Why teacups are special: Personal memories

April 6, 2023 | 50 Comments

I want to start a new series in the lead-up to the launch of my new Teacups course sharing some of the reasons why I’m so obsessed with sketching them!

Let’s start at the very beginning…

It all began with my (Great) Aunty Ruby. She was legendary for her creativity and her house was full of amazing things that she had made with her hands – both inside the house and out in the garden (often re-purposing historic farming equipment).

Every time we visited her place she would take us on a tour of all the new items she had made and tell us stories about them. She was special in other ways as well, but her creativity is the thing that everyone knew her for.

When she passed away at the end of 2008 I remembered that she had given me a family heirloom teacup a few years prior. It was a delicate fluted cup that belonged to my great-great-grandmother – making it nearly 150 years old. I got it out, filled it up with tea and then sketched it as a way of remembering Aunty Ruby.

Rather than being an isolated event, it actually led to drinking out of a teacup and saucer every day instead of using a tall fine china mug which was my practice at the time.

This particular cup was also important in the development of my ink and watercolour sketching. I realised when sketching it on another occasion (in the ink and wash sketch above) that the crisp black ink lines from my fountain pen were too harsh for this delicate cup. And so I started using my watercolour for more than just adding colour. 

I need to do another version of it soon! It’s one of the trickier cups in my collections to sketch loosely. This is due to its delicate scallop shape and complex fluting. I also think that it’s too precious and so I’m constantly worrying about breaking it! 🙂

Another special cup in my collection is this rather unusual Shelley cup that we found in the back of a kitchen cupboard when my Nanna passed away. Although I never saw her use it, I have created an association between this cup and my dear Nanna.  So every time I get it out, I am filled with warm feelings and lovely memories.

There is always some degree of connection between our sketches and our surroundings at the time we were sketching. Looking at a sketch at a later date can recall the sounds, the smells, and other things that were happening while putting pen or brush to paper. But our sketches can also recall how we felt and/or what we were thinking about.

But if you sketch a teacup while you are sipping from it, there is an extra tactile connection between real life and what’s on the page. It’s just an object but by sketching it I can relive special times with special people!

And so my obsession with teacups is deeply rooted in family and treasured memories!

Of course, there are other sketching reasons why I’m crazy about teacups (and I’ll be sharing them in future articles), but I wanted to start this series by dedicating it to Aunty Ruby and Nanna.

Just for the record: This is the last photo I have of Aunty Ruby taken on the day she gave me the teacup. (Nanna wouldn’t let me take photos when I visited her in her later years or else I’d include a photo of her too)

This has been a bit more of a personal article than usual… but I just wanted to share how my teacup obsession is so much more than simply a vessel for tea. 🙂

Do you have any memories of using fine china teacups with loved ones – mothers, grandmothers, aunts, or friends?

I would love to hear about them in the comment section below!


The Teacups Course is now open for enrollment – and available as a self-paced course!

Find out more and enroll here!



  • Louise Cuff says:

    I enjoyed your remembrances of Aunty Ruby and Nanna so much. I always like your posts and learn so much, often searching your blog for useful info. But I especially liked today. Glad you had those women in your life.

  • Charlotte Lindsay Allison says:

    I am planning on signing up for your bundle of classes, May 2023. However, in reading of your dear memories of your Aunty Ruby and your Nanna and why your attentions are turning to a workshop on teacups…I am wishing I could jump into this workshop. But, a baby must first learn to crawl before attending university. My teacups are hidden away for just “the day” of sketching. So afraid am I, that I’ll break them. Thank you so very much, for being “you”! Happy Easter – Charlotte in Texas

    • Liz Steel says:

      Hi Charlotte – the Teacups course will introduce you to a lot of the core concepts from Foundations and Watercolour so it would be possible to start with it. With the attitude of picking up what you can and having fun. The community aspect of this year will be outstanding and not to be missed! 🙂

  • Laurie says:

    What a lovely story. Thank you for sharing!

