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Personal Trainers Hate this Sketcher – How to lose weight by drawing!

January 4, 2017

Like many professional artists, I’m about 20 pounds heavier than I ought to be.

I think that’s normal for anyone with a desk job. And being an artist and blogger is definitely a desk job. I probably do seven hours at the computer for every one drawing.

Oh, I have more excuses too: we were doing a lot of travel last year – that’s always detrimental to proper diet. And I did all the artwork for my recent digital-art book this summer. That was a lot of butt-in-chair-time. To make matters worse, it’s the holiday season with all the celebratory eating that entails.


To that end, I’ve recently completed a 1 week (7 day) experiment in tracking sketchwalks.

My goal was daily walks of 10 thousands steps, interspersed with motivational drawings of whatever I encounter along the way.

Spend any time reading about fitness-for-the-un-sporty, and you’ve probably heard this 10 thousand steps rule. A magic number that began with the Japanese Manpo-Kei “10,000 step meter” and later adopted by the Fitbits and Nike Fuelband wearables. Both of which I have tried, and either broken, lost, or lost interest in maintaining.

This is definitely one of my odd-ball ideas. Only valuable to a very niche audience. You have to be someone like me who resents any time spent doing exercise – because of the time it takes away from drawing!

I have to admit, I got this idea from playing Pokemon Go. A game which is designed for this very thing – to get gamers to invest in exercise, by giving them a game that rewards walking. I actually prefer Niantic Studios‘ grown-up version; a game called Ingress.


The main thing you need for this idea – is time. About an hour a day for the sketch walk. Maybe a bit less if you’re a brisk walker.

Gear wise, it’s just a matter of a pocket-sized sketchbook and a couple of basic pens – my usual minimum: a fine nib and a brush pen.

Painting your sketches should be optional. It’s a bad idea even. A distraction from the main point of MORE WALKING. Though will say, I am doing this in a Stillman and Birn Beta Sketchbook – so if I *do* want to throw on some color – the paper is very nice for watercolor. I’ve done this sort of thing in the past in cheap cartridge paper books, and sort of regretted it later on when I happen to get a nice drawing.



Mostly the drawings should be as simple as possible. I would ask Siri for a 7 minute timer while I dug out my pens, and I’d accept whatever I could draw in that time window. I could see right away, if I didn’t use the timer – and limit myself to line drawing – I’d end up over my one hour-ish time-allotment.

Maybe in summer I’ll try this with 7 minute watercolors.  About 1/3 of the time I spent on my miniature marathon sketches. That would be a challenge :)


To keep score: I’ve been using a pedometer app to count steps. Post Script: I was using the app [Pacer, free on iOS] for a while, but I’ve given up – it uses up your phone battery too quickly. If you have a newer phone than mine, they’ve fixed that. But for now, I’ve just switched to an old mechanical pedometer. You clip it on and it counts. No ‘smart’ tracking. But the battery lasts for years. I’m just entering the daily count into a spreadsheet now.

In order to get visual feedback, I’ve been using a custom google map to record a GPS position for each sketch. I just drop a map pin at my location, and upload a cellphone shot of the drawing to the map pin’s custom description. It would be nice if there was an easier way – after all, your phone can geo-locate a photo automatically – but I couldn’t find a simple way to covert my Places album into a shareable mapPost Script: This is too much work! It’s nice to look at the map and see your pins spreading over the city – but frankly – it’s too much work to upload the images. It would be easier for me to do it as a weekly blog entry or something like that. Sorry to steer you wrong – it did make a pretty map – but ultimately – I’d rather be drawing than map making :) 


I had to stop by the grocery store and sketch the lobsters. I never get tired of drawing lobsters.

So yes, after seven days, here’s my results:

  • I’ve taken 50K steps I would not have otherwise taken,
  • Not quite reaching the daily 10k goal, but giving a respectable effort.
  • I went outside seven days in a row (ish – not counting Christmas day).
  • I filled 42 pages, finishing the 3.5×5.5″ Beta Softcover Sketchbook (*affiliate link, thx) I cracked open for my recent night-crawl with the Expeditionary Art palette.
  • And, for the month of December, I’ve netted no change in weight. Not as good as losing, but still beating the historical odds!
  • I call that a successful test!

