Stephanie Bower

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

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Sketches from Orvieto

I arrived in Italy in June and made my way straight to the beautiful hilltown of Orvieto, north of Rome. Across from my hotel was the amazing duomo, famous for its facade and the horizontal banding inside and out. I went a bit nuts with this sketch, as I only had 1.5 hours till my taxi would arrive, so my pencil and watercolor flew!! (I've added this sketch again at the bottom of the post so that you can click on it and see the detail--same for all these sketches!)

I walked around town and did 5 sketches all in the same day...I was trying out a new sketchbook, the 7"x10" Pentalic AquaJournal--the paper I knew well but the format and size were totally new to me. It occurred to me that I might not have enough pages in the sketchbook to last for 6 weeks of travel, so I decided to do 2 images per the end, it became a format I would repeat everywhere I went, as I loved being able to see sketches side by side.

Below are my 5 sketches from Orvieto (makes me think I should always sketch with jet lag!)  

To the left is my favorite of the sequence sketches, done late in the day in the heat...

For me, Urban Sketching is about capturing my experiences on paper and learning about what I see through the act of drawing and all these are sketched and painted on location.

 This was the view from my hotel window!

The taxi arrived on time, and I headed off to Civita for the workshop! (Click on the duomo interior sketch to see the detail...)

Friday, August 18, 2017

Here come more last!

[by Stephanie Bower, Seattle]  I am finally back in my studio, after over two months of travel mostly for teaching and some for work. Alas, it was pretty much impossible for me to post ot the blog while traveling. Days were packed and often I had little to no internet! I did manage to post some to Instagram, as it loaded on my phone when the blog or Facebook or Flickr would please, I invite you to see my posts on Instagram

For the fifth summer, I had the wonderful opportunity to teach a workshop in the amazing Italian hilltown of Civita di Bagnoregio. It is a speck of a town, you can walk it from end to end in about 5 minutes, and it is only accessible by a steep foot bridge and thus has no cars. You feel transported back to the Middle Ages, but for all the tourists. Civita is remarkably picturesque, Rick Steves says it is his favorite Italian hilltown.

This year, I taught two workshops back-to-back, and since it was roasting hot, we sketched inside the cool, dark chiesa and worked on really "Understanding Perspective"!  I love the simplicity and scale of this church, and it is filled with interesting relics from the past. There was likely an Etruscan temple on this spot nearly 3000 years ago.

Below is how I teach people to start perspective sketches--I start a sketch like this with what I call drawing the "Shape of the Space". Then I use the eye level line and VP to construct the bones of the sketch. You can see how I draw the entire ellipse to help me draw the arches.

I kept this drawing and colors very simple, letting the openings in the arches recede by painting them a cool blue...painting like an architect to make sure the spaces read.

More sketches will follow, including a dozen or so from Italy, then Holland, then England...and of course, there was Chicago...

Thanks to everyone who participated in the workshops and to The Civita Institute for their support of this opportunity!  Ciao, tutti!

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

And suddenly...Italy!!!

Even though I've been preparing for this workshop for about a year, it somehow caught me by surprise when it was time to pack and jet off to Italy! This will be my 5th summer of teaching in Civita, and this year, there will be two, 5-day workshops almost back-to-back!

Most instructors will tell you it's important to arrive early to a new teaching location when get used to all the variables that change from one place to another: the dryness of the air and how that impacts painting (in Singapore, I remember Gail Wong having to rethink how she would teach her workshop, as the air was so humid that the paint would not dry!), to figure out the colors of a new place (I had a real ah-ha moment when I started using Raw Umber (W&N) in Italy...duh, Umber in UMBRIA!), and to generally warm up your sketching hand before you have to draw on demand for workshop participants (instructors notoriously do their worst work when teaching!)

I arrived in Italy yesterday and challenged myself today to do as much as I could here in the beautiful hill town of Orvieto. I have been here several times before, so I knew my way around...that helped! And it's close to where I'll teach the workshops, which is where I'll head tomorrow. It usually takes me about a week of sketching to get the right "feel" for a place, but as it turns out, today was a good day! 

Spectacular view from my hotel room, this was last
night's moon shining on the famous Duomo,
after all the crowds were gone.
This is the first time I've used this new size (7"x10") of my favorite sketchbook, the Pentalic Aquajournal (descriptions are on my blog). I love this paper, as I can draw in pencil easily on it, and since it is a true 140lb cold press paper, it takes watercolor really well. I was worried I hadn't brought enough paper for 5.5 weeks of sketching, so I had the idea this morning to do four across the spread.

This is the order in which they were done, reading left to right:  1 -- 4 -- 2 -- 3.  I'm super happy with how these turned out individually and collectively, maybe I should sketch with jet lag more often!

I'll be making lots of quick posts on Facebook and Instagram (@stephanieabower), as well as posting images and photos on Flickr...should you want to follow along! Ciao!!

