Aussie Adventures 4: Back to Perth

For the final leg of the trip, between Christmas and New Year, it was back to Perth to stay at my sister and brother-in-law’s home in Subiaco . Arguably, because it was a more city-based experience, it was the time of the most concentrated urban sketching and I sketched to capture some key places within Subiaco as well as further afield, as a way of embedding the place in my mind.  My mum also had her birthday on 27th so I was able to capture in a sketch,her tea party at my sister’s house.



2016-01-05_0032 2016-01-05_0035

The beach and the cinema-but not as we know it!

Two of the things that I loved the most were the fact that you go to the beach to take a dip as simply as you would put your umbrella up in the UK! and the arts cinema is an outside venue, surrounded by huge pine trees and everyone has a picnic!! How fab is that! Both these instances were not so easy to take part in and sketch at the same time: there was no way I could stand and do a sketch breakfast on the beach on Christmas morning for example!   The Cottesloe Beach sketch is therefore a drawing of the most famous building on the beach done at 7 am one morning, sitting on rocks amongst local fishermen and the cinema sketch shows the scale of the trees relative to the theatre itself done as I sat in my seat and just before the light faded and the film: Blind Date started!


Kings Park

Being down the road from the most wonderful diverse park is another advantage of the Subiaco location. Kings Park affords wonderful views down across Perth from a vantage point lined with gum trees (what else!).  Kings park is one of the largest inner city parks in the world and at 4 km2 it is larger than New York’s Central park and is the most popular destination in Western Australia.  Come to think of it, I could have spent the whole of my time recording aspects and views of this park-there’s a thought!  The park is a mixture of grassed parkland, botanical gardens and natural bushland with two-thirds of the grounds conserved as native bushland.



We walked a couple of miles or so over to this interesting little place (reminded me of Camden, UK) for a drink or two and some Tapas one evening.  I loved this place!  This is the view from the window of the bar.



No set of sketches from this place would be complete without mentioning the accent and language! Everything here seems to be shortened! So seeing the port of Fremantle shortened by all the locals to Freo was an ideal opportunity to get that one into the story! The streets have that nautical feel and there is a fantastic little brewery and eatery on the shore, not to mention fishing boats….


Flying out of Perth on New Year’s day, it is hard to leave this much blue, to return to grey. At the airport I was able to draw the plane from the gate. On the aircraft I added watercolour and received much interest from the cabin staff, who kindly got the sketch signed by the pilot.. A nice way to end an eventful and inspiring trip.


With thanks especially to my sister and brother in law for all they did to make this a special family trip as well as to my niece and her partner and nephew and his new wife-Hey look, thanks guys! xx


I hope that you have enjoyed my 4 part Aussie Adventures and I look forward to sharing more sketching adventures soon!


Aussie Adventures 3: Up North: The orange and the blue

This trip took me up the coast from Perth, to Kalbarri and up to Denham and Monkey Mia. The total trip is about 9 hours (each way) so the itinery involved 3 stop overs: 3 nights in Kalbarri, 3 nights in Denham and a night on the way back to Perth, in Geraldton. For this trip I used a concertina Seabright sketchbook which, although it is not watercolour paper, is thick enough to manage the watercolour paint without buckling. It produces a lovely long story book of sketches but given the amount of windy weather, it was tricky to keep a hold of whilst drawing and this got very frustrating. Of course it could have been worse as I seemed to have arrived in the area 24 hours after a cyclone hit but it was still very windy!


The drive from Perth North is a monotonous one, lots of open landscape, few trees and very very limited habitation. There are a few cars and mostly large wagons transporting freight.  You get the picture! There were also bizarre snippets of information on the sat nav like turn left in 294 km!


It was sunny but windy for the whole 3 day stay. The B&B had a sweet little staffy dog called Butter (no idea why!). I captured her in one of my drawings! In many ways it is a typical sleepy seaside town, not so much going on but some breathtaking landscape. Oh, and there are pelicans, lots of pelicans and these are fed each morning on the beach by volunteers. There are two things of note here as far as I could see, firstly, the beaches are stunning, with creamy white sand and the most stunningly beautiful turqoises and blues in the sea. The other notable feature is the oranges, browns, beiges and pinks of the sandstone: in the form of the most amazing coastline and also in the form of gorges. The later are a half hour drive out of Kalbarri and up an approximately 20 km rough track but it is worth the trip! There are several rock formations, including the stunning Natures Window, a sandstone formation with a hole through which you see the landscape beyond. Oh and their fish and chips are good too , with locally caught fish.  I didn’t draw mine as I was keen to eat them hot! There are no trendy cafes here, unlike Perth and down south but you can’t have everything!



