William Crook Jr.A young Bill Crook left Illinois to travel around the country, then returned home to Springfield to begin a career as an artist. His love for his home state has inspired much of his work, including drawings of the state capitol, Lincoln’s home and historic sites throughout the state. He continues to document the life and times of Illinois. Read on to learn more about Mr. Crook and see more of his artwork on his website.




ILI: How long have you been an artist or when did you start? Was there a single incident or moment when you realized this was your passion and if so, tell us about it?
CROOK: I've been doing pen and ink drawings for about 43 years. I began when I was a design student at University of Illinois in Urbana, and was inspired by the so-called underground comics movement of the '60s and 70s, especially the work of Robert Crumb. I had work published in a number of small press publications, but unfortunately the pay was non-existent. This was during the Vietnam War, and I dropped out of college, hitch-hiked to Mexico and camped on a Pacific beach at Tenacatita Bay. It was there, experiencing the overwhelming beauty of the land and the sea, that I decided to be an artist.

Springfield Old State Capitol, 2014ILI: Were you born in Illinois? If so, where? If not, what brought you here and when?
CROOK: Bouncing around the country for a couple of years made me realize that my hometown of Springfield, Illinois had a lot to offer a beginning artist: moderate size but big-city amenities, cheap rent, beautiful parks and a supportive community. I've lived here ever since. I started out painting signs and drawing people's houses as well as illustrations for local businesses like the Sangamo Club and the First National Bank. In 1975, my first State Capitol drawings appeared in Illinois Issues magazine.

ILI: Illinois has been factored into your work in the past. What does being able to live and work in Illinois mean to you?
CROOK: The interaction between myself and my environment has always played a big part in my approach to art, and my life in Illinois has been a rich source of subject matter. I try to respond to the sensation of the here-and-now, whether in the natural world or the urban environment, and this has led me to find beauty in the streets, rivers, woods and farms of my spot on the prairie, as well as the surrounding lands from Galena to the Shawnee Hills. My feelings for the land have also led me to help found, 15 years ago, a not-for profit land trust, The Friends of the Sangamon Valley, whose mission is to protect ecologically significant lands in the Sangamon River watershed. I'm currently serving as president of the organization.

Lost Springfield #5, Roxy Theater, 2013ILI: What opportunities does Illinois present to local artists?
CROOK: Art fairs and festivals; these are the best ways Illinois supports the arts.The Old Capitol Art Fair, in Springfield, has been a very positive event for me. I've been an exhibitor since 1978, and it's my best opportunity to meet the public, which always comes out in large numbers and buys art. Illinois also has very good art schools with outstanding faculty and this has aided my development as a professional artist. I've been especially influenced by printmaking instructor David Robinson, at Sangamon State University and Dr. Harold Gregor, professor in painting at Illinois State University.

Chicago has been an incredible resource for me. The first art museum I went to was the Art Institute of Chicago when I was 19, and the memory of that first view of the Impressionist galleries still gives me a thrill. Chicago's architecture is along the best in the world, and I have done many street scenes and architectural studies in the city. The Chicago Riverfront restoration, and the Chicago River architectural boat tour are both superb experiences.

Historic highway Route 66, stretching from Chicago to St. Louis and beyond, has been a significant influence on my art. I've done numerous drawings of roadside attractions along the road in towns such as Cicero, Odell, Cayuga, Lincoln, Elkhart and Mount Olive.

ILI: What do you like about Illinois?
CROOK: The weather; we get ample rainfall, and the soils are great for farming. We're in the center of the continent so it's easy to travel in any direction, and ... it's affordable! But most importantly, the people are great, with good schools, good neighbors and folks volunteering in their communities to make them better places to live.

ILI: What is your favorite medium to work in?
CROOK: I work in the medium of prints. First I begin with a pen and ink drawing. I then have the image etched into a relief photo-engraving plate. I print these myself on a hand operated etching press in my studio. Colors, when desired, are applied later by hand with watercolors.

ILI: Where can people view or purchase your work?
Chicago Riverfront, 2014CROOK: A wide selection of my prints are available in Springfield at Prairie House Frames, 2833 S. Sixth St. I will have a booth at The Old Capitol Art Fair, held the third weekend in May in the center of downtown. Also, I recently joined the Pharmacy Art Gallery, located at 711 S. Fifth St., which has regular shows of members work.

I am fairly new to the Internet but I do have a website, williamcrookjr.com, which I invite you to take a look at.

Since 2007, I have contributed art and writing about life in Illinois to Mineshaft magazine in Durham, N.C.

ILI: What artist(s) inspires you and why?
CROOK: Leonardo da Vinci for his observation of scientific detail, Vincent Van Gogh for his raw passion and charged colors,  Andy Warhol for breaking all the conventions of printmaking as an art form and Bob Waldmire for using his art to teach about the natural world and the fading glory of Route 66.