Online Talk this Saturday, June 27!

And a journey it is!!! Please join me this Saturday, June 27 at 10am Seattle time (1pm New York, 6pm Paris, 2am Sydney–so sorry!) for a free online talk about my walk through this sketching life. with Studio 56’s Brenda Murray. From my first awkward sketches back in architecture school , to teaching myself watercolor, to sharing my recent and favorite work from Dubrovnik last September–it’s an evolution. I’ll show a variety of sketches and talk about the breakthrough moments and what I learned that helped me improve. My hope is that this talk will inspire everyone to push through the hard times and keep sketching!! Hope to see you there, and thank you so much… (will I ever get a good photo for these promos??) 😉

From Brenda: This is your invitation to attend a live-streaming interview with Seattle-based urban sketcher, architectural illustrator and Urban Sketching Handbook author, Stephanie Bower. The interview will start at 1:00EDT Saturday, June 27. Feel free to invite your USk chapter members and friends.

HOW TO JOIN THE Zoom MEETING
1) If you have not already installed the free Zoom app, go to https://zoom.us/ to install the app. The meeting will start at the appointed time so please download the app BEFORE the start of the meeting
2) click the meeting link:
https://us02web.zoom.us/j/86915734380 and wait for you to be added to the call by Brenda.
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 https://www.facebook.com/messages/t/brenda.murray.7. You may also send your questions in advance of the meeting.

FOR BEST RESULTS
1) the call is limited to the first 100 so arrive early so as not to be disappointed.
2) use the device with the largest screen (laptop is better than phone) so that you can see the artist’s art
3) keep your webcam turned off because it will disrupt the interview and you will be kicked out
4) select “Speaker View” so that the speaker fills the screen

Happy Birthday, little book.

Saying this is a dream come true is an understatement. Four years ago yesterday, June 15, 2016, this little book was officially released.

This particular adventure started in 2015 when I saw Gabi Campanario at one of our Seattle Urban Sketchers meet ups. He was standing near me, and I thought to thank him for including my work in his books, the first two in the Handbook series. What an honor it was, I couldn’t believe it!!! Surprisingly, he looked at me and said, “What about you? You should write a book. Do you want me to put you in touch with my editor?” Literally picking my jaw off the floor, I mumbled, “Sure,” but the voice in my head was screaming, “WHAT did he just say????” Of course, the humble and generous Gabi was true to his word, and very shortly after, he connected me with his editor, Mary Ann Hall at Quarry Books/Quarto publishers.

Mary Ann said I should write up a short proposal with a description, stating how this book would be different from others on the market. Having bought every drawing book on perspective known to mankind, I knew that all the books were focused on studio perspective, that is, something like boxes on a table top — useless if you want to sit on a street and sketch. That was what my book would talk about, bridging the conceptual world of studio perspective with the “what the heck do I do when I want to sketch on location” world. I had been teaching perspective sketching in college for decades, but had just started teaching workshops in Seattle. I knew perspective in and out from my work as an architectural illustrator and my background as an architect. The proposal poured out of me in only a few minutes, and I sent it off. BOOM. It was approved, and before I could catch my breath, I was writing a book!

I knew what I wanted the book to say. I had come up with my own original concepts for teaching, things like “starting with the shape of the face or space”, or ignoring the term “horizon line” and instead using your “eye-level line” (it’s much more relevant to sketching on location.) I had never seen anyone else use these and other terms in the way I talked about them. The hard part was finding the sketches that would illustrate the teaching points. I combed the internet, looking at the work of my hero sketchers, friends, but also finding new folks I hadn’t seen in other books. It was a herculean task to coordinate it all. I’m so incredibly grateful that so many talented artists and architects from around the world were willing to share their work, for nothing but a copy from the publisher and an opportunity.

As I wrote the text, I laid everything out in InDesign for my own understanding, as I had to see how the parts would all go together…the right text with the right sketch, the diagrams in the right order, the right adjacencies and notes. We went through lots of rounds of edits, and I probably was too ambitious in trying to pack so much information into one small book. There was just too much I wanted to say!