Denham and Monkey Mia, Shark Bay

Three days later saw a similarly monotonous drive from Kalbarri to Denham although at 4 plus hours this was a shorter trip than that from Perth to Kalbarri. Arriving early afternoon, it was a Sunday and the small town of Denham was even more deserted than that of Kalbarri! It was bright and sunny but very very windy! Even so I managed to sketch the accommodation and the views out to the sea. This place doesn’t appear to have much going on, but what is here is the stunning colours of the sea and amazing sea wildlife. Therefore, the next couple of days sought to explore that and make the most of it: snorkeling; visiting an aquarium run by marine biologists to hear about the sea life and importantly about the importance of shark conservation, going out in a catamaran to see dugongs, an endangered species, feeding on the sea grass, seeing dolphins and turtles being fed on the shoreline were all the things that made this a special place. Monkey Mia is essentially a resort from where the wildlife adventures go out from and is 20 minutes drive across from Denham.





The trip down from Denham to Perth started on the 23rd December with a nights stop at Geraldton. On first glance, this is a typical seaside town, perhaps busier and with quirkier shops and cafes than Kalbarri and Denham. However, after visiting and talking to some interesting boutique owners (one in particular who sold me a gorgeous pair of sandals!) I started to get a feel for the more interesting cafes and restaurants and of the drive to make this place trendier! On 24th December the next stop was Subiaco, Perth, for Christmas!


Concertina sketchbook

Here is a video that shows my concertina sketchbook and its layout

Please stay tuned for the last instalment of my Aussie Adventures which sees a return to Perth before flying back to the UK.


My inktober 2015

Phew, what a month of drawing for Inktober. Now I can’t say I did an ink drawing everyday but I certainly did do quite a few!  It has been great to think about line in isolation and although I did add watercolour to most of my drawings, the focus on ink did make me think more about my line and the way in which I was using the line to convey a range of elements: depth (through line weight), detail, shadow through hatching, movement etc.  All of these have a valuable part to play in the build up of a drawing and tie in well with a previous blog that I produced about Edges following Liz Steel’s course.   It also made me think about the way in which I used different pens for different effects, from the carbon platinum pen which gives a very clean fine line for facial features, to the pentel brush pen for solid darks, to the Lamy safari with a 1.1 italic nib pen for text and the green Sailor pen which can produce a range of line thickness depending upon the angle you are holding the pen.


Initially, my intention had been to focus on people exclusively this month for inktober but in the end, I chose to draw a range of subject matter, often the urban environment but also other objects and activities.  As this is my first inktober, there will be plenty of others where I can chose one theme!  In addition, there were plenty of activities and things going on in October, so it was nice to be able to capture a range of them.

Given this outcome, I have chosen to group my drawings into some key themes: People, buildings, miscellaneous (a mix of individual items) and  to end with, captured for on last day of the month, a couple of reportage pieces!  Here they are:








I have really enjoyed participating in Inktober and do hope you have enjoyed following the journey.  Please do continue to follow my adventures on here and if you’d like to check out these images individually then don’t forget that they are all on my instagram site here:

You have been invited…….Reportage of an event about Human trafficking

You will probably already know by now if you look at my blog regularly or follow me on any of my social media platforms that Reportage, storytelling through drawing, is my thing!  My sketchbook is full of annotated drawings and stories.   I seek out projects that enable me to produce reportage work, be it a festival like the Dig The City, a single event or a longer term project such as the development of a building.  This week was an exciting ‘first’ for me because I was invited by Greater Manchester Police and Manchester Cathedral to attend a public meeting at the Cathedral On The Street to mark a week of activity associated with Human Trafficking and Modern Day Slavery and to produce a piece of artwork that reflected the event.  The meeting brought together senior officers from Greater Manchester Police, including Sir Peter Fahy (on his last week on office as Greater Manchester’s Chief Constable) and the Dean of the cathedral, as well as Manchester-based  Rhema Theatre Group,  Stop The Traffick, International Justice Mission and members of the public.  It was a well-attended meeting and made for interesting debate and discussion about how as citizens of the city, we can all do our bit to help Stop Human Trafficking.   This blog documents my process for producing the finished reportage piece and what I learnt along the way.


Getting Started

I arrived at the event early so that I could work out where best to draw from and set myself up.  It was a relatively large room, with rows of chairs and a stage in front of glass panels, making for an interesting and light space.  I soon realised that there was no optimum location!  drawing from the back I was unlikely to see the stage and front action, whereas drawing from the front would mean that not only was I conspicuous, I didn’t have good views of the audience either!  In the end I chose to sit to the side of the rows, halfway down.  That way, I was relatively out of the way and wasn’t going to nudge and annoy people!  Standing up wasn’t really going to be a viable option for the whole session, although it was useful at certain points, so that I could see more.

I was made very welcome by the cathedral staff and was told I could sit where I wanted and move around as I needed to which made me feel a little less awkward although I was vary aware that I didn’t want to appear to obvious or make a commotion!  That said, I was introduced by the Dean at the beginning of the meeting and towards the end was invited to share what I had drawn and what I was going to produce!  This was a little nerve wracking but because I didn’t know I was going to be asked, there was no time to think about it too much!

