Sketching People Part 2: My breakthrough

October 23, 2017 | 6 Comments

On Friday I shared my stop-and-start developments in sketching people this year and left off at the moment where I decided to be brave and start sketching my friends in the front of my sketchbook.

Sketching my friends pre-conference

So the next morning after sketching my coffee at Houndstooth, it was time to act…
(photo by Kelly Lockett)

I immediately started sketching Cory Miller (one of the seanwes team members) and then Gabrielle was next.

I didn’t stop sketching all morning so that meant that Ben, Eli and Robyn also got sketched.

This little sketching session was a very significant as I was actually sketching my new friends (I had meet these people only the day before) at close range and in a very open way, and… drum roll… I was enjoying myself very much!

I suddenly realised that alternating between line and watercolour not only was a lot of fun, but it also gave me more freedom to make mistakes in two ways. First, I could ‘fudge’ edges which I was unsure about by just using paint, and secondly, some lively colour and watercolour textures are a great distraction from wonky ink lines!

For various reasons it was hard for me to continue sketching people for the rest of the day. Actually having conversations was the priority but I did manage these sketches of other subjects. I was happy that I managed to do so much while still being very sociable.

Sketching during the conference

The big question was whether I would keep this up during the conference itself. Well, I did but it took me a few talks before I worked out a rhythm of how to take notes and leave spaces for sketching. I also realised after the first day that I needed to be sitting up the front so I could see the speakers features better!

I will share more about the talks in a separate article, but it was very full-on to be taking notes of very dense and value-packed talks at the same time as pushing myself on the art-side. I was so exhausted at the end of the conference.

Because the priority of attending the conference was the collection of ideas (ie. the notes) the sketching was secondary. Unlike an Urban Sketchers symposium where the priority is the sketching, at a business conference any sketching was a bonus. This took a lot of pressure off and I found myself in a real risk taking mood. I was happy just to go for it and accept the results.

In order to stick to my new mood of not being afraid of what people thought about my sketches I made sure that showed my sketches to the speakers!

I also tried secretly sketching (sketchbook on my lap under the table) during the round table “Community Time”.

I was afraid I would be disciplined for not focusing solely on the discussion, or that it would make people feel uncomfortable, so I did a lot of these sketches ‘half blind’. I added colour quickly during a brief quiet moment later. Although not my favourite sketches of the week, doing these has become a visual note of the fascinating discussions we had.

Sketching in the evenings after long conference days

Dinner on Thursday night was incredible. We started with about 10 people sitting around three tables but people kept turning up and we just squeezed them in somehow. I think the final number was 19 people. I wasn’t very comfortable as I was sitting under a dripping AC duct, but I just had to record the evening. Lapin’s dinner party sketches were my inspiration. I felt like giving up after the 4th person I drew, but I just had to keep going. Despite the wonkiness I love the fact that I had a record of this amazing evening.

And then the next evening I did a portrait on demand – actually I did two but only have a copy of this one of my friend Keshna.

Keeping it up at my next destination

By the end of the conference I was really starting to get in the groove with sketching people and just wanted to keep going! But I then travelled to Dallas and was about to go into sightseeing mode again and switch back to sketching places. But I was pleased that on two occasions I made an effort to sketch a person who I was with.

And sketched a guy in a cafe as well as my morning coffee.

And then during a fabulous lunch with the Urban Sketchers Dallas-Fort Worth group, I sketched the whole table again (as well as sketching my food and trying to talk to everyone – yes! it was madness).

My second attempt at doing a scene like this was much better and I was pleased to capture ‘almost a likeness’ of some of the people. It was also a wonderful way of remembering all the people there.

So there you have it… now I just have to keep it up. Despite the breakthrough I have had, I still need keep working on my people sketching skills and learning about anatomy. Being able to combine line and watercolour has been very freeing but I long to be better at recording the important features and gesture of my ‘victims’. I still have so many aspects to work on and still have bad habits to correct. But I am moving forward!

The big breakthrough that I had during the week in Austin was that ‘fun’ overcame ‘fear’ and that sketching people was a natural part of my sketches (ie. not requiring special effort). A major ingredient of this breakthrough was using watercolour in a loose way with my lines and the other was the super supportive environment of the seanwes community.

It seems so obvious now, but it would not have happened without all the hard work earlier in the year.

In the next article I will share my three pieces of advice – click here to go to part 3.



  • Chris Fitzgerald says:

    I find that like most things in drawing, I have “breakthroughs” one day and am back to the SOS the next day.
    It makes it very hard for me to press on and keep going with drawing those difficult things. Heads, hands and feet are the bugaboos. I do go to a life drawing session from time to time, but that’s kind of a different animal altogether. Glad to see you make a breakthrough. Hope to see some people in your larger sketches.

  • Audrey Stibbe says:

    I find sketching people so hard because i want to add too much detail., which makes the sketch tight…and then i add watercolor as if i was painting a house. Trying to stay loose is very difficult for me.

  • I think the idea of combining line and watercolor makes sketching people easier. You don’t need too much of either to get a recognizable face. Thanks for sharing this.

  • Tina Koyama says:

    Fantastic breakthrough and process report, Liz! I have to smile at the heads going around the table! Whenever I try to sketch around a big table like that, the people sitting nearest me always end up looking the most wonky. 😉

    – Tina

  • Lisa Schu says:

    Do you start with pen or watercolor? How do you keep the ink from spreading if the paper is wet from watercolors?

Leave a Reply