Just another day……

A year ago I don’t quite remember exactly what I was doing on my birthday.   I might have some digital photos as a reminder but no drawings. Whilst I did draw on occasion (usually on holiday!), it was not a regular thing, certainly not every day or even every week. It was last April (2014) that I started drawing (again) and I made an agreement to myself for the first time, to do it as often as I could and that has led to me drawing something, even if its only for 15 minutes, every day.

So this year, my birthday was different, I was able to capture elements of the day (we visited Yorkshire Sculpture Park) with my scribbles. Now admittedly, they are not as fluid and spontaneous as I would like (I’m hoping that these elements will develop with time and practice), but I have captured aspects that will therefore remain with me. Firstly, because I believe that by drawing I have a better memory and vision of them in my mind and secondly because I have a physical record of them to look back on! I have written before about the reasons that I draw, you can read that here; but my birthday has bought a number of these reasons to the front of my mind.LizAckerley_Scribbles_YSPI love the aspect of drawing in sketchbooks that is about reportage and documentation of life, a visual diary. I think this is a big part of why I have continued and what spurs me on to develop my drawing and writing skills. I have a long way to go to develop good composition skills that will enable me to create full and balanced pages that tell the story, my story, but I am making a start!LizAckerely_Scribbles_YSPcafeI have often not enjoyed my birthday; I think I have felt that it is ‘just like any other day’ (no idea what I thought would happen or why it would be so different anyway!), but by recording my day, it was fine for it to be ‘just another day’ and that day felt more special!  Perhaps when you draw, there is no such thing as ‘just another day’!   Drawing enables you to see better, more richly, more detail, more, well, just more!   So by drawing these elements of my birthday, the ordinary felt extraordinary –good enough reason to carry on drawing for another year I reckon!LizAckerleyScribbles_sunflowersandlemonade

What’s in a drawing? The Strength of a scribble

A question on facebook recently about what sketchers get from drawing by artist and teacher Roisin Cure really got me thinking. I was actually already thinking about it but it got me even more thoughtful about certain experiences that have developed my approach, be it, a book (Drawing on the Right side of the Brain by Betty Edwards), a course (Sketchbook Skool ) or a group (Urban Sketchers, particularly Urban Sketchers Manchester  all come to mind. I have been starting to consider the great things about what it means to me to scribble and how it has changed my perception of the world around me. It may sound a little far fetched to say ‘it has changed my life’ but I certainly believe that drawing/sketching/making art has a huge amount to offer and really does change my perception and understanding of what’s around me.   From listening to and reading about others, this certainly doesn’t seem to be an usual response either, others are equally enriched by the process.  On reflection, here, in nutshell (or should I say in a very small sketchbook!) are the things I see as benefits for me, at this moment in time:

The process of sketching helps calm my mind and focus my attention  I often have difficulty on keeping my attention focused upon one thing and this creates stress and anxiety. I flit from one thing to another and this compounds my ability to concentrate, creating a somewhat nervous disposition.  To be honest, its something I have come to live with and over the years, it seems to have worsened.  Through sketching, I am able to just focus on the drawing, nothing else. It calms my mind and enables me to relax. I become completely absorbed in the drawing and the process, giving me valuable ‘time out’.  I have not found anything else that is able to do that!

It enables development of a much better awareness of the world around me and a deeper understanding of the places I live and visit   Since becoming a member of the Urban Sketcher community, going out and about, particularly in Manchester with Manchester Urban Sketchers  and beyond, I have developed a greater awareness and interest in the city I live in: from the new modern skyscrapers to the old Mills and other stunning historic buildings; their colours, textures, scale, detail. The same applies when I visit other places. Through the drawing, I am able to unpeel some of the physical layers and develop a better understanding of the place. This is an ongoing process of understanding and revealing!   What fun!  I am aware of more of the dynamics of the place, the festivals, events, traditions.  It makes for a much richer experience and helps with feelings of belonging, helping connect me with others, be it through social media or other means.  When standing outside, people may come up and chat, either about the process of drawing or about the place.  It all adds to the experience and the ‘Sense of Place’.



It provides me with a record and therefore a clearer memory of an experience, a visit etc.  Recording visits and trips in the form of a scribble, provides sketchbooks to revisit and remember-to recall ‘that time when I was drawing that’. Through drawing, I have to study the place/the person/the location so much more than I would usually do. I have to stand/sit and look and look. It etches it on my mind and provides a richer, more vivid memory.  This is where the reportage comes into its own in a sketchbook.  The notes accompanying a scribble provide valuable clues and dimension-I need to get better and creating these diverse and richer pages of narrative in my book!  Here are my scribbles from last year’s trip to Wales.  I remember it all the better for the scribbles!

