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Mini-Interview with Liz Steel, #OneWeek100People2019

April 7, 2019


MTH: You’re a busy person these days filming classes and managing your growing video channels. Do you have any special strategy for fitting 100 people into your daily schedule?

LS: Yes, things are pretty hectic for me at the moment – I just finished filming my next course and I’m now trying to complete some other projects before heading to Europe at the end of the month for a 3-month trip!

My daily practice is to spend an hour at the start of the day at my local cafe doing some work, sketching my coffee and a few people sitting at the other tables. This means it’s already part of my daily practice to sketch people, therefore, all I have to do is to allow a little more time for doing my 20 per day.

Perhaps I just have to wake up 30-60 minutes earlier and it will then be easy. Or spend 30 minutes less time on Instagram and only get up 1/2 hour earlier.

MTH: Any special goals for the week besides hitting 100?

LS: I know from previous years that it’s pretty easy for me to hit the 20 per day goal if they are just simple ink drawings of mainly heads. I did a test a week ago and it only took me 15 minutes to do 20 really fast loose sketches.

Therefore I need to make this more of a challenge! I want to aim for 100 watercolour people.

Ideally, they’ll be painted on location, but if not, I want to add colour later that day when I’m home.

I would also like to do a little more anatomy research during the week… but I’m not putting any pressure on myself for that.

LizSteel-oneweek100people2019-dry-runMTH: You’re a fast sketcher, but catching people on the go is hard :) How to you speed up?

LS: My theory is that I have to sketch from knowledge. So I see someone and very quickly form an idea of how this person is different from the classic male or female person I have in my head. I try to capture the gesture and then draw the distinctive features of that specific person, finishing it off from my knowledge, if they move.

MTH: If a person vanishes on you, do you finish anyway or skip that one? (This must be tricky as you save ALL your pages!)

LS: It depends a little on how much I captured – if it describes enough I leave it incomplete otherwise I finish from my knowledge as mentioned above. I might look for someone else to use a second model to help me finish – but while doing a challenge like this I want to keep drawing and not wait around for someone to turn up in a similar pose.

MTH: Do you do the sketch with a single tool and embellish later with color etc – or do you work with a variety of tools all at once?

LS: My preferred way of working is to capture gesture with my paintbrush first and perhaps some shadow shapes as well, and then draw over the top (into the wet) with my Lamy Joy (med nib and De Atramentis Document Ink) This means that I sometimes get unexpected black blooms of ink for a facial feature, but I can live with that! Whether this technique will be quick enough for the challenge is yet to be seen!

MTH: This is one I get asked a lot: What do you think about the ‘social’ issues of drawing people in public. Do you twinge when you get caught – or is it even an issue for you?

LS: I do feel a little awkward when the person notices me drawing them, but I normally just explain what I’m doing and show them my sketch. I haven’t gotten a bad response yet!

During #OneWeek100People2019 I feel more confident to sketch anyone, as I have a good reason to be drawing people. I just tell them “ I’m trying to draw 100 people this week as part of an international challenge” and that gets even more positive responses. Anything ‘international’ sounds impressive to others.

LIzSteel-Goodfields-example2MTH: Related to that, have you ever had any unusually good or bad reactions?

LS: As above, only good to date. In fact, I’m definitely making many more friends at my local cafes these days now that I am sketching people as opposed to when I only painted my coffee cups. It really engages people and I get a total buzz out of talking with other when I’m out with my sketchbook. Sketching people gets the best reaction without a doubt.

MTH: Finally: Let’s say you fell in love with people sketching. If you could do anything at all in the arena of reportage sketching, what would it be? Maybe someone out there can help make it happen :)

LS: Actually I have already fallen in love with people sketching (a lot has happened since we last sketched together hey?) although I’m still not super confident. I would just simply love to sketch more social gatherings with my family and friends.

For some reason it feels more intimidating to sketch people closer to you, but I just have to do it. I suppose that I would love to be confident that I could produce beautiful work at a friend’s wedding. That would be special!

Thanks Marc – its great to be doing this challenge again with you, Suhita and everyone else.

Just a reminder: #OneWeek100People2019 starts April 8th!

April 5, 2019

0C26DD90-21E2-4DAA-BC2B-3EC20D87CA11Just a reminder: we have around 1000 artists in the Facebook group ready to help each other cross the finish line next week.

My friend E was doing a double-model the other day – something you don’t get so often – so I jumped at the chance for another warm-up :)


81A9CDF1-B7B3-4D9A-BE59-1ED3E1D4F484Some tips on Direct-to-Ink sketching:

Just redraw weaker figures or missed lines right on top. Usually you can save the drawing. The misplaced lines don’t detract if you don’t think they do :) I find the pages with all the over-drawn figures more interesting.

Use a small nib for finding contour, and the biggest nib you have for shadow shapes in contrast. I have a steel brush but you might also like a Parallel Pen if you don’t want to carry bottled ink.

I use dipping nibs so I can change ink color on the fly, but you’d can always just carry more pens. I like a red line for variety from the black ink.

Think about placement on the page – and scale – make some figures much bigger than others, for variety, and to include portraits in with full figures. Use the direction of the figures posture – and even the direction of gaze – to influence the composition.

24FFAA79-CF0E-4D04-9C4E-CBB332989B54D99E6B6F-EC86-4045-A30B-A08FBFE0A5C7I like to use ‘disposable’ paper. These are pieces of Aquarius II folded into little booklets. I  feel SO much more relaxed about bad drawings if they’re not in a sketchbook. It’s a phobia I have about ruining a book. People say don’t let it get to you, but if you can’t let go of the pressure to succeed – this is how I side step.

I’m starting to love this little stack of folding paper I’m building up, just as much as my sketchbooks that I never finish anyway :)

ACA5EA59-8F7D-4DB6-B58F-B7775F33AD2DOkiedoke! See you guys next week in the #100Week100People2019 Facebook group. I’m looking forward to see what everyone gets up to :)69E09829-CBF2-46D8-8DE0-883077267B6925634ACA-6093-4EAB-BA8B-CCD4773C3209

Copyright is a pain in the a&& and artists should stop worrying about it.

March 28, 2019


Because I’m a painter, I move around in a constant state of inspiration.

Everywhere you go you see paintable things. You can’t look at the sky most days without seeing a great painting.

It’s unavoidable.

Naturally, I’m also addicted to social media – just like most of you – I’m constantly inspired by images I see online. 

I’m also constantly anxious and afraid to do anything about that inspiration.

19March28_Infringment_ Compare

For fear of Copyright Violation! (Cue Sinister Music).

As artists, we’re always hearing; “You can’t copy someone else’s artwork! You can’t paint from someone else’s photo!”

These regulations are always popping up in calls for entry, or in commentary about work online.

“That’s not real art, it’s just a copy!”

As if painting in nature, standing in front of the landscape, isn’t just a copy? Or sitting with a model or a still life or some flowers. Artists are just the world’s most subjective camera.

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So – I did some research and here are my thoughts:

  • I am not a lawyer so this is my lay-informed opinion.
  • Yes – diverting business income by taking work and re-selling it is wrong. Classic example: downloading artwork and making it into t-shirts. < (People have done that to me).
  • Also, commercial use of a recognizable likeness of someone’s face – this is a theft of income. Every human has the right to be paid for the (commercial) use of their image. (Though, not in every legal jurisdiction. Personality Rights are not recognized in NYC for example).
  • Same goes for commercial use of a building, a car, or even street art if it ends up in a photo. (Designers and Architects have the same rights).
  • No direct, mechanical copy FOR PROFIT < this is common sense.


