Nightly Sketches: What to sketch?

April 20, 2017 | 20 Comments

I don’t feel as if I have been sketching as much as I used to do a few years back. Part of the reason is that my hobby has become my job – I love my work so much and feel very creatively fulfilled.

In the old days, while working as an architect on the documentation of a big commercial project, the daily grind was heavy going at times, and so I was driven to sketch as a way to keep my creative juices pumping. These days my relaxation time has been mainly filled with light reading. I’ve stopped sketching for relaxation.

Last week I was talking to a friend (hi Ashlyn!) and I decided to make more of an effort to do a nightly sketch.

But of course the problem is always: what to sketch at night!

Do you experience this as well? Do you find it hard to find inspiration at home at the end of a long hard day of work?

I have had a very taxing few weeks (and it’s not over yet) and I just don’t have spare headspace to think of something to draw, so I just started sketching using my photos from last year’s trip to Italy. BTW, it’s still ‘work’ as I am preparing for my big Palladian Odyssey workshop in the area next month.

The long and short of it is: I’m discovering that it doesn’t matter what you sketch as long as you keep doing it. Just the act of sketching anything will get my brain thinking in a visual way, and it will automatically get excited about new ideas and things to try. I MUCH prefer to sketch from life, but sketching from my own photos is a great substitute for the time being.

Anyway, here are a few pages from this week – including my notes about all the website dramas and work I had to do each day. This is not my typical way of working as I am thinking through the Palladian Odyssey programme and also some common struggles of beginners when it comes to travel watercolour sketching. The purpose of these sketches is to explore ideas… and I enjoyed doing them a lot!


Ah! It was so nice to sit down and write a blogpost – a real treat for me this week. It seems I can’t go a week without feeling the need to write. I miss you all – hope you are having a good week.

And finally, I would LOVE to hear your ideas for things to sketch at night!


  • I take photos with my phone everywhere I go. I have something like 9,200 + photos on it, yes you read right. It is always telling me I have no space left but when I try to cull it seems I need them all. I paint from these when I don’t have anything else to paint. Not as good as from life but better than nothing after a hard days work (and I was there initially). People, landscapes, animals, seascapes, buildings, flowers….their all there waiting to be painted. Sometimes if I’m really tired I I just do a quick contour drawing of something like my hand or foot so I don’t have to think too much, just draw. It amazes me you have the energy to achieve what you do Liz, but can understand the frustration of not having the time to do what you love.!

    • Liz Steel says:

      Hi Amanda, Wow that is a lot of photos on your phone!! Yes, I should start taking photos more to sketch from, it is nice to do an evening sketch and yes, a simple contour is sometimes just enough to keep doing something. thanks for your comment!

    • Use the Google Photos app. It will back up all you photos to the cloud and wipe them from your phone. 1tb free of charge – that’s a lifetime’s worth of photos. You can still view them on your phone over WiFi and on any other device. Best thing ever.

  • Hi, Liz! Years ago (before Facebook) I would come home from my stressful job and long to sketch. Since it was dark the motivation would rapidly turn into frustration. I discovered a website back then called Wetcanvas, and discovered a forum there where people posted sketching scavenger hunts. Every 9 days someone would post a list of 26 items, and the forum participants would see how many they could find and sketch during the next 9 days. Suddenly everything became sketch-worthy! This was also before I found your tea cup sketches on Flickr. Anyway, those scavenger hunts helped me to think of everyday objects to sketch. It had never occurred to me to sketch my salt and pepper shakers, for example. I followed those hunts for a couple of years before discovering you and Cathy Johnson on Flickr. The scavenger hunts are still going on, too!