LizAckerleyScribblesAbaerearon It enables me to see the extraordinary in the ordinary Even the most simplistic of everyday scenes have a depth, substance and interest when looked at carefully, with more than a cursery glance!  This narrative develops the more you scribble and draw. It provides you with a visual clarity, a fascination, a better pair of glasses!  Even the most supposedly ordinary of places and things, train stations, street furniture, queues are the most fascinating when you look carefully!

LizAckerleyScribblesPiccadillySketching enables connection with like-minded people  Through the drawing groups I belong to where I live and also on line. This type of support is great because it provides friendship and a forum for dialogue and development of understanding. It’s a richer and more fulfilling way of living! In addition, through sharing these drawings on-line, it enables engagement with others that may have some connection with the drawing, be-it a memory or sentiment about the place or an understanding of its significance or history.  This Cooperative building in Pendleton, Manchester is a good example.  The Manchester Tour Guides  posted a picture on social media and it prompted dialogue about the building, its history and me to go out and draw it!


Sketching gives me a voice and allows me to express my views of the world through a visual diary. Of course, there are lots of ways of expressing yourself, but I find drawing to be a great way of self-expression. Through the recording in sketchbooks, adding notes and other memorabilia I have a record of that time and place and of my ‘take’ on the scene. It is mine and mine alone, my visual signature.  You only have to attend an urban sketching session to see the variety of ways in which a scene can be seen!


Finally of course and perhaps this was the main driver in the first place:

Through regular practice, sketching enables me to develop my drawing skills and improve my artwork It is a slow and continuous process but also one where progress is clearly noticeable as time passes-a better sense of perspective, more astute textural detail, a greater awareness of colour and shadow etc.  Over time, my ability to see, and to tap into ‘The Right side of the brain’, continues to improve!

If you are a seasoned sketcher I’d love to hear your views or if you haven’t yet made a start, why not make it a New Year resolution!  I am sure that as there is for me, there will be many positive outcomes for you too!







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. handprint.com (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: http://www.rosemaryandco.com. 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.


Sketchbook Skool Beginnings 6: Details rule OK

Phew, this week has been the 6th and final week of Beginnings and a great week it’s been with Tommy Kane.  From kitchens to Kross Hatching and with more detail than you can shake a stick at, its been fun!  Tommy is most generous in his sharing of tips and techniques, taking us through several videos of how he develops a sketch (out on location, from a view within his house and of  a lemon (why have I never thought of rounded Kross hatch lines!) and also, as a parting gift, provided us with some previews from his book: An excuse to draw (its on my list!).

Since starting to scribble on a very regular basis, I have worried about my interest in the details.  Often, there has been a sense that I should be cleverly producing 20 minute sketches that are works of art and convey the detail magically without drawing it!  Well, you won’t be surprised to realise that I’ve not been very successful on that score!  Quick scribbles, unless purely as a warm up don’t really do it for me, I feel frustrated, unfullfilled! (a bit like going outside with your hair not done and looking scruffy).  When I go sketching with a group, I only ever manage 1 sketch and that often unfinished in a 2 hour period.  So what a relief and a hugely beneficial experience to hear the well respected Tommy Kane talking to us about the importance of details!  Of spending time on a drawing (yep, actually encouraging us to spend more time and I don’t mean being slow, you still have to try to speed up, if only for practical reasons; but spending time trying to capture the details and ‘nitty gritty’ of a place: texture, colour,  shadow, the things that make the place special, unique.

He talked of having rules for ourselves and never throwing a drawing away.  This is his rule to himself, when a mistake is made, make something of it, incorporate it and let it work within the drawing.  I like this as it frees you up from being to precious and this is another issue for me!  I have a rule for myself now too, its to spend 5-10 minutes planning the drawing, thinking about what I want to capture and how, before launching forth!  I have this habit of doing it far to late into the drawing process.  In my eagerness to get going, I forget to take a step back and plan.

In the Klass this week, we had to develop a detailed drawing of somewhere at home that we could keep going back to.  Now this was right up my street.  Here’s my study space. Overall, about 3 hours in total.


Whilst out and about, I had time at the station whilst waiting for the train.  Here’s the view from the coffee shop.  About 1 1/2 hours all in.


Although this is the end of beginnings, I will continue to post very regularly about my sketching adventures so do please keep following.  I appreciate your interest in my blog.

With best wishes


Sketchbook Skool Beginnings 3: Sketching as meditation

This last week has been sketchbook Skool ‘Beginnings’ week 3 with Prashant Miranda from India.  The thing I am beginning to really enjoy about Sketchbook Skool is learning about each artist’s individual sketching journey and seeing their sketchbooks and their art materials. It provides a window into their lives and somehow helps me to think about and develop my own techniques and practice.

The focus of this week’s journey with Prashant has been about the keeping of a sketchbook and the magic that this brings. He talks about the way in which keeping a daily record has transformed his life and I have to admit that I am feeling the same about my own practice. The sketchbook he keeps is rich with images, text, notes, songs, anything which helps him record and remember that moment. From simple everyday events to crazy adventures! He mentions that the more you do, the easier it gets. (I think this is true but still finding it hard to sketch every day).   He also mentions the 3Ps: Passion, Perseverance and Practice. This is now part of my personal mantra!