My media of choice was a Moleskine A4 watercolour sketchbook, landscape format which I perched on my knee.  In hindsight, I would probably not choose to work like this in this type of setting again.  A board with paper taped on may well be a lot more manageable.  As it was, I ended up with a series of disjointed pages which I then needed to put together afterwards.   I used a combination of 0.7 mm 2B pencil and fountain ink (Pelikan M200, fine nib with black desatramentis documents ink and a Carbon platinum pen).

Drawing the Action

I was able to sketch out the backdrop ahead of the meeting starting so that I could focus on people drawing during the actual session itself.  This was very handy as I was keen to provide quite a bit of detail of the backdrop given the uniqueness and interest of the setting.  What I didn’t do however was decide on the exact layout of the piece.  In hindsight I could have spent time thinking about this but as it was, the layout of the sketchbook didn’t really enable me to do that effectively.


When drawing the audience and the individual speakers, this was reasonably achievable given the timings.  Each speaker was talking for about 10 minutes or more, so enough time to do an outline sketch and to write notes as an aide memoire.  What was more difficult however was the recording of the 3 theatre pieces.  This was because of the rapid changes in movement and angles etc.  Because the pieces were shortened forms of a longer play, the amount of changes of pose and action was considerable necessitating a much more shorthand form of recording than usual.  I need to get so much better at this!  -lots of practice is needed!  This type of drawing is not for the feint hearted!  As it was I think it would have been better to use ink rather than pencil-the pencil is great for initial gesture but not more.


After the event

I could clearly picture what the finished piece needed to look like by the end of the afternoon but realised I didn’t have it in that format!  In addition, given the need for text and images, the A4 size really didn’t give me enough scope so I used an A3 piece of Bockingford, 300 g/m2 and transferred some, but not all of the artwork to it.  I just need to get to grips with doing all these steps in process, perhaps using quick thumbnails and then working on the actual piece in situ!  This is quite a tall order for me at the moment but hope that with practice the assimilation will come.  I also think it depends on the outcome you are trying to produce.  Because there were separate elements, it made layout more complicated than if say I was just trying to depict a single image with text.   Images were created with fountain pen (as above) and Daniel Smith watercolour applied.



Here is the finished piece.  I hope you area able to see how it relates to the original drawings.

LizAckerley_TraffickingReportage_20Oct reducedsize

In the future I intend to have the finished piece at the end of the session, perhaps with the need to add text or some additional colour, but nothing more.  This is all work in progress for me so very much a steep learning curve.  This opportunity has taught me a lot and I am thrilled that the clients are delighted with the finished piece.  Watch this space for much more reportage work from me!

A drawing a day…..

Throughout August I have been getting involved in the #DrawingAugust activity on Social Media (twitter) as another means of encouraging me to draw daily. I post my drawings regularly on social media and have to confess that I have been a little confused by the comments about being ‘prolific’. This is because my understanding is that to get good at anything you need to practice regularly and in order to get anywhere with drawing, you need to do this daily (not a few times a week or when you feel like it, but daily). Now that is not to say I am critical of anyone else that doesn’t do this, its just for me, in order to stand any chance of improvement, I need to do it daily. I need to focus on regularity and in the past, where I haven’t done this, I have slipped back to irregular practice. In summary, I wouldn’t say that I am prolific, (actually, I take too much time and I do not do it for hours and hours daily), it is more about trying to improve by regular practice. I would advise anyone who is getting into drawing and wants to improve to do this, because I think without the regular practice, it becomes just too hard and not second nature enough to weather the inevitably bumpy rides.

Now to drawing August. There have been a variety of themes in my month so I thought I would share my month’s worth of sketching in these themes. That way you can get to see the ways that I have tackled them. On some days, especially those where I have been doing some reportage sketching, I have done more than one drawing, so I have selected 31 sketches to share here. You can see my sketching practice on Flickr here and on Instagram here.

Reportage Sketching

I am particularly interested in reportage sketching of events and activities and so it makes sense to start with that aspect of my drawing first. The beginning of the month started with reportage sketching at the Manchester Dig the City gardening event. You can read the full blog about this here .

Another activity attended was the Saturday market in my home town of Bury St Edmunds Suffolk, a market town with a fruit and vegetable market every Saturday and Wednesday. Then most recently I attended a new vintage fair at Manchester cathedral and a boat show in Redhill. Well they say that variety is the spice of life!


here are the most recent sketches a little larger for easier viewing:


Café Sketching of people

I have been trying to improve my people sketching and therefore have frequented several cafes and shopping centres to capture people.   People in cafes are usually moving to a lesser extent than those in crowds and it is often possible to capture a little more detail because they are often in one position for a period of time! These sketches are usually done as a gesture in pencil to which the detail is then added in pen or a contour. I am trying to improve my cleanness of line.


Allotment and plant sketching

It’s a great time of the year to be sketching my boutique allotment and some of the fruits (and flowers of our labours), so here are a few of such images, some in situ on the plot and others already picked!   Oh and Mum and Dad’s apple tree in their garden is included too!  You can see more of my sketching on my boutique allotment here.


Location sketching

This month I have also been out and about sketching with the Manchester Urban sketchers: earlier in the month at Piccadilly train station and then more recently at Salford Quays. Other location sketches include a visit to Pomona, a wonderful wild landscape on the edge of the city and the start of a series of sketches around the streets of residential Salford.  Oh and almost all the sketches throughout this blog are in a moleskin watercolour sketchbook using watercolour paint.  The 4 on the right below (and the dill picture left above) are different: done in a strathmore tinted paper sketchbook and using coloured pencil.


This is somewhat of an eclectic mix of subject matters and I am thrilled to have taken part in this useful sharing activity throughout August. Now that September is nearly here, I have plenty more drawing activities to occupy me! Thank you for joining me on my sketching journey and I hope that you will continue to follow my sketching adventures!

My urban sketching collaboration with a playwright

As a landscape architect as well as urban sketcher, the idea of a Sense of Place, providing designs and drawings that connect with a place and what it is about are critical. In my urban sketching, I am always looking to create A sense of the Place in my drawings, whether it is through line, form, colour or detail (and usually a mixture), this is what I set out to achieve: an interpretation of the place in a way that resonates with the viewer that is familiar and provides a reference point.


I post my drawings on a variety of social media platforms, including Twitter, Facebook and Flickr. It is through these routes that I am able to connect with a variety of other sketchers, artists and other creatives, whether it is to learn from others approaches, have a conversation about artworks or to learn about the overlap and potential collaborative opportunities, these are important connections. Of particular importance to me in my sketching is the reportage angle of urban sketching. Recently, I was contacted by an independent playwright and director, Vanessa Brooks, because the images I was posting, resonated particularly with the locations that she was incorporating into the writing of her new play: I love you baby.

Initially, the images that caught Vanessa’s attention were drawings in and around Salford in the North of England, UK: Samantha, one of the lead characters in the play lives in a hi-rise luxury apartment in Salford Quays and Vanessa has used my images initially to help route her internal view of the location. The two images below set the scene here with the views of the immediate apartment surroundings and the famous Lowry theatre on the Quays:


As well as the views of the quays, Samantha has views of the deprived and undeveloped Salford, the place from which young man Tyler comes from:


Sister Sadie, travels through Manchester Piccadilly station with its queues of people and across Manchester to Samantha’s apartment for their mothers funeral and wake:



This is what Vanessa calls ‘dipping into my visual world’ and now that she is moving from writing the first draft, to the process of developing the play on stage, my drawings appear large in her contextualization of the onstage activity

Having established a connection and resonance with these initial images, Vanessa then took a trip through my Flickr drawings and realized that many more would be of use in the establishment of places/things associated with other characters in the play.   These include the following:

A character called Clarence who lived with his elderly mother in a cottage in Yorkshire. This drawing took the playwright into Clarence’s past and the context he grieves for:


A sister called Grace who is a nurturer and professional carer of dogs.   Here, my drawings of my own greyhound Tanzi have provided inspiration:


Another sister Sadie comes to Salford from London where she has a night-life existence. My drawings of Camden in London, provided some resonance here:


Vanessa makes the comment that ‘the drawings help root her internal view into a reality but not a photographic one as this is too stark, but an interpretation of a place, which fits in well with the landscape, she imagines’. I am thrilled that my sketches have helped to inspire the contextual detail surrounding the characters of this new play and excited about the collaborative opportunities that urban sketching appears to enable. In Vanessa’s words, ‘ the context I’ve drawn from Liz’s work has been invaluable and demonstrates one of the principals of playwriting in particular and theatre-making in general: It’s a collaborative medium’

Over the next few months the play will be developed with three project partners including The Lowry in Salford and I am looking forward to attending the Scratch performance of the play there in November! You can read Vanessa’s blog about the use of my drawings to inform the play here.

Its all about definition……..

I am a little disappointed that I have gone from blogging on here once a week to once every two weeks and I got to wondering about what it means to blog regularly…..What defines regular?  daily, weekly, fortnightly…anyway, what defines anything? I got to thinking about that one too!  Three years ago now, we got an allotment, but, being the aesthetic obsessive that I am, I didn’t want it to be any old allotment, heath robinson, full of plastic, ramshackle.  I wanted it to be organic, gorgeous, shabby chic, whatever you may like to call it, but just not ‘ordinary’  We called it our Boutique Allotment, like a boutique hotel, something special, gem-like, quirky, carefully laid out.  It is full of raised beds, gravel and woven bean sticks, a polytunnel that looks like an allotment form of a camper van……  It is starting to look something like what I imagined: my definition of a Boutique Allotment.  But what has this got to do with sketching, drawing, scribbling, (there I go with that definition thing again).  Well, (drum roll for the tenuous link please….), for many a month (almost a year in fact) I felt overwhelmed with the idea of drawing the allotment.  I did try but always felt that the green merged into the green, one shed merged into another, I felt that I didn’t have the skills to create enough definition in the drawing.  I was at that conscious incompetent stage, i.e. I knew enough to know what it needed to be like (broadly), but I didn’t know how to get there.  Then a few weeks ago, it started to become clearer.  There were several things I set about to achieve in the drawings I’ve completed:

  • Simplification and emphasis:  trying not to draw everything I see but selecting key elements and emphasising their details
  • Using darks to full effect:  this can be black or brown or whatever the ink colour is but using this to create a sense of depth and contrast in the drawing
  • Limiting the colour palette: and making sure that there was enough contrast between colours: you will see that orange or red appear with the greens and blues
  • Creating depth in the drawing: through perspective (getting smaller the further away it gets), detail (more detail closer, less detail further away) and colour (getting paler as it gets further away), all the things that you would naturally use in any drawing, but for some reason, they seemed things that I needed to keep telling myself when I drew the allotment
  • Using strong form to tell the story: the curves of the polytunnel, the bean poles and tomato canes etc

Here are my attempts. You will have to see for yourself whether you think I have followed the rules I set for myself.




Of course, the images above look like there were no people (which there weren’t at the time I drew the scenes).  However, people do feature strongly behind the scenes.  Here is a group in action at the recent allotment meeting.


Let me tell you a story…

It has been just under two weeks since I last posted a blog on here and I have to say that I have been thinking about several different aspects of drawing, going off in all directions and getting myself in a bit of a spin!  I have been starting to incorporate more people drawing into my sketchbook drawings, but at the same time, have started Sketchbook skool Storytelling and have additionally been exploring some different approaches to my watercolour work.  Further to all this, I read a very thought proving blog by Fred Lynch entitled : Pictures of Pictures on the Urban Sketchers site.  It got me really thinking about the purpose of my sketch book scribbles and how I wanted to be able to tell stories through my drawings, not just produce pictures of well known landmarks and buildings!  In the words of Fred Lynch in his blog:  ‘We can’t just show things, we have to say things’.  I have always maintained that my interest in urban sketching is related to reportage and being able to tell stories of Urban Life, however, until recently, I think I have been a little caught up with the mechanics of drawing as opposed to using the drawing to describe and illustrate: something that I have an enthusiasm for and a unique angle upon.  I am starting to think quite differently about my drawings now, although it is probably true to say that I need much more practice in exploring how I communicate most effectively in my sketches.  Here is a somewhat eclectic mix of some of my drawings from the week.

A visit to Stockport Vintage Fair

Last weekend I attended the Fair alongside other Manchester Urban Sketchers.  What a fabulous building to sketch and what an extraordinary and electic mix of stalls, from clothes to pictures, to household items: a real step  back in time.  A central stall caught my eye with its flurry of activity and I just managed to catch a little girl buying an old wooden dolls house.  The building itself is stunning too, inside and out but I found it lovely to capture the look of the building, having already documented activities going on inside.


A theatre trip in Cheshire

Another trip back in time with a small local production of ‘An Ideal Husband’ by Oscar Wilde.  Fortunately, I have an ideal husband who doesn’t mind me sitting drawing whilst we watched the production!  I found it hard to capture all the changing costumes and scenery but feel that what was captured does give a flavour of the play although it would have been better to include captions and narrative.


Our boutique allotment

This is a great time of year on the allotment site with everything growing well and much in the way of structures : bean canes, pea sticks, wigwams.  I am aware that telling the story of the allotment can be a challenging one: a sea of green!  I wanted to create a narrative with the canes and with simple, bold colour and strong contrast.


A quick trip to the Trafford Centre

An eclectic mix of elements!  This is the entranceway into the restaurant area and China Town.  The car adds another slightly surreal prop in a somewhat ostentatious space that is this well known shopping centre!  Of course there were plenty of people moving through the space at a steady rate!


Dilapidated garages

I have wanted to capture these garages and their surroundings for a while!  They are rather attractive in their dishevelled state and it is fascinating that they are almost invisible, on the edge of activities which you might think would ensure their repair/change.  The wood, pipes and barbed wire make for an interesting image!


I look forward to sharing more of my storytelling adventures in future blogs.

The wonder of windows!

Last week we were challenged to draw our view through a window by Roz Stendahl of Sketchbook skool and it got me thinking.  Of course views through windows of the house is a great one in the winter time: you can draw from life but in the comfort of your own home but it got me thinking about drawing in the car and how much I have found this of use throughout the winter.  Often times, you can get quite a prime spot at a particular location and can draw in the comfort of a warm car with a ready seat too!   At this time of year in the UK, it may well be lovely and sunny but the cold of winter is still with us and it makes for some very cold drawing if you are doing it outside!  I know because I tried it on a Manchester Sketchcrawl yesterday!  There comes a point where you can no longer feel your fingers and so control your pen-not a good recipe for fine urban sketching.