  • Liz, I love your story of Aunt Ruby and that special teacup. Teacups are very special for me as well as some of my most favorite times have been sitting and having tea with my beloved mother. She collected teacups and I have memories tied with each of those teacups. I can still remember sitting with her, sipping tea, and having the most wonderful conversations filled with love and laughter. My favorite teacup is Old Country Roses, a gift from mother. I found a picture of it in a magazine when I was eight years old and loved it so much that I wrote a letter to the company, Royal Albert of England. They sent me a whole packet of images that included a beautiful card highlighting that teacup. Now many years later, I love enjoying a cup of tea in one of my Old Country Roses teacups, a gift from my mother. I look forward to the day I step into heaven – one of the first things I hope to do is sit and have a cup of tea with my mother (and the Lord of course)! So now, I am so excited at the prospect of actually learning to paint all these beautiful teacups. If anyone can teach me to do it, it will be you Liz! I can’t wait!

    • Liz Steel says:

      Hi Catherine – thanks so much for your lovely comment and story. I do love OCR as well. I resisted buying one for a while (with the reason that it’s too popular and common!) but wow! once I had my own version and starting sketching it, I became a favourite too. I think its in my Top 5 to sketch! My aunt had the blue version (Moonlight Roses) which is also lovely.

      • Liz, I never knew about Moonlight Roses until today when I read your post, so guess what! I just bought one and should have it soon. Excited to learn to paint these teacups. I had to explain to my husband why I have teacups everywhere right now – SMILE. I started pulling out favorite teacups, so it’s going to be quite the adventure!

      • Liz Steel says:

        Hi Catherine! SO glad to hear there is another Moonlight Roses fan! It should be more well known as such a pretty variation to OCR. Welome to the teacups everywhere club!!! 🙂

  • Susan Loeb says:

    Yes, I have special memories of teacups associated with my mother. She collected them and used them for drinking coffee! We lived in New Orleans. She always served me with a special yellow one. She woke me each morning with a delicious cup of coffee in the yellow cup. I can picture it now. Unfortunately it was lost in the flood following hurricane Katrina. Just thinking about it brings back warm memories.

    • Liz Steel says:

      Thanks for sharing that lovely story. My Nanna has a yellow rose cup that I loved. Sorry the cup was lost in Katrina… but the memories are more important!

      • Crystal Nitz says:

        Susan, what a sweet memory! Have you ever considered trying to find a replacement yellow teacup? I have been shocked at the number of teacups available through Facebook Marketplace; my sister passed away last year and she is deeply connected with my own love of tea and teacups; I was able to find an exact replica of her favorite yellow teacup and now have it in my collection. …just one idea if you ever get the urge to look…

      • Liz Steel says:

        Hi Crystal, yes I am looking! I recently found a copy of one of my Nanna’s cups that was given to my cousin. You will see this inside the course 🙂

  • Maria Bergman says:

    Hi Liz,
    Your story is a shining example of how art can enrich our lives, expand our perceptions and understanding, and be a celebration of the moments we all take too much for granted. Sharing the roots of your artistic passions offers those of us who follow you some ideas on how to develop our own joyful practice. Thanks Liz for your unique vision!

    • Liz Steel says:

      Thanks Maria for your lovely comment and yes, if you can find something that is inherently joyful to you, the sketches will be more lively.

  • I appreciate posts like this the most. It gets to the “why” of sketching. Thank you for sharing.

  • Jeanette sclar says:

    Your best post ever! Love the personal connection and seeing the change in your approach to the same subject!

    • Liz Steel says:

      Hi Jeanette! I was only thinking of you yesterday. Hope you are well. and thanks for your lovely comment!

  • Marta Raaka says:

    Hi Liz,
    I have similar fond memories of my Nana and teacups. She served us English tea, which wasn’t my favorite at first because it was without milk or sugar. But she included brown sugar sandwiches, which went so well with the tea. She used a teapot and the whole experience is such a fond memory of times we spent at her home.
    My aunt continued the tradition. Luckily, I have several teacups from their collection, and I use them frequently.
    I look forward to your class.

    • Liz Steel says:

      Hi Marta – that’s so nice. thanks for sharing. I love reading about other people’s memories!

