Sketching the King Street Festival in Manchester

reportage illustration at King Street Festival in manchester

Manchester’s King Street Festival is now in its 3rd year and it is the first year it has included the top area of King Street, with parking bays turned into mini parklets for the duration! All along this iconic and historic shopping street there was al fresco dining, free fizz, gifts and goodiebags, a bandstand, a grand piano, pop-up parks, an art garden together with heritage tours and events from Manchester’s premium names in shopping, food and drink. The festival was also supporting The British Red Cross We Love MCR emergency fund for those affected by the Manchester arena attack.   This year I sensed, amongst the sadness and quiet reflection of the St Ann’s Square flower memorial, togetherness and a feeling of Manchester pulling together in solidarity. This is what makes Manchester special: its people and its places. Continue reading

Reportage-Why I fell in Love with it!

The Oxford English Dictionary cites the origin of the word ‘reportage’ to come from the Early 17th century French, from Old French reporter ‘to carry back’.   In this way, reportage illustration is a form of visual journalism, visual storytelling.  You go out into the world around you and take back with you that experience.   That memory, in drawn form, with pen, and ink and…. whatever else it is possible to record onto a surface with. Continue reading

What view to sketch?-Welcome to the Neighbourhood


Last weekend whilst out sketching , one of my fellow sketchers asked: how do you go about choosing your view to sketch?  It’s an interesting question and it got me thinking beyond the theory of composition, at how exactly I choose my view to sketch .   Here in a short summary; mainly illustrated with recent sketches of my local area  are some of the things I take into account when  deciding which view to draw and what to include.  Note that with most of them, there is more than one reason the composition was chosen. Continue reading

Sketching at Manchester City and ChinaTown: Defining the Sense of Place


Over the last two weekends, I have visited two different Manchester locations to draw:  The Etihad Stadium in East Manchester, the Manchester City Football Club grounds and ChinaTown in Central Manchester. Each of  these drawings were created over a several hour period: pencil, ink then watercolour (paint and pencil).  In terms of identifying the best main view and composition, I did this by walking around the site and observing different aspects: the angles, the depth of view, the light and shadow etc.  The other thing I do is to write down (or at least have in my mind) key words that reflect what I feel for the place and what I want to convey in the main sketch.  I can then refer to this as I draw.  Continue reading

Sketching as therapy


To say that it has been a traumatic week sounds dramatic.  I received an urgent call on Wednesday lunchtime.  By Wednesday evening I was standing outside the Stroke unit in my hometown down in Suffolk.  Hugging my parents and wondering what was next.  The corridor setting was quiet, cold, remote and downright scary.  There seem to be 3 types of people around; those going about their daily routine; those who have come to know this as their daily routine and the downright fearful.   Continue reading

Moving On: Hooray for heroes but don’t be a sheep!

It has taken me longer to move on from the urban sketching symposium in Manchester than I had expected although I wasn’t sure what I expected really!  You can hear about some of my takeaway lessons from my role as correspondent here.  The olympics has certainly helped me to move on over the last two weeks and I don’t mean because it was a diversion or that I sat and sketched the activities ( although that may have been a good idea! ) but that the athletes talked so passionately of this concept of just keeping practicing and going on to improve skill- just keep on going… It’s a point well made.  

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After the dust has settled :What I learnt from my correspondent role at #USkManchester2016

What an absolutely amazing week at the Manchester Urban SketchersSymposium  (27th-30th July 2016)!  I don’t think anything would have fully prepared me for the incredible experience of meeting and sketching with like-minded artists from around the world! It was just magical to see the city I have come to know and love being portrayed by skilled sketchers from near and far.  It was also a wonderful sight to see the streets lined with people drawing together, old-friends and new friends.  It is a little hard to settle now that it is over so, as a kind of wrap-up from me, an attempt to collect some thoughts and learnings, this blog summarises my role as local correspondent, what I learnt from it and what next!  The images are a mix of sketches done post-symposium, they are not necessarily with a specific theme or purpose, other than to get me back into sketching!

