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!

Paris in Yellow Ochre

With Paris workshop registrations starting tomorrow, it’s got me thinking a lot about my time in this extraordinary city back in 2013. I had been awarded an amazing architecture fellowship, The Gabriel Prize, which meant I was able to live in Paris for 3 months to learn about architecture by sketching on location (my project settled on the use of perspective in the gardens at Versailles and Vaux-le-Vicomte). Unbelievably great and challenging time. It was an opportunity that would change my life forever and lead to amazing opportunities. But of course, at the time, I had no idea any of this would happen!!!

A big part of what made it life-changing was having the luxury of time in an inspiring setting to figure out who I was as an architect and an artist. I literally stayed up nights wondering if I was a pen or a pencil person! Would I draw a lot or paint a lot, how would I hit that sweet spot of having the right balance of both? What colors and equipment would I settle on using? This meant a fair amount of experimentation with few “successes”, although in the end I realized — and this is an important tip from the new book — we shouldn’t spend a lot of time thinking about sketching… instead, just do it. Do anything. Don’t worry about style or if you like your work or not, just listen to your inner voice and do anything… your style, your way of working will emerge as long as you keep moving in a forward direction.

So, one of my sketching experiments was in underpainting. Many artists start their painting with painting light washes of transparent colors like aureolin yellow, cobalt blue, and permanent alizarin crimson to establish areas of light and dark. Underpainting also unifies a painting, as there is a common layer at the foundation that is still just barely visible with the other transparent layers laid on top. I do this all the time in my studio work, but not very often when sketching in the field. It’s an extra step that takes time, especially since you have to wait for it to dry before doing anything else. It’s scary to start to apply watercolor, so another benefit of this wash is that it allows me to “dip my toe in the water”, aka start painting without making a huge color commitment. Helps me shake off my painting nerves!

But here, I wanted to emulate some beautiful sketches we have at home that were done by my husband’s Croatian great-grandfather. He was the head of the Yugoslav railroads, as well as a poet and artist who painted incredible watercolor scenes on the heavy yellow paper used for printing train schedules! It’s fun to flip over the paintings and see the schedules.

For these sketches, I tried to mimic the warm yellow paper he used by underpainting with yellow ochre. Once it dried, I painted other layers on top to create 3-dimensional shapes… and for surfaces hit by LIGHT, I painted with an opaque white. I rather liked the glow this gave the sketches, and it launched me into using yellow ochre to underpaint probably a majority of my sketches now. And you can see the beginnings of what would become my “style”! I’m eager to go back and try again, now that I have more sketching know-how.

So thanks to great-grandfather Villim Filipasic for his inspiration. I hope my great-grandchildren, should I be blessed some day, will look at my sketches with the same love that I look at and appreciate his…

Workshop in PARIS!!!!

Yep. I’m soooooooo excited to be heading back to The City of Lights this June. I’ve dreamt about teaching a workshop in this gorgeous place for years. Here’s the scoop:

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? And how do I start painting?
Held in the amazing historic Marais of romantic Paris, this workshop offers 2 full days of instruction. The first day is an introduction to the fundamentals of on-location perspective through demos and sketching on-site. Day two introduces basic watercolor mixing and techniques, and in the afternoon, we put it all together!

Friday, June 19 | Meet for a bring-your-own picnic dinner at the Places des Vosges.

GOOD BONES Day 1 | PERSPECTIVE | Saturday, June 20 | 9am-5pm* | Meet in the Place des Vosges

  • 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 | Sunday, June 21 | 9am-5pm* | Meet in the Place des Vosges

  • 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 PARIS 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 opens Sunday, February 16, 2020 at 8am Seattle time/ 5pm Paris time. To sign up, contact Stephanie by email at  The first 15 emails will be accepted—first come, first served. A waiting list will be created.

Workshop tuition is US$295.00, by check or PayPal (tuition includes PayPal transaction fees.)

***And for you blog followers, I’m offering early-bird spots today and tomorrow as a THANK YOU. Contact me directly at ASAP if you’d like to be pencilled in to a spot. And if you also sign up for the French Escapade workshop in the Loire, I’ll knock of $100 from the cost of this workshop, and FE will also reduce their price. Paris will be a great warm up for the LOIRE!!

There are also still workshop spots open for Seville in April (before it gets too hot in southern Spain) and one spot in Civita in June.

A bientot!!

In the Studio

I’ve been working hard on a BIG day job deadline (more on that in future), so no sketching of late. Instead, I thought I’d share my studio set up with you since it’s sitting on my desk a lot. What a mess! It’s basically a larger version of what I take on the road.

This is a very classic color palette. There aren’t a lot of bright or newly concocted colors. My palette tends to reflect the natural material colors found in architecture. Here are the paints I use, in order starting top left to bottom:


New Gamboge– warm yellow for sunlight on trees and grass.

Yellow Ochre — I use this color a lot. I drop it in to grays for sunlight on concrete, I also started underpainting with it. Underpainting establishes lights and darks as well as unifies the entire painting. This can get a little thick when mixing, so I’m careful not to combine it with other thick paints.

Elsewhere on palette is Aureolin, a transparent cool yellow I use for underpainting, the first layers I put on my paper. I always underpaint in my illustration work in the studio, only do it sometimes when sketching.


Quinacridone Burnt Orange, Daniel Smith — This color looks almost identical to Burnt Sienna, but it behaves very differently when mixed or on paper. In general, I don’t mix with this color, but it is essential in my palette to drop into wet paint for glow in shade and shadow. It retains its brightness in the wet paint, where as BS blends in and turns gray.

Burnt Sienna, Winsor & Newton — I like the WN version of this paint. A natural brick red color, it’s essential for my palette. I use this for lots of things, but particularly for mixing with French Ultramarine to make grays. And I paint with a lot of grays!!!

