The Pantheon, my ground zero

Today I find myself feeling so sad today for the current state of our world. In a pre-COVID-19 universe, I’d be boarding a plane to Italy today. This would be the 8th year I’ve had the honor to teach a sketching workshop in the amazing iconic hill town of Civita di Bagnoregio, just north of Rome. To say I look forward to this trip each year is a HUGE understatement. After 7 years, including a two month stay in 2014, it feels like a second home to me.

In 2013, I came to Rome and Civita during my 3-month architecture fellowship in Paris (OK, I still can’t believe I can write that sentence!) I usually stay a day or two in Rome to adjust to the time change before making my way north. Arriving in Rome is always a bit of a shock– it’s so wonderful to breathe in the warm colors, be greeted by bubbly and warm people, devour amazing food that felt like it comes straight from the earth.

When I get to Rome, I drop my bags and make a beeline for… the Pantheon. If I see nothing else, I have to come here. Just walking into the space fills me with awe and connects me to the ancient history that is this beautiful city. It’s humbling to realize I am at best a tiny nano-blip in the larger scheme of things in this universe, sort of like gazing at the billions of lights in the night sky. That’s how I feel when looking up at that exquisite opening in the ceiling above.

The Pantheon is a challenging place to sketch, I think I redrew the shapes on the page 10 times before I got everything proportional and fitting on the paper. It’s small, in my Pentalic 5×8 (perfect Golden Rectangle!) sketchbook. This sketch means so much to me– in part, I feel the connection to all the people who have been walking into this space for centuries, and it also represents the start of a wonderful adventure and lifelong dream to travel and teach. It’s the first image in my first book, Understanding Perspective, to explain the enormous power of sketching to see, remember, experience…

Yellow Ochre to Pyrrol Orange to Quin Burnt Orange…that’s the sequence of colors on the left…

For the next two weeks or so, I’ll be posting sketches, stories, and photos from my travel to Italy and workshops in Civita from the seven previous years. Until we can travel and meet there in the future, let’s travel together through the past from home! Grazie, baci a tutti!

End of an Era

Bluprint, formerly known as Craftsy, has just sent out the following message:


We recently shared the disappointing news that Bluprint will be closing over the next few months. You can see the letter to the Bluprint community here and posted below. We are immensely thankful for the opportunity to have supported you and your passion over the past decade. 

We know there are many questions and we will have more information to share soon. Please note that we will provide a way for those of you who have purchased classes to receive a copy of the classes you purchased. For example, we’re working on a solution to give you an extended period to download your purchased classes. 

Current subscribers still have access to classes, patterns, and course materials, however we will stop accepting new subscribers and orders for individual classes, patterns and supplies on May 31 at 11:59 pm EDT

Thank you for your patience and understanding as we work through these important details. If you have questions, please use the Contact Us feature on our website. 

May 24, 2020 

To our Bluprint community, 

This is not an easy letter to write. For the last ten years, my colleagues and I have worked tirelessly on Craftsy and then Bluprint. When we started the business in 2010, our goal was to provide passionate enthusiasts access to the world’s best experts and make it easier to learn new skills. Our hope was to make people’s lives better through creativity, and we’ve been honored to serve millions of customers over the last decade. 

I am disappointed to inform you that Bluprint will be closing over the next few months. Like so many customers, instructors, designers, and employees, I am devastated by this news. Please know that our team is working quickly to finalize details, and we will provide more information soon. 

For now, I wanted to let you know that we are looking at various options to allow those of you who have purchased individual classes to receive a copy of your classes. This includes individual classes purchased with own forever credits. We are also planning to issue prorated refunds for paid subscribers based on the last day our service will be available, which will be communicated when that date is finalized in the near future. 

On behalf of all the Craftsy/Bluprint employees, I want to express our gratitude and appreciation to you for being with us on this journey. 

If you have questions, please contact us and we will do our best to respond as quickly as possible. 

Thank you and please stay safe and healthy. 

Sincerely,BluprintJohn Levisay 
CEO, Bluprint (Craftsy)

So odd this is happening now, when you’d think business would be booming with everyone stuck at home and working online. On behalf of myself and the 9 other Urban Sketchers instructors on the Bluprint/Craftsy platform (Shari Blaukopf, Suhita Shirodkar, Marc Taro Holmes, Paul Heaston, James Richards, Lynne Chapman, Suma CM, Steven Reddy, Matt Brehm), I’ve written Bluprint with a list of questions. Most important, it sounds like they are trying to figure out a way to let people access the content they bought as “Forever Classes”. I’ll let everyone know when I hear back.