The sketch on the far right was my favorite of the day...I love that yellow sky and
how the paints dried with some texture...

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Good Bones and more in Melbourne

After Adelaide, I headed to Melbourne to teach a workshop...location was the University of Melbourne campus, close to the home in North Melbourne of my wonderful host, Angela Williams.  THANK YOU, Angela, for bringing me here and for taking such great care of me! It was such wonderful fun!! 

The weather looked iffy ( I hoped for late summer weather but instead got early fall climate change makes it impossible to predict!), so I spent a lot of time scoping out locations under cover should it rain. 

Practicing in the Old Quad on campus.
In the end, the Old Quad and the Old Arts Building were perfect locations for our 2 days of workshop and Sunday morning of what turned out to be a HUGE sketchcrawl! It was great to meet so many talented sketchers in Melbourne.

The workshop group was great fun, coming all the way from Perth, Brisbane, outside Melbourne, Canberra...I was so honored that folks traveled to get here!

Another highlight of my time in Melbourne was giving a talk about my work and sketching at the offices of world famous engineers, ARUP. Thanks again to Angela, who has worked here for 10 years and was kind enough to set up this opportunity. We had a large crowd after work, and they stayed until the bitter end!

Here are some of my Melbourne sketches, plus a few photos!

Another warm up sketch before the workshop, in the Old Quad. I used the front arch as a frame,
in my Pentalic sketchbook.

Lovely Meet & Greet the evening before the workshop started!

Our group at the Old Quad!

I love this view of the hardworking group sketching inside the Quad.
Me, doing a demo for the workshop...


Day 2, Watercolor at outdoor tables on campus...
Some examples of the many beautiful sketches done by this group! My goal is for them to not draw like me, but to draw in their style but BETTER for having a better understanding of perspective and color.

Very quick sketch while on my way to the ARUP offices to give a lecture. This is the Royal Exhibition Hall...
Great turnout for the Sunday morning open sketch crawl!!!

My sketchcrawl sketch of the Old Arts building Tower.

Thank you sketchers in Melbourne, thanks to the University of Melbourne for allowing us to draw on campus,
and thanks to Angela Williams for being so kind and generous and all her hard work!!

Wednesday, May 24, 2017


I can hear "Waltzing Matilda" even Adelaide visiting my husband's relatives, we got to walk along a nearby billabong near Anne and Quentin's home. A billabong is a pool of water, a backwater connected to a stream. Really, this was the only bit of nature I saw during the entire 3 weeks in Oz!

We sat down at a picnic table in the shade, and I quickly (so as not to make the rellies wait too long in the midday sun) did this sketch of the view right in front of me. Giant gum tree, water in the distance...

Sketched in my 5"x8" Pentalic sketchbook, and painted in Winsor & Newton paints that dried too quickly in the heat!

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Manchester, A Beautiful City

Albert Memorial in front of Manchester Town Hall.

Yesterday, I was literally scanning and cropping these sketches when the news from Manchester came through. In going through sketches over the weekend, I had come across these that I had not yet posted.

After hearing the shocking and tragic news, I decided not to do the post. But this morning, I thought maybe I should, as these are sketches from the heart of Manchester, the Town Hall and near Manchester Cathedral. They are my love letter to the city in a time of sadness.

I spent about a week in Manchester last summer before, during and after the Symposium. 

Simone and the team were so proud of their city as they bused a large group of instructors to see the sights. It's a beautiful city in a real word kind of way. Some gorgeous architecture, but what really resonated was the heritage of strong, hard working people (manufacturing buildings throughout), further evidenced by their TWO amazing football/soccer teams. I saw a city that wasn't pretty, it was beautiful...and it breaks my heart that this beautiful city has just seen this kind of senseless tragedy.

So today, I remember and honor the spirit of Manchester with love in the way I know how... with a few words and sketches.
Old half-timber building across from Manchester Cathedral.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Traveling again--looking back, looking forward...

Two weeks from today, I arrive in Rome...this will be a busy summer, teaching two workshops in June in the amazing hill town of Civita di Bagnoregio, then a trip to see family in Holland, then to Oxford, England to teach a Good Bones Workshop!  Then back to Seattle for a week of work and hosting the amazing sketcher and friend, "KK" Ch'ng Kiah Kiean from Malaysia, before heading to Chicago to teach at the USk symposium at the end of July. 
But honestly, I am so utterly grateful to be living the dream!! I have wanted to do this my entire life, and today when I am saddened about the passing of a friend much too soon, I am feeling particularly grateful.

Which takes me back to Australia...

Back in March, I arrived in Australia and first headed to Adelaide to visit with family for a few days, then it was off to Melbourne to teach, one night in Canberra, then Sydney to teach two workshops...then Home. The time just flew by.

Aussies are incredibly friendly and warm people, and these groups had some amazingly talented sketchers!

But first, here is Adelaide.

