What’s New

The Tree Collectors: Reviews, Interviews, & More

The Tree Collectors high res cover image

I’m about to leave for book tour for my next book, The Tree Collectors: Tales of Arboreal Obsession. I hope to see you as I’m traveling around the country!  Meanwhile, here’s a running list of interviews & reviews you might want to check out, with much more to come.

Scientific American’s book review: Why People Collect Trees and You Should, Too

Plant a Trillion Trees Podcast, episode 172

Weekly Art Lessons for Your Sketchbook Practice

Amy Stewart sketching on a mountaintop

Where would you go to get a great sketch?

If you’re an artist, aspiring artist, a writer who doodles, a keeper of journals or diaries, an urban sketcher or travel sketcher, or anyone who wants to fill a sketchbook–I’m making weekly art tutorials just for you!

These mini-classes are so much fun for me to make, and I’m delighted to share them with a community of energetic and creative artists (they’re lovely people, really) who come together to celebrate their love of sketching.

For the price of a couple of colored pencils, you’ll get:  

  • Video lessons
  • Art supply reviews
  • Step-by-step tutorials
  • Live Zoom classes
  • Q&As
  • Giveaways
  • Special features from travel sketching trips around the world.
  • Access to a growing archive of lessons
  • You’ll also get the newsletter that goes out to all my free subscribers, which includes hand-illustrated stories and round-ups of good things worth sharing.

Go here to take a look and find out about subscribing.

Here’s a combo post, with an illustrated story AND an art lesson, so you can see what you’re in for.

I hope you’ll join us! I’d love to see you there.



Travel Sketching in New Zealand with Quick & Easy Thumbnails

This class is live on two platforms right now:

Skillshare is a membership platform where you subscribe and take as many classes as you like. Here’s a link to the class on Skillshare.

You can also take the class on Udemy, where you only sign up for the classes you want to take. Check it out on Udemy right here.

Here’s a bit more about the class:

Thumbnail sketches are tiny sketches, maybe only a couple inches tall, that you can draw in just a minute or two.

Art students learn how to do this as a way of working up some ideas for larger paintings.

But they’re also a great way to very quickly capture your travels when you’re on the move. This is especially helpful when you’re traveling with a group, and they don’t want to wait while you settle down to draw for an hour or two!

In this class, I’ll show you how to fill a sketchbook with lively, interesting thumbnails, filled with personality.

  • Design: I’ll give you a template for designing a page layout
  • Drawing: Discover how quickly you can draw a basic scene in just a minute or two.
  • Watercolor: Use an ultralight watercolor kit to add a few brushstrokes.
  • Writing: Add some lettering, captions, or notes to make your pages more personal.
  • Collage: Work in stickers, maps, ticket stubs, and more.

The result will be a rich and varied tapestry of images that truly took only a few minute per sketch! This class is perfect for urban sketching, travel sketching, nature journaling, and anyone keeping a visual diary or illustrated journal.

If you’re a beginner, this class is a great place to start. For more experienced artists, this class is a fun way to loosen up and try a different approach to travel sketching.

Travel Sketching in Amsterdam with Quick & Vibrant Color

This class is available for you to take online anytime. Join the class on Skillshare, which is a membership platform that lets you take all the classes you want for a monthly subscription. Here’s a link that will give you a free trial. You can also take this class on Udemy, where you only sign up for the classes you want to take. Here’s the Udemy version of the class.

Travel sketching is a great way to observe the new places you’re exploring and capture memories in a way that no snapshot ever could.

But do you have trouble finding time to sketch when you’re on vacation?

Are your art supplies just too much to lug around everywhere you go?

Do you struggle to capture a scene in a way that reflects your own personality and your own style?

In this class, I’ll demonstrate an approach that anyone can do on the go.

  • Travel kit: Take a look inside my ultra-light travel kit, and adapt it to your own style.
  • Drawing: Learn my tricks for getting an accurate drawing down quickly, using just one pen.
  • Watercolor: Try a simplified approach that uses a few strokes of vibrant, creative color and lots of white space.
  • Details: Add details when you have time, and use a couple markers for highlights and shadows.

I think you’ll be surprised at how lively and vibrant your artwork can be, even when you have less than half an hour to sketch.

I was also really happy to have such a lightweight travel sketching kit with me.

The result is a sketchbook that feels bright and inviting, and I’m sure you’ll have fun doing it.

Am I Writing Another Kopp Sisters Book?

After over a year of not writing a book…I’m writing a book. I just made a deal with Random House to publish THE TREE COLLECTORS: Tales of Arboreal Obsession, which I am going to both write and illustrate.