The great thing about a sketchbook is that it is a portable medium that you can easily take with you, wherever you go on your travels.   I usually take with me an A5 sketchbook and smaller (Handbook by global art materials and I have now started using their watercolour books specifically). Bigger gets awkward for me.


One of the key things about sketching that Prashant discussed is sketching as a kind of meditation: the act of putting pen to paper somehow calms you down, it changes your perception and helps put you into a different frame of mind. He mentioned that it makes him happy and I have to agree with him. Since starting to sketch on a very regular basis, I have found that it calms me and focuses me in a way that nothing else can. At the end of the week I had a really banging headache and nothing would shift it. Within half an hour of starting an afternoon’s sketching, the headache had lifted and I felt calmer, clearer and more positive. Linked to this is the use of sketching to aid memory-the act of sketching is a great memory keeper, it enables you to hold onto snippets of life that would otherwise be forgotten. Interestingly and related to this idea of sketching changing you, I recently read an article by the designer Milton Glaser who said he believes drawing changes the brain and makes you attentive: it changes the brain in the same way as the search to create the right note changes the brain of a violinist.

Prashant uses watercolour in his sketchbooks and demonstrated the use of wet on dry and wet on wet. Here are my sky images at different times during a 2 day period:


Some of my other watercolour sketches from the week:

Salford Royal Hospital and adjacent shops:




Piccadilly Train Station, Manchester:


Next week no doubt I will have had a chance to work with other formats and media with a new tutor.  Watch this space and see you soon!


Once upon a scribble….


I have spent some time thinking about setting up this blog;  wondering about the best way to share my interest in telling stories of urban life,  of the world that we inhabit, through scribbles.   I am a garden and landscape designer and sketching can be considered to be very much a part of the design process I follow, but the extent to which designers draw and sketch as a way of life probably varies considerably.  Over the last 10 years I have started and stopped sketching regularly, as a practice in its own right on numerous occasions.  But sketching is like any other skill, it takes learning, practicing and exploration.    Without constant practice, progress is slow, you keep making mistakes that are frustrating (or at least I do!) and the piece never really looks how you set out for it to be when you started that drawing!  Besides, there will always be plenty of excuses for not drawing!   For me, something had to change if I was going to progress.


I am not sure at what point there was a light bulb moment, but it happened earlier this year, back in April whilst looking around me at the buildings and streets of Manchester, where I live, when I decided that I needed to start sketching again,  to record my view of these amazing places, to find a way to make sketching part of my everyday life.  It needed to be something that I just did rather than something that was out of the ordinary,  because I had started and stopped so many times, a different approach was required!  At first, progress was slow, I started to scribble from photographs,  finding getting things right when out and about, just too big an ask (the usual brain-eyes fight!).  I scribbled everyday items, my greyhound, a pair of shoes, flowers in a vase.

ScribbleMyStreetFlowersandshoesI progressed to going outside,  literally scribbling my street (or streets close to me).  I realised that I was interested in places; in what gave them their sense of place: their colour, texture, size, materials, the people, the vehicles, the vegetation and in recording those characteristics in the form of a  scribble that reflected that sense of place: Scribble My Street was born.  Importantly, I sketch all of this in a sketch book, as a recording, a visual diary but more about that in future instalments .LizAckerleyTerracedhousesLizAckerleyLymm2WAYS OF LEARNING

Practice is one thing, but nobody can practice in a vacuum.  I need support, ideas, people to bounce off and learn from, knowledge in the form of texts, experts, the internet.   But fortunately, all that and more is readily available.   Here are the key ways in which I am continually developing my visual skills and progressing with my scribbles:

  • Urban sketchers  This is now a world-wide group and I belong to the Manchester Urban sketchers.  We meet up every few weeks to draw together, around Manchester; there is a Facebook page and we post our work which is done on location.   It is a great support group and a way of learning different approaches as well as developing by drawing on location.  At the end of each session we share our work as a way of learning from each other and marvelling at the different approaches to recording similar scenes.



  • Workshops  These can be very valuable as a source of inspiration and to help develop specific skills and an ongoing drawing habit!  This summer I attended a workshop linked to urban sketchers at the Liverpool Tate on Albert Dock.  There is also a new on-line sketchbookSkool  taught by a range of illustrators and artists from around the world.  Its about getting different perspectives and developing your own style and approaches.  I have signed up to start in a couple of weeks time!


  • Social media  Of course as ever, Facebook pages related to urban sketchers and other sketching groups are a valuable source of support and inspiration and I have started to post my work on Flickr and Pinterest.

All of these activities are helping me evolve my scribbling practice and I hope that you will join me on my scribbling adventures as well as checking out my About my Blog page that gives further information.