  • Mary Beth Person says:

    Oh! The nostalgia of tea cups. I remember them lined up proudly in the built in china cupboard of our farmhouse dining room. Precious, delicate, each one having a story of who gifted it and when it was received. These were not used for tea, however! It was our custom to have a light Sunday supper, having had a large Sunday Dinner in the early afternoon. This weekly ritual consisted of the leftover jello (filled with fruit cocktail, sliced bananas and topped with homemade whipped cream, always made in the same large glass serving bowl)), popcorn and……homemade hot chocolate….served in the beautiful teacups. Every sip savored and delicately handled, each of us six children had our especially assigned cup. Sunday nights were so special!!

    • Liz Steel says:

      Hi Mary Beth – that’s a really lovely memory and do you know, I’ve never drunk hot chocolate out of a teacup. I should try that one day!

  • Kristine Martens says:

    I have always enjoyed seeing your interpretations of tea cups and your interest in how this special brew is presented. Thank you. I am not so obsessed with the cups but tea has always been very important to me. When I was in elementary school, about 4th grade, I remember coming home from school and sitting in the kitchen dining booth with my mom, a pot of tea and milk. We had personal moments of sharing… she with tea and a little milk and me with milk and a little tea. I think of my 3 sisters, I was the only one that really enjoyed this ritual and it was a foundation for a close connection to my mom.

    • Liz Steel says:

      Hi Kristine – thanks for sharing – so nice! I’ll be talking about tea in the new article in this series!

  • Janet Jones says:

    A lovely story which will make sketching teacups special. Thank you for sharing.

  • Pam Malone says:

    Lovely memories. I have sweet memories of my great aunt too and certain scents will take me straight back to her sunroom and having tea in tea cups and chocolate biscuits! I also have a set of Shelley China as well as a few other sets belonging to my grandmothers. Thanks for sharing your beautiful memories.

    • Liz Steel says:

      Hi Pam – So lovely to hear that you have memories too. And wow! a Shelley set!!!! Shelley is the best IMHO

  • Ainslie Wilson says:

    My name is Ainslie and I collect Aynsley China, and the small Aynsley cup and saucer I use every day is one I found in a second hand shop in Wales when I took my elderly Mum on holiday for a last visit to see the english bluebells. I love this cup although it is so ridiculously small I need to drink several cups in the morning to equal one mug!

  • Marie says:

    Oh my, how absolutely wonderful! I’m winding down after a VERY stressful day and just read your email/blog. I’ve always wondered about the teacups. Now I know what amazing beauty they truly are. I love the way you described memory that attaches to us, even in taste. I’m going to change my next painting to make it more in the moment. Thank you so much for all of your advice, sharing your beautiful story, and letting my day close in such a positive way! Big hugs!

  • Ginie Udy says:

    Thank you for sharing these precious memories with us Liz. Connections with the women in our families are so important to our development: as people and artists. If we are lucky enough to have inspiring role models, of both how to live and how to express ourselves, we are indeed blessed.

    I’m really looking forward to the Tea Cup course! Already managed to pull together a group of ‘brown ones,’ another of ‘blue and green’ and some ‘pink’ ones even though I thought I didn’t really have any having downsized a lot of stuff over the years!

  • Cathy Lovelock says:

    Oh how wonderful it was to read your story of your Aunty Ruby and Nanna. I love how such a simple item as a teacup can evoke such memories. I have a wonderful memory of a very dear friend of our family who we called Nanna O. She had a very large cup colourful cup that she used for cups of tea, dinner, soup and dessert. She would rinse between servings. As a child I would be amazed and wished we could do the same. No dishwashers in those days and I hated wiping up!!! Whilst I can picture that large colourful cup in my mind I am not sure what happened to it.

  • Frieda Kamstra says:

    Very sweet memory your aunt. I remember sitting on the table with my aunt, visiting her and drinking from a teacup with saucer and self made cake. I remember the visit lasted hours! I made crossword puzzles with my aunt and when I made a mistake she helped me change the letters so they looked good. I never dare to say I wanted to leave or had to go because it felt rude in some way. Dear memories!