About ten years ago, I met a man who introduced himself to me as a tree collector. He lived in Pennsylvania, where he had some acreage. He planted every kind of tree that struck his fancy, and crammed them in together as closely as he reasonably could. He told me that he had 150 different species and cultivars, growing in rows the way a book collector would line up books on a shelf.

I remember thinking at the time that trees were an odd thing to collect. They are large and difficult to move. Most collectors like to trade up, swapping out a better version when they can afford to. A collector’s taste might change over the years, and they might get rid of more common items to make room for the rare and unusual. But how do you do that when your collection consists of enormous living, breathing organisms?

I thought at the time that it might be an interesting idea for a book, and I even met a few more tree collectors over the years, but it just never came together in my head. Then, over this last year of being stuck indoors with not much to do, I picked it up again. When I thought about it as an illustrated book, it just made more sense. The idea of including some art seemed to breathe more life into the idea.

Anyway, I’ll be profiling about 50 tree collectors, and talking about other ways of thinking about the idea of “collecting” without actually owning a large parcel of land and filling it with trees, such as projects to catalog urban trees and so forth.

It feels good to be getting back into a project, after taking a longer break than I’ve ever taken in my life. I certainly wanted a break, after twenty years of writing books, doing book tours, researching books, and generally being on the treadmill of endless tasks that self-employed people find themselves on. For that entire time, I always worked seven-day workweeks. I never gave myself an official day off, apart from those days off that happened by accident, if I was sick or on an airplane all day (which doesn’t count as a day off, really) or actually traveling on an actual vacation, but even then I was always working, a little bit.

So now I’m back at work, but at a much more livable pace, with actual days off and no guilt trips about uncompleted tasks or unanswered emails. I’ll be at work on this book for a couple years, and I intend to make very few other commitments so I don’t go back to my old overscheduled self. Wish me luck.

Oh, and if you happen to know a tree collector, send them my way!

So That Means I’m Not Writing Another Kopp Novel Right Now

I’ve put off saying this out loud, because it felt weird, but…yes, it’s true…I won’t be writing another Kopp Sisters novel anytime soon. When I started down this road, I said that I could see myself writing 7-10 of these books. At the time that sounded crazy–how on earth was I going to write seven whole novels?

But here we are. I won’t give away the ending of Miss Kopp Investigates, but if you read that far, you’ll see that I’ve left them in a good place, a place that is based on their true story, and a place that I could easily pick up again down the road.

I was sad to step away from their little world, where I’ve spent so much time over the last decade, but it was time for my brain to have something different to do. Ten years is a long time to think about one thing. Thanks to all of you who have been cheering me on, and who loved the Kopps as much as I did. That’s all I ever wanted from these books, for people to love them.

Keep up with these and other updates by subscribing to my newsletter.

Sketching in Sepia

I love to draw and paint in ink using these portable, very affordable ink wash pens like the Pentel Color Brush Pen–so I made a class about it!

You can take this class on Skillshare, which is a Netflix-style membership platform where you subscribe and take all the classes you want to. I have over 30 classes on Skillshare. Go here to see the class on Skillshare.

Or you can take it on Udemy, where you only sign up for the classes you want to take. For this class, I bundled it with my class on creative color mixing, so you get two classes in one. Go here to see the class on Udemy.

This class is for anyone who wants to play around with ink (or sepia watercolor), anybody getting ready for Inktober, or anyone who wants to sharpen up the values and drama in their art.

In this class, we’re going to work with just one color to truly explore value. By setting aside color and working on exploring a full range of light and dark in our work, we can create art that makes a strong visual and emotional impact.

I’ll be demonstrating the wonderfully portable and affordable Pentel Color Brush Pen in sepia. You can take the class using ink or watercolor, and I’ll demonstrate each of those.

We’ll study the value scale, then we’ll do a simple warmup exercise painting a piece of fruit.

After that, we’ll dive in to a classic Italian village scene, painted in sepia like the old masters used to do.

In this class you’ll learn:

  • The benefits of painting with just one color
  • How to identify values using a value scale
  • How to paint from dark to light in sepia ink or watercolor
  • How to soften or sharpen your edges
  • How to add finishing details and adjust your values to make your painting pop
  • How to apply these techniques to full-color paintings and sketching on location.

These are simple techniques that can really elevate your art practice. Follow along and create dramatic, vivid art that jumps off the page!


The Joys of Tiny Thumbnail Sketches

I used to think thumbnails were so annoying — like, why waste time making a bunch of tiny drawings when you could jump right into one big painting? But now I think they’re ridiculously fun all by themselves. Why spend forever on one big painting when you can divide the page up, make six different little scenes, paint all six of them all at once, and call it done? Here’s a whole day at the beach, all at once.

