Stephanie Bower

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

Friday, February 26, 2016


This weekend, I'm on the beautiful Washington coast at a Northwest Watercolor Society retreat. We have great company, food, simple lodgings, and a spectacular setting for painting.  While most people work indoors in a studio setting, I ventured into the sunny cold this morning to sketch the boathouse. 

As I sketched, I could hear eagles screeching overhead, keeping me company! The little black blob in the tree in the sketch is a bald eagle.

I also decided to take photos as I went through the sketching process, as each layer was taking a long time to dry in the this is a pretty typical process I go though with a painting...step-by-step.


Linework.  I love my pencil, so I tend to sketch a lot of my view in pencil before painting. Often, the pencil work will disappear by the time the image is finished, which sometimes makes me sad, as I quite often like the pencil drawing better than the finished painting.


Underpainting.  To make the image more harmonious, many painters underpaint first. Here I put in light washes of yellow ochre/new gamboge where I want warmth, and cobalt blue/manganese where I want cool and in the sky.  I paint a hot spot of bright yellow near the focal point of the boat house using new gamboge.  Putting this layer of paint over the pencil work also fixes the pencil lines...after this, they cannot be erased.

Background.  This time, I decided to start at the the farthest layer of trees goes in with a cobalt blue/alizarin crimson pale purple, trying to vary it in places with spots of sap green, and in general making it darker on the left and a little lighter toward the right (that was the concept, anyway.)

Middle Ground.  Layers of oranges and reds go in here...I can't remember what I used, probably yellow ochre with burnt sienna or quinacridone burnt orange, maybe some raw umber and a reddish purple made with cobalt blue and alizarin crimson too. This layer is the least successful in the end--didn't turn out with the brown that I had hoped for.

Middle ground
Foreground...using dark blues and greens, I paint in the evergreen trees and grass with sap green knocked down with yellow ochre and burnt sienna, with bits of new gamboge where I want a bright green. Then I paint in the boat house itself, with the brightest colors as it's the focal point of the painting.  Notice nearly all the pencil work has disappeared!

I also add in, less is more...bigger strokes in the foreground closer to me, and smaller, thinner strokes in the distance, and leaving lots of white.  Darker in the foreground too, and hints of reflections dropped into the wet paint.

Foreground with water.

All in all, it's not my favorite painting...I find I really like more linework and architecture in my sketches---that is definitely my comfort zone--but this captures the view this morning pretty well...and it was all painted on location, in the cold!

I might try another version of this tomorrow in the studio, as I like the composition but think I can improve on the colors. I find it important not to only post what I think is my best work, but also things that aren't so's helpful to see that everyone struggles, everyone has room to improve and learn!


  1. A nice exercise. Incidentally the text is mixed up with the pictures on my browser (EDGE) and doesn't read correctly.

    1. Hi Yorky, I have no idea why the post reads differently in different places, but I'm sorry that has happened. I know that posting via blogspot is challenging--it's hard to get pictures and text coordinated...oh well! I'm glad you like seeing this exercise. Thanks for your post!

  2. thank you very much Stephanie for this detailed post. This is so helpful for learners to see your step by step progress, because it is very frustrating to look at your beautiful sketches and wonder how you achieve these so transparent, light and colorful sketches of yours.
    PS: On my computer the post reads perfectly

    1. Hi Marie-Cath...I hope to do more of these kinds of posts, it was literally my New Year's Resolution for 2016! I'm glad it read OK on your computer too--thanks for writing and for viewing, I appreciate it so much!

  3. Excellent step-by-step explanation of your process and the thinking behind some of the moves you made. Congratulations for tackling an outdoor subject during the damp chilly weather. I'd like to see more posts like this in the future. Thanks.
    Frank B

    1. Thanks so much, Frank...I will definitely do more how-to posts, especially about perspective as it gets close the book publication date!!! Still cold and damp here on Samish Island, so I'm glad I got out while there was a bit of sun yesterday...

  4. This step by step was very helpful!