Liz Steel episode
Liz Steel talks about becoming an urban sketcher, journalling her life, and teaching art.
Liz Steel talks about becoming an art teacher who journals her life by sketching with ink and watercolour . Liz says “I’m doing it because it’s a very honest response to what I see and where I am and what I do”.
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Comparison to photography
Kim compares urban sketching to photography, how they both record a fleeting moment, and Liz explains how sketching has replaced photography for her. She used to take photos and print and bind photo books, but now her sketchbooks serve the same purpose. Liz compares herself to other travel sketchers and describes how she wants to document everywhere she’s been, not just one sketch a day. Sometimes she does up to 20 sketches a day.
Move from architecture
In architecture, it’s important to keep a kind of “idea book” where you keep sketches of buildings and ideas. Liz says she knew it was important, but just never sketched, until she found Danny Gregory. His work opened up sketching for her to include other subjects and mediums. This also opened up an obsession to document her life which got her into sketching.
Liz didn’t make a clean break with architecture but instead, about five years ago, she took 6 months off work. The reasons were many and she wanted to see if she could do something with her art. Things started moving, and Liz got to do both illustration projects and teaching. Liz felt she had more of a role to fill as an architect turned sketcher than as a pure architect. She enjoyed having more creative freedom than her profession allowed.
Becoming a full-time artist and creating online courses
The traditional advice for people wanting to work with their creative passion is to balance the time between a “day job” and their passion and transition gradually. Liz did nothing of that, hers was more of a sabbatical turned transition as the demands at her day job were too much to be able to handle a side business too. Liz struggled with gaining recognition locally in the beginning. She was getting more recognition online in the international scene. She also realised she was less into client work and more interested in creating a product, which in her case developed into online courses.
Urban sketching in Australia
When Liz started out urban sketching, there were just a handful of people in Australia who even knew what it was, but it has definitely grown now. There are groups all over, for example in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Tasmania, South Australia and Perth.
Liz primarily uses fountain pens with ink and watercolor for her urban sketching. She had been using fountain pens and ink for a long time, but watercolor was her “light bulb moment” and she says “This is what I’ve been looking for all my life”. With watercolor she was able to mix all the colors she wanted.
Drawing from observation
Liz says she was confident about drawing from her head already, due to her background in architecture, but drawing from observation was trickier. She had to go back to basics and relearn how to apply concepts, like for example perspective, to what she saw and wanted to draw.
Teaching urban sketching
Liz didn’t start out wanting to teach, but as she was getting more into the urban sketching community she was encouraged to teach. She now teaches online courses but also do workshops in urban sketching. “The major barrier to art is to change the way your brain thinks, to start thinking visually.”
Liz focuses on teaching concepts in her courses, in contrast to “demonstrate and copy”. The concepts can be “how to see edges” or “how to see shapes”, for example. The concepts are followed by exercises to practice and understand these concepts, so you can then continue using them in your own art.
To get started in urban sketching, all you need is really paper and a pen or pencil, because the most important thing to learn is how to observe and translate that onto paper. Adding too many supplies can distract from that learning. However, if you want to do ink and wash, which is a very common from of urban sketching, Liz recommends getting a permanent fineliner and a watercolor kit. Don’t worry too much over materials and supplies though, she says, it’s better to just get started. It is a journey and you will figure out what suits you and your art. It will change over time, and starting out with a lot of research on materials will likely just overwhelm you.
Making art regularly
One common problem to making art is to actually make time for it, to show up. Liz describes that as she was starting out, she dedicated some time after dinner every day to do a sketch. She also recommends to go along with an Urban Sketchers group nearby, and joining them sketching. Liz describes how she wants to create a kind of visual diary, a record of what she did that week, so that motivates her to keep sketching even in busy times.
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