Exploring Urban Structures Through Watercolor Painting

By Brett Ortler

Bill Hook, featured in the August 2016 issue of Watercolor Artist (now available in print and as a download here and on newsstands June 14), eschews stereotypical watercolor painting imagery, filling his work instead with images of grain elevators, bascule bridges and structures made of concrete, rivets and steel. His paintings reveal the gritty grace of these often overlooked forms, and the beauty inherent in the chaos of our ever-changing urban world.

An architect for 15 years, and an architectural illustrator for 30 more, Hook is familiar with his subject matter, in part because he spent a good deal of his life designing and illustrating similar forms. Now Hook finds himself able to look past the details of the physical framework through watercolor painting and see the spaces and wedges of light surrounding a building.

Subscribe to Watercolor Artist and save 38%—and get a free gift, too!

Formwork #4 by Bill hook | watercolor painting

Part of a series, Bill Hook’s Formwork #4 (watercolor on paper, 12×19) and Formwork #6 (below; watercolor on paper, 12×19) were inspired by the elaborate, almost elegant, temporary structures that are created for construction, only to be replaced by a clean and boring concrete overpass.

 

Formwork #6 (watercolor on paper, 12x19) by Bill Hook | watercolor painting

Formwork #6 (watercolor on paper, 12×19) by Bill Hook

 

Bill Hook graphite sketches | watercolor painting

Bill Hook attributes much of his fine art success to astute observational skills and a dedication to sketching. He enjoys walking around and exploring his subject, making sketch notes from all angles and taking quick reference photos to “get to know and understand” a structure.

Owning the Image

The sketching process affords Hook a great deal of freedom. “Once it’s in my sketchbook, I feel that I ‘own’ the image, and I can do what I want with it,” he says. The sketchbook is Hook’s laboratory, a place to “plan successes and hide failures,” and it’s also where the bulk of his artistic thought process occurs.

 

Boll Hook watercolor sketches | watercolor painting

Bill Hook’s NOLA Series—Plantation (below; watercolor on paper, 18×12) was inspired by a visit to New Orleans and the impact of industry on the landscape along the Mississippi River. Its muted color palette conveys a somewhat somber and reflective mood. Hook’s thumbnail sketches show him trying out different compositional orientations and recording several different aspects of the scene.

 

If he has a good thumbnail sketch from which to work—one with energy, interesting shapes and values—it typically leads to success. He finds that if a painting isn’t working, a quick glance back at his thumbnail sketch usually will highlight the problem, which is frequently an issue of values or contrast.

 

NOLA Series—Plantation (watercolor on paper, 18x12) by Bill Hook | watercolor painting

NOLA Series—Plantation (watercolor on paper, 18×12) by Bill Hook

 

BRETT ORTLER is an editor, author and freelance writer based in Isanti, Minn.

Read more about Bill Hook in the August issue of Watercolor Artist.

**Subscribe to the Artists Network newsletter for inspiration, instruction, and ideas, and score a free download on Watercolor Painting for Beginners: The Basics and More.

You may also like these articles: