On being a blogger - My vision for this blog in 2016 and beyond

January 5, 2016 | 71 Comments

Last month I shared a number of quotes that have really helped me in the last three years as I try to work out a way to support myself doing what I love. One of those was “Blogging is never a waste of time” and I promised that I would come back to this in more detail.

So today I want to share seven thoughts about (serious) blogging and in particular how it relates to my vision for this blog as we begin 2016. Just for the record, I will try to stick to my quota of seven items today!  And yes, this is another long post, but its the last of these for a while.

1. Why I love blogging

A few of many reasons:

  • Whenever I sketch I have lots of ideas in my head and it is great to have a format where I can record these. I don’t see blogging (scanning, writing and posting) as an additional step but as the last part of the whole process. The sketch isn’t finished till it’s posted!
  • The fact that I hope to share ‘every’ sketch means that I’m less likely to give up if it’s not going well. It’s not a hard and fast rule to post everything, and it’s certainly not a burden, but my intention becomes a motivation.
  • I love the documentation of my process and get much benefit from re-reading old posts – reinforcing the idea that my creative journey is a spiral. I wrote more about this here.
  • The discipline of writing my art thoughts spurs me on to my ideas and ways of further developing my work.
  • I think that blogging as part of my typical workday has a direct correlation with my ‘previous life’ as an architect. The core of my work was producing documents that I then sent on to clients, planners, builders etc with a written explanation. This combined story of images and text is second nature to me and in a way, preparing a blog post each day is like my personal ticking the box that I have achieved something today!


2. Why I don’t think blogs are dead

I started sharing online in 2008 when people had a personal blog and/or a Flickr account. Along came Facebook and much of the sketching community moved there and it’s certainly made the community more active. Now with Instagram and numerous other platforms, it has never been easier to take a photo on your smartphone, add some words and share with the world. This means those personal blogs are now too much hard work and as a rule are they are no longer the best way to share daily images with a few thoughts.

I still think nothing beats blogs:

  • For combining a series of images with text
  • For people who want to write more about their art
  • For detailed reviews and instructional posts (note: video is the next big threat to blogs (Vlogs) in this regard but I think there will always be writers!)
  • And perhaps the biggest advantage of all is the ability to revisit good articles – it is so hard to find stuff on FB (if not impossible).

So I think that blogs these days are all about more planned, detailed content and as a result, having a good archive system is very desirable. I know, I don’t have this yet (although I do continually add links to my Current Sketching Tools page!) but it is one of my big projects for 2016.

3. Blogging is a huge commitment

If you haven’t noticed, December was a mega month for me. I worked exclusively on my blog (back of house stuff and creating content). I could write a separate post on why I did this!

It takes a lot of time to write more than a few sentences and post an image – and I am more and more appreciative of the time ANYONE takes to put a blog post together – especially those that have busy full time jobs and family commitments.

The scanning and photo editing is a huge job in itself, but the time taken to think of ideas, formulate and compose the text should never be underestimated. I used to allow 2 hours per day for blogging, but that is often not enough – some posts take 4 hours, 1 day or 3 days (those Fountain Pen posts were in this later category). At some stage what was once a journally hobby starts to look like work.

I have done a lot of research into the methods of full time bloggers in other industries (who blog as a career!) and a lot of them stress that to get serious, you must work to a blog schedule. I certainly do some scheduling, but also like to allow for spontaneous posting. December’s ‘serious blogging’ season made me realise that what I love most about blogging is the spontaneity of writing about what I sketch – so too much scheduling could easily kill the joy for me.

Do I ever run out of ideas? No way! I am bursting at the seams with ideas, have a long list of things that I want to write about, and am constantly prompted with more ideas by the comments/ questions of my readers.

4. How to make a living out of blogging

Okay, lets get to the nitty gritty (and potentially controversial!)  Can someone possibly support themselves by sharing free content?

There are a few established methods of generating income from blogging:
1. Advertising (sidebar ads)
2. Sponsored posts (get paid to using a company’s product)
3. Affiliate Links (get a % if a reader clicks through and makes a purchase based on your recommendation)
4. Subscription (provide addition content for a paid monthly subscription)
5. Marketing for your product.