Last week whilst out and about in my landscape designer role, I was fortunate to drive through a number of great city locations, from Didsbury to Ancoats in Manchester.  The first of these out-and-about sketches was done of an amazing old Fire Station building:  London Road Fire Station in Manchester.  This is a grade II listed fire station and from my car window, I had an great view of a small portion of the building; on other days I was equally lucky to be able to be close to other interesting buildings  and with the opportunity to stop for an hour or so to draw.  On one occasion, the traffic warden was about to move me on, but on seeing what I was doing, told me I could stay to finish my drawing!


Of course as I mentioned at the beginning, drawing views form the house is also very useful and this final windows drawing of the week shows the rich old bricks of a row of quirky cottages visible from the rear of our home.


Thanks for reading and looking forward to updating you on more of my sketchbook adventures soon!

Sketchbook Skool Seeing 6: Make it you (not literally, this is not a selfie week!)

Wow, what a great time this last week on Sketchbook Skool Seeing has been with Liz Steel, an urban sketcher and tea cup addict!   Liz has a robust structure to the way that she works and teaches and offered some great advice on how to progress and think about our own drawing work, both in terms of the ways we make the marks on the page, as well as the philosophy behind our work. Rather than just summarise her own approaches, what I am going to do here is summarise what I took away from the sessions and the approaches that I want to take forward from the week. These are not necessarily the same as the specifics that Liz mentioned, but they are derived from them : One of Liz’s sound pieces of advice was: ‘Make it You’.   So here goes!

A strategic approach to sketching: Preparation through thumbnails and analysis

Liz took us through a thumbnail approach to observing patterns and shapes before working on the main sketch. This can work for any object, especially those with complex patterns like buildings (or cups of tea!). I don’t currently do this and it reminded me to be a little bit more strategic about my work and to spend time looking and assessing before launching forth on the drawing! (I think I have mentioned this before once or twice)!  I think I may well do more of what I call a simplified framework approach. Maybe it could even be combined with the main sketch. Food for thought! It’s a good idea to use a watercolour pencil for this, so it dissolves when you add water. The more definitive confident lines can then be put in later.

 Never mind the tea cups!

As delightful as tea cups and saucers are, I don’t have any at home so it is not something that I am particularly drawn to draw! That said, we were not asked to draw tea cups per se, but objects with patterns that were a particular interest of ours with some emotional attachments. I chose glasswork as it is something I have a particular interest in. I am not talking ornate traditional glasswork but more contemporary pieces and I have had several commissioned over the years, including our own front door panels. I chose these 4 coasters (amongst the first ‘home’ pieces that my husband and I bought together) because they forced me to think about a variety of aspects of the form and the pattern and to compare and contrast as I sketched, since each are similar but different! I am sure that I will share other pieces of my glasswork in future blogs.

 LizAckerley_GlassCoasters copy_2

Why buildings? A sense of place

Whilst the tea cups aren’t necessarily my thing, buildings and urban sketching certainly is, hence the name: ScribbleMyStreet! (I am a member of Manchester Urban Sketchers in the UK). That said, it takes a lot of work and practice to create meaningful urban sketches that combine aspects of linework, perspective and colour, to illustrate that sense of place! As a landscape architect I am drawn to the urban environment and the elements that create that sense of place and my interest is in striving to create that in my sketches. At the moment, this is not necessarily achieved, but it is what I strive towards! Here I have chosen a fascinating regeneration area in Manchester called Ancoats , that is steeped in history: it is often known as the world’s first industrial suburb. I purposely chose relatively complex buildings to try to practice patterns and angles as well as those that formed a good composition.


And here is one from the other side of Manchester, again, the complexity of pattern is clear:


Process and Product

I get the fact that it is all about seeing the subject and trying to record that on a page, I get the fact that we need to not beat ourselves up and constantly strive to learn and improve our eye-hand coordination but I don’t get it when people say (or I think they say) that the actual sketch on the page is not important. To me, the look of the sketchbook IS important; it’s our shop window for the world, the things that others see, the outcomes of our process. For me, if it weren’t important, I wouldn’t want to improve the layout and composition of my page, the text in-between the images etc. I guess for me its about getting that balance right and not overly focusing upon the sketch and page itself, whilst at the same time recognizing that there is a value to the product as well as the process. I am sure that I will be coming back to this topic in future blogs!

The tools of the trade

Liz is a skilled watercolourist and ink user who is constantly assessing and evaluating materials. Her words of wisdom in the videos were incredibly helpful for me. She mentions needing to know and work with (as opposed to against) your materials. How do they mix best? What are their redeeming properties? What are their limits?. It sounds obvious but I have a tendency to forget this and then wonder why things aren’t working! A while ago I decided to stick to waterproof ink (although I didn’t restrict the colour!) and watercolour as my main media of choice (although you may have to add Biro to that list now, thanks to Andrea Joseph!). I now have a lot of exploration to do. Here are some of the questions/areas of exploration that will help me get to know the media better.


