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!

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!