Months later, it’s June 15, 2016 and I’m signing copies of the book at the Seattle-based Daniel Smith store. Such a surreal moment, I cannot tell you. I’ve since been sent photos of this book on sale at the Art Museum in Sydney Australia, the Tate Modern in London, the Uffizi in Florence (I went and found them there as well, snuck the copies into a corner, signed them, and put them back on the shelf), and even the Louvre bookstore in Paris, in French. Crazy. Blew my mind to see to see it on Amazon ranked next to the books by my hero authors that I had used in architecture school.

The title, Understanding Perspective, came from Mary Ann Hall, and it was perfect.

I picked the cover image for two reasons: one, everyone loves Paris! Two, it was done during the first few days of my time in Paris with the Gabriel Prize fellowship, so it means a lot to me personally. I hoped it would bring good luck!

The image on the back cover is by Gabi and is a view of the Seattle waterfront (our common home town) and the viaduct, that I knew would be gone a few years later. It’s my nod to thank him.

Let me also say that there is very little money in writing a book, even one that sells well. It’s much more about sharing knowledge and experience, sharing my perspective on perspective (yes, I did just write that), and creating something that will likely outlive me. Hopefully my children and grandchildren can look to it one day and feel proud. My dad had always told me I should write a book (I think he imagined a NYT bestseller 😉 and the opportunity to write this book came just after he passed away. I hope he is somewhere, smiling… as for me, I’m still living the dream and am grateful every day.

4. Wide Angles in the Chiesa

I have drawn the interior of Civita’s Chiesa San Donato a few times times, as for the past 7 years, each workshop group comes here on the last day for the most challenging sketch of all. It’s a space I find both simple and ornate at the same time, and it’s a wonderful, cool and quiet place to sketch on a hot day.

This first image below was done in 2013. It was the first year I taught in Civita–a workshop of one person– so the two of us basically just sketched together. My son, Nicholas came with me too. His plan was to help me haul groceries up the bridge, then hightail it back to Rome to do the youth hostel thing. But he, too, walked through that Porta Santa Maria and entered a different world…he climbed the steps to our apartment, entered, turned and looked out the window, saw the breathtaking view, pulled up a chair, found a book, and stayed in that spot reading and drinking wine (age doesn’t matter in Italia) for at least a week. So much for Rome! Then, he went back to his sophomore year at UW and started studying, you guessed it… ITALIAN! He ended up graduating with a minor in Italian, and he is more or less fluent. Thus is the power of Civita!!

So 2013 was my first year in Civita, my first workshop here, and my first wide angle view sketch!!! This image is loaded with emotion for me.

In 2014, I was in Civita with a 2-month fellowship through The Civita Institute, a non-profit based in Seattle that used to have associations with the University of Washington architecture program. My project was to research the town’s history and draw an illustrated walking guide. What resulted was a sketch of the interior was WAY over the top… I tried to show every little detail that I wanted to call out in the guide. Overworked, it’s like a cake that is too sweet…

Next is 2017. Cleaner, with more control over the drawing (I was probably remembering my overworked 2014 image). Here are some photos taken during the process too. You can see in the “good bones” how I lay out the big shapes and use full ellipses to get the arches.

Those are my favorites…until next year!

3. North South East West

A few steps further into town, and I mean maybe 15 steps, is the Piazza San Donato. It’s the town’s primary gathering space for nearly 3000 years! Once an Etruscan and then a Roman forum, it is located at the auspicious intersection of Etruscan roads, what the Romans would call the Decamanus (east-west) and Cardo (north-south). There probably would have been a Roman temple here, and the pieces of what were columns still stand along the front of the church–they are granite and likely came from Egypt!

The Campanile or bell tower rings every quarter hour, and when you live in Civita, it chimes the rhythm of your life. At longer 7am and 7pm chimes once signaled the start and end of the workday to the farmers in the valley below.

