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.

USk Talks, Take a Trip to Distant Lands this Sunday

Look who’s up next in talk #4 of this inspiring series! Join interviewer Rob Sketcherman in Hong Kong, Oliver Hoeller from Austria, and me in Seattle, from the comfort of your couch for a little sketching journey to distant lands this Sunday, April 26 at 9:00am Seattle time (4pm GMT).
This USk interview will be on Instagram. Make sure you “follow” Urban Sketchers on Instagram, then at 9am, open your Instagram page and look for the USk logo with the word “LIVE” in your story feed. Tap on it, and you can see the interview and even post comments! AND–this is important– it’s best if you can watch from your computer, as you won’t have to squint at your phone to see the images!

It’s a fabulous series, I am so honored to participate. We are all apart, but connected!!

(PS, if you don’t already follow my work on Instagram, I’m at @stephanieabower .

Workshop in PARIS!!!!

Yep. I’m soooooooo excited to be heading back to The City of Lights this June. I’ve dreamt about teaching a workshop in this gorgeous place for years. Here’s the scoop:

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? And how do I start painting?
Held in the amazing historic Marais of romantic Paris, this workshop offers 2 full days of instruction. The first day is an introduction to the fundamentals of on-location perspective through demos and sketching on-site. Day two introduces basic watercolor mixing and techniques, and in the afternoon, we put it all together!

Friday, June 19 | Meet for a bring-your-own picnic dinner at the Places des Vosges.

GOOD BONES Day 1 | PERSPECTIVE | Saturday, June 20 | 9am-5pm* | Meet in the Place des Vosges

  • 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 | Sunday, June 21 | 9am-5pm* | Meet in the Place des Vosges

  • 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.

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GOOD BONES PARIS 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 opens Sunday, February 16, 2020 at 8am Seattle time/ 5pm Paris time. 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.

Workshop tuition is US$295.00, by check or PayPal (tuition includes PayPal transaction fees.)

***And for you blog followers, I’m offering early-bird spots today and tomorrow as a THANK YOU. Contact me directly at stbower@comcast.net ASAP if you’d like to be pencilled in to a spot. And if you also sign up for the French Escapade workshop in the Loire, I’ll knock of $100 from the cost of this workshop, and FE will also reduce their price. Paris will be a great warm up for the LOIRE!!

There are also still workshop spots open for Seville in April (before it gets too hot in southern Spain) and one spot in Civita in June.

A bientot!!

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!!

Workshop: SEVILLA | April 17-23, 2020

When workshop organizer Brenda Murray approached me months ago about doing a workshop ANYWHERE–yes, she said “anywhere” in the world–my first choice was Seville, Spain. I was there in 2011, and it continues to call to me.

Here’s the chance for you to join me! The Studio 56 Boutique workshop info is HERE. It’s five days of focused instruction (the workshop info link shows the itinerary and amazing places we will go), including a field trip to the hill town of Ronda, and more. Registration is open now!!!

Would you believe that in 2011, I had just re-started sketching after a 25 year hiatus called “work and raising kids”? At that time, I was only sketching in pencil–no watercolor– and I had no idea that Urban Sketchers even existed!!!

This is part of why I’m so eager to go back, as the architecture of southern Spain is INCREDIBLE–gorgeous colors, charming streets, textured tile roofs, amazing detail and tilework, and it’s all infused with a strong and beautiful Moorish influence. To compare with my sketches of today, here are a few from 2011.

And here is one from this past summer in Barcelona. Things have definitely evolved!! Color adds so much, but it’s also much more difficult, especially when painting on the spot! We will of course draw and paint on location…

Please consider joining me in beautiful Spain! I can promise we will eat too much, see amazing places, sketch everything (including the tapas), and have a great time! (The best tapas I ever ate were in Seville…maybe that’s why I want to go back??)

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!]