Stephanie Bower

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

Friday, February 16, 2018

What I Learned About Sketching on a Trip to India, # 3

Working large, this sketch is 20" wide, but I kept things simple. These are the giant boulders at Hampi,
looking downon the temples. See the people on the left? That's how HUGE these rocks are!

3. Know when to work large or small.

Working on a small sketch is much faster when pressed for time--you don't have to fill the page AND you can get away with showing less detail. 

I always tell people new to sketching to work small...don't expect to fill a huge piece of paper right off the bat. At the beginning of my trip, I sketched small, and once I got the hang of it, I naturally gravitated to the large Fluid watercolor paper, which was great for capturing architectural scenes.

A hybrid of Hindu and Christian architecture in Goa.
By dividing up the pages in my sketchbook, I could easily work large or small as needed, 
which was 
much faster than filling a whole page. Plus, I get a nice sequence of sketches across the spread. 
This is in my Pentalic AquaJournal, 7"x10". Great sketchbook!

This is one of my large sketches, sitting in my lap. It's the Fluid Watercolor block, 8"x16". I used this paper for toward the end of the trip for sweeping architectural views. This is Cave 16 at Ellora. Seeing these incredible Buddhist caves, all carved out of one piece of stone, is worth a trip to India!!! This was easily my favorite place in the 3.5 weeks.

It is truly one of the wonders of the world!!!

Monday, February 12, 2018

What I Learned about Sketching on a trip to India...#2

Another thing that really hit home on my trip to India...

2.  Draw what interests you, no matter what it is. 
It could be a huge famous building or a simple flower or your fruit at breakfast. You are drawing YOUR experiences, so there is no right or wrong. I wish I had captured more of these scenes, as they really convey the flavor of a place.

Breakfast in Aurangabad. It was hard not to EAT that fruit instead of sketching it!

I really learned this lesson when I went to India in 2011 and ran into a woman from California who carried a small sketchbook. I had my very serious, very architectural big sketches, and she pulled out this tiny sketchbook with drawings like the head of camel or the top of a palm tree. 

Super simple,
but I realized that she was as passionate about her sketches as I was about mine. It became very clear in that moment that sketching is all about capturing your experience!!! 
It was a great lesson, something that I've talked about when teaching workshops ever since.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

What I Learned about Sketching on a Trip to India, Part 1

Namaste. For 3.5 weeks in October/November, I visited India for a second time. The first trip was in 2011, and the sketchbooks I filled on that trip have sparked so many wonderful opportunities to travel and teach. My parents also lived here before I was born, so India holds a special place in my heart. There are so many utterly amazing sights and colors at every turn--all of life is here.

I set out to sketch my way across central and southern India... and wow, did I learn a lot, just not what I thought I would learn! The sketching did not turn out as I expected...and while very frustrating at the time, that in itself was a good learning experience. That frustration has helped me to figure out what works for me and what doesn't. 

I posted ALL 50 sketches in order on Instagram  @stephanieabower and photos at @stephanieabower.fotos, including lots of sketches I really don't like. Might not be smart to tip my cards like that, but it's all a process, right? This is how we learn and grow. 

To that end, here is some of what I learned in a series of posts!

1.  Don't bring everything--EDIT your supplies and keep everything light.

Varanasi has to be one of the most amazing cities in the world, certainly one of the oldest. At breakfast on the roof of the B&B, I'd sketch the river walking up.

Yep, I brought too much paper, which weighs a ton to carry. I ended up filling only one Pentalic 7" x 10" sketchbook (which worked perfectly when I put multiple images across two pages) and one block of Fluid watercolor paper, 8"x16" for larger sketches. I also was not allowed to use my easel and tripod many places, so luckily, I brought a large piece of corrugated plastic to which I just clipped everything, holding it all in my lap for painting. It worked pretty well and was much lighter. 

I have to sit when I sketch, so my super light Tribe Provisions 3-leg stool was essential and often doubled as an easel when I sat on the ground. Where the ground was uneven or dirty, I had a small, virtually weightless square of foam to sit on. I lugged pens and ink but always just went back to pencil. Luckily, a little bit of watercolor goes a long way, so I didn't have to bring much paint. I put everything into one backpack and one carry on!

Old City, Varanasi. Sketching drew a crowd and constant selfie requests everywhere we went. Here I am using the large corrugated plastic base with everything clipped to it, resting on my bag in my lap. I cut a hole to hold the medicine bottle water container.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Draw Civita 2018

It's a fabulous five-day workshop in Italy. 
Registration is open, a few spots are left...interested?

(India travel posts to come soon too!)

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Before I head to India...


This Saturday, October 28, I return to India with my friend Nancy for 3.5 weeks of travel and sketching! I can't wait, as our trip in 2011 is what sparked my return to sketching after 25 years!!

Here are a couple of ways to follow that adventure, I can promise lots of color to cheer you up:

Instagram  sketches: @stephanieabower  &  photos:  @stephanieabower.fotos

blog It's really hard to post to from my phone when traveling, but I will try!