  • Colour mixing and learning what works well with what; the best greens and other selective colours not easily derived by mixing, to include in my palette (my main palette at present is shown in the image). I have made a concertina sketchbook for this exploration but not got any further yet!
  • How to leave the whites and have it look right!
  • Colours to use for shade and shadow
  • Use of De Atramentis coloured document inks
  • Selective use of colour-I am not aspiring to be a traditional watercolour artist, but to use colour selectively to bring my works alive and to create a sense of place and identity.
  • Applying colour: wet on wet vs. glazes

Thanks to Liz Steel for a thought provoking and powerful last week on Sketchbook Skool ‘Seeing’. Please do keep reading my blog here each week, I will be posting regularly about my progress, processes and all manner of other aspects of my scribble-making!

Sketchbook Skool Seeing 1: Drawing as meditation

I am thrilled to be back on Sketchbook skool and this time I am enrolled in the 6 week programme: Seeing.  (You will recall my ramblings about the first course: Beginnings ).   As I have come to expect with this programme, we hit the ground running with Danny Gregory this first week with some discussions about the process of seeing before turning to a couple of really useful exercises related to the process of seeing and recording our subject matter.  Its these exercises that I am going to focus upon in this piece.  I will be charting my progress and insights/ramblings about the skool  over the 6 weeks in my blog here.

Sketching as meditation

First up and this approach of ‘zooming in’ on the subject matter and drilling into the detail.  It felt akin to a previous life where I was a research scientist spending time looking down a high resolution microscope but this time I was using just my eyes, albeit at a slightly different resolution!  The subject matter was toast which has enough fine detail that you can really get lost in the process of drilling down into the holes, craters and crumbs!  a sort of lunar landscape!  It feels a bit like unpeeling the layers and seeing it different resolutions (much like looking down a microscope).  The point of these studies is to learn to see, its not about composition or producing a finished piece to hang on the wall (not sure I’d want a piece of toast on the wall, no matter how good the composition!), its about the process.Liz Ackerley Toast

Getting better at the detail

In a series of studies, we were encouraged to create fast-slow drawings in which an outline of the subject matter is painted/drawn in a minute or two (an impression and quick ‘getting your eye’ in to proportion and relative positions of elements of the subject matter) followed by a half hour or more detailed pen drawing over the top, using nibs of a variety of thicknesses to convey the difference in detail (I used my Lamy Safari fine nib plus some unpin pens 0.2 and 0.5 nib although I confess that I did forget to change pens during this part of the exercise!).  This simple exercise was a revelation to me!  A bit like doing some quick thumbnails when out and about Urban Sketching prior to a larger more detailed drawing, the quick line drawing seems to help focus initially and also somehow enables a more accurately proportioned piece subsequently.  Whether the minute drawing is a bit like calibrating your eyes, I have no idea, but it certainly seems to help me.  Throughout the week I did several of these (they need to be fairly complex subject matters!); here are a few of mine:  Keys (different bunches!), the car, my greyhound.


The later, although not necessarily a good subject for these types of drawings, I did because I have previous experience of drawing her without this technique.  What I found was that the quick line drawing initially, really helped with the proportions and shapes of the detailed drawing afterwards.    Give it a try if you haven’t already used this technique and it doesn’t matter that the detailed lines are at odds with the initial marks-this all adds to the energy and quality of the piece!  I will certainly be using this approach in other drawings that I do.  Maybe the initial line is a bit like filling that first page in your sketchbook, it gives you the permission to progress, undeterred!


Please keep an eye open for future articles on my Sketchbook Skool adventures!  See you next time and thanks for reading!



‘Then don’t use brown!’

I had been having a conversation with a sketching buddy of mine about colour; in fact this is turning into an ongoing dialogue about all things colour!  I have recently acquired 6 new Daniel Smith watercolour tubes and she has several other browns, oranges and the like from various suppliers (Windsor and Newton and Schmincke).  I mentioned to her that I was a bit confused and overwhelmed with all these browns and my mixing often resulted in a muddy mess!  Her response, of course: ‘Then don’t use brown!’.  A perfectly sensible suggestion.   The idea that you don’t have to be true to a subject got me thinking about my own approaches and I thought I would explain my current approach to colour in my scribbles, using 3 illustrations from the past week.

I prefer not to paint the whole scene because I find that this can look overworked and flat.  Rather, I select several key elements to paint to enable me to pull the sketch together.   Leaving white space, especially with the detail of the black line, works well.   Here in this sketch of the old Grade II listed cooperative in Pendleton, Manchester, the aim is for the colour to pull you to the centre of the drawing and focus you on the main building with the street scene of this 2-point perspective in black and white for subsequent exploration.


