M. Stephen Doherty

M. Stephen Doherty
The editor of Plein Air magazine at work

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Watercolors by Architects

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

"Arabella Street Driveway," by Stephan Hoffpauir, 2008, watercolor 24 x 36.

"Canal Study 3, Venice," by Stephan Harby, watercolor, 17 x 13.
I just finshed writing an article on Thomas W. Schaller's (www.twschaller.com) watercolor paintings for the April, 2010 issue of American Artist, and it occured to me that Thomas is the third licensed architect whose watercolors I have written about in the past year. I described Stephan Harby's (www.stephanharby.com) art in the May, 2009 issue of the magazine, and Stephan Hoffpauir's (www.colepratt.com) in the January, 2010 issue. And if I were to search back through issues published over the past 20-30 years, I could probably come up with three dozen other architects whose watercolors were featured in American Artist or Watercolor magazines (www.artistdaily.com).
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 were discontinuing their drawing and watercolor painting courses, the schools of architecture was 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 contiued 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 it's 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 best known 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.


  1. I've always been amazed at architectural renderings which were done by the architect himself (or herself). It is usually very obvious the training they were given in handling drawing/painting materials and technique on their renderings. One of the most common things I see in architectural renderings is an amazing use of light, do you see that also?

    Too bad that during the hold that abstract impressionism had on many collegiate art departments art students (such as I) could have had a resource to teach us traditional basic techniques and methods but they were unavailable unless you were majoring in architecture.

  2. I think your choice of Thomas Schaller was excellent! His work is amazing. I believe architects have natural pattern that draws the eye through the painting...a staircase, bridge, sidewalk, all natural pathways for the eye. I think for me the most obvious thing too is that they paint what they love. They do not really go out and paint horses. They paint the subject that they know well, and because they know it well they know how to show it off to its best advantage. I just love this work...will be excited to see the article!