And here are 50% discount links for my two online classes through Craftsy (nearly 10,000 participants, globally!):

     Perspective for Sketchers  50% discount  
     or here

     The Essentials of Sketching Architecture  50% discount  or 


     The Urban Sketching Handbook: Understanding Perspective

     The Urban Sketching Art Pack (available November 1 in stores and online!!!)

And if you are curious about the art supplies I use when I travel, look here

Thank you so much, and happy travels to all!

Friday, October 20, 2017

New Urban Sketching Art Pack!!

Surprise!  A new Urban Sketching Handbook, the the Urban Sketching Art Pack, is coming out in early November!! (And yes, that is my sketch of the Binnehof in Den Haag on the cover, sketched last year sitting next to Marleen Dambrink, Den Haag Urban Sketcher!)

The publisher has taken about 1/4 of each of the previous books in the series and put them into one volume, paired with a sketchbook filled with drawing prompts. Makes a great gift!

From Amazon:
"Now in a new format, and including all the core techniques from the best-selling Urban Sketching Handbook series, this portable package includes a 112-page informational book and a 112-page companion sketchpad full of challenges to get you started. 

This guide tackles specific challenges of making sketches on location. You’ll find out what to do rain or shine, quickly or slowly, and the most suitable techniques for every situation. Learn how to frame your scene, create a strong composition, and add detail and interest. Find out how to draw figures in motion, in proportion, and how to capture a person's features. Understand the anatomy of a good sketch by learning the secrets to how to draw in perspective. And best of all, learn how to maximize your location drawing opportunities by finding sketch-worthy events, choosing colorful subject matter, and immersing yourself in the sights of sounds of your fascinating city. Drawing the places where you live, work, and play is a great way to show appreciation and creativity. Show your world, one drawing at a time!" 

On another note, I'm headed to India shortly for 3+ weeks of sketching! I invite you to please follow my adventures:

               Instagram  @stephanieabower and @stephanieabower.fotos
and when I am able to post, this blog:

Thank you!!

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Streets of Holland

Each summer that I'm teaching in Europe, I visit my family in Holland. I love them and I love visiting them, as the streets are so walkable, such a beautiful scale, and the variety in the brick of the buildings is just remarkable.

I got a little bit of sketching in, despite cold and damp weather. This is continuation of the series sketches of 4 sketches I started doing in Italy, and I ended up doing these in every city I visited this summer as a way to save the paper in my sketchbook... here is the series from Den Haag. My favorite one is the Passage shown above, as the color is just a blush on my pencil drawing. It was tricky to catch both the glass dome and the floor in one view!

The sketchbook is the Pentalic Aqua Journal, fairly new in the 7" x 10" size. I love the size, love the paper as it's true 140lb. watercolor paper. Click on the image to see it larger!

And here is a quick sketch done while enjoying coffee in the Dam of Amsterdam with my aunt and cousin, listening to them talk (in Spanish) while I sketched. Heaven.

This sketch is all about the roof lines that punctuate the sky around the giant, busy plaza...thus the simple yellow sky that emphasizes the roofs.

In ten days I leave for a 3.5 week sketching trip to INDIA! If you are interested in following my adventures, please find me on Instagram @stephanieabower and my photos will be at @stephanieabower.fotos.  I will try to post here as well, just don't usually find it easy to do when traveling. 

Monday, October 16, 2017

Draw Civita 2017 x 2

Fall is really here, and it has me reminiscing about the heat in Italy this past June. This summer, I taught two DRAW CIVITA workshops in the amazing town of Civita di Bagnoregio...the fifth summer in a row. I am really grateful to The Civita Institute for this opportunity, and in general, everyone seems to love the workshop set in this incredible town. Thanks also to Winsor & Newton for providing fresh tubes of juicy watercolor paints for us all.

Civita is only accessible by foot, and because there are no cars, it makes the town a wonderful medieval-feeling pedestrian-only zone...great for claiming a spot to sketch! 

Here are photos from the workshops...5+ days of small groups, long days of sketching, great meals, beautiful scenery, and a day trip to the Villa Lante Italian Renaissance garden. All in all, pretty great.

Sketching just inside the main gate, the Porta Santa Maria.

In the shade of the Piazza San Marco.
Piazza sketches...and that is my watercolor set up in the upper left-hand corner.

My watercolor thumbnail showing the steps in painting and the morning demo...

The first workshop group getting ready to paint...thank you, Winsor & Newton
for the sponsorship with new tubes of watercolor paint!

Lunch break where we soaked out feet to cool off at the Villa Lante.

Second workshop group enjoying a wonderful dinner at Alma Civita!! Thank you, Maurizio, Rochi! Love that orange/rosemary tiramisu!

Group at the Villa Lante, standing in front of a long stone table that is a fountain, and yes, it was used for meals! 

Wonderful dinner at Alma Civita...

Thanks so much to everyone for TWO fabulous workshops!! I enjoyed meeting each of you and seeing your beautiful work!!

I am now also planning ahead to next year, however, due to the extreme heat of the past few years, I'm bumping the workshop to some time during the last 2 weeks in May...contacting me now (email: if you are interested!
Ciao, tutti!!!

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!