Sketching the (ugly) everyday scenes of life - and finding time to do so!

May 26, 2015 | 12 Comments

New week resolution: I am going to make time every time I go out to do a quick sketch of an everyday scene. Too often I just rush back to work and don’t allow myself the time to pause and record.

This is a sketch of the back of a shop as seen from my car after my visit to the gym. It was a very uninteresting ugly everyday scene and yet I was drawn to the shapes and how they were arranged around the windows. Plus I always need to work on drawing cars!

Drawn with De Atrementis mixed raw sienna ink (brown and yellow) then DS watercolour, then more lines, then more watercolour.

A few thoughts in my head while I sketched this:

It is funny how with my freelance lifestyle these days I have less time to do sketch than when I had a 8.30-6.30 office job. I know that I have more freedom to catch up with friends during the middle of the day, often with a sketching focus, but I always more than make up for this time by the hours that I put in during the evening. And as great as it is to be sketching with friends, I don’t think it is a substitute for doing my own work, thinking through new concepts and techniques.

When I had a full time architectural job, I made the most of the rare moments I had, arriving early at the office, sketching at lunchtime or sketching on the way home. I drove to work so didn’t have the commuter time in a bus or train (that would have given me even more time). But now I have to make a conscious effort and I often feel a little guilty if I do delay my outing for a sketch –  “I should be back at work!”

I find it far more meaningful to sketch a boring, ugly scene like this and make it into a nice sketch or an experimental sketch, than I do to draw a random object at home at night when I feel the urge to paint. These random objects have little meaning to the day that is just past. This is one of the reasons why I have struggled with the Everyday in May challenge. I know I sketch a lot of teacups, but this is always in the context of having a break and drinking a tea out of the cup – it is in fact recording a moment in my day not just an object.

This recording of a moment is one of the reasons why I love Urban Sketchers so much –  USK has got me out more and seeing the everyday scenes that others sketch is truly inspirational to finding worthy subjects in your own environment even if it is boring, ugly suburbia! We might not all live in beautiful picturesque cities but there are good shapes everywhere around us – so there is always something worthy to draw!

And… there is such a special buzz that comes from sketching out on location. It is hard to get the same feeling when you are sitting in the comfort of your sketching spot at home or sketching from a photo. And even if you sketch from the car (which isn’t all that comfortable – the steering wheel always gets in the way) you still get that excitement of having the subject in front of you with potential movement and weather changes. It is the element of risk taking that is what I find most addictive!

Anyway, I have managed to write a lot about a simple sketch! This little rambling is a prelude to a blog post that I have been trying to find the time to write for weeks… hopefully in the next few days. It will be entitled: “Why am I bothering?”

More soon!
But in the meantime, I would love to hear about your struggles to make time to sketch… for those of you that have busy schedules and for those of you who work freelance!!


  • The backs of old apartment buildings always catch my eye as ideas for paintings or sketches…but yet they scare me and I never manage them. I've taken photos though…LoL I find it difficult to find time too because of work. By the time I get home at night all I want to do is take a bath and go to bed, truly. No energy left at the end of the work day. I sit in my car and read at lunch time and that will probably end as the days get hotter and more humid.

  • Carmel says:

    I am retired now for just over a year. I thought I would go out and about and do more sketching. Not always so. Some days I don't need to go out or I find myself attaching sketching to running chores. Not a good idea as there is always that thought …I better get to buying the groceries. When I worked I was out everyday. I sketched during my lunch hour. Then there is going through a long winter in the States. I do sketch each day but not always away from my home.

  • Carmela says:

    Hi Liz and fellow sketchers,
    You have raised an important issue in this blog entry—why bother?, or what is the purpose of sketching in my life? I have asked myself that question and my answer has been—to engage in the creative flow for that day at that time. I have been participating in your EDiM challenge. Since I also draw the human figure on some days, I do not feel compelled to sketch EDiM prompts every day. So I have chosen to use the EDiM prompts that have meaning for me, or appeal to me on a particular day. Example: Recently I drew the etching tools that I was donating to an art center. I decided to draw them as my EDiM challenge for that day. By sketching them I was honoring the pleasure that they had given me. Also sketching them was my way of saying good-bye to them, and the printmaking that I had to give up. But beyond that was the joy of acknowledging their simple, but functional beauty. Finally I experienced the deeper joy of nurturing my creative spirit. It is my way of ‘being’ in the world.
    Thanks for reading—Carmela from Liz’s Foundations course

  • MiataGrrl says:

    Wow, you and I are of such similar minds! I have so much trouble making sketches of things that don't have meaning in my everyday life, and when I'm not engaged with the subject matter, the sketch is almost never very good. I guess that's why we are urban sketchers.


  • Liz Steel says:

    if you find them interesting- don't let them scare you Sherry!
    I used to know how you felt… it is easy to have no energy at the end of the day … but I seem to pace myself more during the day time and then kick in during the evening!

  • Liz Steel says:

    Hi Carmel – great that you are still sketching everyday. I do miss my work lunch hours too!

  • Liz Steel says:

    HI Carmela – thanks for your comment- hope you get to see today's post which is more specifically on why bother- we think alike!

  • Liz Steel says:

    yes indeed Tina!!! loving your french adventure pics on IG!!!

  • Liz Steel says:

    Thanks everyone for your comments… great to read them!

  • I recently had the experience of sketching a boring scene (the view out the dentist's window) only to discover how interesting it was to just fit the shapes together. I had never experienced the joy of drawing on that level. At that moment, the subject didn't matter at all!

  • Liz Steel says:

    Exactly!!! But you need to be looking for the shapes in the first place rather than thinking 'boring scene'.

  • Liz Steel says:

    Actually I have just given myself a new idea- stay tuned….

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