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!

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!