Happy Birthday, little book.

Saying this is a dream come true is an understatement. Four years ago yesterday, June 15, 2016, this little book was officially released.

This particular adventure started in 2015 when I saw Gabi Campanario at one of our Seattle Urban Sketchers meet ups. He was standing near me, and I thought to thank him for including my work in his books, the first two in the Handbook series. What an honor it was, I couldn’t believe it!!! Surprisingly, he looked at me and said, “What about you? You should write a book. Do you want me to put you in touch with my editor?” Literally picking my jaw off the floor, I mumbled, “Sure,” but the voice in my head was screaming, “WHAT did he just say????” Of course, the humble and generous Gabi was true to his word, and very shortly after, he connected me with his editor, Mary Ann Hall at Quarry Books/Quarto publishers.

Mary Ann said I should write up a short proposal with a description, stating how this book would be different from others on the market. Having bought every drawing book on perspective known to mankind, I knew that all the books were focused on studio perspective, that is, something like boxes on a table top — useless if you want to sit on a street and sketch. That was what my book would talk about, bridging the conceptual world of studio perspective with the “what the heck do I do when I want to sketch on location” world. I had been teaching perspective sketching in college for decades, but had just started teaching workshops in Seattle. I knew perspective in and out from my work as an architectural illustrator and my background as an architect. The proposal poured out of me in only a few minutes, and I sent it off. BOOM. It was approved, and before I could catch my breath, I was writing a book!

I knew what I wanted the book to say. I had come up with my own original concepts for teaching, things like “starting with the shape of the face or space”, or ignoring the term “horizon line” and instead using your “eye-level line” (it’s much more relevant to sketching on location.) I had never seen anyone else use these and other terms in the way I talked about them. The hard part was finding the sketches that would illustrate the teaching points. I combed the internet, looking at the work of my hero sketchers, friends, but also finding new folks I hadn’t seen in other books. It was a herculean task to coordinate it all. I’m so incredibly grateful that so many talented artists and architects from around the world were willing to share their work, for nothing but a copy from the publisher and an opportunity.

As I wrote the text, I laid everything out in InDesign for my own understanding, as I had to see how the parts would all go together…the right text with the right sketch, the diagrams in the right order, the right adjacencies and notes. We went through lots of rounds of edits, and I probably was too ambitious in trying to pack so much information into one small book. There was just too much I wanted to say!

Months later, it’s June 15, 2016 and I’m signing copies of the book at the Seattle-based Daniel Smith store. Such a surreal moment, I cannot tell you. I’ve since been sent photos of this book on sale at the Art Museum in Sydney Australia, the Tate Modern in London, the Uffizi in Florence (I went and found them there as well, snuck the copies into a corner, signed them, and put them back on the shelf), and even the Louvre bookstore in Paris, in French. Crazy. Blew my mind to see to see it on Amazon ranked next to the books by my hero authors that I had used in architecture school.

The title, Understanding Perspective, came from Mary Ann Hall, and it was perfect.

I picked the cover image for two reasons: one, everyone loves Paris! Two, it was done during the first few days of my time in Paris with the Gabriel Prize fellowship, so it means a lot to me personally. I hoped it would bring good luck!

The image on the back cover is by Gabi and is a view of the Seattle waterfront (our common home town) and the viaduct, that I knew would be gone a few years later. It’s my nod to thank him.

Let me also say that there is very little money in writing a book, even one that sells well. It’s much more about sharing knowledge and experience, sharing my perspective on perspective (yes, I did just write that), and creating something that will likely outlive me. Hopefully my children and grandchildren can look to it one day and feel proud. My dad had always told me I should write a book (I think he imagined a NYT bestseller 😉 and the opportunity to write this book came just after he passed away. I hope he is somewhere, smiling… as for me, I’m still living the dream and am grateful every day.

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!

3. North South East West

A few steps further into town, and I mean maybe 15 steps, is the Piazza San Donato. It’s the town’s primary gathering space for nearly 3000 years! Once an Etruscan and then a Roman forum, it is located at the auspicious intersection of Etruscan roads, what the Romans would call the Decamanus (east-west) and Cardo (north-south). There probably would have been a Roman temple here, and the pieces of what were columns still stand along the front of the church–they are granite and likely came from Egypt!

