Stephanie Bower

Stephanie Bower | Architectural Illustration: | Sketching Workshops: | Sketches: on Instagram at @stephanieabower & | Urban Sketchers Blog Correspondent | Signature member of the Northwest Watercolor Society

Monday, September 17, 2018

Necessity is the Mother of Invention...

Sketching at the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, TX.

Urban Sketchers are such creative people! We figure out all kinds of workarounds and tools to make location sketching easier and better!
     Those of you who have seen me work in person know that I like to use a tripod/easel and a hand-held palette (for lack of a better word) for painting on location. I've found the easel is essential when I teach, so that people can better see what I'm doing (thanks to the workshop participant years ago who suggested this!) This invention came about after seeing variations on what other sketchers had, so I came up with my own version that uses a medicine works great! It's approximately 7.5" x 6.5" and cut from corrugated plastic.

In India, however, I was not permitted to take the easel into a lot of the famous architectural sites. As luck would have it, right before I left, I happened to make a larger surface to use. I can still attach my paints, paper and water, but it sits in my lap! I found it worked pretty well, so now I carry it with me when I go out to sketch--its lighter than the easel, which is great. The size is 12" x 15"--the largest I could make that fit in my backpack.The only trick is remembering to slant it a bit when painting!

Here are the two versions I now use...the older tried and true hand-held palette, and the newer lap version...what do you think?

In Varanasi, India last November 2017,

At the AMAZING Ellora Caves in Aurangabad, India.

In Rome, June 2017, with the talented Kelly Medford.

In Italy last May 2017, during the Draw Civita workshop.
Thank you, Vanni, for this great photo!!

And sometimes, I just sit on the ground and use my tiny stool as an easel...

On the grass at an important Buddhist site in Sarnath, India, 2017.

All these methods work great, depending on the situation. Have you tried any of these palettes?

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Which Reds for Asia...??

Exactly three weeks from now, I will be arriving in HONG KONG! Yes, a good pinching is needed. For this trip, I'll spend 3 days or so in HK (and will get to sketch with the incredible Rob Sketcherman), then fly to Taiwan to teach at an Asian Urban Sketchers symposium called AsiaLink. It's held this in year in Taichung. I am thrilled beyond words, and have to thank the amazing KK for this opportunity. Will be GREAT to see the Aussie contingent!
After a week in Taiwan, I'll meet my husband in Japan and hopefully see Kumi and other Japan Urban Sketchers as well.
Yes, there will be LOTS of sketching going on...
and to that end...

I need help with some colors, and in particular RED. I hear the reds look different in person when compared to photos, and the reds in HK will be different from the reds in Japan. Whew!

Seattle Urban Sketcher Tina Koyama suggested vermillion, and Steve Gallisdorfer from ColArt/Winsor & Newton suggested WN Scarlet Lake. Amazingly, they are both very similar colors!
I showed the color test to our Japanese friend Naoe, and she picked the same color, so right on, Tina and Steve!

I'll also need a bluer red, and I'm thinking about Pyrrol Red. Of course, any of these reds could be tweaked a bit if needed, but as it's a pure primary color, I need to try to hit it right on the nose.

So, anyone been to these countries and have a good red to recommend???

Thursday, August 30, 2018

I'm on TV??????

Browsing through television offerings two nights ago, I was shocked to stumble upon this...oh my gosh!!!!

I suppose it makes sense, as Craftsy was sold to NBC/Universal (parent company Comcast), so of course there would start to be integration with TV somehow. But still, what an amazing surprise!

Going forward, the Craftsy Unlimited (subscription) service is becoming Bluprint, with an expanded content of 3,000-plus hours of instructional videos (including courses by Shari Blaukopf, Marc Taro Holmes, Suhita Shirodkar, and Paul Heaston, and more. will still exist for a la carte classes, so you won't lose whatever you have already purchased.

Bluprint is offering a free 7-day trial ...that means you can watch limitless classes on photography (like iPhone tips), cooking (like Indian curries), baking, knitting, quilting, and of course, sketching!

To sign up for the trial, use this link.

My Perspective for Sketchers class launched nearly 3 years ago, and I still answer questions and comments that are posted. It's proven to be an amazing experience, as I hear from people all over the world.

Thanks to Craftsy for this amazing opportunity to demystify perspective and spread the joy of sketching!