A few comments:
1. Completely out for me – there is no way that I want ads on my personal blog.
2. This might work well for food/lifestyle bloggers who can make use of the products in a way that is a good fit, but I think it is less appropriate to the art/sketching world.
3. I am still thinking though this but I think it is best suited to someone that does a lot of product reviews – such as ‘the review king’ Parkablogs!
4. Whilst on one level this makes a lot of sense, I worry that as per above, it could kill the joy of blogging, and I know many readers wouldn’t like it. Not to mention the fact that the whole concept of blogging has been to provide free regular ‘web-logs’.
5. This is what I am left with….

Now, I might be opening a can of worms discussing this! Some of you will be thinking I am nuts not to set up some affiliate links and others might be shuddering at the mention of income and marketing and thinking “its all making blogging and/or sketching too commercial”. Other people question whether the content is biased or not when there is any kind of sponsorship. There are a lot of things to be considered!

But like many other full time artists, I am simply trying to make a living doing what I love. I am not trying to create a mega business, but there is no doubt that starting to use the word ‘business’ in regard to what I do, has helped me to become more efficient and to focus on strengthening what I love to do (my brand).

I have observed in some other industries (lifestyle, food, sewing) how bloggers who become very successful lose their personal voice and their blogs, if maintained at all, become nearly all advertising – the person has been lost in the success. I am very conscious of this danger however it’s always inevitable in some degree with growth and development.

5. Social Media Marketing

This is another big topic but a few quick thoughts:

  • There are plenty of social media experts out there, and business coaches who will tell you how you ‘should’ use social media, but as someone that has been learning the ropes on the ground, building my ‘platform’ over many years of copious posting, I am trusting my instinct more and more. I have been greatly encouraged by the approach to blogging (and small business) of Elsie and Emma of A Beautiful Mess and the podcasts of Elise Blaha Cripe. These have got nothing to do with sketching, but I love researching bloggers in other industries.
  • The common mantra is that you use social media to support your product, however I see my product (which at the moment is my teaching – online classes and local workshops) as a way of supporting my blogging!
  • I will mention my classes frequently because they are the way that I am able to continue to provide free content to everyone and more importantly, because the concepts that I teach in them are a huge part of my daily sketching experiences. This connects me in an ongoing way with the readers that have done my courses.
  • For me, the key is a commitment to providing quality free content, daily encouragement to keep sketching and personal engagement. Generosity rather than a hard sell.

James Gurney a blogger whom I greatly admire said a few things in a post last year that really struck a chord. I have to quote this whole section:

What I come away with is that the new digital arts economy is different in several fundamental ways compared to the old one. These differences are suggested by the following four paradoxes:
• You have to give something away in order to sell it.
• Some people will pay more than your asking price if you give them the option.
• Promote others if you want to advance your career.
• Share your trade secrets and you will benefit.
These principles seem counter intuitive to someone like me raised in the pre-digital arts economy. The differences arise because people buying digital content understand that they’re directly supporting the personal vision of the artist. They’re not just buying a product; they’re buying into a relationship.

6. My Blog and SketchingNow

I drew this diagram recently to clarify how I see the relationship between my online course which I charge for and my blog – how the two support each other.

Basically my blog is where I share the sketches of my life and the ideas I have during the experience of sketching. Although I might do a few ‘series’ and have periods when I share more detailed content, it is basically a dump of my art brain on a regular basis. Sharing the ups and down, and the crazy thoughts as I progress along my creative journey.

As I mentioned above, doing this helps me formulate new ideas but also the concepts behind what I do. My SketchingNow classes are where I put these together in a structured way so that I can pass it on to others. The more I do this, the easier it is for me to sketch more spontaneously (fast sketching is not laziness but rather confidence to simplify based on the development of my visual thinking).

The more I can sketch spontaneously, the more of my life I can record in sketches and so the cycle goes on!

7. Looking Forward

Finally just a few things on my radar for 2016 and beyond:

I have finally begun the process of formatting my blog the way I want, including a serious archive section. This is a major project happening behind the scenes, and I can’t wait for this to be achieved! It has been my dream for three years to put some time into my blog, not just into generating content.

I want to find a sustainable mix
– between schedules and spontaneous posts,
– between short and long posts (recently it has been long and longer!)
– between everyday sketches, product reviews and instructional posts.

