SPLASH: One image/ Four ways

Last week, I had to the opportunity to join 3 other artists at the Northwest Watercolor Society’s annual SPLASH event held at the Daniel Smith mothership store here in Seattle. It’s a great event, around 200 people showed up to sample wares from vendors and to watch 4 of us do demo paintings.

Joining me were Catherine Gill, Katherine Wright, and Denise Le Blanc. We were each given the same photo to use as reference, and we had only ONE HOUR to paint! It was like running a sprint! No time to think or strategize much (except for those smart folks who practiced ahead of time — alas, I am not one of those.)

Here is the image we were given:

We did get to sketch in the linework before the hour started. When I arrived and saw the others already set up, I could see how they had cropped the image, so to be different, I decided to use the whole image 😉

I had sketchbooks strewn around my table, so lots of people were coming up and flipping through them, asking questions, and watching me and all of us work. We were painting so fast, it was at times challenging to talk and paint at the same time.

At the end of our sprint, it was amazing to see the results. Each of us took the exact same photo and interpreted it in incredibly different ways! This is something I love about artists and Urban Sketchers too. You can literally have 30 people sketching the same spot and each one sketches something different.

Here are the final four…pretty different from the photo, I’d say!! In order left to right are Catherine Gill (watercolor and pastel) – Denise LeBlanc (acrylic) – Katherine Wright (watercolor) – me (pencil and watercolor) on the far right. Due to the time limitation and my sketchbook ways, I opted to do a smaller painting. And let’s not get into how I dislike working from photos!!!

It was really great fun! Thank you to Dolores Marquez for organizing and to the NWWS for this opportunity!

And darn it, I probably could have sold 50 books that night, but the Daniel Smith store has sold out, and the publisher is sold out too!!!! That’s both bad news and good news. Another printing has already been ordered–yay! Luckily, copies are still available online and in some stores.

Gone Missing

I had breakfast this morning with my dear friend, Alane Simons (IG @alaneatx). We met some years ago at a fundraiser when I heard that the couple across the huge table was also from Texas (as am I), and I had to go and say hello. We chatted, she talked about how her mother had been an artist who inspired her, I shared my magical mini moo cards, and she said she’d call me. Who ever follows up on that promise? I’ll tell you who: ALANE!!!

We had a great breakfast and I was reminded of what a joyful person she is. She did, however, tell me that when they moved from Seattle last year, she shipped some 30 sketchbooks that have never arrived… years of work are lost!!! I can’t imagine losing even one sketchbook, I am so attached to those sketches as they are a record of so many experiences. Like she said this morning, it’s not like it’s just a drawing of a table, it’s a drawing that captures the place, time, the air, the sounds and smells, the friends you are with, and so much more. This is the power of sketching, of putting an experience to paper in sketch.

So how about this: let’s all visualize Alane’s box of sketchbooks arriving safely to her and who knows, maybe it will happen???!!!!!

This Saturday, November 23, I will be sharing my mini moo cards, sketchbooks and a huge stack of original watercolors, along with a presentation and book signing for the new book. I hope if you are in the area, you can join us at the Daniel Smith store at 11am. I will talk about how much sketching means to me, how grateful I am to this sketching community, and as my husband says, my tribe. And if my house catches on fire, I will grab my grandmother’s pearls and my SKETCHBOOKS!

What does sketching mean to you????

Workshop: San Antonio, TX | March 2020

Hi y’all! Yes, I’m doing another workshop at the fabulous Pearl in San Antonio, TX. Registration is open now, so contact me ASAP at stbower@comcast.net to be pencilled in!

GOOD BONES SAN ANTONIO Texas | Perspective + Watercolor Sketching Workshop
March 13-14 + 15, 2020
Good sketches start with Good Bones! In this workshop, you’ll learn the simple steps to set up the foundations of a great architectural sketch in Perspective and Watercolor. How do you start a location sketch? Where is the darn Vanishing Point? Watercolor is too overwhelming!

Held in the amazing historic PEARL DISTRICT along the Riverwalk, this workshop offers 2 full days of instruction. The first day is devoted to learning the fundamentals of on-location perspective through demos and sketching on-site. Day two introduces basic watercolor mixing and techniques. Day 3 is a half day that puts it all together in an open sketch meet up!


GOOD BONES Day 1 | PERSPECTIVE | Friday, March 13 | 9am – 4pm* | Meet in front of Cure   We will learn perspective basics and a simple step-by-step process to construct an architectural perspective sketch, how to build the sketch in layers; learn what to look for when sketching perspective on location—how to find your eye level and vanishing points to provide the good bones of any sketch; learn how to measure proportions and relationships of spatial elements.
GOOD BONES Day 2 | WATERCOLOR | Saturday, March 14 | 9am – 4pm*·      We will learn: an introduction to basic watercolor tools and techniques, using a simple palette of colors; learn how to use watercolor to enhance the sense of architecture and space in your sketches; in the afternoon, put perspective and watercolor together.                                             * One hour break for lunch.
GOOD BONES Day 3 | OPEN SKETCHWALK | Sunday, March 15 | 10am – 12:30pm  Anyone can join us! An important, optional half day to cement what you’ve learned, joined by other sketchers.

