Sketch Idea: The view when you park your car

May 24, 2016 | 23 Comments


Is your biggest struggle finding something interesting to draw? Is your life boring? Is the place where you live dull and uninteresting?

I think we all have these thoughts from time to time. Yes, I know that my life has in many ways become very exciting, but like everyone else, most of my days are full of the same old grind. I live an ordinary life, chained to my computer, living in the heart of non-descript suburbia.

But you know what? It’s my life! And the everyday (boring) routine is unique to me right now. It was different five years ago and will be different in five years time.

I know I have said this before, but it’s worth repeating. The sketches of boring old daily life are often the most interesting to me to look back on!

So let’s apply that to a sketch subject that I suddenly realised has great potential: the view looking out the front of my parked car!

I often arrive a few minutes early to my destination and normally just sit in my car checking my phone. Why not do a quick sketch instead?

They are not the most exciting views, but for some reason, because they are a record of a real view that is part of my life, I am really enjoying looking back on them. My great friend and incredible watercolourist, Shari Blaukopf is perhaps the world’s expert in creating beautiful images from her mobile winter studio (her car).

It is amazing how much there is to draw if you look out of all the windows of your car, and if you are a little more strategic about where you park.

I sometimes drive around looking for a good spot to park with a good view, but what I am doing in this instance is just drawing whatever is directly in front of me. Squeezing a sketch into daily life and my busy schedule and forcing myself to record a scene that isn’t pretty or normally considered ‘worthy’ of sketching.

Over time I know my compositions will become more sophisticated, but right now I am realising what a fantastic subject matter this is for sharpening my sense of depth, foreshortening and perspective.

There is much to be learnt from using the parked car in front of you as a reference point for the vista down the street. Relating the distant objects to parts of the outline of the car is a great way to become more aware of our natural tendency to make distant objects much bigger than they appear in our particular view.

I looked through the archives, and this one was a particularly nice memory, parking behind a weird coloured Porsche and reminding me of the many years I worked in Crows Nest.

But the view is not always boring! Sometimes, you just happen to get a car spot with a great view – Battery Point, Tasmania.

Other times it is a petrol (gas) station with a spectacular view and you can just park your car outside it. View of the hills on Harris (Scotland)

Or even better a completely deserted carpark surrounded by hills. I go out of my way to visit this carpark in Gowrie Park when I am in this part of Tasmania.

It doesn’t need to be fancy – a quick 5 minute sketch will do the trick!

And just to finish with another everyday scene. The back lanes in West Ryde where I park my car when I go to the gym are very uninspiring, but still I sketch them – testing out new ideas and tools all the time!

So do you ever sketch this type of view? Has this article inspired you to give it a go?

I would love to hear how you find it – and in particular if you enjoy the foreshortening and depth challenges for this type of scene. They truly are great training sketches for more complicated street scenes!


  • Great ideas Liz – Thankyou

  • Paige says:

    Once I sketched from my car before picking up my child from school. I sketched a clock and some colorful buildings in the center of our small town. I laughed because the clock was set at the wrong time. I never would have noticed if I hadn’t been studying it and sketching it! I love how sketching makes me slow down and see familiar things in a new way.

    • Liz Steel says:

      Hi Paige – great story! Tangent: I often draw the clock hands right at the start of a sketch as a way of recording the time the sketch takes

  • Dee Ludwig says:

    Sketch from my car all of the time, since it is difficult for me to walk. I am always looking for a spot to park with a good view. This post helps me realize that it can be a good subject no matter where I have to park! Thanks so much!

  • Vivian Aldridge says:

    This is a great post. I often give myself the excuse that I have nothing interesting to draw and end up doing nothing. (Bad!) Now I am inspired. In fact I just may draw my desk at work.(Good!) I have always thought it was incredibly boring. I was inspired by your use of color so maybe I will paint my desk area a ‘pretend’ color.

