How's it Done ?

A bit of info about the images & their styles, and my start to finish methodology.

​You'll see I do several styles ... True Perspective, Stretched Architectural Perspective, True Elevation ... I like doing them all. With a mix of direct watercolour & colourwash, of either buildings, streetscenes or ... because I've spent my life around boats ... a couple of nautical themed examples too.

All my images are created using a 4 step manual process to create the piece itself, before some digital support comes in ...​ (we all need digital support these days !).

Paper, Pens, Pencils & Brushes ... Step by Step

  1. A basic pencil Wire Frame with a 2H pencil, based on a range of photo's of the subject. It's not a tracing. I use proportion & relationships to create this baseline, which also allows me to adjust out line distortion or telephoto compression from the photo, & make it true to the naked eye.

  2. Inking-in over the Wire Frame with 0.1, 0.2 & 0.5 technical pens with waterproof ink.

  3. Shading & accents in a big fat 4B pencil - the watercolour paper is a great medium for picking up the soft pencil (I like this bit - it's when a flat sheet of paper develops 'depth').

  4. Colourwash & watercolours. I use a small watercolour pallette so there is a lot of mixing ... rarely do I use an unmixed colour.​ I use high quality synthetic or chinese calligraphy brushes of various sizes.

I work on a sheet of watercolour grade cartridge paper - A4 size at around 150gsm as it's an easy size to work with & has good texture for 'dry brush' work. It also takes technical pen with a consistent line thickness, which makes it good for scanning & printing at the right level of detail later on.

I don't splash out on expensive equipment. This is supposed to be an accessible form of art. You can't buy your way in to success ... & you can't buy your way out of mistakes.

I don't create a digital watercolour from a photograph using software - that is a different art form with some amazing results using real skills to make it successful, but it's just not my thing. But I do use some 'post production' digital support ... ​

I also don't try to mimic a photograph. The word of photography is great at recreating scenes & images and is the best medium to do that ... so sometimes artistic licence is used (yes, it's a thing) to make the image represent what I want it to, not what the scene wants to present to me ...


The finished article is high resolution colour scanned at 1200dpi (an average image for adequate on-screen internet viewing is 150-300dpi, to give you an idea), & a bit of colour saturation is added back to recover some that is lost by scanning.

I don't pre-soak & stretch the paper before I use it, so when I do the watercolour the paper distorts & 'cockles' slightly as the fibers expand at different rates when they get wet. So to prepare for scanning I steam the paper over boiling water to even out the expansion out & make it pliable immediately before it goes on the scanner bed, with books as weights (I have big hardbacks of 'Charles Darwin on The Origin of the Species' & 'Edwin Lutyens Country Houses'). It comes out flat. The paper doesn't stand a chance under that weight of intellect ... !!

At the end of each of steps 2 & 3 I take a high resolution record scan also - the black & whites make nice images too, especially when printed out at postcard size.​


Some digital adjustments are also done, after test prints, to get back to the true colour from the watercolour - so the print reflects what I painted, taking into account printer colour calibrations, paper type etc. (I obsess about getting the same colour hue's & depths in the final article that I intended when I mixed the watercolors ...).

I use Canon's photo processing software for all the adjustments as it has great fine tuning controls for individual colours, & importantly doesn't create any file compression.​

Presenting & Printing

Then to print I use Microsoft Publisher as the output document. This may be unsophisticated but it allows me to maintain a high resolution output, from a high resolution image input.

Other software over compresses image files, & being an MS product allows simple image centering, cropping, paper size & print controls to create the printing environment.​ Because we all know how to use MS products ...

Printing is done with an inkjet at 1200 dpi to match the scan quality on coated gloss papers - Gloss takes the ink better &, to me, looks better when framed behind acrylic or glass.​

Because I use my preferred custom picture sizes (around 85-90% of A4), when I frame I need to use a custom sized 'Mat'. The'Mat (or Matte) is the card border inside the frame, with a window cutout that the image is viewed through. It prevents the image touching the pane, and draws the eye to the image. The Mat is sometimes called by its French name "Passepartout" ... but that word is too big even for me, an enthusiastic proponent of fine large words, so I stick with Mat ...

To create this Mat window, I use a Mat bevel cutting tool by Logan. It's a great piece of kit that once mastered produces a very high quality 45 degree bevel edge to the window. This bevel reduces any shadow cast on the image, and creates a more subtle internal line to define the image edge. The tool can also make a right mess of a dining table, so a good quality self-healing cutting board is required to avoid the inevitable domestic angst.

And that's pretty much it

Along the way I get inspired for other styles & subjects, because you get a lot of time to think.

You get intimately engaged with the subject. Know every nook & cranny, know how it was constructed, & you know the proportions & relationships of all its components.

And that's the bit I really enjoy. My architectural background makes me dissect the subject for what it is, a building that serves one of many purposes, or a street scene that's a functioning part of a distinct environment. It creates a bit of an obsession for reality & accuracy.

If it looks right it probably is right. If it's not ... it's going in the lap sap tung* ...

But that's OK, because you learn ... you move on.

If you want to know more & perhaps learn some tips for your own artwork, please email me on

*Phonetic Cantonese for Rubbish Bin ... ;-)