Church in Adelaide, Australia where my in-laws were married! A bit wonky, a blame the jet lag...

I arrived and had five minutes to change before I was whisked off by our family friend, Max, to a memorial service. It was for a distant relative on my husband's side--he lived a good, long life. Particularly amazing, this was held in the church where my in-laws were married long ago! Battling a 17 hour time difference and trying desperately to stay awake, I did this sketch from the back row during the service.

Two days later, we were back...and while Max attended the Sunday service, I sketched the sunlit side of the building. As the choir sang inside, the birds sang outside! I loved this view, loved capturing the sense of spaces between the buildings. It is a true 180 degree view, ear-to-ear.

Unusual for me, a one-point perspective that turns into a North Adelaide Baptist Church, Australia.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

TRAVEL SKETCHING ESSENTIALS, my favorite supplies for globe-trotting

Thanks to everyone at Daniel Smith's Seattle store for the opportunity yesterday to share my best supplies and tips for travel sketching! In travel sketching, the name of the game is LIGHT and SMALL! It has to be BOTH to work.

I've bought and tried pretty much is the list of supplies I use, developed over years of trial and error. I now only take carry-on luggage (small suitcase and a backpack), no matter where I am going or for how long.

Thanks also to Joe Bosch, store manager extraordinaire, for all his hard work and everyone at Daniel Smith's mother ship here in Seattle. Thanks also to the 50 (!!) people or so who turned up, it was great to meet you all.

General Sketching Supplies
-- Sketchbook: Pentalic Aqua Journal (my favorite sketchbook because it has true 140lb. CP watercolor paper), Handbook (8" x 8"), 
         Fluid watercolor blocks (I use 8" x 16").
-- Mechanical pencil: .5mm size lead, with extra B or 2B lead
-- Eraser: Kneaded eraser & white plastic eraser
-- Pen: Felt Tip -- Faber Castell, PITT artist pen
            Fountain Pen -- Lamy Safari with Platinum Carbon permanent ink, or Sailor Bent nib pen
-- Straight Edge: 6” clear plastic architect’s triangle (30/60 degrees is easiest to use) or small plastic ruler
-- Binder Clips: 3-4 binder clips to hold down your paper
-- Bag: Backpack or bag for carrying your supplies when sketching outdoors, that can be secured
-- Small portable stool: “Tribe Provisions Compact Field 3-leg Stool, Coleman Event Stool, or Walkstool (different heights.)
-- Portable travel painting easel: I use the “En Plein Air Pro” surface that is carefully cut down to fit in my
       backpack, mounted onto a small AND light tripod I purchased on Amazon, the “Sony VCT-R100 Lightweight Compact Tripod”
-- Bags: small plastic zip bags for holding your supplies, one for wet and one for dry supplies
-- Also: sun screen, hat, bug repellant, snacks, water

Watercolor Supplies
-- Palette: “Winsor & Newton Sketcher’s Pocket Box”, (Refill with higher grade artists paints, just use the box.)
                   “Heritage Artist Palette”, 18 color wells, (doesn’t leak)
                    Lukas metal half pan box, take out the holders and replace with your own half pans, taped into place

-- Paints: Watercolor paints, half pans (pre-made cubes of paint) or tubes (squirt fresh paint onto palette)
              Brands: Winsor & Newton Artists/Professional (not Cotman, poor student grade paints) or Daniel Smith (DS)
              Colors:  Blues: Ultramarine Blue, Cobalt Blue, Manganese Blue or Cerulean Blue
                            Reds: Permanent Alizarin Crimson, Burnt Sienna
                            Yellows: New Gamboge, Yellow Ochre, Winsor & Newton Raw Umber
                            Also: Pyrrole Orange, Sap Green, Daniel Smith Quinacridone Burnt Orange
                            Recommended: Aureolin (yellow), DS Quinacridone Burnt Scarlet, DS Quinacridone Gold
-- Brushes:
             1) Round: Escoda Reserva Sable travel brush, size 10; Escoda Perla Synthetic travel brush, size 12;
                Richeson travel brush set; Winsor & Newton University Series 223; Cotman synthetic brushes
2) Angled or flat brush, sizes ¾” or 1” in synthetic or sable mix

Other Supplies
1)    Paper towels, a few sheets
2)    Small scraps of watercolor paper for testing colors
3)    Water holder while painting, such as the “Faber-Castell Clic & Go” collapsible water pot, around $5.
4)    You can also make the small holder I use, cut from corrugated plastic. It uses medicine bottles for water and clips to hold the
           Pocket Box palette and scrap paper in place. It works great!  Do-it-yourself template is on the following page.
5)    Water bottle with water

Other Resources

Online Classes:        “Perspective for Sketchers”
50% Discount on Craftsy:

“The Essentials of Sketching Architecture”
50% Discount on Craftsy:
The Urban Sketching Handbook, Understanding Perspective