Why Bother? Part 2: When you don't have the time

June 1, 2015 | 7 Comments

Last week I was musing about why I was  struggling with the Every Day in May challenge and decided that I needed at least one of three motivators
1. subject matter
2. desire to play
3. time to become engaged.

Whilst not directly related to the EDiM challenge, this theme ties in with something that I have wanted to share with you for the last month as a follow on from some of my crazy quick sketches from my recent Melbourne trip.

Is there any point to my insane attempts to sketch of something when there really isn’t time to do it justice?

I sketch fast, very fast. I wrote a long post about this a few years ago… hmm, it was very interesting for me to re-read this today – all of that is still relevant. It has a lot to do with my architectural design sketching background and the fact that I want my sketches to record my life rather than create stunning images to sell which is the typical goal of an artist!

Believe it or not. I am a little sensitive about the speed with which I work. I know it is sometimes intimidating to others, I get teased about it constantly, I get told by a numerous friends that I should slow down and I know some people think that I am trying to show off how many sketches I do in a day – such as this collection from my last day in Melbourne!

But honestly, I do not think that speed or the quantity is a virtue in itself. Marc Holmes once said to me that quantity has a quality of itself because the more you do the better you will become. However, working fast is NOT in anyway better than working slow! I do count the number of my sketches not so much from a desire to keep score but so I can work out how many sketchbooks to bring with me on the next occasion.  I never set out trying to do a certain number of sketches per day, but often (my peak rate of 12 a day) just seems to happen when my creative juices start pumping. I am often amazed at the end of the day how much I have done.

The pace with which I work is what it is and although I am trying to slow it down, I have given up trying to fight the speed that comes naturally. I often wish I could concentrate and calm myself enough to do one beautiful painting at a sketching event, rather than rush around meeting people and talking to everyone  and then squeeze in a few pages of quick loose sketches… but the pulse of the city, the buzz from being around other creative sketchers gets into my system and I have to go with it. I do want to slow down but it never seems to happen!

Anyway, I am digressing … but just before I get back on track, want to make a point that these internal battles and the ‘advice’ from others is always good for me – I love being challenged and trying to balance other peoples comments against the fact that I must remain true to who I am and what I do.

And also, please never compare your output to anyone else… and never to mine. It is a fact that I am definitely out of control – sometimes I wish I could find an off button!

Ok..back to the subject at hand!

In Melbourne on a number of   occasions, I attempted sketches in crazy situations. I did NOT have the time to do a ‘decent’ sketch but I saw something I wanted to record and went for it. In light of last weeks musings, I have realised that my response was so strong that I was driven to sketch it…. and that even though the attempt was perhaps ambitious, it was WORTH it.

It was worth it every time, because the memory of what caught my eye is encoded in my brain in a way that taking a photo would not. It must be time for ‘that’ Le Corbusier quote again!
When one travels and works with visual things – architecture, painting or sculpture – one uses one’s eyes and draws, so as to fix deep down in one’s experience what is seen. Once the impression has been recorded by the pencil, it stays for good, entered, registered, inscribed.
The camera is a tool for idlers, who use a machine to do their seeing for them. To draw oneself, to trace the lines, handle the volumes, organise the surface…all this means first to look, and then to observe and finally perhaps to discover…and it is then that inspiration may come.

So contrary to my previous post when I said it is important to take time… the opposing thought is that when you see something that really speaks to you, don’t worry about whether you have time or not – just go for it and record it.

My particular interest is in developing ways of doing this kind of recording sketches so that I am not attempting a rushed sketch ie. trying to do a 30 minute sketch in 30 secs or even 3 minutes. That will not work – I know, I have tried it – the result is a rushed and sometimes poorly observed sketch.  Instead, I am always looking for fast tools and fast techniques specifically designed for a 3 minute sketch. And I am always sharpening core drawing skills for I can respond quicker and more accurately…this is the basis for my Foundations Online Course !

But then at other times, I do just go for the full image rapidly in the hope that all my ‘reflex sketching’ will pay off and I will be able to pull something together instinctively! If I do attempt something like this I make sure that I am really focused on my subject matter. You never know how it will turn out… if you don’t try you will never know.

So finally… comparing these ‘crazy quick’ sketches to my three points I might not have ticked the box for point 3 (taking time) but the other two are strong!
1. very strong motivating response
2. desire to develop a new technique

When I am home point number one is often missing so I need to focus on the other two but when I am out on location I just trust my responses and go for it.

Finally(I mean it this time!) below a commentary on the images I have included in this post:
A. less than 2 minutes, standing under an umbrella waiting for a tram. I picked up a watercolour pencil and drew the outlines of the chimneys and a little shading. Ink lines and a touch of water were added later.
B. less than 5 minutes on the way to meet up with friends. Quick shadow areas with a grey brush pen and then ink over the top.
C. Walking down the street to the intersection where I was meeting friends. I saw the tower and wanted to sketch it! One friend was already waiting and the second was right behind me (I didn’t know this at the time). I started and didn’t even finish the profile – but the incomplete (hardly started!) sketch was incorporated into the rest of the page
D. I wasn’t feeling 100% and knew that I couldn’t focus on a full sketch so I just recorded a few elements
E. With a (non-sketching) friend walking down the streets of Yarraville… 30 seconds outline while she paused to take a call. I decided not to add any more details (even though I took a photo for this purpose) as this rough sketch recorded enough for me to remember.
F. Second last sketch for the trip – time to push myself and attempt something very complex in a crazy short time frame.




  • Judy says:

    Love the quote–so true. Never forget a scene I have sketched! Forget almost everything else:)

  • Carmela says:

    Liz: very honest appraisal of the purposes sketching can have in 'your' life and why 'your style' fits you. Thanks for sharing–we all learn so much from you.

  • Liz Steel says:

    thanks Judy – I don't know how long ago I discovered the quote but it has been my inspiration for ages!

  • Liz Steel says:

    thanks carmela!!!

  • Liz Steel says:

    Thanks Jodi – as always an insightful comment. It is good to have a fall back approach, I agree. Changing that fall-back position to where you want to be is the big challenge hey?

  • Jodi Wiley says:

    I think a certain kind of peace comes from accepting and embracing the way we naturally work. I think trying a different approach definitely teaches us things, but going with the 'fall back' approach should come with a feeling of joy and satisfaction, not guilt that we should be working a different way. That's what I tell myself anyway 😉 But I always learn something new when I set out to draw in a way I don't normally. So it's win-win regardless if the pen touches the page! It's all about intentions…

  • It is what it is, you are who you are and it all comes together perfectly, Liz.

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