I often use colour to enable the eye to wander around the image and to connect areas of the scribble to form a cohesive whole.  Here in the sketch of the Metropolitan in Didsbury, Manchester, the rusty red of the bricks aims to connect buildings on both sides of the road.  The more muted tone of the end street suggests a more shady position.


I use colours that are present in the actual scene and I pick out what I consider to be the highlights.  Yes, I could go wild and use completely different colours but I prefer not to.  It maybe that I use a brighter, more vivid colour than the original for example a brighter red or a more vivid green, but I am in the main, using the colours to give a closer identity and connection to the place.  Here in this image of Central Library and adjacent buildings in Manchester, the browns, and beiges of the sandstone and the blues and yellows of signage create a sense of the colour palette of the actual scene.  The Daniel Smith paints I have used for all 3 sketches are shown on the left of the image and are as follows: monte amiate (natural sienna), ultramarine blue, cerulean blue chromium, burnt sienna, pains grey (this one is actually Windsor and Newton) and hense yellow medium .  No doubt I will be adding to these in the near future!


Finally, prior to adding colour, I use black: whether its the windows, doorways or other street elements, these help bring dimension and pull the scene together and you can see its use in all 3 scribbles above.

The masters of several of the techniques mentioned above related to selective colour in urban sketching are: James Richards and Felix Scheinberger.  Check out their work if you don’t already know it!




Colouring in 1

As a newbie urban sketcher I have always been keen to present my work in coloured form. Colour brings places alive, it makes them real and gives them substance. People react to colour.   Black and white looks like lines on a page, a picture, but with colour, the image becomes a place: somewhere, something. I like to work with reality, colour helps me to bring my own reality to my work. At least I think it could/should/will do in time!

This is the first, no doubt of many, of my blogs about colour and my exploration, understanding and development of its use, in my work. Actually, its about my exploration with watercolour as a medium, in which colour is a big part. Like most things in life and certainly in drawing, knowing techniques and technical detail does not seem to be anything like enough, its about practice and interpretation; exploration and finding my own way, no doubt with the direction and influence of many others. These include those on line, who write the books I read or who are experienced members of the groups I belong to e.g. Urban Sketchers, Manchester Urban Sketchers, Sketchbook Skool etc.

Now I am not claiming to be an expert here. The fact that I feel I know so little is the point. Others may say something like ‘ oh, I just use a bought travel kit and work intuitively’! –Who knows what that means?! (all I can say is, I’ve tried that and I ended up with a muddy mess) so there is clearly much more to it than that!   Dipping into Internet sites e.g. (which by the way, looks like an amazing future resource!) or some detailed watercolour texts on the other hand feels much like starting a degree in atmospheric physics half way through the final year (not that I’ve ever tried, but you get my point?), so I’m trying to find some other ways!

Current Materials

 I have a small tin box, originally part of a watercolour set, with small pans of Windsor Newton; plus a tube of Windsor & Newton Paynes Grey. I have been using this as a start point.  I am now running out of a number of these and have been lucky enough to receive some good quality Daniel Smith watercolour tubes for Christmas(which I have decanted into pans):


The colour selection is as recommended by Liz Steel in her blog here.  I plan to explore their use (the topic of a future blog!) and add to them as necessary, but am also keen to limit my portable pallet to a maximum of 12 if possible, for practical purposes. Although inevitably I am sure that my preferences will change over time!

I currently use pentel waterbrushes plus two synthetic round brushes: 4 and 8 size but plan to replace the later with some portable sable brushes soon from this wonderful supplier here: They are both local and well recommended by fellow sketchers on line.

Main texts

 The start of my journey with watercolour has resulted in delving into these 4 books. My current favourite for its clarity and clear explanation of a range of aspects related to painting technique, colour theory, mixing and use for urban sketching is Urban Watercolour Sketching by Felix Scheinberger.


The images of a couple of my location scribbles here show the use of the idea that opposite colours on the colour wheel attract and help intensify each other (Cowfold, Sussex):



Here’s one with a triad of colours:IMG_1092

Top 5 watercolour tips (for urban sketching)

  • Use the best materials you can afford. Don’t just use student quality paints as they do not have the pigment density or the luminosity of professional quality paints.
  • Bigger is not always better when it comes to paint boxes. I prefer to use small boxes (which can be filled with 12 half pans) as they are less heavy to carry around and colours can be mixed.
  • Buy colours that are difficult to mix. Some are easily mixed yourself, but others are more difficult such as strong turquoise or magenta.
  • Don’t just stick to one approach in applying watercolour: combine techniques to bring a watercolour image to life This may include washes and glazes, washes and splatters.
  • To identify good colour combinations to use, check out those of other artists, as well as in magazines, films or nature. This helps to keep ideas fresh and prevent us from getting stuck in a comfort zone!

 I look forward to sharing more of my colour adventures in future blogs.