GUEST DOODLEWASH: Stephanie Bower, Urban Sketcher

#Doodlewash - Stephanie Bower, #UrbanSketcher - watercolor sketch: Sketching at Wat Arun in Bangkok, Thailand #WorldWatercolorGroup

My name is Stephanie Bower (follow me on InstagramFlickr, 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.

#Doodlewash - Architectural drawings of Stephanie Bower - #UrbanSketchers - Watercolor art - #WorldWatercolorGroup

Architectural drawings

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. 

#Doodlewash - Stephanie Bower, #UrbanSketcher - watercolor sketch: Eiffel Tower Gabriel Prize in Paris #WorldWatercolorGroup

Gabriel Prize in Paris

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!

Stephanie Bower - #UrbanSketchers At the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth with Texas Urban Sketchers

At the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth with Texas Urban Sketchers

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. 

#Doodlewash - Stephanie Bower, #UrbanSketcher - watercolor sketch: Den Haag, The Netherlands #WorldWatercolorGroup

From Den Haag, The Netherlands, with Den Haag and Rotterdam Urban Sketchers

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.

The Urban Sketching Handbook - Understanding Perspective by Stephanie BowerMy 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” 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.

#Doodlewash - Stephanie Bower, #UrbanSketcher - watercolor sketch: Church interior in Civita di Bagnoregio, Italy #WorldWatercolorGroup

Church interior in Civita di Bagnoregio, Italy where I teach a 6 day workshop each summer

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.

#Doodlewash - Stephanie Bower, #UrbanSketcher - watercolor sketch: Sketching in London before the Urban Sketchers symposium #WorldWatercolorGroup

Sketching in London before the symposium

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.

#Doodlewash - Stephanie Bower, #UrbanSketcher - watercolor sketch: Sketch of Angkor Wat, Cambodia #WorldWatercolorGroup

Sketching at Angkor Wat, Cambodia

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.  

Stephanie Bower

Recommended4 recommendationsPublished in Featured Artists
  1. joesephin 6 years ago

    Reblogged this on joesephin.

  2. Sharon Bonin-Pratt 6 years ago

    I sometimes dislike architecture paintings as they can be cold, but yours are amazing. They are full of personality and drama. I get a sense of how these places impact the people who live nearby, who work or worship in them. I love the way you use delicate lines and soft colors to let the image come forward without thundering at the viewer. You are truly a master, Stephanie.

    • Stephanie Bower 6 years ago

      Thank you so much for your kind comments, Sharon! I look for the life in architecture and spaces, and I am something of an impatient sketcher, so I work fast…speed helps the sketches to feel a bit softer and lively…I hope, anyway!!

  3. Sharon Bonin-Pratt 6 years ago

    You are the person in all black at the Fort Worth museum?

    • Stephanie Bower 6 years ago

      Yes, that is me all in black!!!! I grew up in Texas, so it’s nice to sketch with my peeps…

  4. John 6 years ago

    Great and inspiring feature full to the brim of brilliant sketches – thanks so much for sharing – so much to learn from here!

    • Stephanie Bower 6 years ago

      Thank you, John…we all learn from each other, it’s a life-long process!

  5. Susan Feniak 6 years ago

    Amazing work. A master of detail! I have followed you on Instagram Stephanie. Thank you for sharing this Charlie.

    • Stephanie Bower 6 years ago

      Hi Susan, I love that you write “master of detail”, as I always say that I fake the detail! Thanks for following me on Instagram, I am just starting that and trying to figure out how it works 😉 I hope to post more there in the future.
      Thanks so much for this comment!!!

      • Susan Feniak 6 years ago

        Your detail work for “fake” is impressive. I too am still learning how to work Instagram but will continue posting my stuff there.

        • Author

          I love this dialogue! People always comment on my detail, but I learned everything I know about “faking it” well from Urban Sketchers!! 😉hehe Highly recommend Stephanie’s class!

    • Stephanie Bower 6 years ago

      Susan, “faking” detail, or suggesting it quickly in a sketch, is something I touch on in my next Craftsy class…!!!!

  6. Anita 6 years ago

    Loved this well done!!

  7. redharparts 6 years ago

    This is a wonderful post! I’ve had the good fortune to participate in one of Stephanie’s workshops and can testify to her being a very good teacher!

    I can empathize with taking decades off from sketching! We found USk in the same year.

    I have loved your sketches from the first time I saw them!

    • Stephanie Bower 6 years ago

      Thank you so so much, Kate…I appreciate your comments, insights, your sketches…always! So cool that we share finding USk around the same time…sister sketchers!
      See you soon!

  8. Teri C 6 years ago

    I first found you on craftsy. I have always had trouble with perspective and after your class I feel so much more comfortable with it, in fact I kind of brag that ‘I finally get it’. I keep sketching more buildings and each success gives me more confidence that I can do it. You will always be the one that got me on the right track and I am deeply appreciative. Thank you.

    • Stephanie Bower 6 years ago

      Hi Teri C, oh, what you write is a teacher’s dream! Thank you for this message, and I’m so glad that class helped…I have another one coming out in only a few weeks, “Essentials of Sketching Architecture”, I really hope you will like that one too. Look for a discount link on my blog and hopefully my website too.
      Thank you!!!

      • Teri C 6 years ago

        I also follow your blog so am waiting for your next class.

    • Stephanie Bower 6 years ago

      Thank you, Teri!!

  9. rosjenke 6 years ago

    What an inspiring post and amazing artist. What I love about the urban sketching tribe is the willingness to share techniques and their love of sketching. Thank you Stephanie and Charlie.

    • Stephanie Bower 6 years ago

      Hi rosjenke, I love what you write about the urban sketchers tribe…I have also found everyone so incredibly nice, pretty much without ego, just happy to sketch and share…pretty amazing group. Thanks so much for your comment!

  10. Phil Cooper 6 years ago

    Gorgeous images Stephanie, congrats!

  11. parisbreakfast 6 years ago

    Me too. Now I ‘get’ perspective so much better and fear-free after your Craftsy course and the book! Always been a big fan on Flickr of your drawings.
    Can’t wait till the next class.
    thank you Carolg

    • Stephanie Bower 6 years ago

      HI Carol, I recognize your online name!! I’m so glad you have learned from the Craftsy course and book!!!!! And yes, I see you on Flickr too…:) Thanks so much, nice to hear from you!

  12. M. L. Kappa 6 years ago

    What a great post, Stephanie! I will check out your classes.

  13. Molly LeMaster 6 years ago

    Hi Stephanie!!! I am hoping to see you on Samish Is. this week, but I’ll bet you are off sketching in some exotic part of the world. Love your article – your art is amazing. I am so lucky to have seen much of it
    in person. Enjoy life! Hugs. Molly LeMaster

  14. Kristen 6 years ago

    Amazing! Thanks for sharing!!

  15. David Reynolds 6 years ago

    Stephanie Bower, While writing a short travel essay on Venice, I found your beautiful sketches on the internet. Is the bridge sketch near the Hotel Prinicipe available as a print?

  16. Antonio David Gil 5 years ago

    Just now, a new follower of your blog, Stephanie. I love your sketching artworks a lot. Thank you.

  17. Sandra Strait 5 years ago

    Your work is beautiful, Stephanie! Architecture has always been difficult for me, but your post has inspired me to give it a try again.

  18. […] Stephenie Bower is the author of The Urban Sketching Handbook. If you would like to find out more, you can read all about the author on her own blog page by clicking here. […]

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