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.

Workshop: San Antonio, TX | March 2020

Hi y’all! Yes, I’m doing another workshop at the fabulous Pearl in San Antonio, TX. Registration is open now, so contact me ASAP at stbower@comcast.net to be pencilled in!

GOOD BONES SAN ANTONIO Texas | Perspective + Watercolor Sketching Workshop
March 13-14 + 15, 2020
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? Watercolor is too overwhelming!

Held in the amazing historic PEARL DISTRICT along the Riverwalk, this workshop offers 2 full days of instruction. The first day is devoted to learning the fundamentals of on-location perspective through demos and sketching on-site. Day two introduces basic watercolor mixing and techniques. Day 3 is a half day that puts it all together in an open sketch meet up!


GOOD BONES Day 1 | PERSPECTIVE | Friday, March 13 | 9am – 4pm* | Meet in front of Cure   We will 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 | Saturday, March 14 | 9am – 4pm*·      We will learn: an 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 Day 3 | OPEN SKETCHWALK | Sunday, March 15 | 10am – 12:30pm  Anyone can join us! An important, optional half day to cement what you’ve learned, joined by other sketchers.

GOOD BONES SAN ANTONIO 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 is open now. To sign up, contact Stephanie by email at stbower@comcast.net  The first 15 emails will be accepted—first come, first served. A waiting list will be created in case spots open up.

Workshop fee is $250.00 payable by check once you are notified via email of a confirmed spot in the workshop.
Cancellation In the unforeseen event the workshop is cancelled, all fees will be reimbursed. If you have to cancel your participation, please contact Stephanie Bower at stbower@comcast.net     By February 1, all fees reimbursed; By February 15, 50% of fee reimbursed; After March 1, 0% of workshop fee reimbursed.                                    
A materials supply list and additional information will be emailed to registered participants.

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This workshop is in a FABULOUS location! The Pearl District in San Antonio is one of the best urban spaces in the country. Beautiful renovated old buildings, farmer’s market, cafes and shops, great tex-mex, interesting architecture, all along the glorious San Antonio Riverwalk. I hope you can join me!!

Workshop: San Jose, CA | May 2020

We’ve been planning this one a long time, so it’s exciting to finally be able to announce this workshop! The 3 S’s are together! Here’s the info:

People | Places | Color

A Sketching Workshop by Suhita Shirodkar | Stephanie Bower| Shari Blaukopf

May 15-16, 2020 | 10am-5pm | Downtown San Jose, CA

About the Workshop: This is a rare opportunity to learn location sketching from three globe-trotting Urban Sketchers specialists, doing what they do best!

Suhita Shirodkar (USA) will teach quick sketching of people in motion.

Stephanie Bower (USA) explains the basics of perspective sketching.

Shari Blaukopf (Canada) teaches her masterful use of watercolor.

Each participant will get a half-day/3-hour session with each of the instructors. The final afternoon session will put it all together in a joint sketching class taught by all three instructors. Maximum class size is only 12 people.

We are also adding an optional opportunity to join other sketchers on Sunday morning, May 17, for a Sketching Meet-Up that is open to all sketchers. Another chance to cement what you have learned!

Additional information about locations, recommended sketching supplies and more will be sent to registered participants at a later date.

COST: $300.00US/person. Payable by check (preferred method) or PayPal ($310.00US including additional transaction fee.) Payments will be coordinated by Stephanie at s.bower.arch@gmail.com.

How to sign up: Registration starts precisely on Sunday, December 15, 2019, at 12:00noon West Coast Time (no sooner, please.) First come, first served, in the order your email is received. To sign up, email s.bower.arch@gmail.com. Workshop payment is due January 1- February 1, 2020.

For more info about this workshop, contact the instructors directly. See you in California!!

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!

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!!