My name is Stephanie Bower (follow me on Instagram, Flickr, my blog, and visit my website!). I grew up in Texas, then moved to New York City, and now live in Seattle, Washington (testing all the US coastlines!).
When did you start sketching?
I learned how to draw in Architecture school at the University of Texas at Austin, back in the days when architects still used a pencil to help them think! Halfway through the five year program, our work had to be evaluated by faculty, and the feedback I received was that I had “weak graphic skills”. Instead of giving up, it seemed to light a fire under me. I took an amazing class at UT from architect George Villalva in which he taught us how to draw quickly (as in 30 and 60 second sketches!), and how to draw the essence of a space or building in perspective. Looking back, his class literally changed the course of my life.
Since then, sketching architecture has been a passion. I continued travel sketching through graduate school, but then life got busy with work, teaching, family, kids, etc., and I pretty much stopped for nearly 25 years! It wasn’t until I went to India with a friend in 2011 that I finally found my way back. One of the sketches from that trip won the prestigious KRob Architectural Delineation Competition in the category of Best Professional Travel Sketch…and then I was off and running. After India, I was awarded the Gabriel Prize, a fellowship given each year to one architect from the United States to study 3 months in France, followed by another fellowship to Italy in 2014. These opportunities to focus on one project and create a large body of work proved to be the next life-changing experiences for me.
As far as teaching, I actually started while in graduate school at Pratt Institute in NYC. Coming from architecture school, I placed-out of the required drawing classes, but my friends and classmates were stuck in a class with a teacher that didn’t actually TEACH them how to draw…so they asked me.
We started a “sketching club” and while they ate their lunch, I gave them lessons. From there, I taught at Parsons for 10 years. When we moved to Seattle, I taught briefly in Frank Ching’s class at the University of Washington (with Gail Wong) and then at Cornish College of the Arts. I now offer workshops in Seattle and Italy, and I’m so honored to get to teach at the Urban Sketchers symposiums.
I first became aware of Urban Sketchers in 2012, so I’ve only been a part of that wonderful community for very few years. My husband says that I’ve found my tribe, and he’s right!
What inspires you to sketch?
I sketch to learn about the buildings, spaces, and places that I see both at home and when I travel. To draw something, you have to look so carefully! You can learn about proportions, scale, history, materials, function, and what elements create a beautiful space or form. The act of seeing and drawing imprints this information on your brain such that you will always remember the feel of the sun, the sounds, the smells, and yes, the subject of your sketch too.
Sketching to learn is so powerful, and it’s a little different from sketching to create a beautiful piece of art or to sketch an emotion or impression. Having some accuracy to the sketch is important to learning about the architecture…my sketch is a record of what I have seen and experienced, from my perspective (pun intended!)
What do you do now for a living?
I’m a free-lance Architectural Illustrator…I get to combine my architecture background with a love of drawing and painting to produce illustrations for other architects and landscape architects. These are images of projects BEFORE they are built, so the skill set is quite different from urban sketching on location. In fact, it’s the architecture and illustration careers that have made me something of an expert on the use of perspective.
My new book, The Urban Sketching Handbook: Understanding Perspective really combines my professional lives…architect, illustrator, travel sketcher, and teacher–all rolled into one.
I have also filmed two online classes for Craftsy. The first is “Perspective for Sketchers” (click here for 50% off on this class!) and the new one coming out in late September is “The Essentials of Sketching Architecture”. I invite you to check my website or blog for discount links. It’s pretty amazing to get to meet people from all over the world who know me through these classes!
Tell us about your process and the favorite materials you currently use:
I used to lie awake at night wondering if I was a pencil or pen sketcher! When I first started sketching, I mostly used markers, but my true love is pencil for the variety of mark I can get on paper. In Paris, I bought a .5 mechanical pencil and became a convert—I’ll never carry a bad, travel pencil sharpener again. I’m self-taught in watercolor, and amazingly, I am going to start doing demos for Winsor & Newton.
I really do love their paints and brushes. I also use some Daniel Smith colors, and Gabi Campanario (founder of Urban Sketchers) and I are having a joint book signing at their home store in Seattle on October 15.
What do you think you need to work on?
Editing! I have a tendency to sit down without thinking, and in a panic draw everything I see. I love the work of Shari Blaukopf, who has an exquisite sense of composition and color; Marc Taro Holmes, who knows where NOT to paint; and Ch’ng Kiah Kiean (KK) who is a true master at his beautiful twig-drawn line that enters the sketch on one side and exits on the other while creating a dance in between.
On my last day in Manchester after this year’s Urban Sketchers Symposium, I ended up sketching with Norberto Dorantes and William Cordero Hidalgo at a small table inside the ornate John Rylands Library (we were brave to tackle that!) While we chatted in Spanish, I watched them both do the most amazing sketches. They captured the complex space, the detail and ornament, while not drawing every little thing. I left the symposium really inspired to try ink again and to THINK more about where NOT to draw!
What is something we don’t know about you?
I used to sing in a cover band and am really good at harmonies.
Any tips on Urban Sketching?
Nike got it right…JUST DO IT! I’ve learned that we all struggle with our sketches—it’s a life-long process–and in that struggle we learn, grow and evolve. I do tons of sketches I think are really awful, but they inspire me to do better next time.
Don’t get caught up in trying to make your sketch perfect, it’s the PROCESS that counts. We don’t learn to sketch, we sketch to learn.