As part of my 2014 fellowship, I documented all four directions…it’s like you are there! I had an exhibit of work at Washington State University a few years back…we printed huge copies of these sketches and hung them at eye level to make a box. You could stand in the middle and imagine you were in Civita!

In terms of technique, if you look closely, you can see the subtle evolution of my drawing and painting. The earlier ones have flatter color, and as time and practice went on, the colors got more varied and refined. I was figuring things out! My favorite is the last one shown here, as this is where I finally got the feel for representing this place. Not overpainted, just enough. While I was doing this, I remember there was a wedding taking place. All the guests were from either the US or Lebanon, and my gosh, I’ve never seen more amazing clothing in my life!

So many stories, so many memories, such an incredible opportunity. I am so eternally grateful for having received the Civita Institute’s Astra Zarina 2-month fellowship here in 2014. It was during these two solid months of work that I really found my sketching self and developed a way of drawing and painting that I still use to this day.

Much more to come…

2. Through the gate…

Huff and puff up the steep bridge, through the Porta Santa Maria, turn and look back at this view as you emerge into the Piazza San Pietro. The workshop group often sketches here in the morning while we sit in shade and the facades are bathed in crisp morning light, plus the bar (what we call a cafe) on the piazza opens early and serves yummy lattes. Appropriate, as apparently there was a market here long ago.

Look carefully at this wide-angle view and you’ll see blue sky in some of the windows of the Renaissance era Palazzo Colesanti…yes, the building collapsed into the valley below and all that is left is the facade! The outdoor stair is called a proferlo and is typical of this area of Italy. The gray stone around the windows is a very dense balsatina, which is mined locally. It’s also used for some amazing fireplace throughout town.

In terms of technique, this is where we learn to leave a swath of the paper as white untouched by paint in order to get a sense for the sun hitting the face of the building and ground. This is also where we learn to do varied washes of color so the color isn’t flat and also talks about the materials and stone texture. Just look at all the colors that are dropped into any one facade! That was done with one layer of watercolor wash. And my favorite part, just look at the arch on the far right under the stairs…that glow of red is a drop of Daniel Smith Quinacridone Burnt Orange into wet paint. I love that color!

I am looking back as a way to dream about next year…gosh I miss this place!

1. Civita weaves its spell…

Yesterday, the workshop folks would have huffed and puffed their way up the long and steep bridge to the amazing tiny town of Civita di Bagnoregio.

Instead of the island in the sky it is now, Civita was at one time surrounded by fairly level fields with entry roads coming into town from various directions. But the rivers to the north and south, aided by earthquakes, cut into the soft volcanic and undersea soils and left it standing alone and cut off. There used to be a skinny land bridge that connected Bagnoregio with Civita, and the main mode of transport until only a few decades ago was by donkey! These days, in the mornings you’ll find shop and restaurant owners on their scooters, loaded down with bags of supplies.

Walking up the bridge is something of a ritual ceremony. And for those of us who are afraid of heights, it takes some getting used to. But with each step and gaze out to the vast landscape, you leave the real world behind and get closer to the timeless, auto-free, ancient world of stone that is beyond the gate.

Just inside the Porta Santa Maria, you can see the Etruscan era original arches which are held in place with no mortar, only gravity. The current facade was actually added in the Renaissance by the local cardinal who made it look like a sort of medieval gate. There used to be a chapel here, a hospital, roads down to the chestnut fields below town, and much more, but it’s all fallen into the valley by now, joining the wild boar or cinghiale that roam the hillsides (yes, you can eat pasta with cinghiale, and it’s delicious!) But pass through this gate, as pilgrims have been doing for thousands of years (you can see the crosses carved into the stone walls), and a spell comes over you. This place really is magic.

Rome 2019

In 2019, I changed my usual rushing in and out of Rome and booked 5 nights at a relatively cheap hotel near the Campo de’ Fiori after the Civita workshop. I had the BEST time all by myself for the most part (other than seeing my friends Kelly and Francesca), just wandering and sketching at my own pace. I have figured out that I really do my best work when I’m by myself, because I can listen to my own rhythms. Here are some of the images I sketched.

