New Zealand Trip: Some favourite sketches

January 24, 2017 | 5 Comments

After sharing my NZ sketchbooks as a whole yesterday, I thought it would be fun to share a few of my favourites from the trip and explain why.

Oamaru Warehouse – A state of flow

If I were to pick one sketch that was my favourite from the trip it would have to be this one. Despite the cold, the fact that I was sitting on a wet bench with the threat of rain starting again, this is the sketch that I enjoyed the most.

I was in the state of flow that I am always searching after. That is a state of working that is a little hard to describe, but in essence it occurs when I am experimenting, mixing up my materials and just simply responding to my subject. Many Urban Sketchers think sketching buildings straight-on (an elevational view) like this is a little dull, and yet for me it affords the opportunity to respond in a very personal and totally intuitive way.

So this sketch is my favourite because of the feeling I had when I was doing it.

Auckland Boat Shed – Keeping in Simple

The sketches in this article are not in order as such, but this sketch was a close second place in my favourites list. I spent a little while looking at the big scene of a harbour beach and then decided to zoom in and just focus on this little boat shed.

In a similar way to the Auckland city view sketch that I explained in this article, I started with shape first and but then alternated between line and colour – a little colour, a few lines and then a little more colour etc.

I was particularly happy with the texture of the water which was a pleasant surprise as I was just getting to know the paper in my new sketchbook. Note: a little more about the book here.

Interestingly my top two sketches were done with my Faber Castell Aquarelle Graphite pencil. If you missed it, I discussed this pencil here.

Lake Dunstan, Cromwell – Taking a line for a walk across a big scene

I think that one of the most important aspects of effective travel sketching is choosing how much of a scene you will sketch and what media is best in the time available.

On this occasion, I didn’t have much time left and had already done four sketches of various parts of the location (see below). But I still wanted to capture the whole picture. So I grabbed my favourite pen – my White Lamy Joy – and just started drawing with a single continuous line. It was an easy pressure-free way of tackling a big scene. You can read more about this sketch and the ideas behind it in this article.

Here are the other four sketches I did during our ‘free time sketching session’ that afternoon in Cromwell.

Oamaru – Describing the town in a single view

During our 1.5 days in Oamaru I sketched a lot of street scenes and individual warehouse buildings, however, I wanted to record a big scene. So this small sketch manages to do that in a similar way to the Cromwell one above. Click on the above image for a large size.

Here is the sketch in the context of the whole spread.

Akaroa wharf – Slowing down and chilling

Are you waiting to see if a more traditional ink and wash sketch makes it into the favourites list? Well, here is one although I started with shape first, and mixed up line and colour as I worked.

This sketch makes the favourites because it was such a beautiful afternoon, the setting was gorgeous, I felt really relaxed and had a local lady sit beside me and sketch. Ah! Urban Sketching at it’s best!

Once again, my attachment to this sketch is as much about the memories of being there and how I felt as it is the end result. But I think those aspects came through in the finished work!

Christchurch Sketches – Creating a record in 5 mins

And now two sketches that were done in ridiculous time frames. We had a lovely morning being shown around Christchurch by Mario Luz and family but when it came to finding somewhere for lunch (it was a public holiday) we had a lot of trouble and ran out of time to sketch. This first sketch was done while Mario paid for parking and in only 2 minutes I captured a few important elements of downtown Christchurch after the earthquake. It is a very rough sketch (I added labels to make it readable) but it says enough and I was so pleased that I managed to sketch this in a ‘nothing moment’.

Right at the end of the time with Mario and family we had only 5 minutes to sketch before we needed to rush off to catch a bus. The timing was so tight that I set a timer. In typical Liz-style I attempted a very complex view of the decorative Arts Centre building. I made a snap decision to sketch the scaffolding in pen and the building in watercolour pencil to make the most of colour and line together. So this is another sketch where I was pleased with my attempt to capture something complex within a seriously crazy time limitation.

Akaroa Harbour Spread – Three sketches instead of one big one

I have mentioned this spread before (here), but it is another favourite. On this occasion, I had an afternoon of solo sketching time, so I had no limitations except not wanting to sit in the full sun for too long (just for the record, this is a serious time constraint).

I starting sketching the boat club shed with shapes, intending to add lines later, but was having so much fun I kept going with the paint stopped my sketch after the first pass. Next, I did a simple ink drawing of the whole view and then finished the spread with a quick pencil sketch of the lighthouse. My intention was to do one proper sketch of the whole scene, but I like how it morphed into something else.

My intention was to do one proper sketch of the whole scene, but I like how it morphed into something else. In some ways, the three sketches – a simple sketch of the whole scene and then two detail ones – record more for me than a single double-page watercolour sketch would.

One hill tree spread – The whole is greater than the parts

And finally, a simple spread that I like. The One Tree Hill sketch isn’t the most amazing sketch I have done (though it was a lot of fun to discover a few characteristics of the paper in my new sketchbook) and the map of Auckland is not complete! But there is something about the arrangement of the elements on the double page spread that I just find appealing. So in a similar way to the last favourite, sometimes through composition, text and other elements, you can create a nice spread around an ordinary sketch- or even a sketch that you weren’t happy with.

So there you have it, 9 favourite sketches from my trip to New Zealand -with a few extras!

In all cases my ‘favourites’ selection is more to do with how I felt at the time or how satisfied I was with my record of place, achieved in a short period of time. It is not so much how finished or how compelling the final result is as an individual work of art. I feel as if I am still not able to judge each sketch in isolation as they are still very strongly connected with my experiences at the time of creation.

For me, urban sketching, and in particular travel sketching, is all about the story – the story about where you are and the story about what happened at the time. It is not about producing masterpieces everytime, but getting out, having a go and responding to the limitations of time and place.

So what about you? Does the experience at the time affect your attachment to certain sketches? How do you choose your favourite work?


  • Tina M Koyama says:

    This is an enjoyable and revealing post — I love learning from your process! When I travel, I find that my most memorable or “favorite” sketches are not necessarily the “best” ones in terms of beauty or looking finished but more about how I was feeling while sketching the place. What you describe as “flow” and responding to your subject is the same as what I am attempting, I think — making a connection with the subject and trying to put that connection in my sketchbook. When I make that connection fully, that’s what makes the sketch most memorable for me. Conversely, if I don’t make the connection for some reason, the sketch feels empty to me, even if it might look “nice” to someone else.

  • Tami says:

    What color greens did you use in the Omaru Warehouse and the Akaroa Harbour Spread? Beautiful colors and really added so much to the overall feel of the drawings.

    Thank you for your thoughtful reflection upon the warehouse drawing. The best times I’ve had drawing, I have felt this way and I want to have more of this! Thanks for all the encouragement you give us all by sharing your work, techniques and thought process.

    • Liz Steel says:

      thanks Tami – I keep thinking about what are the best ways to have this experience more often.
      The ‘greens’ I think you are referring to are made with Winsor & Newton Cobalt Turquoise Light

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