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Three Interiors: Italy, USA, Holland

I love sketching interiors, as they are such personal spaces. I love how rooms connect, one space leading to the next or outside, and I love how they are filled with personal objects loaded with meaning that makes a place feel like home. And I don't even mind sketching the furniture! (which literally may be THE hardest thing to draw!)

Every summer, I teach a workshop in the tiny speck of a town, Civita di Bagnoregio in Italy. This year it was unusually cold and rainy, so one morning I just sat down to sketch the interior of the tiny apartment where I stay. Tile floors, tile ceiling, huge chestnut wood has the feel of an Italian farm house, as it sits in the middle of a garden and is appropriately called, Il Giardino.

Below is another interior, this time of my 95 year old father-in-law's apartment in Pennsylvania. Now 96, he has moved in with my brother-in-law's family on Long Island,
but he must love this sketch as it is now pinned on his bedroom door.

That's my father-in-law in the kitchen making bread.

And this is the apartment in The Hague of my aunt and uncle. I love the feel of the room, all the things from Chile where my aunt and mother grew up, and that spectacular view out their window. Feels like home. This sketch is framed and hangs on their wall.

In my workshops, I often talk about starting a sketch with either the SHAPE OF THE FACE, or the SHAPE OF THE SPACE. With all three interior views, I start with the can see below the rectangle I used to start this sketch, curved a bit for a wide-angle effect. Then comes the VP and the Eye Level Line...can you find those?

And can you find the shape I start with in the other two sketches????

Each space is so different, each reflecting the people and the place, and their roots...

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

TIP 10/10: Domes are ROUND!

And here is the final post in this series of 10 TIPS!

Sketching Tip #10: Domes are ROUND!

This may seem rather obvious, but I see so many sketchers draw domes as sort of flattened out the shapes in which the "edges" are drawn as if they were sharp corners instead of rounded.

Domes are essentially a stack of ellipses, each ellipse sharing a common centerline. Take a look at this diagram of the round Radcliffe Camera done in my workshop in Oxford, England last year:

You'll notice that this building, similar to a dome, is a stack of ellipses in perspective.
All the ellipses are centered on one line in the middle that also connects the
very top of the dome with the center of the footprint of the building on the ground.  

You'll also notice that each ellipse gets FLATTER the closer it is to your eye level line.

Understanding this concept points out why the diagram of the flattened dome with "corners" is incorrect, and the rounded dome edge below works much better!

Domes don't have sharp corners!!

The "edges" of your dome should look more like this. They are rounded and
you can see the shape of the ellipse starting to curve behind the building.

And here is the completed sketch! You can see and feel the roundedness of the forms, especially by looking at the rounded "edges".

These same concepts apply to any rounded form. Take a look at this sketch of a building near Piccadilly Circus in London...

I hope you have enjoyed and learned a bit from these 10 blog posts! I will continue to post tips and more sketches, so please sign up to receive these posts by email using the sign up on the bar on the right.

And if you want to learn in person, I'll be teaching workshops next year in Spain and Italy...and more places too! 
I also have two online classes at and a book you can find anywhere, 
The Urban Sketching Handbook: Understanding Perspective.

Thank you so much for your interest, and Happy Sketching!
Remember, don't fear perspective!!

Sunday, July 15, 2018

TIP 9/10: Use Ellipses to Sketch Arches

Sketching Tip #9:  
Use Ellipses to Draw Arches...

I often see sketches in which arches look more like horseshoes than real arches! So to help you draw an arch that looks like an arch, here are some tips.

I start every sketch I do with what I call "Good Bones" or the foundation lines drawn lightly onto my paper. This way I can mess up or easily erase as needed, and I can establish early on what my sketch will look like.

In the sketch below, you'll see how I break down the shapes of a simple arch.
An arch has straight vertical legs (in red) up to a line called the "Spring Line" (in turquoise). The spring line is where the curved part of the arch starts. The spring line is often called out with some type of decoration or moulding. And in a straight on view like this one, above the spring line, there is usually some form of a circle (in light orange). 

We are back at the beautiful Pazzi Chapel in Florence!

And here is the analysis of an arch in a straight on view. You can see the vertical straight up and down legs on both sides, the SPRING LINE at which level the straight legs start to curve, and the circle I draw in lightly to help me get the correct curve of the arch!
In Renaissance buildings like this, the arch is typically a true half circle. In other countries and in other time periods, you get different shapes. 

Now let's look at an arch from an angled view. The circle we see in a straight on view is now flattened to an ELLIPSE!!!
I draw this in lightly to help me get the correct shape of the arch--makes things so much easier! 