I have to say a huge THANK YOU to Craftsy, it’s been an honor and a privilege to get to be part of their family. They created really high quality, state-of-the-art online classes — heck, my courses alone reached literally tens of thousands of people around the world. It was funny to meet folks who recognized me by my voice even before they saw me, thanks to these classes! At the Manchester USk symposium, Paul Heaston and I talked with a woman from Africa who said these classes had “saved her life”, as they were the only way she could access art instruction. WOW! I’m very sad to see this resource disappear.

So if you’ve purchased the classes, watch them again now while you have the chance, I think until the end of June…take notes and lots of screen shots! And stay tuned, I’m working out a way to teach perspective workshops online via Zoom… interested?

A Guide to Our Living Room, and the steps it took to get there…

As primarily a travel sketcher who is now stuck at home on Day 47, I’m finally turning my sights to drawing our house. What started as a simple sketch of our small living room turned into creating a way to identify beloved objects, a road may for our kids who some day may want to know what all this stuff is and where it came from. (I’ve instructed them not to sell the watercolor paintings and my brushes at a yard sale!)
And since I was sketching at home, I had the luxury of being able to stop and start, and to scan various phases of the sketch. I LOVED the line drawing and hesitated to add any color at all, but then took the plunge and added a little underpainting to establish the voids or recessed spaces. Finally, more color, although I tried to restrain myself and leave a lot of white to give a sense of the sunlight.
In the end, my favorite is the underpainted version, and the kind folks who responded to my Instagram post helped me figure out why (most liked the full color version, by the way.) I like the unfinished quality of the sketch at that point, the areas that are left white feel fresh. It’s a painting of potential, one that doesn’t overpower the line drawing I really liked and didn’t want to lose with too much paint (which happens all too often!)
How about you, which version do you like best?

And the steps:

1–Initial rough sketch blocking out the big shapes. You can see my vanishing point right in front of me, and my eye level line drawn all the way across the page. I didn’t erase any of these lines, other than moving the Eames chair, I drew right over them.

2– Completed line drawing. I love being able to se all the little details! I added the text.

3– Underpainting, it’s my way of easing into the painting by dipping my toe in first. Cool colors show the recesses, the warm colors advance.

4–Full color, but a muted palette so I don’t cover up too much of the lines I love. I tried to restrain from painting too much, by leaving areas of the paper white to show sunlight.

This post also appears on the Urban Sketchers blog at


Being stuck inside, facing a dangerous pandemic, has made me reflect on lots of things, including my sketching journey. A few weekends ago, I did an interview with Brenda Murray of Studio 56, and in light of all this reflection, I thought it would be good to show how I got to where I am today… it’s been a long road, with a 30 year break in between!! Some day, it will make for a good Ted Talk, as the road has lots of challenges, great tragedies, and inspiring moments of good will and good fortune.

At the end of each of the Sunday USk Talks, instructors pose a sketching challenge. So of course, my challenge was not to actually sketch something but to go back to your earliest sketches and compare them with what you do now. What have you learned? How have your sketches evolved? Any ah-ha moments? What is the meaning of life? (Just kidding on that last one, well, sort of kidding…)

You can view the entire talk on Urban Sketchers YouTube.

So, I extend the invitation to you to post your reflections to what is now being called the “Then and Now Challenge” on Instagram and Facebook. It doesn’t have to be the same location for both sketches. If you decide to jump into this challenge, be sure to tag the following on Instagram: #USkTalksChallenge #usktalks #USKthenandnowchallenge @ubansketchers and of course tag me @stephanieabower (don’t forget the middle “a”) so I can see it and comment!

Above is my Then and Now…the image on the left is one of my first pencil sketches done of Radcliffe Camera in Oxford back in the…gulp…1980’s. Then there was a 30 year break to marry, raise kids, work and teach. I picked up sketching again in 2011 with a fateful trip to India (that’s for the Ted Talk for sure). The image on the right, is part of a panorama sketch done in 2017 when I had the opportunity to teach a workshop in gorgeous Oxford. It was amazing to go back, and I would love to teach there again.

So what did I learn? My first sketches were thick and heavy, not a whole lot of control at the beginning of that trip, and no color at all, but things did get better. What I do now has the same goal — to learn about architecture — but with a lot more control of my hand, a lot more technique. Makes me happy to see that things have improved as they have evolved.

What about your Then and Now????