  • NON-commercial use of anything (art, photos, likeness) is totally fine.
  • Copies by students are an easy example. Copied work appearing in your illustration or portraiture portfolio is less obviously ok – but IS considered fair-use. (It’s a true demonstration of your skill, not a commercial product. The commercial product is the future work you might gain, not the copy itself).
  • AND >>>> most people don’t know this >>> one-of-a-kind original art is almost always ruled non-commercial.
  • The Graphic Artist Guild of America says: “Generally, works of fine art are not considered commercial even if they sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars. Courts are more likely to consider artwork commercial if it is sold as mugs or t-shirts…”
  • The key difference being, art is (generally) sold once (or a handful of times). The intent is not mass production.

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  • Being inspired by an image, making (and selling) a TRANSFORMATIVE work is totally NOT copyright infringement.
  • The existence of the new work does not in any way reduce the value of the old work. Often it actually increases value, by a kind of cachet effect. (The original work must be great if it inspires so many copies).
  • Examples of Transformative work:
    • Translating to a different media: Photograph recreated in line-art or weaving or say – an impasto oil painting.
    • Creating a composite image: Use multiple images for reference. To be safe, take no significant amount, or at least, equal amounts from each. (eg: collage).
    • Altering the source image: Enough that it would not be recognized by a stranger – not by the original artist. (They are too close to the issue). This also covers portrait-likeness. If a stranger (not the model) would not recognize the work, then you have not stolen their face – even if you admit to using their photo as reference.
  • Doing all of these things is bulletproof, but any one of these transformations *might* be sufficient to be within Fair Use. (It’s up to the judge).
  • Rules of thumb: Has the material taken from the original work been transformed by adding new expression or meaning? (Such as parody, or recontextualizing or juxtaposition). Was value added to the original by creating new information, new aesthetics, new insights, and understandings?

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OK! Still with me?
That’s my rant about why it’s OK to think and act upon your actual creative thoughts.

Every thought we think comes from somewhere.

You see something, you read something, and you combine old ideas into new ideas. There’s nothing new under the sun.

Don’t be ashamed of seeing a great painting or photo and thinking – man – I would love do my own version of that!

Trina Davies

All that said: you should still credit your sources.

[Photo: Trina Davies, Playwright of Waxworks, Shatter, Silence, The Bone Bridge and the GG-nominated The Romeo Initiative;].

It’s just good grace between artists, and, if you are confident you’re doing transformative work, then there’s no reason not to.

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F+W Media (my publisher) files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy

March 23, 2019

Cover ImageWell, the good times had to end someday right?

The publisher of my art-how-to books and videos including The Urban Sketcher has recently filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

[Here’s some background info on that]. But it boils down to; their hobby-niche-magazine empire is fading into irrelevance in the internet age, and, their efforts to turn art-communities (WetCanvas,, etc) into paying ventures haven’t worked out.  Not all that surprising, as this stuff competes against Facebook and the other social media.

What does that mean to myself and their other authors?

Most annoyingly – it means a loss of royalty income for a while. Existing stock in the retail channel might sell, but I won’t receive any income until the situation is resolved.

Particularly bad timing for me, as I’ve recently stopped freelance work, in hopes of jumpstarting my gallery painting. But I knew that was an insane gamble when I threw the dice.

I suppose I’ve had a nice run for the last five years. We’ve sold about 35,000 copies of The Urban Sketcher. I think that’s pretty good for a niche topic like travel sketching.

Thanks, everyone! Good work!

The book income was never enough for me to live from, but it was one tent-pole in my hardscrabble artist-income. In the best-case, F+W can sell the book rights onto another publisher and sales can resume – or – perhaps the books go completely out of print. At which time, (after a significant contractual delay) I have the option to re-issue them myself.

Though, I seriously doubt I’ll receive any help in that regard (like, getting the page layouts back from the publisher? hah!).

Direct Watercolor_Cover 8.5x8.5_Color_100pp_v04 copy

Luckily, I do have my self-published book Direct Watercolor. Though – this has always been somewhat of a labor-of-love title. And fair enough! As honestly, it’s less of a how-to (and that’s probably why you’re a blog-reader) and more of art-book of beautiful images from my years as a traveling painter – and thus, it’s sold about 1/10th of The Urban Sketcher.

