Sketching like an Architect.

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!

Tips, tips and more Tips

In less than two weeks, the new book will be on the shelves of bookstores everywhere! What a dream come true this is…and it all started only a few years ago when the founder of Urban Sketchers and Seattle Sketcher Gabi Campanario, was kind enough to put one of my sketches in each of his two books, the first two in The Urban Sketching Handbook series. I’m forever indebted to Gabi for what happened next.

It was a Seattle Urban Sketchers typically monthly outing, Gabi was sketching near me, and I was compelled to thank him for putting my sketches in his books. What an honor!!! He looked down at me (I was sitting on my teeny stool) and simply said, “You should write a book. Do you want to write a book? Should I put you in touch with my editor?” After literally picking my jaw up from the ground, I think I nodded and mumbled, “Sure.” But I was thinking, “Me? A book?”.

True to his word, a few days later I got an email introduction to his editor, Mary Ann Hall, who said I should write a proposal. That book proposal simply spilled out of me, and in 20 minutes or so, it was done. Off it went to Mary Ann, she showed it to the powers that be, and voilá…the rest is history.

I’m going to do a few post to feature some of my favorite parts of the new book. These are tips I’ve acquired from many years of teaching college, and later workshops and on Craftsy (now Bluprint, which is having a half-price sale right now, by the way.) I have learned so much from teaching, especially from the most challenging students. I had to figure out simple, relatable ways to describe complex subjects (perspective can be pretty complicated at first!), and many of these tips have made their way into the book.

Here are two of my favorites (plus bonus tips in the boxes–I hope you can read these!):

That’s right, think EYE LEVEL, not Horizon line…this will help you in so many ways. There is an entire chapter in this book devoted to ways your eye level line can help you sketch. And basically, the famed Horizon Line is ALWAYS at your eye level. I like to say, “The road really DOES rise up to meet you!”

Finding Balance: Line and Color

Thank you so much for signing up to follow this new blog! I thought for starters, I’ll talk about the sketch on the header…it’s sort of like starting your meal with dessert, as it was one of the last sketches of my 3 (!!) separate teaching trips to Europe this summer! This is a view from Dubrovnik, Croatia, looking toward the belltower and entry into the old city. Yes, this city was Westeros in Game of Thrones.

This trip started in Venice (more sketches to follow in more posts) and ended by traveling with my husband in Croatia. I love teaching, but as every instructor knows, it’s impossible to find the time and focus to do your own thing before or during a workshop…our job is to focus on our students, of course! So as I book my trips of late, I’m trying to factor in some time to do my own work.

It always takes me a long time to warm up, that is to get the feel for where I’m sketching. There are so many variables to consider…the temperature and humidity, the paper, what colors to use, paint, etc. I like to do sketches that look the place I’m sketching, so that the style doesn’t overpower the content. Changing any one of these variables changes everything! Have you experienced that? Warming up also means hitting that sweet spot that is the perfect balance of line and color. I seem to often do a line drawing I love, then paint it so that the linework completely disappears — argh!

I’m also starting to realize that I like working BIG. I always tell beginning sketchers to start small, that your work will naturally get bigger when it feels right. So in Venice and Croatia, most of the sketches I did for myself were on large, 8″x 16″ (double-square) pieces of Winsor & Newton 140lb. CP watercolor paper, a paper I had really never used before. It was a bit of a risk and it certainly takes longer than filling a small piece of paper, but I started liking the results as I figured out how to work with it. It’s soft enough that it takes layers of paint well (harder papers sort of repel the paint a big, and lift off the color as you attempt to add layers), but it’s also hard enough that I could draw decent pencil lines with my trusty mechanical pencil and 2B lead. The results were soft sketches with color that didn’t overpower the linework. I rather liked painting the non-colors of the creamy white buildings and shiny ground in Dubrovnik. Had to decide if I would push colors to a warm yellow ochre, or a gray, or a blue purple…or a combination of them all.

These sketches took some time. For this one, I sat near a cafe, and the waiters kept coming out to see what I was doing and nod their approval or make suggestions (yes, one did that! He thought it looked like winter with snow on the mountain.) Then there was the issue of the masses of tourists blocking the view. Had to work around that too. As I worked, I went into a trance as I found my pace, my flow…time stopped, and I was just hyperfocused on what I was doing…I love that feeling, it’s rather like a meditation.

I’m super happy with this result…I hope I can capture this feeling on my next trip, and I hope it doesn’t take all summer to find it! Anyone interested in a workshop in Dubrovnik next fall? I’d go again in a heartbeat…

[Detail view…that’s Daniel Smith Quinacridone Burnt Orange dropped into that shadow when the paint was wet…it works GREAT to get the glow! I don’t leave home without it!]

New Book, New Blog!!

[Back and front of the new book, featuring the work of Klaus Meier-Pauken (Germany), Chih- Wei Lin (Taiwan), James Akers (USA), Paul Heaston (USA), Steven Reddy (USA), Shari Blaukopf (Canada), Eduardo Bajzek (Brazil), Ben Luk (Hong Kong)]

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!!