Gaskell House Blogs

Liz Ackerley, Ruskin, and Sketching Elizabeth Gaskell’s House

14th February 2019
in blog, Events

To celebrate John Ruskin’s 200th birthday, on the 8th of Febuary we had the pleasure of hosting another workshop with the incredibly talented Liz Ackerley. Liz is an urban sketcher with a background in science and landscape design, which has influenced her current artistic projects. She is known for a technique called colour first, in which bold, abstract watercolours are applied to the page before sketching and line work, to create a freer and more dynamic final piece.

It was this technique which she taught at Elizabeth Gaskell’s House in an all day workshop. Visitors were able to move around the house at their leisure, finding objects and views that inspired them. This was interspersed with taught sessions in the Servant’s Hall, in which Liz discussed perspective, colour, and fluidity of movement when beginning a sketching practice. At the start of the workshop, guests attempted to sketch one particular object from the house’s collection, for example a bonnet or a gas lamp. She encouraged the artists to look more at the object than at the paper, work in one continuous line, and try using their wrong hand. The point of this exercise was not, of course, to produce a photo-realistic image of the object, but to explore freedom of mark making. This was a recurring theme throughout the day, with Liz providing inspiration to try new things and experiment, rather than chasing perfection.

Over lunch, the artists had an opportunity to share what they had created so far, and discuss ideas with each other. It was interesting to compare pieces, as although many visitors had sketched the same objects, all had used slightly different styles and techniques, making every drawing completely unique. For example, the rose patterned curtains and chairs in the Drawing Room (aptly named) took on many different forms, as did the arch in the entry hall.

An important lesson that Liz spoke of at the end of the workshop was the use of drawing for mindfulness and meditation. She talked about her own difficulties with mental health, and how sketching had helped her through some hard times with bad anxiety. It was a familiar story to many on the course, and indeed we found that while we sat absorbed in our art, the time passed far quicker, and much more peacefully than expected.

This is not the first time we have hosted a workshop with Liz, and fingers crossed it won’t be the last. For now, we hope that your visit to Elizabeth Gaskell’s House inspires you to try drawing yourself, and we welcome anyone who wishes to spend an afternoon sketching here. Liz’s final piece of advice on improving your sketching? Practice, practice, practice!

Liz’s work and details about commissions can be found at

By Ariane Dean (volunteer)

Liz Ackerley will be running her next workshop at the House on Friday 9 Augustclick here for more information 

To begin with the old rigmarole of childhood…

Wives and Daughters