  • Mary Jane Huth says:

    Wow what great memories of your loved one! It’s so wonderful of you too share this story with us. I would love to hear more.

  • Crystal Nitz says:

    Teacups are part of what connected me to you! My dear sister Kerri, who passed away in March of 2022, was a lover of tea and of painting – and most of all, of Jesus. She found you online and took your Buildings course. I watched her own technique skyrocket after taking your course. We had painted together off and on for years during my visits to her – drinking tea together as we did so – often with other family members joining in as well. SO many precious memories come back to me when I paint/drink tea/host teas now…and now I have purchased all your classes as well! While I haven’t yet made it through the END of each of them, I have learned SOOOO much along the way and have enjoyed my daily practice of watercolour sketching and drinking tea as a way to keep a piece of Kerri’s heart beating in my world. I’m so beyond grateful for you, Liz. Thank you; you have helped me nurture Kerri’s beautiful legacy. (And I too have a growing collection of beautiful teacups I enjoy using, sketching and sharing with friends for a cup of tea…if you’re ever in the Chicago area, stop over and I’d be honored to serve you a cuppa! My little habit is to have my guests choose their cup du jour to from my corner-cabinet collection.) 🙂

  • Crystal Nitz says:

    Liz – sorry I forgot to ask above, but can you somewhere share the name of the china pattern from your “Aunt Ruby cup”? When I sketch my teacups and saucers I often flip one or the other over and carefully replicate whatever information is on the bottom of the cup/saucer…brand and pattern name, location of factory, sometimes a color swatch or gold or silver dot or streak or a number…to me it’s like a signature of the teacup. So each time you post about this gorgeous cup, I’m wanting to flip it and peek at the underside…maybe I’m a little crazy, but it’s so fascinating to me. 🙂

    • Liz Steel says:

      Hi Crystal, Yes I nearly always look at the stamp and info at the bottom of the cup and saucer… and then do an online search to work out how old the cup is. This cup is too old to have a clear stamp, so I’m not sure of the brand let alone the pattern name! I plan to get the cup out soon so I will take a photo of it then as well and do a new search online for more info!

  • chris kopet says:

    Absolutely, I have fond memories of my great aunt Rachel. She always put on a dress and heels before sitting down to dinner- even when she was widowed and living alone. When we visited her she had fine china teacups, teapot and delicate dessert plates on her round oak table covered in a white lace tablecloth. She had a tiny bowl and tongs for sugar cubes. It was such a visual, emotional, and beautiful experience to stop by and visit her because she made our time with her special.
    I understand your history and how meaningful ritual and details impart more than a cup of tea.

  • Linda Watskin says:

    Thank you for sharing your story about your aunt. I have my mother’s delicate teacup on my bookcase. Whenever I see it I’m reminded of her penchant to seek treasures in old antique stores. Some finds had hairline cracks—but not this cup. My grandmother drank afternoon tea out of a heavy fluted glass.

  • Amanda Poll says:

    Lovely stories thankyou Liz and beautifully inspiring paintings of such pretty cups and saucers. I do have one from a set that was my lovely Mum’s, but don’t know it’s previous history. I am really looking forward to learning all your processes and improving my painting. . I love the fude pens too!

    • Liz Steel says:

      Hi Amanda – Glad you have your mums set….previous history is cool but I always just love my memories of a cup and my loved ones.

  • Rosamond JOURDAN says:

    I really loved this story. I love to hear the history behind an artist. Thank you for sharing. I have just joined and am just painting my first teacup as a reference before I jump into the first week. Loving what I am reading so far. Just need to get a sketch book and some permanent ink but will start with what I have anyway.

  • Lauren Lowdermilk says:

    Hi I loved this story. What beautiful memories you have. I am very excited to be starting this course. I have my mothers collection of tea cups. I have had a very strong desire to paint each one of them. Started on my own and realized that to get it right was going to be a worthwhile task. Something that I wasn’t quite comfortable doing on my own. So when I saw you were doing this class, I signed up as soon as possible. I am a little late in getting started, but better late than never. Looking forward to doing this with you and the class.

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