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Preparing for #USkManchester 2016: context, Colour and Kit

My goodness time is getting short before the start of the International Urban sketching here in Manchester next week (from July 27th) although really, it begins when people start arriving this coming weekend!  This is the second blog about my preparation for my role as correspondent at the symposium.  In this blog, having addressed some of my people practice in the previous preparation blog I am going to be talking about context and colour  before finishing with a quick summary of my sketch kit for the occasion! Continue reading

What’s your Story?

I cannot believe that I have not posted a blog on here for nearly 3 weeks.  But I have a few excuses: firstly I have had a pretty hectic time with a few big commissions, including #citiesofhope and The Manchester Histories Festival.  Also, I have been writing blog posts as part of those commissions as well as posting on the Urban Sketchers blog on a weekly basis with my countdown to the Symposium sketches.  Am I forgiven yet?   The other thing that has been taking my time is that I have been running some Urban Sketching workshops, some for the Manchester Histories Festival and then this week I have had two days running two workshops at the Creative and Media Academy here in Manchester (MCMA).  It is this week’s workshops that I am going to talk about in this blog. Continue reading

My inktober 2015

Phew, what a month of drawing for Inktober. Now I can’t say I did an ink drawing everyday but I certainly did do quite a few!  It has been great to think about line in isolation and although I did add watercolour to most of my drawings, the focus on ink did make me think more about my line and the way in which I was using the line to convey a range of elements: depth (through line weight), detail, shadow through hatching, movement etc.  All of these have a valuable part to play in the build up of a drawing and tie in well with a previous blog that I produced about Edges following Liz Steel’s course.   It also made me think about the way in which I used different pens for different effects, from the carbon platinum pen which gives a very clean fine line for facial features, to the pentel brush pen for solid darks, to the Lamy safari with a 1.1 italic nib pen for text and the green Sailor pen which can produce a range of line thickness depending upon the angle you are holding the pen.


Initially, my intention had been to focus on people exclusively this month for inktober but in the end, I chose to draw a range of subject matter, often the urban environment but also other objects and activities.  As this is my first inktober, there will be plenty of others where I can chose one theme!  In addition, there were plenty of activities and things going on in October, so it was nice to be able to capture a range of them.

Given this outcome, I have chosen to group my drawings into some key themes: People, buildings, miscellaneous (a mix of individual items) and  to end with, captured for on last day of the month, a couple of reportage pieces!  Here they are:








I have really enjoyed participating in Inktober and do hope you have enjoyed following the journey.  Please do continue to follow my adventures on here and if you’d like to check out these images individually then don’t forget that they are all on my instagram site here:

You have been invited…….Reportage of an event about Human trafficking

You will probably already know by now if you look at my blog regularly or follow me on any of my social media platforms that Reportage, storytelling through drawing, is my thing!  My sketchbook is full of annotated drawings and stories.   I seek out projects that enable me to produce reportage work, be it a festival like the Dig The City, a single event or a longer term project such as the development of a building.  This week was an exciting ‘first’ for me because I was invited by Greater Manchester Police and Manchester Cathedral to attend a public meeting at the Cathedral On The Street to mark a week of activity associated with Human Trafficking and Modern Day Slavery and to produce a piece of artwork that reflected the event.  The meeting brought together senior officers from Greater Manchester Police, including Sir Peter Fahy (on his last week on office as Greater Manchester’s Chief Constable) and the Dean of the cathedral, as well as Manchester-based  Rhema Theatre Group,  Stop The Traffick, International Justice Mission and members of the public.  It was a well-attended meeting and made for interesting debate and discussion about how as citizens of the city, we can all do our bit to help Stop Human Trafficking.   This blog documents my process for producing the finished reportage piece and what I learnt along the way.


Getting Started

I arrived at the event early so that I could work out where best to draw from and set myself up.  It was a relatively large room, with rows of chairs and a stage in front of glass panels, making for an interesting and light space.  I soon realised that there was no optimum location!  drawing from the back I was unlikely to see the stage and front action, whereas drawing from the front would mean that not only was I conspicuous, I didn’t have good views of the audience either!  In the end I chose to sit to the side of the rows, halfway down.  That way, I was relatively out of the way and wasn’t going to nudge and annoy people!  Standing up wasn’t really going to be a viable option for the whole session, although it was useful at certain points, so that I could see more.