And if you want to try this along with me, here’s the reference photo:

(also, if you’d like to know what art supplies I use, here’s a good list)

six small photos of the beach

Sketch Amsterdam in Ink and Watercolor

I taught a live virtual workshop with Etchr Studio on my approach to travel sketching, using bold, black ink and vivid watercolor. I chose Amsterdam as a subject for this class because it’s such a gorgeous city for urban sketching, with fabulous historic architecture and wonderful reflections from the canals. It’s available for you to watch anytime and it’s very affordable! Go here to find out more.

You can also watch a free demo here, and listen to a podcast interview I did with Etchr about art-making here.

Come to Amsterdam with me!


ink and watercolor sketch of canal houses in Amsterdam with a canal boat in front.

Let’s go to Amsterdam! (well, virtually, anyway.) I’ll be teaching a workshop on this style of sketching–with lots of dramatic black ink and vivid colors–with Etchr on August 29. Amsterdam is a fabulous city for urban sketching, with its distinctive architecture and gorgeous canals. If you’re looking forward to traveling with a sketchbook again, join me for a little practice!

Register here and I’ll see you in Amsterdam!

On People and Stories and Drawing

I’ve always shied away from getting people into my drawings and paintings. For years almost everything I did looked like this:

Drawings of buildings and streets in Italy

No people. Entirely depopulated streets and towns, as if all the citizens had been raptured or abducted by aliens.

Sometimes I’d drop just one little figure in, for scale.

street scenes in Mexico and New York painted in gouache with one figure walking down the street

But really, they were still drawings of buildings, with a couple little lumpy shapes to show that people do exist in cities.

But of course, if you’re into urban sketching, you can’t ignore the people forever. Over time (and with the help of some terrific teachers, such as James Richards) I started to be more deliberate about populating my sketches with people.

Still, these figures are accessories, like the street trees and lampposts and picnic umbrellas, meant to convey the sense of a lively street. They’re not about any one person doing any one thing–they’re about people collectively, like a flock of birds. And that’s great–I love these pictures. (I love all the pictures I’ve posted here–none of this is a criticism of my own art at all, just an observation about what I tend to focus on and what I don’t focus on.)

But lately I’ve been admiring the work of artists like Jenny Kroik, whose illustrations tell such a story about the city she lives in. I also admire her gouache technique, so I started making little studies of her paintings (“study” is an artsy word for “copy”) in my sketchbook, to figure out how she does it.

I was mostly working on technique but what occurred to me is that if you really want to tell a story in your sketchbook, you need to have people acting out that story.

This is hilarious, that I would only think about this now. I’ve been a full-time, professional writer for 20 years. I’ve written books about earthworms, cut flowers, poisonous plants, and I’ve written a bunch of novels. What I always tell people is, “That wasn’t really a book about earthworms. It was a book about people who study earthworms. Stories have people in them. If I’d left out the people and only written about worms, I wouldn’t have had a story. There’s no book in that.”

So I was thinking about this, and looking at Jenny Kroik’s interesting illustrations of interesting New Yorkers doing interesting things, and kind of envying her interesting art practice, and then I thought, “Wait a minute. I live in Portland. This place is interesting. Come to think of it, every place is interesting in its own way.”

And at that moment, Portland was having an interesting event: an epic snowstorm. I could see from my window that Portlanders were out in the snow, doing whatever Portlanders do. So I grabbed my camera (not my sketchbook, c’mon, it’s cold outside) and decided to go looking for stories. Here’s what I found:

Portlanders and their beverages, hours before the next wallop was predicted to hit and possibly knock out power: One last coffee run, and a trudge to the liquor store.

Kids carrying around enormous chunks of ice, for probably the first time in their lives, and somebody making the all-important Trader Joe’s run.

An unplowed side street getting turned into an impromptu dog park. A walk (with trekking poles, just in case) while FaceTiming with incredulous relatives who have never seen Portland like this.

It’s intimidating to put people front and center. I did a lot more in the way of preliminary sketches for these than I would normally do. Something I learned from Marc Taro Holmes: It’s perfectly fine to do seven or eight pencil sketches of a person and just pick one to ink and finish. Studio artists do this all the time: they’ll work up a lot of sketches before committing to a big painting. But I tend to forget that even within a sketchbook, a sketch can have sketches. (This in spite of every teacher who has ever taught me to make thumbnails, including Shari Blaukopf.)

Anyway, this is what I got out of Portland’s snowstorm and a lot of idle time to think about art: Where there are people, there are stories. Those stories might be small–a woman trudging through ice to get to Trader Joe’s–but isn’t that what cities and towns and villages are made up of?  A million small stories that somehow come together to tell us something about the place?

Plus pretty buildings and trees and streets and lampposts, of course.