The Campanile or bell tower rings every quarter hour, and when you live in Civita, it chimes the rhythm of your life. At longer 7am and 7pm chimes once signaled the start and end of the workday to the farmers in the valley below.

As part of my 2014 fellowship, I documented all four directions…it’s like you are there! I had an exhibit of work at Washington State University a few years back…we printed huge copies of these sketches and hung them at eye level to make a box. You could stand in the middle and imagine you were in Civita!

In terms of technique, if you look closely, you can see the subtle evolution of my drawing and painting. The earlier ones have flatter color, and as time and practice went on, the colors got more varied and refined. I was figuring things out! My favorite is the last one shown here, as this is where I finally got the feel for representing this place. Not overpainted, just enough. While I was doing this, I remember there was a wedding taking place. All the guests were from either the US or Lebanon, and my gosh, I’ve never seen more amazing clothing in my life!

So many stories, so many memories, such an incredible opportunity. I am so eternally grateful for having received the Civita Institute’s Astra Zarina 2-month fellowship here in 2014. It was during these two solid months of work that I really found my sketching self and developed a way of drawing and painting that I still use to this day.

Much more to come…

2. Through the gate…

Huff and puff up the steep bridge, through the Porta Santa Maria, turn and look back at this view as you emerge into the Piazza San Pietro. The workshop group often sketches here in the morning while we sit in shade and the facades are bathed in crisp morning light, plus the bar (what we call a cafe) on the piazza opens early and serves yummy lattes. Appropriate, as apparently there was a market here long ago.

Look carefully at this wide-angle view and you’ll see blue sky in some of the windows of the Renaissance era Palazzo Colesanti…yes, the building collapsed into the valley below and all that is left is the facade! The outdoor stair is called a proferlo and is typical of this area of Italy. The gray stone around the windows is a very dense balsatina, which is mined locally. It’s also used for some amazing fireplace throughout town.

In terms of technique, this is where we learn to leave a swath of the paper as white untouched by paint in order to get a sense for the sun hitting the face of the building and ground. This is also where we learn to do varied washes of color so the color isn’t flat and also talks about the materials and stone texture. Just look at all the colors that are dropped into any one facade! That was done with one layer of watercolor wash. And my favorite part, just look at the arch on the far right under the stairs…that glow of red is a drop of Daniel Smith Quinacridone Burnt Orange into wet paint. I love that color!

I am looking back as a way to dream about next year…gosh I miss this place!

1. Civita weaves its spell…

Yesterday, the workshop folks would have huffed and puffed their way up the long and steep bridge to the amazing tiny town of Civita di Bagnoregio.

Instead of the island in the sky it is now, Civita was at one time surrounded by fairly level fields with entry roads coming into town from various directions. But the rivers to the north and south, aided by earthquakes, cut into the soft volcanic and undersea soils and left it standing alone and cut off. There used to be a skinny land bridge that connected Bagnoregio with Civita, and the main mode of transport until only a few decades ago was by donkey! These days, in the mornings you’ll find shop and restaurant owners on their scooters, loaded down with bags of supplies.

Walking up the bridge is something of a ritual ceremony. And for those of us who are afraid of heights, it takes some getting used to. But with each step and gaze out to the vast landscape, you leave the real world behind and get closer to the timeless, auto-free, ancient world of stone that is beyond the gate.

Just inside the Porta Santa Maria, you can see the Etruscan era original arches which are held in place with no mortar, only gravity. The current facade was actually added in the Renaissance by the local cardinal who made it look like a sort of medieval gate. There used to be a chapel here, a hospital, roads down to the chestnut fields below town, and much more, but it’s all fallen into the valley by now, joining the wild boar or cinghiale that roam the hillsides (yes, you can eat pasta with cinghiale, and it’s delicious!) But pass through this gate, as pilgrims have been doing for thousands of years (you can see the crosses carved into the stone walls), and a spell comes over you. This place really is magic.

