Renowned for his miniatures, Hans Bol learned his trade from two uncles, who were also painters. At age fourteen he was apprenticed to a painter of Waterschilderen, large-scale scenes painted on canvas using opaque watercolor or tempera. Waterschilderen, a specialty of artists in Mechelen, were used as wall decorations instead of expensive tapestries. According to Karel Van Mander, Bol's large watercolors were widely copied. He thus turned to making miniatures in bodycolor on parchment, which he promoted as independent cabinet paintings; these earned him a good income and an international clientele. Despite the war with Spain and periods of religious unrest that caused frequent upheavals in his life, Bol remained one of the Netherlands' most prolific and successful landscapists. He painted some oil paintings, illuminated a breviary for a French duke, and made many drawings that were the basis for engravings. His pupils included Joris Hoefnagel.
Bol's works combined artifice and naturalism in formats ranging from extensive panoramas to intimate views of the Flemish countryside, usually including small figures enacting a biblical or mythological scene, an allegory, or a genre scene.