Three thoughts from a recent day trip to the Blue Mountains

January 15, 2024 | 13 Comments

Last week I went up to the Blue Mountains for a day – with family (my parents, my brother and his two eldest children) and friends from Scotland. I wasn’t sure how much sketching I would get done but I was pleased that I managed to do something at each lookout we visited. Not only that, I was very happy that I actually got my watercolour out on two occasions. Last July I visited the Blue Mountains with my brother and family and my sister and family. With six kids and very cold windy weather, it was extremely difficult to fit any sketches in (even with dry media), but on this occasion, I had a little more time.

Three thoughts were circulating in my mind during the outing:

1. The goal is just to get something (anything) on the page

When you are with a group it’s hard to gauge how much time you can take for sketching. I’m always worrying that I’m holding people up and therefore work extremely fast. Sometimes I could have taken a little more time but on all occasions, there wasn’t enough time for me to use my usual sketching technique and I certainly didn’t have time to think before I started.  My Scottish friends wanted to watch me work but I was conscious that we had to keep moving so we visited all the spots and got back home at a reasonable hour.

And so my expectations are lower and I’m always happy if I can just manage anything!

2. It’s good to have a technique for fast sketches

This time I used different techniques for each of my four sketches.

  • Coloured pencils, ink and watercolour,
  • Ink (fude pen)
  • Neocolor II, watercolour pencils and watercolour
  • Ink, watercolour pencil (and watercolour back home)

Each one was a good choice. However I think that watercolour pencils are more forgiving than coloured pencils and so are marginally better for this type of super quick sketching. Once again I was very happy that I managed to get my watercolour out twice during the day. And on both occasions, it was because I realised that there was enough time to do so.

3. Creating ‘repeat sketches’

I’ve been sketching in the Blue Mountains a few times in the past 18 months and so my sketches from this particular visit felt as if they were a repeat of sketches that I have done before. The Boars Head one in particular is extremely similar to one I did in 2022 and the Govett’s Leap sketch is a development of one I did last year. My work last week was an example of reflex sketching – I didn’t have time to think about what I was doing – just a split-second decision about my first tool and then I worked intuitively for the rest of the sketch.

Whilst I’m happy with my sketches on this occasion (especially as the point of the day was social and not sketching) it did make me think about the value of research and development time, learning new things, trying new techniques etc so that you don’t simply repeat the same things over and over. Practice on its own is not enough to see improvement or development (it can, in fact, cement undesirable habits). Practice needs to be deliberate and have some degree of input, inspiration or instruction.

Okay, that’s enough musing for today. Here are the pages in full.


Do you ever sketch in situations like this – when you are with a group of people and have no dedicated sketching time? What techniques do you use to get something in your sketchbook?

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  • Patricia Wafer says:

    I like the way you have the lighter pencil lines with the thing that’s closer painted and in sharper Focus. That works really well. And a very good lesson of how to sketch more of the scene in less time. I probably would have just painted the closest bit of the mountains and left the rest all white paper which would tell the viewer nothing about the whole scene. It’s a great technique and I will make a point of trying it this week.

    • Liz Steel says:

      Hi Patrica – in all cases, I would have liked to add the distant hills as well as it definitely records the scene better – but in the Govett Leap lookout sketch the view down the valley was so important that I included it at the very beginning.

  • Terry James says:

    Liz, with being rushed for time, how did you achieve the “dry brush” effect over the greens with the Lunch Break sketch? Typically, I’ve only been able to accomplish this with dry paper.

    The sketch has wonderful dimension and “alive-ness” in the cliffs and adjacent green areas.

    • Liz Steel says:

      Thanks Terry – the ‘dry brush texture’ is created by neocolor crayons used on their sides and they were put down first under the watercolour wash 🙂

  • Josee Houde says:

    I made a trip to Italy with my family in the last fall. I wanted to do a scketch a day…so I drew what was around me instead to take time to look for the best place to sketch , so I drew when the others entered a shop or where one had to go to the toilet, waiting for a place for restaurants…I made the sketch with colored pencil (Magic ), took a photo and finalized with watercolor, colored pencils, ink, the sketch in the evening in the hotel room while I had a little time for myself… I found it relaxing.
    I’m still interested to know how others do it? So thank you Liz for sharing with us , it encourages me to see how this happening for the most experienced like you are !

    • Liz Steel says:

      Thanks for sharing Josee! What a great idea and yes, you really need to have a specific strategy when travelling with others.

  • maria bergman says:

    Amazing texture and depth especially the ‘Blackheath Memorial Park”. You’re such a wiz at manipulating so many different media at the same time especially on the go.

  • Jamie C says:

    Your thoughts on practice needing more than practice intrigue me. Strategies for adding developmental practice might be something I need to consider. It seems it also helps to do subjects that have previously been sketched, when short on time.

  • Sam Wallace says:

    Liz Steel’s blog article on her Blue Mountains day trip is a captivating and relatable account that resonates with my own experiences as a traveler. The post masterfully captures the essence of the journey, detailing the awe-inspiring landscapes and sharing practical insights for a fulfilling day excursion. As someone who enjoys spontaneous travel, I appreciate Liz’s emphasis on embracing the unplanned moments, allowing for genuine exploration and connection with the surroundings. The inclusion of vivid sketches enhances the narrative, providing a visual journey that complements the written descriptions. This article not only serves as a valuable guide for those planning their Blue Mountains adventure but also encapsulates the joy and spontaneity inherent in travel, making it an enjoyable and informative read for fellow enthusiasts.

  • Elizabeth Danielson says:

    We leave tomorrow for a cruise from San Francisco to Sydney. We have a shore excursion booked to the Blue Mountains, and these sketches have me very excited about that! I’m taking my travel sketchbook and supplies and have promised myself to do something every day, even if just my day’s outfit and the waves rolling by. Thanks for the inspiration.

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