On the weekend it’s quiet on the shrimp docks, so I was able to set up my easel with a great view of the boats, which are, as it turns out, docked in greater numbers than usual as their crews take a break for the holiday season. Lucky me.

I really wanted to paint the nets today, and fortunately I had some rough Arches paper on hand. Dragging a dryish brush over the paper allowed me to get some of the texture and transparency of the nets without painting all the crisscrossing of the mesh. And even though it there wasn’t much movement on the docks, there were two guys who stopped for a few moments to have a conversation as I was drawing. I’m happy I was able to quickly add them in because it really helps to get a sense of scale in the scene.

Puzzle pieces on the beach

It was pretty windy on the beach today but I wanted to do some people sketching. I had to work fast because the wind made it impossible to sit for too long or to put up an umbrella, and that meant that my models wouldn’t be sticking around for long either. But challenges like that are good, aren’t they? State the essentials and if you have time for more, it’s a bonus.

So how do you figure out scale in a scene this? That was the first thought that popped into my head. I wanted to capture the two couples sitting on the beach, and hoped to convey that one was close and one was far. The drawing aid I used to help me figure this out was the horizon line.

Here was my thinking. Couple on the left: both heads are under the horizon line. Couple on the right: the top of his chair and head are over the horizon line but her chair and head are under it. As for the guy in the mauve shirt — he walked by and his head was touching the horizon line. Once I had those elements in place, it was easy to fit in the remaining puzzle pieces of arms, legs and chairs.


It’s unusually cold in Florida but this is not a complaint. I’ve been hearing about the bitter temperatures in Montreal, and I’m grateful to be able to stand outside even with several layers on.

Today I painted a few of the shrimp boats that I could see from the dock. For these grey days I’ve been using lots of opaque paint to make my soft greys: Lavender, Naples Yellow and Cerulean Blue combine in the nicest ways on days when the cloud cover is low and there is not much contrast in the scene.

I’m learning a lot about the life of a shrimper, too. Many of them come over to chat while I paint, which can be distracting, but also fascinating. Today I talked with a guy who described in detail how he beheads the shrimp — five at a time in each hand — and then showed me the scars on his fingers to prove it. These guys who work the boats are paid by the pound, so the faster you knock the heads off, the more money you make. But being successful on the boat takes more than beheading skills. You need to be a good cook as well as have sewing skills to repair the nets. If you’re interested in learning more about the shrimp industry in this part of Florida, have a look at a PBS documentary titled “Pink Gold Rush”.


I woke up to a grey day but the cast of colourful characters at the marina where I painted today more than made up for it. I set up my easel on the dock of a shrimp processing plant/marina on San Carlos Island. It’s a place I discovered by accident while on my way to paint somewhere else (the best places always seem to be on the way to somewhere else, don’t they?), and I found enough there to paint for weeks and weeks. Shrimp boats, warehouse buildings, loading docks piled with rope and netting and barrels, and of course the characters. A boat captain who just came off a 30-day shrimp fishing expedition, a few young men from Guyana who work the boats, a group of tourists on a Segue tour with a guide — everyone stopped to have a look over my shoulder, say hello, and meet the crazy person who set up an easel in the middle of all the chaos.

Fort Myers Workshop photos

Last week I spent a few wonderful days teaching a really fun group of sketchers in the historic riverfront district of Fort Myers. In this city there’s no shortage of fascinating stuff to draw, including palm trees, historic buildings, boats and reflections. All the stuff I love. We were even fortunate enough to spend an afternoon at the Edison Ford Winter Estates, sketching the houses and gardens of these two famous guys. It was a cloudless day so we left no time at the end of our day to visit the indoor display of historic cars or the museum that houses all of Edison’s inventions. Typical of sketchers! We never end up visiting half the stuff that most tourists see at any given site since we are always outside sketching.

Below are a few of the short demos I did during the three days: an exercise in values, a little street scene using a limited colour palette, mixing greens around the big banyan tree and a boat scene with reflections. We had a couple of torrential downpours and lots of overcast skies on days 2 and 3, but we managed to find shelter wherever we went. This is Florida, after all, and weather can be unpredictable. We also discovered that when all else fails, a Dyson Airblade hand dryer in a public washroom is the best method for getting wet sketchbook paper to dry.

Announcing a joint sketching workshop with Suhita Shirodkar |Stephanie Bower | Shari Blaukopf

I’m excited to announce a joint workshop with two awesome sketchers. It’s something we’ve been talking about for a while and now it’s finally happening this coming May.

People | Places | Color

A Sketching Workshop by Stephanie Bower | Shari Blaukopf Suhita Shirodkar

May 15-16, 2020 • 10am-5pm • Downtown San Jose, CA

About the Workshop:

This is a rare opportunity to learn location sketching from three Urban Sketchers doing what they do best!

Suhita Shirodkar (USA) will teach quick sketching of people in motion.

Stephanie Bower (USA) explains the basics of perspective sketching.

Shari Blaukopf (Canada) teaches her creative use of watercolor.

Format: The workshop will be taught through 4, 3-hour sessions over the two days. For each half-day session, we will divide registrants into three small groups of no more than 12 participants each. You and your group will take the first 3-hour lesson with one instructor, then rotate through two more half-day sessions until you’ve had a class with all three teachers.

In the final afternoon session, we’ll put it all together in a joint sketching class taught by all three instructors. We are also adding an optional opportunity to join other sketchers on Sunday morning, May 17, for a Sketching Meet-Up that is open to all sketchers! (Yet another chance to cement what you’ve learned.)

Additional information about locations, recommended sketching supplies, and more will be sent to registered participants at a later date.

Cost: $300.00 US/person
Payable by check (preferred method) or PayPal ($310.00US including additional transaction fee.) Payments will be coordinated by Stephanie at

How to sign up:
Mark your calendars: Registration starts precisely on Sunday, December 15, 2019, at 12:00 noon Pacific Time (no sooner, please.)

First come, first served, in the order your email is received.
To sign up, email

Workshop payment will be due in February 2020.

For more info about this workshop, contact me at with “People | Places | Color” in the subject line. But to register, you must get on the list with Stephanie Bower at

Begin with blue

I rode my bike to my favourite sketching spot along the canal in Sanibel to sketch some boats at the marina. I spent a moment thinking about the process for this sketch before I put brush to paint. The first step in a sketch like this is to paint a light wash of blue over almost everything. I begin with the sky and move right down into the water, leaving whites only where the lightest parts of the boats will be.

Why does blue work as an underpainting for this sketch? Because in a scene like this, almost everything has blue in it. The palm fronds are a blue/green, the distant trees have blue in them and the shadows on the boats are blue. A unifying wash of blue ties everything together, and hopefully creates colour harmony in the sketch. Highlights of red, white and pale yellow are added later, but with an opaque paint that I know will sit on top of the transparent colours.

The only thing I didn’t manage to capture in this sketch is the dolphin that surfaced just a few feet from the dock I was sitting on.