    • Liz Steel says:

      Hi Vivian! I need to sketch my desk and get inspired about sketching during my messy work days!

  • Cathy says:

    Hi Liz. I do sketch from my car! It’s not always easy to get a good vantage point but it’s worth taking the extra time to look for one and get more sketching done. Thanks for this post!

  • Got stuck in the snow last winter and sketched the view in front of me while waiting for my husband to come pull me out!

  • Corinne McNamara says:

    I sketch from my car (as a passenger) when my husband I drive from the Los Angeles area of California to southwest Colorado. Some views of desert, mountains, afternoon thunder storms, and rock formations can be in front of us for many miles at a time. I also have sketches from rest stops, gas stations, restaurant parking lots, and a Native American trading post. The geology changes show in the different colors of rock, lava, and sand along the way, and I got really quick at making color notes. The annual road trip is a favorite sketching opportunity – @16 hours/850 miles each way.

    • Liz Steel says:

      Hi Corinne – yes sketching from passenger seat is great. Pity that I am nearly always the driver! Your road trips sound amazing and I did a few sketches when in the west in 1999!

  • Margie says:

    Hello Liz! I have never considered sketching from my car, gas stations or parking lots, etc. I should have been adding sketches to my journals. I’m excited about the possibilities. Thank you so much for opening my mind’s eye!

  • Tina Koyama says:

    Ah yes, the mobile studio — I know it well! It’s my basic sketching place all winter (unless it’s pouring — annoying to keep putting the wipers on). I, too, have found it to be a great way to exercise foreground/background compositions, usually with a fairly limited view. Sometimes on a quiet residential street I’ll park on the wrong side (I could get a ticket, but I never leave the car 😉 ) if I see a better view from there. Once I inadvertently left my headlights on and drained the battery! I had to call the auto service for a jump-start, but while I waited, I just sketched some more. 😉

    – Tina

    • Liz Steel says:

      Ha Tina! Another great story! I find it quite hard to find a good view from the car, but of course here in Sydney its never that cold that you have to stay in the car

  • Flory Nye-Clement says:

    Hi Liz, I often sketch from my parked car too. Sometimes I sketch what I can see in the rear-view mirror instead of the front view, especially when parked facing a wall! It’s fun to tackle the back ends of cars that are actually behind me, and of course there’s always the possibility that they will drive away….Meeting you that February day in Sydney was fantastic–and so was the rest of the world!

    • Liz Steel says:

      thanks Flory – great idea to sketch from the mirror. I have only down that once but I should remember to check it. Yes, it was lovely to meet you in Feb!

  • Carolyn Fitz says:

    Hi Liz, enjoy your blog …thanks! I sketched ( from my car), a donkey in a corral next to the road…a few years later, I stopped for a yard sale there. I asked “where’s the donkey”? They said their beloved old donkey had died…I mentioned that I had done a sketch of him and they were SO excited…I made a copy for them, and they were so pleased to have that to remember their ” Blackjack” !
    You never know how ” far reaching ” your sketch might be!!

  • Elsie Hickey-Wilson says:

    A year ago, we went on a six week road/train trip across the USA, west to the Paciffic Coast, then up the coast to Canada and back east through Canada on train. This involved taking a rental car west and north so we could turn it in before the train. Many places we left the car for walks and for me to do sketching. Many times the terrain was such that I could not hike far ( some mobility issues) and sometimes for timing to meet our train reservation or at rest stops. Sketching from the car was great! As I look back at those sketches I remember exactly where we were…better than a photo! Also, as we travel by car even for a short trip, I love to draw cumulative sketches….house from here, barn from there, trees etc. One trip several years ago, I did not have to drive at all due to out daughter and granddaughter adding to the number of drivers. So I decided to sketch as many roadside plants, trees etc. as I could. As we went from Wisconsin to North Carolina, there was quite a gradual plant change along the way. I think I will now do some around the city, here! Thanks for the blog post, Liz!

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