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…)
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.
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 .
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,
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
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.
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:
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.
I’ve been spending my days cancelling plane tickets and hotels, writing piles of refund checks to the wonderful folks who had signed up for workshops, and being hit hard by the reality that with this pandemic, so much has changed. I have cancelled virtually all of my workshops for the year, but one… a one-day workshop at the Seattle Daniel Smith store and mothership on Saturday, August 22 — thank you to Thom at DS for rescheduling! But Italy, Paris, Spain, the Loire Valley, and San Jose with Shari and Suhita are all cancelled or postponed to next year. (You can check out the “workshops” tab on this blog for dates and locations.)
As everyone around the world is quarantined at home (did I really just write those words??), I’m reminded of Tip #12 in the 101 Sketching Tips book:
It’s these connections that give meaning to our sketching! This concept really hit home when talking with a sketcher in Hong Kong 2 years ago who said that being part of a sketching community had changed his life, brought him out of a deep depression. So no coffee shops, but let’s stay connected– I hope it will cheer all of us up! I hope you will motivate me as I hope to motivate you!
To that end, I’m starting a series of posts about sketching interiors. They will go step-by-step, in small and detailed steps, and will walk you through the process of sketching interior spaces in perspective. Here they come!
And if you want me to see your sketches as you try these exercises, please post them to Instagram and tag me at @stephanieabower (don’t forget the “a” in the middle.) I will give you feedback on your work, like an online class.
So stay healthy, stay inside, but stay connected — and sketch interiors!
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!
Welcome to the new blog!!!! With the release of the new book, #6 in the series, The Urban Sketching Handbook: 101 Sketching Tips, it seems a good time to move to WordPress… it should be easier to sign up to receive posts via email (and I hope everyone will sign up!!), it has a cleaner look, and you can find a list of workshops and much more info.
I’m so thrilled to share this new book!! It’s chock full of well over 101 tips, tricks, techniques, and “handy hacks” to help you up your sketching game. I love teaching and have done it for so long, I’ve figured out simple ways to explain complicated subjects…things like “think of stairs like a wedge of cheese”, or “towers are like wedding cakes”… in fact, Watercolor Artist magazine has featured nearly an entire chapter in their current edition, calling the book “awesome” and “a really good one”!
The concept for the book first started as a series of 10 blog posts featuring several “how-to tips” for those going to the Urban Sketchers symposium in Porto, which I did not attend (I went to AsiaLink in Taiwan instead). I kept waking up in the middle of the night, grabbing my phone, and adding more tips to the list. When I started getting up to about 150, I realized there might actually be a book here, so I contacted my editor, Mary Ann Hall. She saw the posts and said, yes, it looks like a book!! And so I embarked on attempting to edit down a list of about 250 tips…
101 Sketching Tips also features 47 amazing, and I mean amazing, sketchers from around the world. These are folks I hope you will follow on Instagram and Facebook, their info is in the back of the book. After teaching in Taiwan last year, I realized I wanted to include more Asian sketchers in addition to more folks that are new to the books in the series. So look for lots of new names, new talent, from places like India, China, Taiwan, Malaysia, Honk Kong, South Korea, and Singapore…and Europe, Australia, North and South America too!
I hope everyone finds something new and eye-opening in this book, and maybe you’ll learn to see things in new ways. If you find the book in your local bookstore, please snap a photo and post it on Instagram, and tag me at @stephanieabower so that I see it. I would LOVE to see how far this book goes!!