And here are the foundation lines, or "Good Bones" that I draw in to establish
my sketch in perspective. This is the Chiesa in Civita di Bagnoregio where I
teach a workshop each summer!

Here you can again see the straight legs up to the SPRING LINE, which now
vanishes to my vanishing point, and I have also drawn in a light guide line
to establish the height of the arches, also going to my vanishing point.
Next, I draw in a very light ELLIPSE which helps me get the right shape
of the arched portion.
And to connect all the arches together at the same height, I add another guideline to establish the bottom of the ellipse. This helps me draw them at consistent heights.
This all might look a little technical, but it's actually really easy. Just make sure you draw straight legs, then use a circle or ellipse to get the shape of the arch above the spring line!

One more sketching tip to go in this series, and it will be on DOMES.
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Friday, July 13, 2018

TIP 8/10: Towers are like Wedding Cakes

Only three more to go! Here is sketching tip #8 of 10...

Sketching Tip #8: Towers are like Wedding Cakes!

Imagine a wedding cake...if one layer is off-center from the one below it, eventually we'd get a tragic cake collapse and wedding disaster!

Same for Towers. I often see towers in sketches that somehow look a little off. The reason: it's layers are not stacked properly in perspective!

So how to better sketch a tower? I'll show you two ways.

Method 1 -- find the center of the tower.
     As in wedding cakes, it's important to establish where the center of the tower is in order to draw it properly. We do this in perspective by using your skills from middle school geometry class:  drawing diagonals.
     If you think of the forms as transparent, this is much easier. I look at a tower and I think of a stack of 3-d blocks, usually getting smaller/narrower toward the top. I often lightly draw in the entire center line up the arch for reference. You can be sure whatever detail is at the very top of the tower, it sits on top of your center line!

Venice in 2015, sketching what may be one of the most famous towers in the world, the Campanile in the Piazza San Marco.
Here I am on the left, sitting in spot of great honor with the incredible Marc Taro Holmes and his friend and mind-boggling illustrator, Sean Andrew Murray. HA! No pressure at all !?!?

You can see how I don't just see the face of the sides of the tower, I see it as a stack of 3-dimensional blocks. 
Remember one or both sides of your tower will go to the vanishing point/s on your eye level.
Consider, each face of the tower steps inward toward the center from one layer to the next.

And here are the steps I use to draw the tower:

1 -- Start with the blocks, as above.
2 -- Use diagonals to find the center of each block.
3 -- draw in your center line all the way to the top of the tower.
4 -- Here, once I find the top of the center line, I can just connect it to the corners to get the pyramid shape at the top. This is easier because the faces of the pyramid are sloped.

I don't always draw every level like this, but it's important to understand this concept when you sketch a tower.

Method 2 -- Use Edges
     In reality, I probably use a combination of methods 1 and 2. This way is definitely easier... I look at the edges and where they are relative to each other. Examine how much each is set in from the level below it. 
     And at the end, I look at where the top of the tower is relative to the layers below, just to check I've got it right.

In this sketch of a tower at the Mezquita in C√≥rdoba, Spain, you can see 
how each corner is set in from the one below it. An easy way to draw 
towers, although be careful you don't pull the layers off center!

Hopefully, one or both of these methods will help you see towers a little differently, and draw them better!

Monday, July 9, 2018

TIP 7/10: Stuck or Overwhelmed? Try This...

Sketching Tip #7: Stuck or Overwhelmed? 
Use Thumbnails...

You see the inspiring view, you figure out what angle you want, you sit down and... you are overwhelmed and stuck. Has this happened to you? It happens to me all the time.
That blank sheet of paper in your sketchbook is a whole lot of unknowns, and that's where the fear and panic come from.

One of the best ways to get around this freeze is instead of jumping in with both feet, dip your toe in. I do this by drawing thumbnail sketches. Thumbnails are small sketches about the size of a large postage stamp to a note card. In my thumbnails, I figure out the simple perspective, draw in the big shapes, and sometimes add tone for lights/ darks or even add color! 

Doing a thumbnail before your big sketch works on several levels:

For one, it's so small, you simply cannot put any detail in. This is a good thing, as detail at the beginning of a sketch is something of a rabbit hole... you go down it and suddenly an hour has passed! For me, sketching is less about capturing the detail than it is about capturing the sense of architecture and space, so avoiding detail at the beginning really helps.