GOOD BONES SAN ANTONIO is open to 15 participants with any level of experience, but it’s targeted to sketchers who want to improve their basic sketching and understanding of perspective and watercolor.
Workshop Registration is open now. To sign up, contact Stephanie by email at stbower@comcast.net  The first 15 emails will be accepted—first come, first served. A waiting list will be created in case spots open up.

Workshop fee is $250.00 payable by check once you are notified via email of a confirmed spot in the workshop.
Cancellation In the unforeseen event the workshop is cancelled, all fees will be reimbursed. If you have to cancel your participation, please contact Stephanie Bower at stbower@comcast.net     By February 1, all fees reimbursed; By February 15, 50% of fee reimbursed; After March 1, 0% of workshop fee reimbursed.                                    
A materials supply list and additional information will be emailed to registered participants.

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This workshop is in a FABULOUS location! The Pearl District in San Antonio is one of the best urban spaces in the country. Beautiful renovated old buildings, farmer’s market, cafes and shops, great tex-mex, interesting architecture, all along the glorious San Antonio Riverwalk. I hope you can join me!!

Workshop: San Jose, CA | May 2020

We’ve been planning this one a long time, so it’s exciting to finally be able to announce this workshop! The 3 S’s are together! Here’s the info:

People | Places | Color

A Sketching Workshop by Suhita Shirodkar | Stephanie Bower| Shari Blaukopf

May 15-16, 2020 | 10am-5pm | Downtown San Jose, CA

About the Workshop: This is a rare opportunity to learn location sketching from three globe-trotting Urban Sketchers specialists, doing what they do best!

Suhita Shirodkar (USA) will teach quick sketching of people in motion.

Stephanie Bower (USA) explains the basics of perspective sketching.

Shari Blaukopf (Canada) teaches her masterful use of watercolor.

Each participant will get a half-day/3-hour session with each of the instructors. The final afternoon session will put it all together in a joint sketching class taught by all three instructors. Maximum class size is only 12 people.

We are also adding an optional opportunity to join other sketchers on Sunday morning, May 17, for a Sketching Meet-Up that is open to all sketchers. Another chance to cement what you have learned!

Additional information about locations, recommended sketching supplies and more will be sent to registered participants at a later date.

COST: $300.00US/person. Payable by check (preferred method) or PayPal ($310.00US including additional transaction fee.) Payments will be coordinated by Stephanie at s.bower.arch@gmail.com.

How to sign up: Registration starts precisely on Sunday, December 15, 2019, at 12:00noon West Coast Time (no sooner, please.) First come, first served, in the order your email is received. To sign up, email s.bower.arch@gmail.com. Workshop payment is due in February 2020.

For more info about this workshop, contact the instructors directly. See you in California!!

Workshop: SEVILLA | April 17-23, 2020

When workshop organizer Brenda Murray approached me months ago about doing a workshop ANYWHERE–yes, she said “anywhere” in the world–my first choice was Seville, Spain. I was there in 2011, and it continues to call to me.

Here’s the chance for you to join me! The Studio 56 Boutique workshop info is HERE. It’s five days of focused instruction (the workshop info link shows the itinerary and amazing places we will go), including a field trip to the hill town of Ronda, and more. Registration is open now!!!

Would you believe that in 2011, I had just re-started sketching after a 25 year hiatus called “work and raising kids”? At that time, I was only sketching in pencil–no watercolor– and I had no idea that Urban Sketchers even existed!!!

This is part of why I’m so eager to go back, as the architecture of southern Spain is INCREDIBLE–gorgeous colors, charming streets, textured tile roofs, amazing detail and tilework, and it’s all infused with a strong and beautiful Moorish influence. To compare with my sketches of today, here are a few from 2011.

And here is one from this past summer in Barcelona. Things have definitely evolved!! Color adds so much, but it’s also much more difficult, especially when painting on the spot! We will of course draw and paint on location…

Please consider joining me in beautiful Spain! I can promise we will eat too much, see amazing places, sketch everything (including the tapas), and have a great time! (The best tapas I ever ate were in Seville…maybe that’s why I want to go back??)

A 21st Century Problem

If you happen to follow my sketching on this blog, Instagram or Facebook, you will know I’ve been more than a bit focused lately on the release of my new book!! I really appreciate and am so grateful to everyone who has been so supportive and welcoming of this year-long labor of love.

That said, this week I’ve learned the hard way that first impressions really are important, and as the publisher said, the first reviews online of a new book are critical to its success or failure. What happened has me so stunned, I am compelled to share it with you all. It’s definitely a problem of our times.

The first two reviews posted to Amazon are awful. One person says they received a mis-printed copy, which if that happened is truly unfortunate…but, the post states they received a digital/Kindle/e-book, not a hard copy book. Hmmm.

The second review is truly bizarre. It’s written by someone who states there are only men represented in this book, that there are no women, and that they plan to send it back because they value the input of women. Did they even look at the book? Last time I checked, I’m a woman, as are Nina, Simone, Suhita, Shari, Sue, Monali, Zainab, Alicia, Eleanor, Maru, Alena, Rooi, Rita, Katie, Angela, and Anna. The work of women is everywhere throughout this book. So what gives?