Permanent Alizarin Crimson — A very little goes a long way with this color! I never have to bring an extra tube on the road, the blob in my palette lasts forever. This color is key to mixing purples, and I use it to make my magic gray, a combination of French Ultramarine+Burnt Sienna, with 2 molecules of PAC dropped in. I use this mixed color for shade and shadow, it’s indispensable.

Elsewhere on my palette, Quinacridone Burnt Scarlet (Daniel Smith). I use this color to brighten brick or red colors. I also have a blob of red, I’m not sure which one it is, as I rarely use a true red! Might be Pyrrole Red.


Manganese blue — I use this for bright, summer skies. In fact, I usually have three blues in skies. I start with Manganese for the lighter part of the sky and also along the horizon, then go to Cobalt blue, then finish with French Ultramarine. The trick is to blend these, so I sometimes pre-wet the paper.

Cobalt Blue — I use this blue in places that I want to recede in space, as it’s a cooler blue. Perfect for those hazy mountains in the background. I also use it with a molecule PAC to make a pale blue-purple hue.

French Ultramarine — On a tour of the Daniel Smith paint production facilities, I think I remember learning that the particle size in this paint makes it appear brighter. I prefer it to the regular Ultramarine blue, although they are soooooo close in hue. I typically use the WN version of this paint, as the DS version separates out and granulates in a way that I don’t like, although lots of sketchers love this effect and intentionally use the DS version.

Also on the palette is Sap Green, a color I use as a base for my greens. It’s very bright, so the first thing I do is knock it back with its compliment, lots of Burnt Sienna. I brighten it with yellows, I deepen it with French Ultramarine.

I also have DS Perylene Green on the palette. I like this color but am still figuring out how to use it.

Last essential color is DS Pyrrole Orange. Anyone who has taken my two online courses on Craftsy, now Bluprint (Craftsy was bought out by NBC/Universal!!!), has seen me finish up a sketch by dropping 3 spots of PO near the eye level line and VP to brighten up the painting and add a sense of activity. It works like magic. I love this color!!!

Two pots of water, one I use for dirty brushes on the right, the other I try to keep clean for when I need clean water.

You’ll also see Nichiban architectural masking tape. A Japanese tape that used to be difficult to find, but it’s now inexpensive and available on Amazon. It’s THE BEST.

So there you are. Next up, my favorite BRUSHES.

Can I still say, “Happy New Year?”

Happy New Year to all!!!! Seattle is so dark and cold during these months, that I feel like a sleepy bear starting to emerge from a cave.

I start 2020 with such profound gratitude for so many amazing opportunities: great work projects, amazing travel, and teaching. Teaching is my true calling. I vaguely remember as a child, rounding up the other kids in my neighborhood, and sitting them down in our living room to teach them something… HA! I have no idea what I “taught” them, but clearly, this teaching thing started at a very young age.

I also really want to say THANK YOU to those of you who kindly responded to my plea for a few positive book reviews on Amazon after the first two devastating posts. It worked!! Thankfully, you and others basically buried those heinous posts, and yes, Amazon has finally removed the review about no women in the book! HOORAY!!

As my thank you, I ask, what can I do for you? What do you want to learn from me? More about finding vanishing points and perspective? How to start a painting, a pencil drawing? More about my day job, materials I use, workshops? What can I teach you via this blog???? I’m ready, send your suggestions my way! And let’s make this a great new year and decade!!

(Panorama sketch above was done from our hotel window looking out at Brooklyn in the snow last February, that’s the Brooklyn Bridge on the far right. Those of you who know me know that I first block out all the big shapes on the two pages, then start on the left –because I’m right-handed– and fill in the details working left to right.)

The Magic of Daniel Smith Quinacridone Burnt Orange

Looking at sketches on Instagram or Facebook, it’s often hard to see the details in my sketches. I love to work in large, horizontal wide-angle compositions, but they tend to not read particularly well in online formats–if I post the entire sketch, the details get lost. In order to see some of that architectural detail I love, the past few days I’ve posted a few cropped, zoomed-in images of sketches from this summer in Spain, Italy, and Croatia on both IG and FB.

A number of people have posted comments about how they like the “glow” in the shade and shadows, so I thought I’d write a blog post to talk about how I get that effect. To create an incredible glow, I rely on the magic of Daniel Smith’s Quinacridone Burnt Orange! You can see it in the warm orange color to the left of the tower in the image from Dubrovnik.

First, let’s talk about the differences between SHADE and SHADOW. Shade is the backside of a lit form, while SHADOW is the darkness that is cast onto other surfaces by forms. Shade tends to appear warmer and lighter when compared to shadow, which appears cooler and darker.

I start by painting the upper/outer, darker part of the shade or shadow using a blueish gray made from three colors: Winsor & Newton French Ultramarine + W&N Burnt Sienna added to make a Payne’s gray, then finally I add a touch–just a few molecules– of Permanent Alizarin Crimson to add depth and warmth. That tiny bit of PAC makes a huge difference! I will vary the percentages to get the color on the gray side or more on the blue or purple side.

So first I paint the gray, then while it’s wet, I drop in the QBO in areas where I want a sense of bounced light, often toward the bottom of a wall or the ground near a wall. QBO displaces the gray and leaves a warm, orangey glow. Some people ask why not just use the Burnt Sienna as they are almost identical in hue. The reason? They behave very differently on paper or when mixed. The wet-on-wet QBO somehow retains its bright orangey color, while the BS goes to a gray, and it’s that orange that creates the glow.

Take a look at these cropped sketches. You’ll also see lots of Quinacridone Burnt Orange dropped into lots of places for that magical glow!

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.