I was made very welcome by the cathedral staff and was told I could sit where I wanted and move around as I needed to which made me feel a little less awkward although I was vary aware that I didn’t want to appear to obvious or make a commotion!  That said, I was introduced by the Dean at the beginning of the meeting and towards the end was invited to share what I had drawn and what I was going to produce!  This was a little nerve wracking but because I didn’t know I was going to be asked, there was no time to think about it too much!

My media of choice was a Moleskine A4 watercolour sketchbook, landscape format which I perched on my knee.  In hindsight, I would probably not choose to work like this in this type of setting again.  A board with paper taped on may well be a lot more manageable.  As it was, I ended up with a series of disjointed pages which I then needed to put together afterwards.   I used a combination of 0.7 mm 2B pencil and fountain ink (Pelikan M200, fine nib with black desatramentis documents ink and a Carbon platinum pen).

Drawing the Action

I was able to sketch out the backdrop ahead of the meeting starting so that I could focus on people drawing during the actual session itself.  This was very handy as I was keen to provide quite a bit of detail of the backdrop given the uniqueness and interest of the setting.  What I didn’t do however was decide on the exact layout of the piece.  In hindsight I could have spent time thinking about this but as it was, the layout of the sketchbook didn’t really enable me to do that effectively.


When drawing the audience and the individual speakers, this was reasonably achievable given the timings.  Each speaker was talking for about 10 minutes or more, so enough time to do an outline sketch and to write notes as an aide memoire.  What was more difficult however was the recording of the 3 theatre pieces.  This was because of the rapid changes in movement and angles etc.  Because the pieces were shortened forms of a longer play, the amount of changes of pose and action was considerable necessitating a much more shorthand form of recording than usual.  I need to get so much better at this!  -lots of practice is needed!  This type of drawing is not for the feint hearted!  As it was I think it would have been better to use ink rather than pencil-the pencil is great for initial gesture but not more.


After the event

I could clearly picture what the finished piece needed to look like by the end of the afternoon but realised I didn’t have it in that format!  In addition, given the need for text and images, the A4 size really didn’t give me enough scope so I used an A3 piece of Bockingford, 300 g/m2 and transferred some, but not all of the artwork to it.  I just need to get to grips with doing all these steps in process, perhaps using quick thumbnails and then working on the actual piece in situ!  This is quite a tall order for me at the moment but hope that with practice the assimilation will come.  I also think it depends on the outcome you are trying to produce.  Because there were separate elements, it made layout more complicated than if say I was just trying to depict a single image with text.   Images were created with fountain pen (as above) and Daniel Smith watercolour applied.



Here is the finished piece.  I hope you area able to see how it relates to the original drawings.

LizAckerley_TraffickingReportage_20Oct reducedsize

In the future I intend to have the finished piece at the end of the session, perhaps with the need to add text or some additional colour, but nothing more.  This is all work in progress for me so very much a steep learning curve.  This opportunity has taught me a lot and I am thrilled that the clients are delighted with the finished piece.  Watch this space for much more reportage work from me!

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. (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: 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.


Train spotting or the art of creating opportunity

Its important to me that I create opportunity to sketch so that I can continue in my quest to make it part of my routine.  If I don’t do this I am acutely aware that it will become easy to give up, let things slide, let other things take over (as I have done so many times before).  I intend to make sketching so much of my routine that I do it without thinking, I do it because it is just part of what I do, like washing my hair or cleaning my teeth (although hopefully with a little more artistic flair than what’s involved with those tasks!).  In order to achieve this, or even to aim to achieve it, I need to have a variety of positive approaches.  One thing I have done is to always use a knapsack bag that I can carry my sketchbooks and paints in.  I like the discipline of taking a few things with me, but ensuring that within reason, I am always carrying them with me, so that if the opportunity arises, I can scribble.

Another way, and the essence of the article here is to fit artwork into my daily life by creating an opportunity to scribble when I have another reason for doing something i.e. I am not going somewhere especially to draw, moreover I am drawing what I am already doing.  A good example is seen over the last few months where I have been going to Birmingham for 1 day a week on the train. I always arrive at Piccadilly train station early, giving me at least a 1 hour window with which I can scribble, fitting drawing into my daily routine.  Here are a few of my scribbles created over the last few weeks at Piccadilly in Manchester.