Two, a thumbnail helps you figure out the solutions to a bunch of problems before you are too deep into your sketch, especially issues of composition. It's easy to crop your thumbnail several different ways to see what works best. I often have lots of thumbnails doodled in the back of my sketchbook for just this reason.

These are thumbnail sketches in the back of my sketchbook. I use these to figure out perspective and also where to crop my future sketch for a good composition.

Three, and probably the best reason of all, doing a thumbnail helps calm your mind. Instead of panicking (as I confess I often do), you take deep breathes and sort it out. Once you've settled into the sketching "flow", it's easier to move on to your sketch.

I have started to use thumbnails as a way to explain my sketching process as I'm teaching. I even number each step and write notes...this is super helpful for sorting out the layering process of watercolor! 

This is the thumbnail with notes on the left, and the finished sketch on the right. A demo for my annual workshop in Italy, DRAW CIVITA 2018.

Thumbnails should be very quick, a few minutes at the most. They are simply a tool to help you dip that toe into the water before you jump in!!!

Saturday, July 7, 2018

TIP 6/10: Sloped Roofs in Perspective

Sketching Tip #6:  Sloped Roofs in Perspective

Sketching a sloped roof, or any sloped surface, can be a real challenge. I pretty much always draw lines down the slope of the roof so that the angle of the roof reads, no matter what the roof material is. The clearest way to understand this is to look at tile roofs with ridges and valleys, like this one at Brunelleschi's  Pazzi Chapel in Florence in this classic, one-point perspective view.

Step one is to find the vanishing point and your eye level for most of the parallel horizontal building and ground lines. My eye level line was very low, close to the ground, and the VP just to the right of center.

To draw the slope of the roof correctly, the first line I draw on the sloped roof is a true vertical line (in yellow) directly above my vanishing point at eye level... yep, straight up and down right over my vanishing point! 
Then, I know that all the ridges and valleys to the left of this line angle in one direction, and all the lines to the right of this vertical line angle in the other direction. The farther the line is away from my vertical, the flatter the angle.  I usually eye-ball this. 
Take a look...

So what is really going on here? Remember that lines that are parallel to each other converge to the same vanishing point, so since the roof is angled, it goes to its own vanishing point in the sky...

Remember this tip: 
if a surface tilts UP and away from you, the Vanishing Point also tilts UP.
The part that most people don't realize is that the vanishing point for the slope is directly over your eye level vanishing point!!

This principle is also true for 2-point perspectives, but it's easiest to see in a 1-point view.

Look at this view from Florence and see if you can find the vanishing point and how I drew the tile roofs!

Friday, July 6, 2018

TIP 5/10: When Buildings Twist, Multiple Vanishing Points!

Welcome to a series of 10 Sketching Tips!

#5: When Buildings Twist

Key to this concept is to remember a basic principle of perspective, that lines that are parallel to each other appear to converge to the same point.

Quick trip back to Venice. I'm standing on the upper level of the Basilica San Marco. Using my pencil, I extend the receding lines on the left side to find one vanishing point on my eye level line.

Then I use my pencil to extend the lines of the building on the right, and what happens? I get TWO vanishing points, both on my eye level line!  
So, what does this mean? It means the two buildings are actually not parallel to each other in plan (like a map view)... each facade has generated it's own vanishing point. 
Key also is that BOTH vanishing points are on my eye level line--yet another good reason to mark where your eye level line (aka Horizon Line) is located in your sketch!

Does using the two VP's for this sketch make a huge difference? Probably not, as they are so close to each other. The only way I could have realized this was by drawing it!! BUT this concept in perspective is extremely helpful to understand when you are sketching anywhere that was not built on a grid plan, like most of Europe, India, and many other places in the world.

Let's look quickly at another example in Italy. This is Civita di Bagnoregio, an amazing tiny hilltown north of Rome where I teach a sketching workshop every summer. This view is of the narrow main street behind the church. The buildings twist and turn in plan along a curving pedestrian street.

This is a diagram I made in the workshop to explain the concept of multiple vanishing points. I used my pencil to extend the vanishing lines (usually using the tops or bottoms of windows or stone courses), and lo and behold, I get three separate VP's, each on my eye level line, one for each building.

Here is a break down of the three VP's...

In summary, it's easiest to remember that when:
--the building rotates in plan toward the left, the VP shifts to the left along your eye level line
--the building rotates in plan toward the right, the VP also shifts to the right along your eye level line.

I hope this explanation helps! Happy Sketching!
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