New book: The Complete Urban Sketching Companion

Yep, another book in this great series comes out in only two weeks, on August 18! The publisher, Quarry Books, has put together a compilation of the best bits from Gabi Campanario’s first two handbooks, Architecture and Cityscapes, and People and Motion; Shari Blaukopf’s Working with Color; and my Understanding Perspective. Everything you need for urban sketching in one book, especially if you are new to this series.

The Companion is the same portable size as the other books in the series, but more than double the number of pages. Look for it now for pre-order now online (since most of us can’t go to stores these days)… I hope you will check it out!!

Drawing or painting or both?

Sorry for the lapse in posts, but I’ve been focusing on creating an online course I hope to offer LIVE via Zoom in a few weeks! It will be a masterclass on perspective sketching made easy (any suggestions for a title??) that is based on an interactive lecture I gave 5 years ago at the USk symposium in Singapore. As I buy more and more equipment to pull this off, my little home office is slowly being converted to a TV studio!

Today I sat in front of my house to sketch, as I don’t feel compelled to go too far from home these days. I also haven’t sketched in a while, and I’m feeling the rusty joints. The drawing part I pretty much have down, it’s the painting where you can often see that I’m out of practice–when I’m not warmed up, I tend to overpaint.

This is the front of our 1911 Craftsman house in Seattle. I realized about 3/4 the way through that I’m currently stuck somewhere between making it a drawing or a painting. I typically like the architectural feel of the drawings with minimal color, so I’m going to blame my attempts to be more painterly on none other than Shari Blaukopf. I look at her beautiful work and I think I need to use more color. Ha! Don’t we all wish we could paint like Shari?

Here is a bit of the process for today. One advantage of sketching at home is that I can run into the house and scan the progress images! Below is the finished line, the underpainting of warms and cools, the addition of the sky dropped into wet paper, and the final sketch.

I actually love the image with the sky, as I’m always a little sad once I cover up my line work! It has a balance that I rather like. I also like how the fence came out. The house itself, well I’m still working on getting those darn values right…

Breaking News: Craftsy/Bluprint Lives On!!!

Just got this letter in my inbox, happy to share this news!

Dear Stephanie,

At the end of May, we shared that Bluprint would be closing its doors. The outpouring of support we received was amazing to see. So many of our instructors and customers wrote in with stories sharing how much Bluprint and our online classes mean to them.  

Today I am happy to share that Bluprint classes will live on! 

Our friends at TN Marketing will provide a seamless transition for current Bluprint customers and subscribers by preserving their access to Craftsy and Bluprint content. TN Marketing will honor previous customer purchases for classes, subscriptions and instructor agreements. This means your content will continue to be available to Craftsy and Bluprint customers, as well as a whole new audience through TN’s communities.

TN Marketing, is a Minneapolis-based global online video subscription and streaming business.  You may be familiar with some of their brands such as National Quilters Circle, National Sewing Circle, Outdoor Photography Guide and Woodworkers Guild of America. TN Marketing has more than 20 years of experience creating content and communities that help engage people with their passions.

The TN Marketing team will be in touch later today or tomorrow to officially welcome you to the TN Marketing family and share more information about next steps. 

On behalf of myself and the entire Bluprint team, we want to thank you for your support over the years.  This journey has been the highlight of my professional career and we have all loved working with you. We wish you all the best as you continue your journey with TN Marketing. 

John Levisay 
CEO Bluprint

Do you remember the day drawing “clicked” for you? I do, and this is it.

Do you remember the day that sketching “clicked” for you? I do, and this is it. The year is 19xx something, I’m 21 and in my third year architecture student at the University of Texas at Austin. 
Before we could advance to our 4th of 5 years in the architecture program, a portfolio of our work was reviewed by three professors. Two of the three wrote “weak graphic skills”. Yep, that was me. Weak graphic skills. I was quite depressed at first and considered changing majors (right, just as all my friends were entering their final year of university), but after a few days, that diagnosis seemed to light a fire under me. Frankly, they were right. My style of depicting my projects was simple and cartoony, I cringe when I look at those images now.
That same semester, I took a drawing class that would change my life. It was the final time George Villalva, a local architect, would teach his location sketching class, and I lucked out just to get in. A strict former Marine, you had to be in your seat by 8am as the bells on the campus tower chimed (the earliest class in the curriculum) or he glared at you. But it was such a great class that lots of students took it for no credit and multiple times. He had such a clear way of teaching perspective sketching, methods I have expanded upon and now teach to my students. The drawing classes at UT at that time were great, and they trained a whole generation of architects who can draw.

These sketches reflect George’s approach to learning sketching. They are from the final assignment for the entire course. While I had flickers of moments that showed promised during the semester, something happened this day that made my drawing skills click. brain, hand, and eye worked as one. Perhaps it was all the work that lead up to this moment, or perhaps it was the fact that I tried again and again until I got a drawing I more or less liked. But as I sat on the curb (I had to keep moving my legs for the bus that came by) on a quiet Sunday morning (see, it all comes back!) looking down Congress Avenue toward the Texas State Capitol, some kind of magic happened and my drawing abilities made a quantum leap.
A little about George’s technique. He taught us about linework, perspective, drawing cars, ink techniques, and much more. We started every view with a quick postcard sketch. These were only 30 second to 1 or 2 minute drawings, and it taught us to see the essence of the space and quickly capture the essentials. He timed us with his watch.

Next was a longer line drawing, but still quick. We worked in markers on a 12″x18″ newsprint pad (big so you move your whole arm, and cheap not-intimidating paper so you got over your fear of putting pen to paper). Drawing quickly was best…no time to overthink things, and the line quality had the energy that only speed can bring.
Next came tone…we pulled out a few gray markers and did a tone drawing, so valuable in putting meat to the bones of the linework and for seeing light and shadow.
Finally, the last drawing, and this one was full color. It got muddy as I was probably tired. George always said that first you master line, then tone, then color, as color added so many levels of complexity, it was exponentially many times more complex than a line drawing. 

For this series, my final project in his class, he awarded me with a 98 out of 100, the highest grade he ever gave. He almost never gave A’s in this class, so when my classmates heard I got an A for the semester, I’m sure it raised some eyebrows.

I didn’t know it at the time, but that class changed everything for me. It gave me confidence to continue in Architecture, helped me find a love for sketching as a way to learn about the architecture I see, and gave me a remarkable foundation of knowledge to pass on through my own teaching. Profound thank you to all my teachers including Jorge Luis Diviñó, and especially to Señor George Villalva, wherever you are. You are the first Urban Sketcher in my life.
When things click, magic happens. So the message to my fellow sketchers is to keep up the good work, work a lot…and you will see something click too…

You can see more about this in my talk this past Saturday with Brenda Murray at Studio 56, My Sketching Journey.

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.

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) click the meeting link: 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 You may also send your questions in advance of the meeting.

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.