, trees, bush, rocks, river and animals. And the best thing – it’s only a 5-minute drive from my home!



New materials

I loved using new sketchbooks but I also spent a lot of time during my two-week break testing new tools. As mentioned here and here, I’ve been loving using coloured pencils and watercolour colour pencils recently. But I also started using some different paints (Deep Deep Light watercolours).


I’ll be sharing more about all of these in coming weeks – I promise! But for today, I just want to mention that using different tools was another wonderful aspect of this break.

Being at home (as opposed to travelling from place to place and/or living out of a suitcase) meant that it was much easier to try a large range of new stuff. My pencil selection changed quite a lot during the two weeks so it was liberating not to have to make definitive decisions about materials beforehand.

It was also good to put the folio palette to the test with some serious regular sketching. More here, but in summary, I love it!



Freedom

This ‘trip’ was born out of restrictions but in many ways, I experienced freedom! Here are four aspects:

  • Sketching places that are close to home means that I can always return easily and do another sketch – so I feel free to experiment. I don’t feel any pressure to create masterpieces.
  • Using the Greenwood Journal for quick thumbnails and studies was incredibly liberating (more about this in a future article)
  • The larger size sketch felt great. Working larger gave me freedom with my strokes to be loose and also there was more space on the page for design.
  • I loved mixing up ink, watercolour, coloured pencils and watercolour pencils. Mixed media equals ‘play’ equals freedom!

BTW all my bush scenes came out of some recent ideas and inspiration from the recent Group Run-through of my Edges courses – in particular Lesson 2 where we were looking at how to create depth and focus in scenes with multiple layers of landscaping.

Oh! I have a lot of thoughts in my head at the moment, but I think it’s time to wrap up!


Summary

This two-week break has opened my eyes to many wonderful places right in my own LGA. There are still lots of residential streets to check out and local shopping precincts to visit. So I’m excited to continue these local explorations.

I love being in urban areas surrounded by crowds of people, but being in nature recharges my batteries in a special way. I long to see the ocean (my original plan was to spend two weeks in beach towns), but in the meantime, I’m realising more and more how truly amazing the bush in my backyard is. 

I’m so incredibly thankful to have found a spot that I can return to over and over again for sketching. A place that will always be changing and will always have something new to interest me.

And so after my two-week break, I have some new ideas for enlivening my everyday sketching and making time for constant inspiration. Stay tuned to find out if I can keep the magic from my staycation going as I get back to work and my everyday life.

6 Comments

  • Dana Richards says:

    This is a most thoughtful and thought provoking article, Liz. Thank you for taking the time to analyze the positive aspects of being restricted to your LGA.

    When California was in lockdown, I too experienced a new sort of “freedom”. I was freed from many (partially self-generated) obligations on my time that prevented me from spending that time on my art practice. I did not have to find polite excuses to say “no thank you” to invitations to events I really did not want to attend in the first place. All invitations to “gather” evaporated.

    I had time for workshops (yours) I had been wanting to take and time to become much more serious about nature journaling. I gained lots of valuable knowledge about watercolor tools & techniques.

    California is no longer in lockdown and I hope the NSW’s lockdown will be over soon as well. The trick will be to keep the valuable things we have learned from this experience. I wish you all the best and thank you for prompting me to reflect on my own “lockdown worldl.

    • Liz Steel says:

      Thanks Dana… and yes, the first lockdown created an opportunity for many of us to re-think how we spend our time. Glad it was a blessing for you.

      Second lockdown is different for me… I’m spending more time looking after myself 🙂

  • This is such an inspiring post! Thank you for sharing your reflections as well as your sketches. I also found that our lockdown last year freed me to paint and sketch way more than usual, because of the lack of demands on my time. I’ve also found that some recent time of illness, while frustrating when I have felt really lousy, has generally also been a season of more time to myself. Your post inspires me to get out and explore the woods all around our home. Trees have always been one of my favorite subjects to sketch, and, while we only have a few impressive, large trees, we have many smaller ones, each unique and special.

    • Liz Steel says:

      Thanks Melissa! I’m sorry to hear about your illness- hope you are all better soon and able to get out sketching those trees 🙂

  • Jamie C says:

    I’m so glad you reviewed your local excursions in such a lovely, articulate way! You have such a range of diverse areas in your LGA! It makes me think I need to research my own! What treasures might I be missing! I really think you’ve “leveled up” in your art recently, with these few months bringing a watershed moment. I am so excited I get to share your journey in these posts!

    • Liz Steel says:

      Thanks Jamie. I hope that you will find something special close to home. As for leveling up… these type of bush scenes are new for me but I’m always seeking to improve 🙂 I love it when people see a change – it’s often different from what I feel… I see it in the context of my whole body of work.


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