So – I have to be honest – fun as this was, I probably won’t stick with itPost Script: It’s Feb, and I’ve pretty much stalled out already :) What a disappointment I am!!! Hah! All that buildup and I’ve given up already! Well. What can I say? If anyone out there is keeping up daily sketching walks – mail me and tell me what a slacker I am!!! I still think it’s a great idea. Perhaps I’ll do something else with this in the summer?. ~marc



59 Comments leave one →
  1. Sherry Rix permalink
    January 4, 2017 9:23 AM

    OK, you’re on. I’ll try and walk ten thousand steps every day, with one sketch a day, for the next seven days. Happy days :)

    • January 5, 2017 11:52 AM

      Excellent Sherry! Did you want to post your pins on the google map? Just email me at marc(dot)taro(at) to get edit access!

      • Sherry Rix permalink
        January 5, 2017 12:04 PM

        I’m in the UK, would that still work? Maybe most of your followers are in Canada?

        • January 5, 2017 3:18 PM

          Oh absolutely – the google map doesn’t care where you’re pinning. I’m already using a different one to mark spots in Chicago from here ;)

  2. January 4, 2017 9:26 AM

    Congratulations… holding the line over the holidays is indeed an accomplishment and bonus filling a sketchbook too. I can’t even imagine doing this in winter in South Carolina, and you did it in Canada.

  3. January 4, 2017 9:28 AM

    I’m in. Don’t forget your weight on the scale may not have changed but there could surely be redistribution. I need to do this!!

  4. January 4, 2017 10:09 AM

    Great post! I once lost 5 lbs. in a month by drawing everything I ate – a real eye opener for both diet and sketching.

    • January 4, 2017 10:12 AM

      Better than a diet diary! Keep track of your meals/food AND get sketching time in! Great idea!

    • January 4, 2017 11:10 AM

      My friend Liz did that – it’s a great idea for curbing snacking. Someone should make a daily sketchbook with little boxes for every food group you need per day :)

  5. January 4, 2017 10:16 AM

    I had a sort of similar idea last fall before it got really super rainy and gross (and now uber-cold) here in Oregon: I was going to go out on my lunch breaks and sketch something I could get to and get back from in the hour during my lunch break. I managed to get five of Portland’s Bridges and a statue in a park before it started raining and I couldn’t go out anymore. I had a similar realization that painting was going to be a no-go and that I would have to stick with pencil/ink sketches.

    My goal this new year is to get back to lunchtime walks/runs, so maybe I’ll try to fit in some lunchtime sketches on my off-days. :-)

    I can’t wait for the weather to improve!

  6. Rosita Sprohge permalink
    January 4, 2017 10:19 AM

    I wish I could join you. I used to live on Cote Des Neiges in Montreal but now live in New Brunswick. Will try to find a sketch buddy to do this here. Great idea.

  7. Wayne permalink
    January 4, 2017 10:34 AM

    I really like the use of Google Maps to show locations and images. I hope you’ll encourage the Urban Sketchers organization to promote the idea.

    I don’t know the answer to your Google Maps question, but the following video may be of interest:

    There is a discussion about halfway through the video on using PicasaWeb for uploading photos. If I understand the video correctly you could use this approach to do a bulk upload when you get back from a sketch walk and then just add a text identifier for each photo.

    Hope that helps.

  8. January 4, 2017 10:50 AM

    Great idea! On occasion I do a less aerobic version of this when exploring a local city, village or forest. I pick a number of steps, anywhere between fifty and 100. I stop when I’ve taken that chose number of steps, take my sketchbook, pen and paints out of my pocket and make a quick sketch of something within view. Then I take another set of steps and repeat. I made a short little video of this exercise. When exploring a distant city I need to cover more distance. Instead of counting steps I clock time and stop once an hour to sketch, keeping track of my step count with a FitBit. By the end of the day I’ve often clocked close to 20,000 steps and created ten to twelve sketches in a sketchbook or on postcards I mail off to friends the next day. It’s terrific fun!