But most of all, my goal is that by sharing my own creative journey on a regular basis I will inspire and encourage you to start or continue on yours.

How can you support me to continue to do this?

  • Obviously my teaching is my main way of supporting myself at the moment, so enrolling in any workshop/online class is huge (thank you!!!) so is recommending them to others (another big thank you!!)
  • Sharing the posts that you find helpful (on FB, Google+, Twitter etc) is great!
  • Commenting here on my blog really keeps me going – it encourages me and I feel more engaged with you, my readers. However I know there is often not the time to comment, so just the fact that I can see people are reading my blog is a huge motivation to me to keep posting!  The comments are a bonus!

So thank you, once again, for sharing this journey with me – there are some exciting things in store for 2016 and I would love for you to be part of them. 

SketchingNow Online Sketching Courses: Foundations Self Directed course start today!


  • Liz Steel says:

    thanks Sandra – I hope you enjoy the course!

  • Helen L Conway says:

    I found this a great post. I too tend to long blog post and have also been seduced by the quickness and chattiness of Facebook. For me the blog http://www.helenconwaydesign.com is great for articles and Facebook for snippets which is a distinction that works for me! I have been doings daily diary about my forthcoming show on my Facebook page Helen Conway Design and for some reason I couldn't imagine doing that on a blog even though it's all just typing on an iPad and adding an image or two! I haven't quite got my head around the difference in feel using WordPress v FB but is definately there. I also find that as I like my blog to my personal FB page I get all the comments on FB not on the blog itself which must make me look like Billy No mates when a new reader goes straight to the blog but actually I feel quite supported by readers on FB!!

  • Helen L Conway says:

    Another advantage of FB is that it lets you edit your typos after you over enthusiastically press Publish too early! Sorry about those.

  • maxine says:

    My first opportunity to learn from you was in Sketchbook Skool and I am not sure how it is that your blog escaped me at the time. I am also trying to figure out becoming a working artist (mostly with fiber, so this is a very timely post for me. I have added you on my blog list and hope to keep up and keep learning!

  • Chris Fraser says:

    Liz, thank you for this post. I love the way your blog and "the business" side of things blend seamlessly and organically. I'm glad that you do your own thing and follow your own vision for how blogging should work for you. It is often hard to find an original in the sea of blogs out there and you are an original. I've taken your Foundations course and found it highly informative as well as encouraging. It pushed me forward on my own journey. Best wishes as all your new ideas take form in 2016! I look forward to it!

  • Katherine LoCurto says:

    Thank you for all you share, Liz. I want to comment on vlogs – I don't like them. True, I've pretty much learned all I know about sketching from watching videos online, but I've learned how to think about what I'm sketching from blogs – from reading and considering other's words. Please continue to make your blog your major way of communicating with us and save videos for things that are purely educational and absolutely must be demonstrated. I learn most from the conversation.

  • Deborah says:

    Liz I'm so glad to hear you're moving your blog to WordPress. I use it for 2 blogs and it'll be much easier to follow you, and more interactive. You should find the archiving and indexing straightforward as well. This post of yours is a terrific exercise in clarifying what blogging is and what it can do – and how to do it well. Good luck with the new platform and I look forward to seeing you on WordPress!

  • Stacey Vadaj says:

    Liz, thanks for this post and the wonderful newsletter. i am happy to see that you are starting Foundations Friday. i look forward to the getting back to the classes with you. and you go ahead and write whatever length post you want…they are always informative and interesting and a welcome find in my email each morning.

  • Patrice Hanlon says:

    Liz, have you ever checked out Jack Laws website? He is in California and started his nature journalling classes and trips as something free for all. Over the years has built up hundreds of followers that now contribute to him as a donation each time he leads a walk or short class as well as his charging for workshops and longer classes.He would be a great person to contact about how he did this. I recently discovered you and love your work, AND look forward to signing up for your Foundations class.

  • Mary Frantz says:

    Liz, I love your posts and always learn something from you. I hope you will continue to create online classes. I loved the two I enrolled in and again learned so much from you. I pray you have much success for a long time with your blog and I for one always look forward to hearing from you. Happy New Year maybe some day you will come our way and teach a class. One can hope. Mary

  • CT Mitchell says:

    I really enjoy that your content in all of its forms span the range of social media and enable me to bounce around between them based on the time I have at hand. I can go to IG and review your work and that of others then when I have more time I can read the in-depth blogs which are enjoyable and informative. From each format I get a glimpse into your art and the style which got me back into sketching (principally architecture) and then led to the on-line classes. I think you've nailed it and I look forward to all of your content, regardless of platform. Thanks Liz.

