Watercolors by Architects

Greek Steps, Sifnos
by Thomas W. Schaller, 2008,
watercolor, 12 x 9.

I just finished writing an article on Thomas W. Schaller's watercolor paintings for the April 2010 issue of American Artist, and it occurred to me that Thomas is the third licensed architect whose watercolors I have written about in the past year. I described Stephen Harby's art in the May 2009 issue of the magazine, and Stephan Hoffpauir's in the January 2010 issue.

I’m sure that if I were to search through issues published over the past 20 to 30 years, I could come up with three dozen other architects whose watercolors were featured in American Artist or Watercolor.

Why do so many architects paint watercolors? For generations, architects were trained to make drawings and paintings from their schematic plans so that clients could visualize how their completed buildings would look. When the fine-art departments in colleges and universities discontinued their drawing and watercolor painting courses, the schools of architecture were still teaching students to use graphite, colored pencil, gouache, and watercolor to create believable visualizations. Harby, Hoffpauir, and Schaller enjoyed drawing and painting so much as students that they continued to develop their talents after joining the profession. Hoffpauir and Schaller wound up writing books for architects on watercolor techniques, and all three men taught courses and workshops on the subject.

I've been attracted to watercolors by architects because they often show the medium to its best advantage. There is usually a strong, accurate drawing underneath the flowing blends of transparent color, and the white of the paper is expertly used to bring the viewer's attention through the picture and directly into the center of interest.

Another reason these three architects now focus so much of their time and attention on fine-art painting is that computers have all but eliminated the market for handmade renderings. Most architects are now trained to use computer software to create visualizations of their designs, and only a small number of high-end architectural firms commission original drawings or paintings for their clients. Schaller is fortunate to still have a thriving business working for some of the most renowned architects in the world.

All three of these artists create studio paintings from sketches and photographs, but they also enjoy finding subject matter when they travel. Hoffpauir is inclined to rely on his camera when scouting subjects, while Harby and Schaller prefer painting small watercolors on location. Not surprisingly, buildings often figure into most all of the watercolors.

Attention Watermedia Artists!

The deadline for entering the California Watercolor Association’s (CWA) 41st National Exhibition is February 20. If you want to compete for as much as $15,000 in prize money, have your work included in a show at the Presidio Officers’ Club Exhibition Hall, in San Francisco, and see your painting reproduced in the exhibition catalogue, then visit the CWA’s website at www.californiawatercolor.org and download the prospectus. The juror is Christopher Schink, and the show runs July 14 to September 19. Entries must be digital photographs of your artwork sent as e-mail attachments or mailed on a CD. For more information, visit the website, send an e-mail message to 41stnational@californiawatercolor.org, or call Christine Dougherty (510-530-7522), Desmond Elder (925-254-5447), or Emi Beifuss (925-699-8671).

Related Posts:


Artist Daily Blog
M. Stephen Doherty

About M. Stephen Doherty

I've been interested in art since I was a child,  and I was fortunate to be able to take Saturday art classes at the Cincinnati Art Museum from the time I was 9 years old until I finished high school. I majored in art at Knox College and graduated summa *** laude, Phi Beta Kappa (proving artists can use both sides of their brain!).  I then earned a Master of Fine Arts degree in printmaking from Cornell University; taught art in public schools, a community college, an adult education program, and a college; worked in the marketing department of a company that manufactured screen printing supplies; and was hired to be editor of American Artist in January, 1979.

Thomas S. Buecher introduced me to plein air painting and it immediately became a passion of mine because it got me outdoors and allowed me to continue learning when I traveled to judge art shows, attend conventions, give lectures, and interview artists. Over the years I've exhibited my paintings at Bryant Galleries in New Orleans, Trees Place Gallery on Cape Cod, and in a traveling exhibition titled From Sea to Shining Sea.

I've written 10 books on artists and art techniques and contibuted articles to magazines, websites, and exhibition catalogs. Now as I prepare for semi-retirement, I'm trying to hone my painting skills -- especially those related to painting portraits.

I've been very fortunate to have met thousands of talented artists who have enriched my life with their art, their friendship, and their advice. I am grateful to Jerry Hobbs and Susan Meyer who hired me in 1979, to the talented people who worked with me on the magazines, and to the artists and advertisers who supported American Artist, Watercolor, Workshop, and Drawing  magazines and the related websites.

I've also been blessed with a supportive, talented wife, Sara; a daughter, Clare, who works for an insurance agency; a son, Michael, who is a computer enginner in Austin; a son-in-law, Shawn, who can fix and carry anything; a granddaughter, Amanda, who has me wrapped around her finger; and my mother, Dotty, who has advised and encouraged me from the beginning.

5 thoughts on “Watercolors by Architects

  1. My favorite architect/artist of all time is Frederick Catherwood, who depicted, among many sites in the world, the ruins of the Maya. His story with John Lloyd Stephens in Mesoamerica is a real adventure.

  2. Artist Daily had one of its members, Iain Stewart, recently posted some beautiful watercolors. I visited his website and noticed that his background includes architectural renderings. He definitely knows how to handle the medium.

  3. Clarification about Registered Architects:
    I have always felt that Architecture is functional sculpture in space. Watercolors are a means of creative expression and form of meditation, that releases Architects from the confined world of CAD, where the art of being able to draw like Wright and Corbusier has evolved into chance patterns and precision without concept. (Typing at a keyboard and the odd feeling of having some bozo copying your project with great ease). If you look at my sketches or watercolor paintings (Or another Architect’s work), they are sometimes tight and overworked, because Architectural drawings have to represent complex construction of a building before it is built. Recently I have attained a faster freedom through pastels.

    John Ackerman