A Guide to Our Living Room, and the steps it took to get there…

As primarily a travel sketcher who is now stuck at home on Day 47, I’m finally turning my sights to drawing our house. What started as a simple sketch of our small living room turned into creating a way to identify beloved objects, a road may for our kids who some day may want to know what all this stuff is and where it came from. (I’ve instructed them not to sell the watercolor paintings and my brushes at a yard sale!)
And since I was sketching at home, I had the luxury of being able to stop and start, and to scan various phases of the sketch. I LOVED the line drawing and hesitated to add any color at all, but then took the plunge and added a little underpainting to establish the voids or recessed spaces. Finally, more color, although I tried to restrain myself and leave a lot of white to give a sense of the sunlight.
In the end, my favorite is the underpainted version, and the kind folks who responded to my Instagram post helped me figure out why (most liked the full color version, by the way.) I like the unfinished quality of the sketch at that point, the areas that are left white feel fresh. It’s a painting of potential, one that doesn’t overpower the line drawing I really liked and didn’t want to lose with too much paint (which happens all too often!)
How about you, which version do you like best?

And the steps:

1–Initial rough sketch blocking out the big shapes. You can see my vanishing point right in front of me, and my eye level line drawn all the way across the page. I didn’t erase any of these lines, other than moving the Eames chair, I drew right over them.

2– Completed line drawing. I love being able to se all the little details! I added the text.

3– Underpainting, it’s my way of easing into the painting by dipping my toe in first. Cool colors show the recesses, the warm colors advance.

4–Full color, but a muted palette so I don’t cover up too much of the lines I love. I tried to restrain from painting too much, by leaving areas of the paper white to show sunlight.

This post also appears on the Urban Sketchers blog at http://www.urbansketchers.org.

USk Talks #4: Couch Travelling Around the World

I was so nervous, but once I heard that soothing radio host voice of Rob Sketcherman welcoming people to the Instagram LIVE talk from midnight in Hong Kong, I was lulled into a relaxed trance. What followed was a blast! It was really SO fun to relive some of the places I’ve been and sketched, going in a clockwise direction starting in Varanasi, India, where I was almost born. The goal was not to show my best work, but to show sketches that hold meaning for me, especially since travel is restricted now and for the foreseeable future, which frankly, has been depressing. So Rob’s upbeat and warm delivery were very much appreciated.

The one hour talk interview crossed the globe in true USk form, with Rob in HK, me in Seattle, and the amazing Oliver Hoeller in Austria. It is now up on Urban Sketchers YouTube here.

Thanks to everyone who watched live! I will post the images I showed along with a few stories on this blog so you can see them a little better. Technology is great, but not perfect! We laughed so much, I hope you will find some time to join us for a little mini trip from the comfort of your own home!

Well, How Did I Get Here? …this Saturday, April 18.

I’m combing through piles of sketches and old sketchbooks to pick the milestone moments along this sketching path of mine. How DID I get here indeed!!

Please join me this Saturday, April 18 for a free online talk about my walk through this sketching life. From first sketches back in architecture school in the Middle Ages (when I sketched in pen!), to teaching myself watercolor, to sharing my recent and favorite work from Dubrovnik last September. It’s interesting to see how everything has evolved, not to mention what happened during my 25 year break from sketching! My hope is that this talk will inspire everyone to push through the hard times and keep sketching!!

Here is the info about how to watch this talk from moderator, Brenda Murray, who is hosting a series of online interviews. It’s easy to watch. You just need Zoom installed and then click on the link below.

From Brenda: This is your invitation to attend a live-streaming interview with Seattle-based urban sketching instructor and architectural illustrator, Stephanie Bower as she talks about her sketching journey. The interview will start at 1:00EDT Saturday, April 18 and will run about an hour. Feel free to invite your USk chapter members and friends.

