Seven Reflections from my Melbourne Trip - April 2015

April 20, 2015 | 13 Comments

and how many Flinders St Station sketches can I fit into one post?

As I often do, before I start the big scan job from my recent trip to Melbourne, I want to share a few reflections from my fortnight of non-stop sketching. (Other posts from this trip can be found here.)

I did this recently after a visit to Tasmania, and also after my Brazil trip 2014 and Penang/Singapore trip 2013. I personally find these post extremely helpful to re-read when I am preparing for the next adventure. I hope that you will enjoy reading my musings and that you can relate to some of my decisions and challenges. I am always thinking about my travel sketching – how to best capture the essence of a place on my page and record my adventures throughout each day. Having a strong strategy in place is on of the most important means of coming home with a full sketchbook!

So here are seven things that I am thinking about on my return.

1. Sketchbook Decision

Like my recent trip to Tasmania, I decided not to take my usual travel sketchbook (A4 moleskine watercolour) but to take my everyday book instead. And that is the Stillman & Birn Alpha 9 x 6 – its good for general sketching but is not true watercolour paper. This was a dedicated sketching trip but I didn’t want to put pressure on myself to do a lot of sketching (particularly as I recently had an injection in my left wrist). I also took some loose sheets of watercolour paper but sadly didn’t use them once.

I didn’t regret my decision until the night I came home and pulled out my A4 moleksine sketchbooks from previous Melbourne trips. This A4 version of the Forum done in April 2013 (above) was a very rushed sketch but the watercolour paper certainly did something for my sketch (look at that wonderful granulation)… and it made me realise what I had missed by not using better paper. On the other hand, the freedom I had to ‘go for it’, the quick ink sketches would not have been the same in a bigger book. And of course the bigger book is heavier and more expensive!


Looking at the larger book also made me appreciate the frustrations I had at the time fitting some subjects on the page. This was particularly the case with Flinders St Station – there is an optimal size to sketch the glorious bombastic details of this building and the smaller landscape sketchbook was a little too small for this.


Here are other two sketches where I realised that the size I wanted to sketch meant I wouldn’t’t fit the whole building in – I wasn’t trying to reach the ground, but it was a little sad that I couldn’t!

But as always, there is a balance and a compromise – I don’t think there will ever be a perfect sketchbook for me. And in the end, all things considered, I know that I made the right choice for this trip.

2. Right Handed Sketching


Some days my left hand just wanted a rest so I continued experimenting with my right hand. The finished images look more lively and responsive than they were for me at the time – it was a real challenge to draw with my right hand, but easier to paint. I made a number of interesting discoveries using my right hand which I will share in a separate post, but it was strange to be out in public sketching with my other hand. I felt like I needed to explain to people who were looking over my shoulder, that I was in fact left handed, as the lack of control was a big issue for me. It was hard to be hanging out with fellow sketchers and not to be able to sketch and respond like I would normally do, but in the end I was very happy with what I achieved.

3. Quick Recording Sketches


Following on from the light-bulb moment in Brazil during Richard Alomar’s activity, I am continuing to push myself to make super quick (sub 5 minute) sketches. Whether 3 minutes under an umbrella waiting for a tram or just stopping for a few moments to sketch.

Picking up from a technique I thought of in Brazil, I used a pentel brush pen in grey(watersoluble) to draw the shadow shapes first and then added ink over the top. I am very happy with this approach as it captures the shapes of the main values first.

Another technique was to use watercolour pencil for overall outlines and shadow shapes.I then added a few ink lines and a little water at a later date. In this example I wanted to record the row of chimneys and the straight parapet – sure I could take a photo, but this rapid sketch is MUCH more meaningful and memorial for me.

4. Ink Sketches of Scenes

I continued with my latest fad of doing more complex scene using my sailor or hero pen with a fude nib. I can’t tell you how much I love doing them, how satisfying tit is be able to capture a real sense of the place fairly quickly and easily from a standing position. It is also hard to express how surprised I have been that I wasn’t missing my watercolour painting… but that did change half way through the trip!

5. Cafe sketching – the food and the views

Of course I was still using my paint, but this was more for the food and tea sketches rather than my sketches on the streets. BTW there is a disturbingly high proportion of coffee sketches in this sketchbook. The coffee in Melbourne is superb, but I do believe the tea is better in Sydney.

As I was often in cafes with other sketchers who want a longer time for sketching than I normally allow myself to have, I was able to do more than just a sketch of my food, and so I started sketching the view as well. Really like these combinations of painted food sketches and linework scenes.

6. The big Melbourne USK event and the return to watercolour

There is no doubt that when you go to a big event, like the one in North Melbourne with the Melbourne USK group (approx 60 people), you see a lot of work that inspires you and that challenges you to improve or to try new things. I often say ” we share but we don’t compare” … and it is very important that we remember this at Urban Sketchers event. But there is no doubt that everyone of us is often awed by the work of others – other people’s work is always better than our own and we see our own weaknesses more! So that ‘share but not compare’ saying is something I tell myself all the time too, because we DO compare! What is important is how you respond to this comparison – use it to inspire and push you further! (I want to write more about this soon!)

Spending a week sketching with Chris Haldane (she did gorgeous work everyday), seeing the paintings of number of very good watercolourist in the USK group, and as always seeing Paul Wang in action, made me want to get back to my paint! I really do love watercolour and it is sad when I don’t have a colour record of a place. On the day itself, I was much too focused on meeting people to really give time to my painting but on the days that followed I wanted to do more watercolour scenes.


