Wednesday, February 8, 2017

It All Counts

1/23/17 graphite

Yesterday I read an interesting blog post by Liz Ackerley, whom I had the pleasure and honor of working with in Manchester last summer when we both served as correspondents for the Urban Sketchers Symposium. She described her process of the past few years as she made the commitment to draw daily and how that process changed. Always interested in the creative process, I was especially fascinated to learn how similar our paths have been.

When I first began drawing, the philosophy behind urban sketching was so compelling and resonated so deeply with me that it’s all I wanted to do – draw from life, on location; tell a story with my sketches, no matter how simple; share everything I sketched. I still practiced a lot of non-location sketching at home – still lifes, from photos, lots of self-portraits and my own hand – especially during the bad-weather months. But all those other types of drawing felt like they were “just” practice and didn’t really “count.”

2/2/17 brush pen, gel pen
After several months of that, I must have realized that my line of thinking was ridiculously narrow and that, of course, all of it does “count”! Indeed, the practice I was doing at home – with time, space, and comfort on my side – was probably more constructive and beneficial in improving my drawing skills than trying to learn to draw while also battling the elements and other constraints that make urban sketching challenging. Once I widened my view that way, all of it became more fun – and as a result, I learned more.

That was the point that I began blogging. I realized a blog would give me a place to document my entire process – not just the stories of my urban sketches but also everything else I was learning along the way.

To this day, drawing on location is still the most compelling and personally satisfying type of sketching I do. At the same time, I fully appreciate the value of working in other ways – a studied colored pencil piece that takes hours of diligent work; a five-minute cartoon; a simple object on the street or on my desk without a “story.”

1/31/17 colored pencil
Liz concludes her post with a list of key tips for herself. Reading the list made me realize that I’ve developed a set of personal guidelines, which at first seemed remarkably similar. On second thought, though, maybe it’s not so remarkable; maybe many people explore creativity along a similar path. In any case, here are my current guidelines:

  • Draw every day, no matter how small or simple (or complicated) the subject. It’s not the result that matters; it’s the process.
  • Lower my standards about what is “sketch worthy.” A lamp post is as worthy as a cathedral.
  • Sharing can be as quick and dirty as a “trophy shot” posted on Instagram; it doesn’t have to be a perfectly scanned image. Conversely, I don’t have to share anything if I don’t want to. As Liz puts it, “You don’t have to prove to others that you are a dedicated sketcher!”
  • Have some kind of sketchbook available everywhere, always. No exceptions. It doesn’t have to be the same sketchbook, however. In fact, I’ve found it’s better to have several going at once – a primary one in my everyday-carry bag; a pocket-sized one in any other bag I might use; one in the car; one in every room. (Even walking upstairs to get a sketchbook might distract me long enough to keep me from a sketch!)
  • Carry a variety of media in my everyday-carry bag for different circumstances and available time. At the same time, remember that a monochrome line drawing can be just as satisfying as full color. Just because I’m carrying it doesn’t mean I must use it!

Liz adds one last tip that I couldn’t agree with more heartily: “always always have fun and enjoy the process. If not, there was no point in it!” Here’s to fun and enjoying the process!


  1. Great post! I resonate with your philosophy entirely. I've been feeling the same way, some days all I'm doing is sketching whats on my desk, nice to have a rebuttal to the "shoulds" that run through my head!

    1. Life is too short for "shoulds" when it comes to sketching -- it's all good! :-) Have fun!

  2. Great list, Tina. I'd add an item.

    Take seriously improving your skills, but not yourself. Maybe that's how you get to enjoying the process :-)


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