USk Talks #4: Couch Travelling Around the World

I was so nervous, but once I heard that soothing radio host voice of Rob Sketcherman welcoming people to the Instagram LIVE talk from midnight in Hong Kong, I was lulled into a relaxed trance. What followed was a blast! It was really SO fun to relive some of the places I’ve been and sketched, going in a clockwise direction starting in Varanasi, India, where I was almost born. The goal was not to show my best work, but to show sketches that hold meaning for me, especially since travel is restricted now and for the foreseeable future, which frankly, has been depressing. So Rob’s upbeat and warm delivery were very much appreciated.

The one hour talk interview crossed the globe in true USk form, with Rob in HK, me in Seattle, and the amazing Oliver Hoeller in Austria. It is now up on Urban Sketchers YouTube here.

Thanks to everyone who watched live! I will post the images I showed along with a few stories on this blog so you can see them a little better. Technology is great, but not perfect! We laughed so much, I hope you will find some time to join us for a little mini trip from the comfort of your own home!

USk Talks, Take a Trip to Distant Lands this Sunday

Look who’s up next in talk #4 of this inspiring series! Join interviewer Rob Sketcherman in Hong Kong, Oliver Hoeller from Austria, and me in Seattle, from the comfort of your couch for a little sketching journey to distant lands this Sunday, April 26 at 9:00am Seattle time (4pm GMT).
This USk interview will be on Instagram. Make sure you “follow” Urban Sketchers on Instagram, then at 9am, open your Instagram page and look for the USk logo with the word “LIVE” in your story feed. Tap on it, and you can see the interview and even post comments! AND–this is important– it’s best if you can watch from your computer, as you won’t have to squint at your phone to see the images!

It’s a fabulous series, I am so honored to participate. We are all apart, but connected!!

(PS, if you don’t already follow my work on Instagram, I’m at @stephanieabower .

Working in Layers, Quarantine Day #35

It’s handy building up a drawing in layers! I did the first layers of this sketch over a week ago, then this morning picked it up again to add more. Can you guess what big shape I started with? No, not the wall opening in front of me, but the entire wall itself…the Shape of this Space is defined by the shape of that entire back wall. VP is directly in front of me, as I’m sitting looking straight ahead. Had I started with that square opening, I would have had to “grow” the sketch, and capturing proportions and size would have been much more difficult. Color comes in the next layer, starting with a underpainting layer of the spaces through the wall openings so that those areas recede in space.

At some point I realized that I had started the sketch too low on my paper, but what the heck, I was already committed. So to make lemonade from a lemon, I decided to add notes to the empty space at the top of the page. I thought maybe some day, the notes that identify a bit of what’s what would be helpful to our kids…

I hope some of you caught the interview with Brenda Murray of Studio 56 on Saturday. I’ll write up a post about it soon. Thanks to all who tuned in! It was recorded and will be posted to the Studio 56 YouTube page.

I’ll also be showing sketches this Sunday, April 26 at 9am Seattle time as part of the Urban Sketchers series, USk Talks. Soooooo honored to get to participate! Hope to see you this Sunday on the Urban Sketcher’s Instagram live stories for a round the world trip from your couch!

I love this part!!

Well, How Did I Get Here? …this Saturday, April 18.

I’m combing through piles of sketches and old sketchbooks to pick the milestone moments along this sketching path of mine. How DID I get here indeed!!

Please join me this Saturday, April 18 for a free online talk about my walk through this sketching life. From first sketches back in architecture school in the Middle Ages (when I sketched in pen!), to teaching myself watercolor, to sharing my recent and favorite work from Dubrovnik last September. It’s interesting to see how everything has evolved, not to mention what happened during my 25 year break from sketching! My hope is that this talk will inspire everyone to push through the hard times and keep sketching!!

Here is the info about how to watch this talk from moderator, Brenda Murray, who is hosting a series of online interviews. It’s easy to watch. You just need Zoom installed and then click on the link below.

From Brenda: This is your invitation to attend a live-streaming interview with Seattle-based urban sketching instructor and architectural illustrator, Stephanie Bower as she talks about her sketching journey. The interview will start at 1:00EDT Saturday, April 18 and will run about an hour. Feel free to invite your USk chapter members and friends.

1) If you have not already installed the free Zoom app, go to to install the app. The meeting will start at the appointed time so please download the app BEFORE the start of the meeting.
2) Just before 1:00pm EDT (that’s 10am in Seattle), click this meeting link: ttps://
3) Your Audio and your Video and Chat will be disabled. However, we would really like to make this as interactive as possible so please send your questions via Facebook Messenger to We will try very hard to answer everyone’s questions.

***Note: for best results use the device with the largest screen (laptop is better than phone) so that you can see the artist’s art when they hold it up.

