Born to do this…

Yes, I think I was probably born to teach. As I prepare for the next round of online workshops, I realize that teaching these classes is getting me through the isolation of this pandemic. I’m so grateful to the many folks from around the world who have joined me to learn about perspective and watercolor from the comfort (and safety) of our own homes. I hope that these classes are helping you too.

At AsiaLink Sketchwalk in Taiwan 2019. A GREAT USk symposium!!!! Shocking now to see us all so close together, isn’t it? Photo by Rob Sketcherman 🙂

I also think back to how I started teaching. You may be surprised to learn that for most of my 5 years of architecture school, I was not particularly good at drawing. Before entering our 4th year in the program, our portfolios were reviewed by 3 professors, and you had to pass this review in order to move on. In my review, two professors literally wrote “weak graphic skills”. I was so discouraged, especially after already investing 3 years in college, but I turned it around and took it as a challenge to do better. And wow, look what happened! I clearly remember struggling with learning how to draw, and it’s that struggle that helps me be a better teacher today.

But this isn’t how I actually started teaching…after graduating with my 5 year architecture degree from UT Austin (as Valedictorian, no less–HA, that will teach the architect who discouraged me from going saying women shouldn’t be in architecture!!!!), I moved to NYC to attend graduate school in Interior Design at Pratt in Brooklyn. I arrived without ever seeing the place and knowing no one. Coming from an architecture degree, I placed out of the required drawing courses, which helped me to find time to work (I had an entry level job at HOK in Rockefeller Center–every time I see the Christmas tree on TV, I remember seeing it out the window from work!)

My fellow classmates, however, had to take the drawing classes which were unfortunately taught by a teacher who didn’t actually teach. He would take them outside and simply let them loose and say, “Draw.” Now this method could work if you have a lot of time, but the trial and error involved is too quickly discouraging. So… they came to me and asked me if I could teach them!!!! I went to the department chair, who said that due to union rules, I couldn’t “teach”, so we started a “Sketching Club”. Twice a week, they would meet me for lunch and I’d project slides and teach them to draw the way that I was taught in architecture school. I loved it.

The year after finishing grad school, I started teaching at Parsons in the Environmental Design/Architecture program, then I was asked by Tim Gunn (yes, that Tim Gunn) to be the first hire for the new Interior Design program they were putting together. I ended up teaching at Parsons for 10 years. We moved to Seattle, where I taught briefly with Frank Ching at the University of Washington, then a number of years at Cornish College of the Arts, the Parsons of the Northwest. Once my dad got sick, I left teaching university and started the travel workshop life, thanks in large part to Urban Sketchers (I just sent in my annual donation, nudge nudge.) I’ve been so incredibly fortunate to have parallel careers in teaching and architecture/illustration my entire adult life.

Sydney, Australia 2017. Photo by RooiPing Lim.

As this terrible year comes to a close, I find myself grateful for so many things in life, including the ability to teach during a global pandemic. Who knew? Teaching fills some inner need to share and pass on what I have learned, to see the light bulb of understanding illuminate in someone’s eyes. It’s why I always ask, “What was your ah-ha moment?” Mine is that teaching teaches the teacher so much. Thank you to every single student over the many years for what you’ve taught me.

I get quite emotional looking at these photos. I love teaching so much, and I love the friends I see in these photos, friends made along the way. I miss you all. Let’s hope for some in-person 3-D learning and travel in a better 2021!

Annual workshop in Civita di Bagnoregio, Italy.

13 thoughts on “Born to do this…

  1. I am so glad you decided to do these online classes! Not only a great idea for the pandemic, but also a wonderful way to prepare for sketching outside when we can again get together. I appreciate your class so much – and you are a fantastic teacher (so glad you didn’t get discouraged early on and it gives me hope that I’ll improve with more practice!!!)


  2. I love teaching as well. It is fun when you see someone “ get it”! Happy New Year! Eileen

    On Wed, Dec 30, 2020 at 12:09 PM Drawing Perspectives wrote:

    > stephanieabower posted: ” Yes, I think I was probably born to teach. As I > prepare for the next round of online workshops, I realize that teaching > these classes is getting me through the isolation of this pandemic. I’m so > grateful to the many folks from around the world who have ” >


  3. I am so glad you did these online classes. I’ve learned so much from you! You are a wonderful teacher. Your love for teaching and architecture shows. Thank you so much and hope to see you in person sometimes in 2021.


  4. You are a great teacher, Stephanie. You have inspired me to FINALLY actually do something. I’m embarrassed that it isn’t in your style of painting–no buildings, yet. But I find that very detailed and painstaking watercolors of botanical subjects thrills me. Seriously, I know I’ll never be a professional, but I am enjoying it so much! I’m posting on Instagram @cestjeannieici if you’d like to take a look. Thank you for the encouragement! Happy New Year!!!


    1. This is so great, Jeannie! It takes a while to find what we are passionate about, and botanicals are fantastic. I wish I had your patience, as I’d love to pain them too.
      Best wishes for the New Year!


  5. This is such a great post . Thank you for sharing your inspiring history of drawing and teaching . I’d love to know if the “teacher who didn’t teach” was aware of your lunchtime sketch classes and learned anything himself from the fact that your classmates were coming to you !

    Barry Remley’s phone
    [cid:image002.jpg@01D2C4E4.94035680] William Thornton Award forExcellence in Craftsmanship


  6. Valedictorian! I didn’t know that. It’s so cool that you knew Tim Gunn!

    Zoom classes have the advantage of being able to see your work better than in a live workshop, having to stand in a crowd, stretching to see.

    I recommend your classes and workshops all the time!

    Can’t wait until USk can meet and sketch together!


    1. Dear Kate, yes…Valedictorian…not that it means much, except for showing that guy that women can indeed be architects!
      My mom asked the only architect she knew to come over and talk to me about the profession before I applied, and he had me in tears in 20 minutes. So glad I didn’t listen to him…
      You are right about seeing better…the workshop folks see better than I do when I’m doing the sketch, as the camera is closer than my own eyes!
      THANK YOU THANK YOU for recommending my workshops and classes. xx
      And finally, my gosh, I am so with you about sketching together again. CAN-NOT WAIT!!
      Here’s to a better year in 2021…


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s