HOW TO JOIN THE NEXT MEETING
1) If you have not already installed the free Zoom app, go to https://zoom.us/ to install the app. The meeting will start at the appointed time so please download the app BEFORE the start of the meeting.
2) Just before 1:00pm EDT (that’s 10am in Seattle), click this meeting link: ttps://us04web.zoom.us/j/593769331
3) Your Audio and your Video and Chat will be disabled. However, we would really like to make this as interactive as possible so please send your questions via Facebook Messenger to https://www.facebook.com/messages/t/brenda.murray.7. We will try very hard to answer everyone’s questions.

***Note: for best results use the device with the largest screen (laptop is better than phone) so that you can see the artist’s art when they hold it up.

6. Kitchen Greens.

I confess, I was holding off on my pandemic sketching. I don’t know why, maybe it’s lack of ability to focus, or maybe feeling overwhelmed by life these days, even though things are radically simplified by staying at home. I’ve never felt more grateful for a roof over my head and food in the fridge.

Yesterday, however, I finally jumped in to the Urban Sketchers group on Instagram at #uskathome this with this sketch. I had to capture those orange flowers in the bright light, as their tropical colors cheer me up every day as they over-winter in the only sunny window in our house.

And since we’ve been talking about starting with big shapes, can you figure out which shapes I drew first to set up the sketch?

I had to redraw these shapes a second time to get them the right size and location on my paper. Those first boxes determine everything! If you are sketching indoors during this pandemic, please consider posting your sketches to Instagram at #uskathome. More blog posts to come, how to find the vanishing point is coming up…stay tuned!

4. Getting in Shape

Now you know to edit your view to simple and basic shapes, and you have some idea how to find those shapes. Let’s talk about how to measure those shapes in order to get them right, that is with correct PROPORTIONS.

1– Just what are “proportions” anyway? The answer is simple: proportions are basically the relationship of the height to the width of something. That’s it. Simple, but important, as proportions are key to how we see the world accurately and in particular, how we perceive beauty. Imagine the Taj Mahal looking squat or the elegant and timeless proportions of the Parthenon being off. So how do we capture accurate proportions when sketching in the field, and how do we apply that to our sketches?

One of the comments most often posted to my Craftsy/Bluprint classes is that people are so happy to finally understand how to measure a scene with their pencil. Apparently, lots of artists have been told in colleges and universities around the world to fully extend their arm and pencil, lock their arm in place, then use the pencil to measure things in their view… so it was a joyous ah-ha moment for many folks to realize instead that they should, 1) close one eye to flatten out the view, 2) align your pencil with a prominent vertical (or sometimes horizontal) edge, 3) THEN lock your arm and 4) use that pencil length to measure. Here it is in the recent book:

2– For lack of a better term, I call this vertical edge my “Measuring Line”. It is a line that I use to measure and reference many things in my view. For example, in the photo above, I can see that the 2nd floor balcony in the distance is just about half way up my Measuring Line/pencil, information that helps me locate the height of the 2nd floor in my sketch. And the top of that arch in the distance just about lines up with the top of my Measuring Line, also useful to know. I can also use my pencil to locate other buildings in my view, see this example from Rome below.

In this view, I align my pencil with a prominent edge of the building (which I used as my Measuring Line ;), then I lock my arm and drop the pencil horizontally to measure the distance to Trajan’s column and then the corner of the Wedding Cake building. Analyzing the scene with my pencil before I start sketching helps me locate things accurately in my sketch.

3– It’s critical to note that you are not transferring the actual height of your pencil to your paper (it probably wouldn’t fit anyway), you are really just transferring the RATIOS you have measured with your pencil. Is a wall 1 pencil high to 1 pencil wide (a square), or maybe a tall rectangle, or a wide rectangle like in the sketch from the Met above? Seeing this gets easier with practice. And once you start looking, you will see 1:1 SQUARES everywhere!!!!

4– And last, I want to add that the Measuring line is the first thing I sketch on my paper, and its size determines the size of everything in my sketch. Its location on my page determines what I will be able to include in my sketch. Remember, the Measuring Line should probably be lower than you think!! By starting with the Measuring Line the right size and low on my paper, I have room to include the ceiling! See the quick thumbnail below.