Sadly, the damage is done unless Amazon deletes these reviews. To that end, I’ve clicked the “report abuse” tab, but I don’t hold out much hope they’ll be removed. AND remember how your school GPA works? You can make A’s all semester, but one C will pull it down so far, it’s nearly impossible to get it back up to an overall A. Same for Amazon ratings, which means these bizarre reviews are a big, bad hit, as people really do look at the number of stars.

So, I appeal to you with this shameless request: If you like this new book, if you learn one new thing, if you have an “ah-ha” moment, and if you are willing, please post a positive review on Amazon–especially if you purchased your book through Amazon. It will make a big difference, and I’d be so grateful for any help. I’m taking deep breaths and fingers are crossed, and I promise to get back to posting sketches!!

Sketching like an Architect.

If you follow my work on Instagram (@stephanieabower), you know that my focus the past few weeks has been on launching the new book, 101 Sketching Tips! It’s so exciting and to be honest, very surreal!!

I also want to be sure to post practical and useful information to this blog and to use this as a teaching platform. To that end, this is a post from a few years back that got more views than any other on my previous blog. It shows the process I use to sketch each and every sketch I make, starting with reducing what I see to a few big shapes. (OK, shameless plug: it’s also one of the tips in the new book, “Tip 50: Sketch like an Architect. Start with the big shapes.” I think this post will show you what I mean, as it’s a different way of thinking compared to many folks who have an art background. More on that in a future post.
I LOVE to teach perspective because it’s something so many people fear, ignore, or fake, but there is no need if you understand a few simple principals.

Here’s the view in Suzzallo Library reading room on the University of Washington campus in Seattle. It was a regular USk Seattle meet up event.

Step ONE, Looking at the view ahead of me, I simplify what I see to a very basic shape, starting with a rectangle. This is basically what I call the “shape of the space”, as if you were to slice the room like a loaf of bread, this is the shape of one slice. Here, it’s the shape of the end wall. I measure the height and width with my pencil, then I transfer that shape to my paper. I place this shape very low on my paper, as I want to be able to draw a lot of the ceiling.

Next I locate my eye level and mark it in my sketch by drawing a horizontal line all the way across my paper…notice how LOW my eye level is relative to the shape of the space drawn. almost on the floor. On the eye level line is the vanishing point, that tiny dot just to the right of center (not the smudge right above it!) That spot is directly in front of me as I face the back wall of the space, and it’s the point where the many receding lines will all converge, making this a one-point perspective sketch.


Step TWO–by drawing in the three elements of step one (big shape, vanishing point, eye level), I have everything I need to do this drawing accurately in perspective. I can use the vanishing point to start drawing in the big lines, the major architectural elements of the space.  For this, I use a small plastic triangle, as it speeds things up to be able to snap accurate lines QUICKLY…


Step THREE– you can see I’m putting more of the bones in…the verticals represent the columns, or each structural bay of the space.  I start to tilt the lines closest to me to exaggerate the sense of height.

Step FOUR– I start working on putting in the ceiling…big shapes get broken down into smaller shapes, then I break those shapes into even smaller shapes…that is how structure works!  I also start to put in the chandeliers, as they cover up a good bit of the ceiling. Each one relates to a structural bay in the ceiling, and the lamps on the left relate to the lamps on the right.


Step FIVE– here is pretty much the complete line drawing.  I try to build up the focus with detail and linework at the back, allowing the lines closest to me to fade out.  I also added the book shelves, as that builds up the sense of activity at the pedestrian level and helps to ground the sketch.  Notice how FLAT the tables are because they are so close to my eye level. Notice how details are just suggested, I don’t take the time to actually draw in every detail.


Step SIX–Color…I started by putting an underpainting layer of Yellow Ochre on all the areas I want to be warm, usually the surfaces that advance spatially or are in the sunlight (what little there was!) , making sure to intentionally leave lots of white, unpainted paper for sparkle and light. Then I layer in more colors…mostly grays, as nearly everything in this space was gray to beige…I also build up the color carefully at the end of the space, the focal point of the perspective and the sketch.

And here is a scan of the final image, complete with signature and reminder of where I was!  I often lose a lot of the linework once I add color, which always makes me a little sad, as I LOVE the pencil work. It’s tough to hit that perfect pencil line –paint balance.

So there it is, beginning to end. It took about 1 hour and 15 minutes, sketched and painted on location. Paper is a Fluid watercolor block 8″ x 16″, Winsor & Newton watercolors, and my favorite Escoda Reserva size 10 travel brush. Also my 1″ angled synthetic brush for broad strokes in big areas at the beginning.

I hope you found this post helpful…if so, please leave a comment. And how does it look? Is the font size too big?? AND if you have ideas for what you’d like to see in future posts, just let me know. Thank you again for following this blog, and please also check out my workshops page…dates are being set now for 2020, Civita is already full!! I will post future workshops announcements on this blog first!