    • January 4, 2017 11:17 AM

      I have always meant to try that as a game to make you choose views you might not normally draw. Great idea!

    • January 5, 2017 2:31 PM

      This is a great idea. I’d have to walk a lot more between sketches to satisfy my wanderlust but otherwise, this one goes on the ‘give a try list.’ Might even make a fun sketchcrawl idea.

  9. January 4, 2017 11:01 AM

    Brilliant idea. I love it. I will try it when it gets a bit warmer. Yes, although I’m Canadian, I just don’t want to go out in the cold!

    • January 5, 2017 12:25 PM

      If you want me to sign you up to add pins to the map, just email me at marc(dot)taro(at) (you need a google ID, but if you use gmail as well it’s automatic).

  10. January 4, 2017 1:41 PM

    I work with data all day and reject managing my exercise too – I love this idea! Best of luck to you.

  11. Jason permalink
    January 4, 2017 9:13 PM

    Marc, this is great! I’m a trail runner and mountaineer who loves to paint, and I’ve sometimes taken my kit out with me into the wilderness. Was inspired by Renan Ozturk a while back. I want to do more of this on-the-go sketching and painting down the line.

    • January 5, 2017 11:59 AM

      Fun! He takes way more stuff than I expected. I like the idea of painting on a rolled up sheet. I wanted to try that sometime as an alternative to accordion books. Great video too!

    • FloryNC permalink
      January 5, 2017 7:27 PM

      Wow!! Thank you for sharing this!

  12. Tessa permalink
    January 4, 2017 9:35 PM

    Or what about doing one of the USk Mtl Sunday Sketching days as a route, instead of a single location, with stops along the way for sketching? When the weather gets better, that is …

    • January 4, 2017 11:01 PM

      Hahah – Tessa – that gives me a funny idea: We could do it a bit like a scavenger hunt. Provide clues or a rough map and see if people can find all the spots to sketch :)

  13. January 4, 2017 10:55 PM

    I so hear you Marc, the idea of moving for moving sake can be just another thing to crowd into a day already seemingly full. I like the idea of the rapid sketch walk…. as I also have no real interest in walking (swimming is my preferred way to exercise but it’s not feasible to draw and swim?! Tho I have been known to plan and paint in my head while doing laps)
    If you want, I’ll give it a go as well and see what I come up with. Bearing in mind it’s flipping hot here in sunny Queensland, Australia at this time of the year so early morning is my only option unless I do sketches by lamplight.

    • January 5, 2017 12:27 PM

      Do you swim in the ocean!? That would make for some excellent sketching :)

      • January 5, 2017 6:09 PM

        if only! I did some drawings from memory after some snorkelling on Great Barrier reef last year… that was rather stunning but no, mostly just relentless laps in the local pool. Plenty of scope for drawing subjects if you count the lovely mix of bodies that frequent the pool…. but this is getting me no closer to those dratted 10 000 steps my fitbit tells me I’m not doing. When the weather cools somewhat (I can only dream of the temps you describe in chilly Canada) I shall sally forth and try this idea. Thanks for continuing to inspire!

  14. January 5, 2017 12:35 AM

    I love walking and get on average 9000 to 10 000 steps a day. The idea of stopping to sketch in these freezing temperatures that we’re experiencing here in Toronto right now doesn’t appeal to me but maybe stopping in coffee shops during the walk to sketch what’s beyond the sidewalk or the people in the cafe could be interesting. I’d be up for that. I don’t mind walking in the cold.

    • January 5, 2017 10:37 AM

      I do duck into doorways and metro stops whenever I can, yes. It’s quite cold today – I was debating going to a cafe a few K away and doing portraits. Even doing Skchy app sketches – just to get out of the house :)

      • January 5, 2017 2:14 PM

        How do you like the Skchy app? Seems like a neat idea and I”m hoping it will come to Android ‘real soon.’

        • January 5, 2017 3:07 PM

          I wouldn’t count on an android port any time soon. From what I hear they are a two person company. If you want a low-tech/portable solution – have you looked into Julia Kay’s Portrait Party on flickr? It’s a bit clunky but tries to do the same thing via a social media group.

