PMQ22 Part 1: Setting a few goals

November 16, 2022 | 6 Comments

I’m just back from a wonderful 1.5 weeks at Port Macquarie – a beautiful coastal town 4 hours’ drive north of Sydney. I’ve visited this region of New South Wales many times throughout my life (my dad grew up in the area) and it’s a place with significance for my sketching. I started my first sketchbook here and I had a fun two-week trip just after leaving my full-time job as an architect.

When I visit ‘Port’ I normally bring with me an A4 Moleskine sketchbook and my intention is to have a relaxing time – just do a handful of sketches whenever I feel in the mood. But this time I wanted to be more focused on sketching and maybe do a little more exploring of the local area (rather than simply visit the beaches). I was wanting to sketch ‘non-stop’ (in the style of a big oversea trip) so I decided to ‘downgrade’ my sketchbook (a 9×6″ Alpha book) in order to free myself. I hoped that the smaller size and less-precious paper would encourage me to take more risks.

I’ve been having a great time going through Watercolour On Location again and thinking about composition and values etc. But for this trip, I wanted just to ‘go for it’  without any thought on design beforehand. I also wanted to continue to experiment with adding coloured pencils and markers (GoldFaber Aqua markers by Faber Castell) to my usual ink and wash sketching. Why? Well, for me  mixed media = more fun! 🙂

Alpha sketchbooks are my favourite books for everyday sketching but I’ve been disappointed in the past when I used them for travel sketching. I normally use books with watercolour paper when I travel in order to get the best results, so I was interested to see if I would be happy using Alpha. (Spoiler alert: I loved it and this book is a contender for my favourite sketchbook ever! But more about that in coming articles.)

So a big theme of my trip was thinking about the impact of sketchbook choice on my sketching output.

But in terms of specific sketching goals I had three

  1. to sketch freely
  2. to experiment
  3. to go for it and not to put any pressure on myself to produce good work.

I often find that the first few days of a trip are crucial for setting the pace and therefore I wanted to start strong. So that is what I’m sharing with you today.


This is a fun casual page to document a few things before leaving home…

  • a quick coffee sketch,
  • realising that I hadn’t installed Photoshop on my laptop (it recently died and had to be wiped clean) and then,
  • just before driving off, realising that I hadn’t packed my empty teabags or milk jug
  • a ticket from the cafe at Bulahdelah.

I was already thinking to myself that if I was using an A4 Moleskine I wouldn’t have bothered sketching these last items – a bit of a waste of good paper?


The first stop on my drive north was Bulahdelah. It’s not an especially ‘sketchable’ town and is often packed with travellers but I was determined to do a little sketching during my brief stay.

My usual spot to sit (the picnic tables by the river) was occupied but I managed to find a bench nearby to sit and sip my coffee. I looked up and saw a big fish (on my last trip I sketched the Big Kookaburra) partly hiding in the bushes. So sticking to my goal of just ‘going for it’ I started sketching. I could also see the side of the local pub so I did a quick second sketch.

In both of these sketches, I felt really contained by the smaller book and asked myself:  ‘Did I make a mistake? should I have used a bigger book?’


I decided to stop a second time for lunch and so popped into Taree. There is actually a JimmyB courthouse here but I wasn’t in the mood to make a long stop. Next time!

I found a cafe that was closing in 30-40 minutes so I started madly sketching the view down the main street and then my order. I rarely order burgers but as the note on the page says, I chose the Comboyne Vego Burger because of the name (Comboyne is a local town that I was hoping to visit) and because it would be easy to draw (simple shapes).

I felt a little out of practice drawing street views so it was good to do this one without taking it too seriously. The cars are in the wrong spot so I wrote a note to myself “Nail eyeline!”


After arriving at Port Macquarie and settling into my apartment for my stay, I wandered down to the beach (just across the road) and did my first beach sketch. This is Flynn’s Beach – my favourite in terms of sketching – due to the dramatic volcanic rocks in the middle of the beach.

Once again I found the smaller sketchbook size rather challenging but I enjoyed trying a few different markers with my watercolour and was excited about some of the colours and textures. (Note: It is really easy to overdo the marker step as they are generally very intense).

I was also very happy to see three black cockatoos fly overhead.


That evening I started a sketch while waiting for my takeaway dinner and then sketched my view as I sat on the grass next to the river. An interesting bug landed on my page and so I added him later (from a photo). Note: The grey background was added to hide a big smudge from a leaky pen!

And so ended my first day.

I was happy with my output and even though the smaller size was a struggle I was enjoying the freedom of this Alpha book.


A busy morning messaging a friend in Wales and face-timing my niece on her birthday. But I managed a quick sketch of the view from my apartment before being picked up by my local friend.


We headed to Coast cafe – her usual spot for Saturday morning – and more food sketching happened.

Hmm, I’m really out of practice when it comes to sketching food  – especially while socialising with a friend! But wow! this mushroom on toast is amazing.

It was lightly raining all throughout our meal but the overhead umbrella provided just enough shelter. But as soon as I started sketching the view the rain got heavier and we had to leave! As a result my drawing remained incomplete.


We ended up at another cafe – having another coffee and sharing some macarons.

I accidentally chose the wrong GFA marker for the coffee but it turned out to be a good match for the strength of the coffee. I’m still loving the use of the Lavender Light marker and I’m happy with how it reacted with the watercolour for the cup.

Once again I did a sketch of my view even though it was not particularly exciting from a compositional point of view. It would have been easier not to bother but I pushed myself to go for it. This was a case of reflex sketching as I was actively catching up with my friend. She knows that I am listening to her and that our conversation gets embedded into the lines on my page.


In the late afternoon, when I was back on my own, I walked down to Nobby’s Beach (just next to Flynn’s) for another late afternoon sketch.

I realised at this point that I had forgotten to pack a tube of white gouache and so used a little white gel pen. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to get any gouache (or white watercolour) as Port Macquarie doesn’t have a dedicated art store, but thankfully I did track some down on Monday (more of that in my next article).


I wanted to keep sketching, so I filled another double-page spread testing how coloured pencils and markers work together. This sketch is too intense but it was more of a testing page and not a ‘serious sketch’. This is another example of ‘going for it’ and not worrying about how successful the end result would be.

I discovered that I have to wait for the marker to fully dry before I can add coloured pencil. So the workflow that I would try in the coming week would be 1. coloured pencil 2. a little bit of marker 3.watercolour. As for drawing with ink… I typically don’t use ink when I’m doing beach scenes but for some reason, I was in the mood for fude lines. So this trip I typically started with ink drawing and then applied coloured.

Hmm, that list of steps really should be:

1. less than 20 seconds of minimal pencil setup (optional)

2. ink drawing with Fude (55 degree) pen

3. coloured pencils (a range of Bruynzeel Design, Derwent Coloursoft, Faber Castell Polychromos and Caran d’ache Luminance)

4. marker (Faber Castell GoldFaber Aqua water-soluble markers)

5. watercolour (using my standard palette as listed here)

So all in all it was a great start to my short break in Port Macquarie!

(Note: I’ve uploaded slightly larger-than-normal sizes of these images as they display small on my blog – so please click any image to view larger. Hmm, I might make them even a little bigger next time!)


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