So, that’s just some news from me – mostly to say – if you were looking for a book on watercolor – my own title is currently one of my few income streams, so please buy my self published book! – not the publisher’s titles, which are now only paying back corporate debt :)


#OneWeek100People2019 : Flight Check?

March 12, 2019


I was sitting there cleaning some pens and packing a sketch kit – trying to remember the last time I went out drawing people? 

I know I grabbed a few sketches of sketchers last summer at the USK Mini Symposium in Chicago – but other than that – I haven’t gone out people sketching since 2018’s OneWeek100.

For a person who used to go life drawing three times a week, that’s a weird situation.

#OneWeek100People_Lunch01Frankly, I wasn’t even sure if I could do it anymore! You leave something for so long, you wonder if the skills magically vanish?

I headed out for lunch at the mall, with just a ballpoint and some typing paper, going back to the very basics. Just checking – is it still there?


5F6B182F-CC54-4332-9AF9-EFB43218CF94I’m happy to say, it’s like riding a bike. The fingers remember how to lay down lines.

But still – I’ve gone approximately a year without figure drawing – and not missed it that much – so what changed?

Besides everything: eldercare madness, job changes, retiring from teaching, retiring from freelance work, and taking up studio painting.


What does the new me, the artist I am today, want out of #OneWeek100People2019? 

(That’s the point of this post – all of us should take a moment to think on that, before the April 8-12th week is upon us!)

After this dry run, I’m confident I could hit the streets, find some events, and get back into the groove. I could just have fun! Use sketching to get out to some stuff I’ve been passing up. Go to life drawing, check out the art gallery. Or just wander and see what the street has to offer. It could be like the good old days!


But this year, I want to push myself a little further. After all, that’s what this blog is right? A place where you guys motivate me to keep learning in public :)

71B88487-BEC7-4DF6-AE1E-48D9EF1A9F02I’m going to try to make some of the figurative painting I’ve been thinking about for a few years. < Yes, that’s a little cryptic :) But let’s say I’m going to be pushing my figures in a Direct Watercolor approach – and I won’t be sticking to documentary / reportage. This year I want to be working without the pressure of live-sketching.

But I’m going into this cold. I don’t exactly have a solid plan for these imaginary awesome artworks. So you’re going to see me making it up as we go along.  

But that’s the beauty of these challenges. We’re all in it together, so we know what it’s like. Everybody is too busy doing it to be judging you for not meeting some imaginary goal. When we’re in the trenches together, everyone supports each other :)


Maybe some of you are thinking about your own week? Drop me a comment! What are you going to take on this year? What’s your plan for #OneWeek100People2019?

The floor is yours in the comments section!


Ready for year three? #OneWeek100People2019

March 6, 2019


Top Posts!

October 3, 2018

There’s a lot of stuff in these pages that maybe gets buried in the chronological nature of a web-blog.

So, here are some of the more useful category searches and sub-pages:

My Books and Classes < Everything I know in one place, just to save you time.

Step by Step Demos < Posts with work-in-progress narration.

Sketching Tips and Tricks  < Helpful tips and suggestions for self-training.

Free Videos < Only a few things here, but I think there’s some good stuff :)

OneWeek100People < This is the best exercise for learning life drawing. If you only do one kind of self-teaching, this is it. Watch me do my own homework.

Download Workshop Handouts < Free PDF files from my past UrbanSketchers workshops

Painting in Watercolor < This is the good stuff :)

Gear_Easel (2)

Watercolor Painting Gear < What I use when painting in watercolor.

Drawing/Sketching Gear < There’s no end to sketching gear. This is my ‘basic kit’ to help you get started.

Reviews of Art Materials < Field testing various Urban Sketchers oriented gear.

That should get you started! Thanks for stopping by, and best of luck with your drawing and painting!