  15. January 5, 2017 4:26 AM

    great idea. I tried it once but found I spent too much time drawing and not enough time getting my heart rate up. I like the google map idea. (And I like your drawings)

    • January 5, 2017 10:34 AM

      That is fhe flaw Carla yes – im hoping rhe 7 min timer is the answer :) 7 mon by the way so you have time to dig out your pens and find your page and still get an honest 5 min drawing :)

  16. January 5, 2017 10:27 AM

    I laughed while at the same time my jaw dropped in awe at what you were doing in Quebec, in January.

    I was a walker long before I was a sketcher. I used to spend 1-2 hours per day walking around Quebec City. The sketching, once I could draw something beyond a cube, fit right into that routine, though I tend to have to sit down to draw. I’d say I’d participate with your except for one thing. Right now, at this very minute, we’ve got 40km/h winds blowing everything sideways. I have a really hard time maintaining a walking regime in this kind of weather. I don’t know how you stop and draw in it.

    Maybe you need to write about how to drink anti-freeze and survive. Next spring, though, if you’re up for it, I’d love to do this walk/sketch routine with you.

    • January 5, 2017 10:32 AM

      Haha, well you can see the cold in the drawings right ? The wobby lines and such :) Luckily my “style” conceals it a bit. :) But I’ve had failed drawings too – when the snow is blowing horizontal and melting the drawing :)

      • January 5, 2017 2:13 PM

        I think you’re inventing ‘extreme sketching.’ Maybe we can get it into the winter Olympics :-)

        You’ve shamed me into action. I’ve got to do something to toughen up my approach to sketching. I see photos of you holding a sketchbook out in front of you while drawing detailed church steeples. I can’t keep the sketchbook sufficiently stable to keep a pen on the paper. Now I read these exploits of winter sketching and I know I’m not tough enough, or determined enough. I get desperate to find places to sketch in the winter and lament not being able to sketch outdoors. All the while, you’ve filled an entire sketchbook of outdoor sketches in a week. I can only hang my head in shame :-)

        BTW, while these sketches aren’t up to your normal ‘standard’, I’d be mighty proud of them if they were mine. I’ve actually been studying them some, getting some indication of how you quickly indicate some things. Thanks.

      • January 7, 2017 3:22 PM

        It’s -14C here right now and I just returned from 9400 steps and I did 5 scribbles (too crude to be called sketches). One problem I experienced was that Platinum Carbon Black ink dries very slowly when it’s this cold and I experienced a bit of smearing.

        I’ll try to get them on the map today and maybe add a bit of color to them. I really struggle with holding the book rather than resting it on my lap or tucked into my gut so the lines are really wobbly. I find my “you’re a slow sketcher, Larry” is a problem because that 7min timer thing was going off way too soon :-)

        • January 7, 2017 3:25 PM

          Incroyable – I have measly 4000 from inside the McCord Museum. Good on you! See this team thing really works for motivation.

          • January 7, 2017 3:32 PM

            Inside the McCord??? What kind of extreme sketcher are you (grin)? I actually think I have more motivation than you do. First, I’m desperate to sketch outdoors because that’s what I like to do. But, as I mentioned via email, I see this as an opportunity to learn how to sketch while holding a small sketchbook in front of me. You’d think after five years of sketching this wouldn’t be a problem but holding that book still while I try to draw a line is a real challenge for me. It’s nice not carrying a stool with me, though :-)

            The other thing is that the timer thing forces me to do very fast sketching as you advocate in your Craftsy course. I’ve only done a dozen or so one-minute sketches but they really improved my ability to quick-sketch. I haven’t done any of your cinq a sept sketches so the timer duration is just right for that…if I can just get that sketchbook to stop moving :-)

  17. Dougie Simpson permalink
    January 5, 2017 12:16 PM

    Hi Marc. What a brilliant idea. I shall get in contact with my good friend Sherry Rix who has just posted her intentions. Sherry lives on the east side of Oxford & I live on the south. We are both activity involved in Usk Sketchers Oxford & due to the colder weather visit the museums where Sherry always draws something close to the hot air vents. Thanks again for your newsletters which reminds me of the Usk event I participated in Galway. Wishing you a Happy & Prosperous New Year to you & Laurel. Best wishes. Dougie