  • Liz Steel says:

    thanks Stella!!! I must saying it is exciting to get more comments on my blog than on IG or FB!

  • Liz Steel says:

    thanks you Helena ( you never have to apologize for your english!)

  • Sandra James says:

    Liz, I love blogs, particularly yours, and they have completely taken over my need to buy any sort of magazines. Blogging, to the standard that you do it, takes so much time and effort, it's good to read that you get lots out of it as well. I don't think there is anything wrong with making a living from blogging, or using your blog to support your courses, or vice versa. We've all got to eat. I've justed started your Foundations course, and am so impressed with the amount of content and the way you teach. Can't wait to get properly stuck in!

  • Liz Steel says:

    Oh! thanks so much Shirley!
    I spend a lot of time thinking through stuff and then I just feel the urge to blog about it… the momentum is just there – I can't stop!! Ha!

  • Liz Steel says:

    thanks RaSonya!

  • Liz Steel says:

    Thanks Sketchbookblue – this post is the result of 18 months of research and a month kicking it around in my head- there is much more that I could write….

    'professional' blogging sounds a little wrong, but that is in fact what I strive to be…. good term for it!

  • Liz Steel says:

    thanks – one of the things I am doing is moving to wordpress so a like function is on the list (maybe there is one on blogger too?? but the move is happening so I won't waste any time look for that!)

  • Liz Steel says:

    thanks Katie – agree blogs are much more editorial.
    So true about FB… I was going to mention how FB controls what it thinks you want to see so it is nearly impossible to be sure that you are actually following someone!

  • Shirley Covey says:

    Liz, you are the most educational, inspiring and incredible 'blogger' I know. How you can post these consistent and informative blogs is a mystery to me. You have marketed yourself very well on FB by posting your lovely teacups and talking about yourself and your art journey. After taking a SBS class in which you were one of the teachers, you had me hooked so I also took your Foundations course. Good persona and someone I greatly admire for going the distance and keeping a steady pace! Yup, I'm a fan!

  • RaSonya Pearce says:

    Wonderful post Liz!! It is always a treat to see how others view the blogging process and get a glimpse of their workflow.

  • Liz Steel says:

    Hi Katherine!

    Yes I know… it was certainly an option to split it! I have a back log of posts for the next two weeks so didn’t want to prolong this particular theme (might come back to it again though)
    Splitting it would certainly generate more traffic… but I find when I do a series of posts that the first one has by far the most readers – have you noticed a similar drop off in readership? Add the strongest points to the first part?

    I certainly know the 'one thought and 500 word limit per post’ rule and plan to stick to it for a while now! Truly!
    BTW A little while back I read a few very good articles on how the occasional long post is a good thing and can do better than shorter ones. Love all the different theories.

    Isn’t that quote by James Gurney the best – you are a wonderful example of those points – keep up your good work on your blog!

    Yes Amazon is the affiliate program that I have been considering… I have a big Australian audience and we don’t generally buy from Amazon (Amazon don’t have an Australian site- only Kindles. We buy books from Book Depository) so that is one of the reasons I haven’t done anything about it yet. I certainly agree there is nothing wrong with it, just thinking about how good a fit it is.

  • Also, one thing I love about WordPress is that I get many "likes" from regular readers who enjoyed the piece but didn't have anything to say — and I like being able to do that as well. If you can do a "like" button on your blog you might find that encouraging. When I post, I get many more likes, menacing they came and read and saw, but didn't have anything to say — that is how I take it.

  • sharonb says:

    One thing blogs provide that other social media options don't is a sense of history and context – over time a huge body of knowledge is documented on a blog and that gives the reader a sense of the authors skill level and expertise. Also a reader can glean if someone is simply skipping from topic to topic or is thoroughly engaged with the activity. This provides a sense of authenticity which if you are wanting to sell them something is important for trust – On the internet developing trust is crucial.
    I signed up for your Sketching Now course in minutes of hearing about it ( loved the course) – I did so because I had read your blog for years and I trusted you with my money. To me blogs are about constancy in a very flighty and often shallow social media rich world . Thanks for all you do

  • Carmel says:

    I like your blog posts. They are informative and I never get tired of you sketching in my home town. I now live in Oregon. The one comment I do have is to keep the posts to the right size so you don't lose the reader. A like button is also good idea. Blogs are good. One of my favorite blogs is Roz Stendahl's second is yours.