9. Suzzallo Reading Room in one..two…three…

I recently abandoned my old blog to start this one, and I thought I’d share what may be the most viewed post from the former blog…the one, two, three steps to sketching an interior space, in this case, the University of Washington’s Suzzallo Library Reading Room. Most people think this sketch was done in merry old England, but no, it’s just a few miles from my home in Seattle!
I love to teach perspective because it’s something so many people fear, ignore, or fake, but it’s really not hard if you know what to look for. This space looks complex and overwhelming, but it’s not, and you’ll see that to start this sketch, I use the three simple steps I use in all my sketches!

Step ONE: Looking at the view ahead of me, I ignore all that amazing gothic detail and simplify what I see to a very basic shape, starting with a rectangle, then adding a sort of triangle on top of it. 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 you would see. 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 page, as I want to be able to draw a lot of the ceiling.

Step TWO: I use my pencil to extend the lines that are receding away from me to find the point where they intersect, my Vanishing Point. I mark that mentally in my view and physically on my paper. Because I’m sitting, look how LOW the VP is relative to that first big shape!! The VP also directly in front of me as I sit squarely facing the end wall.

Step THREE: Because the Vanishing Point lives on my Eye Level Line, I draw my ELL in the sketch, a horizontal line all the way across my paper. Look how low it is! I mostly do this because it is a really useful reference for many things, and it helps to stabilize the drawing.

And with these three simple steps, I have everything I need to do this drawing accurately in perspective!!! These are the basic foundational lines of the sketch, and they are the road map I will follow to draw in everything else. I can use the vanishing point to start drawing in more big shapes and prominent 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. Remember, once your VP is on your paper, USE IT to draw all those receding lines!

Step FOUR: 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 angle the lines closest to me to exaggerate the sense of height.

Step FIVE– 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.

Here is a photo of the complete line drawing.  I tried to build up the focal point with detail and linework at the back, allowing the lines closest to me at the edges of the paper 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!)  Blue goes in at the very back to help that area recede. Then I layer in more colors…mostly grays, as nearly everything in this space was gray to beige…I also built up the contrast 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!

So there it is, beginning to end. It took about 1 hour and 15 minutes, sketched and painted on location with Urban Sketchers Seattle. Paper is a Fluid watercolor block 8″ x 16″ (sadly, no longer available), 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. Similar to drawing from big shapes to detail, I paint from big shapes to detail too!
I hope you found this helpful!

8. Perspective in one…two…three…

I always say that perspective is easy…when you know what to look for! Now you know to start with big shapes, how to find your ever-important eye level line, and that how you sit and view your subject is responsible for whether or not your sketch will be a one or two-point perspective! Next step, let’s construct a simple one-point perspective in 3 easy steps!

Starting with your view,

  1. Edit what you see to simple shapes. Find one big shape to use to start your sketch, and measure the proportions to find the ratio of height to width. This door frame is about 1 pencil unit wide to 2.5 pencil units tall, a ration of 1:2.5
  2. Find your vanishing point. Use your pencil to extend the receding lines to find the point where they converge in the distance (orange). Mark that point mentally to something in your view– here it’s close to the corner of the window in the distance. Notice where this point is relative to the big shape you just drew–here, it’s about half way up the door frame and very close to the center of the width of the door frame.
  3. Draw in your Eye Level Line. It’s the height of your eyes above the floor. The Vanishing Point is directly in front of you when you are sitting square to your subject.

And that’s it! This gives you the foundational lines and a road map to completing your sketch! Here is the sketch sequence:

After using my pencil to measure the proportions, I transfer that ratio of 1:2.5 lengths to my paper
to draw a rectangle in loose, light lines. This is the big shape! Add the VP and ELL.
Add more information, by blocking out more big shapes in light, loose lines.
Use the Vanishing Point for all the receding lines.
On this third pass, I darken the lines that are important. Because I’m right-handed, I start on the left and work my way to the right to avoid smearing.
Next I underpainted with yellow ochre and a light gray to establish
lights and darks and to unify the painting.
Add more color. Basically, I was trying to do a light-dark-light sequence through the spaces.

OK, it’s not a masterpiece, but given the limitations of subject matter in my house where I am stuck at the moment, at least it explains the concepts!! What I often hear from folks in my workshops is that they finally have a structure, a recipe, a road map, basic tools for how to start a sketch in perspective. Nearly all the sketches I do are one point perspectives, and I start ALL of them with these same 3 simple steps! Try sketching a doorway in your home, post it, and tag me on Facebook or Instagram @stephanieabower.