So here are some of the sketches from the last 2 days.  I did wish I had better paper in my sketchbook, but that is okay, I really like the narrative in this book. I know I had some loose sheets, but the last day was too late to start using it! In the end I am very pleased with the record of my 12 days in Melbourne that filled my book and I had had so much fun doing it – and that after all is the main thing!

7. Two things that I have to consider for my next trip
– I need to test how many ink pens I should carry and what colours are the best? As I mentioned in my last blog post, I did wish I had a few more colours in my kit on a few occasions.
– I want to test doing my fude nib ink sketches in the A4 moleskine to see how I like them on that paper and in a larger format. I also want  to get an idea of how comfortable I will feel doing super quick sketches in a big book as in general bigger book and better paper means that I am more careful and sketch less!

So once again, I feel like I have been on a big creative journey during this trip. There are a few other things happening in my work at the moment, but I am keeping that offline for a little while longer. Can any of you can guess what I am referring to?

And finally, did you notice?… 7, yes SEVEN sketches of FSS included in this summary post – sigh – yes I am hopeless case!

13 Comments

  • artcylucy says:

    I am always inspired by your posts! thanks for all your explanations…as I want to start sketching my world too! I notice there are more PEOPLE in your sketches 🙂

  • larry says:

    Great post, Liz. You cover a lot of subjects here that many of us think about without complete resolution. I'm particularly fond of your ink scenes as this is where I want to head myself. I've spent the last three years trying to learn how to draw. Now I'm trying to learn how to draw more quickly, stripping the need for precision so I can open up to larger scenes.

    Thanks so much for expressing your feelings and insights on these concepts and approaches as it helps a lot to hear what a seasoned artist thinks and feels about them. BTW, I think you meant to say your S&B sketchbook was 9×6, not 9×12 as you stated.

    Cheers — Larry

  • Nita Sellya says:

    Hi Liz, I really admire your works and can't wait to meet you on Urban Sketchers Symposium in Singapore 🙂

  • Blogging these sorts of things helps to sort it through in your head, no? That is what I tend to do a lot on my blog too. Not as much art lately, which is why I originally began blogging but life has gotten in the way. I hope I get back to it. I love seeing your sketches; I only counted 6 of the clock tower…LoL

  • Liz Steel says:

    well they are growing and getting lots of new members… would love to have a symposium in Melbourne one day (think it would work better than in Sydney in fact) who knows….. you have a big and dedicated group in Seattle!!!!

  • Liz Steel says:

    thanks Tina – it is always great to hear about your choices too! Very interesting about your small book
    I think my pen collection is getting heavy… especially those hero pens!!

  • MiataGrrl says:

    P. S. Melbourne has 60 sketchers? ? That's a big group! In fact, I'd say that's plenty big enough for a future symposium!! How about it?! 🙂

  • MiataGrrl says:

    Liz, I so appreciate both your pre-trip planning posts as well as your post-trip retrospectives! I do a lot of pre- and post-trip thinking and planning about materials and approaches, so it's really helpful to hear you think out loud. It makes me consider things I hadn't thought of. I'm curious about what you are thinking related to pens you bring and will look forward to reading more on that. I try not to bring anything that's not essential, but on the other hand, I tend to bring more pens than I probably really need because pens aren't very heavy. Also, although I love watercolors too, I find that sketching only with pen allows a lot more freedom — faster, can sketch standing up or in an awkward place, etc. In both Brazil and Barcelona, I kept a tiny pocket notebook in my purse or pocket because the small size encouraged speed (and I didn't need good paper since I wasn't using paint). I enjoy looking through those little notebooks almost as much as my sketchbooks because they are so spontaneous. Anyway, please continue with your musings. . . I'm all ears!

    – Tina

  • MiataGrrl says:

    Liz, I so appreciate both your pre-trip planning posts as well as your post-trip retrospectives! I do a lot of pre- and post-trip thinking and planning about materials and approaches, so it's really helpful to hear you think out loud. It makes me consider things I hadn't thought of. I'm curious about what you are thinking related to pens you bring and will look forward to reading more on that. I try not to bring anything that's not essential, but on the other hand, I tend to bring more pens than I probably really need because pens aren't very heavy. Also, although I love watercolors too, I find that sketching only with pen allows a lot more freedom — faster, can sketch standing up or in an awkward place, etc. In both Brazil and Barcelona, I kept a tiny pocket notebook in my purse or pocket because the small size encouraged speed (and I didn't need good paper since I wasn't using paint). I enjoy looking through those little notebooks almost as much as my sketchbooks because they are so spontaneous. Anyway, please continue with your musings. . . I'm all ears!

    – Tina

  • Liz Steel says:

    thanks Larry- so glad you enjoyed my post and can relate to the subjects that roam about in my head when I sketch. Glad you enjoy my ink sketches too… I am so encouraged by all the positive feedback I am getting from them.
    And yes, I meant 9 x 6… so have now fixed that.

  • Liz Steel says:

    thanks Lucy. Yes, you guessed it. I am actually drawing a lot of people in the trains and in different situations but keeping these pages to myself at the moment.

  • Liz Steel says:

    thanks Nita – looking forward to meeting you too!

  • Liz Steel says:

    absolutely Sherry – blogging is good for my thought processes and subsequently my art!

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