  • Sherry Rix says:

    Hi Liz, I’ve been following your blog posts for a few months now, and have also signed up to your courses, and I have a question – do you ever draw your beautiful teacup sketches from the other side e.g. with the handle on the left, and the saucer too? Just wondering 🙂

    • Liz Steel says:

      Ha! I dont think I have ever done that (ok, maybe once!) its because I am drinking from the cup and need the handle to be on the right as I am using a paintbrush with my left

  • Gaelle1947 says:

    I’m by no means a professional sketcher, but I’ve always enjoyed sketching musicians in live performances (always chuckle at the word “live”, like are there any “dead” performances LOL!). There a huge music awards event coming to my city at the end of this month, so, my nightly sketching tasks is practicing doing quick pen/watercolor sketches of performers from online pictures, in particular, some of those musicians who will be appearing “live” at various pubs in a few weeks. Trying to limit myself to 20-30 minutes – Now I’m going to endeavor to graduate sketching from video performances (that’s not only “live” but quite “lively” as the camera often pans across the stage). After the first week of experimenting, I had to adapt my small watercolor palette to a different range of colors than I would use for daytime landscape sketches. I pre-mixed a generic skin tone plus an yellow/orange, a pinkish red and then had to add a few darker colors to accommodate the darker interior of pubs – there’s not a lot of time for color mixing when sketching those type of scenes on-site.

  • Sally Graves says:

    I keep a Gratitude journal and draw something I am grateful to God for each day (actually, I draw one thing and list three). The best outcome of this is looking back at a whole book full of blessings!

  • Carmel Campbell says:

    Hi Liz, I do sketch every day and I try to sketch from life. The exception to life is people on Sktchy App (I think that is how it is spelled). If that does not work I will draw my hand, feet, shoes, husband, coffee cup, teapot and then my art supplies especially those atomizer bottles. After attending your workshop in Sydney, we visited to Tasmania. I did not have a lot of time to sketch the buildings as we were on the move all the time. I did however take lots of photos for practice. So some building photos for practice to keep me occupied at night. Cheers!

  • Tina Carter says:

    I search 500px for photos of things I’m interested in, such as baobab trees, and sketch from those photos. Or I review my own photos (I have a lot) and sketch from them.

  • Like Leslie above I often do the scavenger hunts on WetCanvas in the evening. They are a nice way to wind down and we’ve drawn everything under the sun, so you get to the point that you’re brave enough to tackle sketching anything. You are right that it doesn’t matter what you sketch as long as you sketch something.

  • Liz Steel says:

    Thanks for the comments everyone!
    There are lots of objects to sketch around the home, I have found in the past that I get bored drawing single objects after a while. I do need some kind of connection to make it a more meaningful record of my day

  • Glenn Tait says:

    I sketch what I call “Urban Still Lifes”. This is comprised of two things. The first is sketching objects that I collect from thrift stores, which is everything unique and cheap. The second is sketching the mess of life at home, it can be a kid’s toy that I almost step on, or a seafood sauce bottle left out or the things piling up In different areas of my studio. I find natural clutter more interesting than any still life I could try to set up.

  • Anney Rehm says:

    I sketch what is around me in the evening…my kitchen, my feet as Im reclined watching TV, my cat in my lap, the lamp in the corner…or sketching as fast as I can of what is on TV. Thomas Kincaid’s book back in college about sketching talks about the fact that we all have about 20 seconds to remember what we have seen so I get sketches down in less than 20 seconds. Not a full sketch of course..just practice of buildings and figures mostly.

  • Tina Koyama says:

    When I get desperate, I just make a selfie from a small easeled mirror I keep on my desk. 😉 Sometimes it’s just a hand selfie — hands are really challenging, so always good practice. With your own hand, you don’t even have to move to a different room or chair. 😉

    – Tina

  • Michael Geissler says:

    I will also use my hand as a model, particularly if I’m on the couch and just can’t be bothered seeking out anything else. It doesn’t complain.

    I’ll use a hand mirror and draw the reflection if I get tired of drawing left hands.

  • I’m glad to read that you sketch from photos, too. I also prefer to sketch from life, but can’t always or sometimes in the evening just don’t feel inspired by the same things I see every day in my house. Sometimes I have wondered if doing that is “cheating,” so I appreciate your example. One thing I have been doing recently is sketching trees, sometimes from life, sometimes from photos, and using that as a structure that keeps my mind from wandering during my prayer time. I start sketching the tree and anytime a name comes to mind, I jot it down somewhere on the page, pray for the person, then continue my sketch. I end up with a “prayer tree” with the names of people, events, situations, etc written all around the throughout the tree. I’ve started doing that during prayer meetings at church, and now people come up afterward wanting to see how prayer meeting looks in my sketchbook.

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