  • Jim Serrett says:

    Blogging is not going to die but it is evolving, the process will not change (in-depth communication) but the look of it will (bells and whistles). I know about a dozen artist that let their site die when they went over to Facebook and ended up resurrecting their blog. Truth is if you want a web presence you need to be in several places, and content driven blogs will always be fine no matter which way the wind blows.
    As far as Blogger, I know many people find the operating system is not as up to date as some of the newer kids on the block, but here is a point you may want to consider. Blogger has the entire Google world behind it, which is why it has been the most successful platform. If you buy a new shinny car make sure there is something under the hood. My analytics show that most people are searching with chrome on google and watching youtube.

  • Carmela says:

    Liz, I agree with many of the comments above and particularly am impressed with your generosity in sharing what you have learned. Thank you! I feel that it is important to support you and have participated in your online classes. I host a 'urban sketching' group at meetup.com. On my group's page I offer learning TIPS prior to sketching events which include specific blogs written by you and Marc Holmes among others. I also list your web site and online classes in a 'Resource' file. I hope that these have brought new readers and learners to your site.

  • Great blog post Liz. My only comment is I think it might have worked better as two or even three – e.g. 1-3; 4-5; 6-7 – so you give people more consumable chunks and get a tight focus on the topic in the title – plus you link backwards and forwards and grow your audience as you blog! 😉

    I'm definitely with Mr Gurney.

    I also don't think there's a problem with using Amazon links for books or products you use/associated with you – that you recommend – in moderation. People understand Amazon and a lot of people are comfortable buying there from people who recommend items.

  • Emily says:

    Liz, I LOVE your blog. It was the first thing I clicked to when you came up in "seeing", and I read most of your blog over several days. I love it. I've learned so much and it's one of the first sites I check every morning!
    I'm a freelance writer, and I know how much work it takes to keep a blog going–that's my main source of interaction with my readers. It really does provide a way to keep a conversation going and share information, thoughts, etc. that other social media platforms can't.
    I agree with Katherine, too–I do not like vlogs at all. Partially because I'm hearing-impaired, but also because I'd much rather read what people are writing, and be able to print it off and keep it as reference if I need to. Vlogs are great for demonstrations, but I will always prefer the written word!

  • tamara says:

    Thanks, Liz, for another informative and inspiring post! I have been following you since a SBS Kourse where you were an instructor, and this is the first time I have commented since then (a year and a half now? Time flies!) Anyway, what I wanted to say was thank you for inspiring me to pick up my blog writing again…I have a website that has pretty much become my online portfolio, where the blog lies stagnant and unused for weeks and even months at a time. I have been thinking a lot lately about my art and the pursuit of knowledge and how to better myself with regards to my chosen profession. This post fits right into all of the things I have been thinking about, and you've given me the kick in the pants for that end of things. I have now added a 'return to blogging' as another thing I need to do this year to improve my art over all. Thanks!

  • Karen says:

    I learn so much from reading blogs, and although I use Instagram occasionally, it (nor Facebook) could never replace the more intensive content in blogs. If your goal is to encourage those of us who are beginning a sketching journey, it is certainly being met with me! Today's post has given me much thought about my own blog which is far less structured than yours. Thanks, again, for a thought-provoking post.

  • JanetB says:

    Liz, every day I look forward to reading your posts! I have them fed to my inbox, but probably 2/3 of the time, I click through and read on your blog since there are always other interesting links to follow 😉 But that also means that's even though I may not comment, there is also no record of my having been there to read the post. I appreciate so much the brilliant content, travel and life stories, and encouragement you provide those of us just starting into sketching.

    I'm looking forward to seeing what you'll do in the coming year (a new online class? I've taken the first two), and also trying to figure out a way to get to Manchester! My son's family moved to England last summer and they live about 3 hours away. I just have to figure out a work/travel schedule that makes it possible!