Near my hotel was the Portico d’Ottavia in the old Jewish quarter…yes, there is Jewish quarter in Catholic Rome. I say in the shade and listened to group after group of tourists with guides, often tearing up at their stories. I love how the ancient and modern coexist in this city. Unlike Americans, I suspect that Italians value and respect all things old…including people.
Also near the hotel were the sunken Roman ruins of the Largo d’Argentina (“argento” means “silver”). I stood to sketch in order to see the lower level. According to Francesca, Rome kept building on top of itself for thousands of years. The Tiber river would flood and leave huge amounts of silt, and instead of cleaning it out, they just built on top of it. The pine trees, which I did a terrible job of painting, are umbrella pines that produce pignoli nuts! The weeds growing in the walls produce caper berries.
When it’s hot out, I head inside the nearest church to sketch. Cool and quiet, I can sit undisturbed to sketch, rest and restore. The interior of Sant’ Andrea della Valle was right outside the window of my hotel. The interior is all shiny gold, so I basically just painted with yellow ochre and a touch of burnt sienna. I love the challenge of these perspective views! If you can enlarge this image, please take a look…it’s much more interesting when you can really see inside the spaces.
Towards the end of my stay, I woke up feeling sick, but I was so determined not to miss a day of sketching, that I threw on clothes, grabbed water bottles (Rome has the best tasting water, everywhere in the streets…), and I headed toward this picturesque spot I’ve walked by many times. This is a wide angle view that goes from the Vittorio Emanuele II monument (aka, the “wedding cake”), through the nearly 2000 year old Trajan’s Column, to the beautiful churches on the right, the Chiesa di Santa Maria di Loreto and Chiesa del Santissimo Nome di Maria al Foro Traiano. The more I sat in the heat, the worse I felt, but I pushed through. Listened to a guy selling something and how he engaged every person that walked by. Usually, it was “Where you from? Do you play basketball?” He was great, I hope he sold a lot, he worked so hard! In the end, I loved this sketch…and all the sights and sounds come back…

Walking Rome

In the pre-COVID 19 and world chaos universe, I would be sleepily stumbling around Rome right about now. After marveling the Pantheon, I would head to the Piazza Navona. I’d buy a gelato and sit on my sketching stool, then call my mother on Facetime so I could pan the scene and let her see where I am! Someone pinch me!

Once I’ve slurped down the gelato, I would start a sketch. I’ve sketched here a few times, mostly the same view with my back against the wall at one end while looking toward the other, watching the shadows change as the sun goes down.

2014 sketch in my 5×8 Pentalic sketchbook.
June 2019, sitting in almost the same spot. Slight change in style! This sketch is 8×16 on Fluid watercolor block (sadly, no longer made in this size) so I could get a little more detail in. I have to say, I got the yellow ochre glow better in the earlier one!

In 2014, I met up with my friend Kelly Medford, an American artist living the dream in Rome. Her work is beautiful, she hops on her bike and does oil painting on location!! She took my Civita workshop that year, and every time I go through Rome, I try to see her. She also runs sketching workshops for tourists, in case you ever go…

Really quick 2014 sketch of the Colosseum while walking around with Kelly. The left side is empty as it was covered in scaffolding at the time, but I like how it focuses on the broken edge on the right!

From the Colosseum to the Forum. It was probably 110 degrees midday as I sketched, and who should walk by, but my friend Francesca Caruso with a tour group! She took my first workshop ever in Seattle, and you can see her walking the streets of her beloved Rome with Rick Steves in his TV shows. She is amazing, her goal is to change the way people see their world…and she does it!!!

The tour continues tomorrow…and I have to say that these days, I am happy to be healthy at home, to have a roof over my head and food in my fridge. My sadness about not traveling pales in comparison to those in the world who are truly suffering. As I write these posts, I am counting my blessings…

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:

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Bluprint
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)
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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?