  18. Babs permalink
    January 5, 2017 1:48 PM

    Marc, I need incentive to get out and walk which will make my cardiologist happy, I am recovering from a knee injury, however, so there’s that. But apart from some rainy days, it doesn’t get all that cold here in Southern California. So I will email you and hopefully you’ll have some instructions for me on how to do this with you. – TwoDove

    • January 5, 2017 3:08 PM

      Oh I see it’s you Babs – just connected the name with the email :) Ok – yes, sent you the map link via google!

  19. January 5, 2017 7:29 PM

    Way to go, Marc! Keep up the good work!

  20. January 6, 2017 11:18 AM

    I love this idea. I walk for exercise and wondered how to incorporate sketching. When do you stop? At the halfway mark? Does the sketch slow your heart rate too much? I guess that’s why the time limit is needed. Love the randomness of your approach and the time limit. This could work for me!

  21. Du Nord Artwork permalink
    January 6, 2017 3:34 PM

    This is such a good idea! I would love to try it. I do have to get over the fear of sketching in public first, however…

    • January 6, 2017 4:55 PM

      Perhaps this hit-and-run approach will work :) By the time anyone notices you sketching you’re already gone :) But the best thing for that I think is recruit a friend or two. It’s much easier in a little group. Then people just think you’re taking a class!

  22. January 6, 2017 10:39 PM

    Hi Marc, I’m so glad you posted this blog. I found your tutorial yesterday when I was looking for help to improve my watercolour sketches. My problem is the opposite of yours but it’s still about how exercise and art works together. I love sketching while I’m on holidays, as a sideshow to all the action things I do. As a result, nothing I draw/paint turns out right because I’m either on the move all the time or I’m too tired by the end of the day. Yesterday I had the idea of painting something from each of my bike rides I do every weekend and hopefully I’ll improve. It’s all the desk hours that you’re willing to spend that makes you a great artist, and not everyone can happily sit down for so long! Have you heard of the Strava app? It’s a huge platform for recording exercise activities (primarly a cycling app, but lots of runners/walkers use it too). You can record from your phone or any of those exercise gadgets, upload photos and even create a pin of where the photo was taken – or painting painted. Then if you get people interested, they sign up – you create a Strava group and form a chat community on the app. I love your initiative!

    • January 7, 2017 12:40 PM

      Ha! Well its great to be fit – that will pay you back in later years so you can draw more when you’re older haha :) Thanks for that app suggestion – I’ll try it out.

  23. Fny permalink
    January 7, 2017 4:07 AM

    I love this! :D For one who is not as talented in the drawing area… perhaps photography is a good option.

    • January 7, 2017 12:37 PM

      I think yes photography would be for sure – you can even add photos to the ‘offical’ google map which is kind of neat.

  24. ocheme james permalink
    January 7, 2017 7:38 AM

    beautiful and educative post

  25. January 9, 2017 10:52 AM

    What a great incentive for you! Since I can’t draw, my only incentive is to come back home and write some more. lol

  26. Clara Koehler permalink
    February 3, 2017 9:18 AM

    I love the idea! Would you still want someone to add to your map? I don’t get out enough in the winter, and it would be great to see if I could do a bit more in my lunchtime other than sit in front of the computer!

    • February 3, 2017 5:33 PM

      Hey Clara! I have to be honest, I’ve given up already :) December was pretty mild – but it got colder! And I got lazy :) I’m sorry!!!! I’m a terrible person to lead by example :)

  27. twenty four darker blog's permalink
    February 5, 2017 12:07 AM

    When you make all the pictures what’s the feeling so wonderful hmm.

  28. Loes permalink
    January 12, 2023 4:52 PM

    He i like your idea. It is s bit like nature journalling but with more walking time. I am going to give it a try.
    Maybe not daily but i will aim for 3 days a week and not taking a counting step thing.


  1. Daily Sketch – Making Art – DU NORD
  2. Extreme Urban Sketching | Larry D. Marshall

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