Architectural Watercolour with It Hao Pheh

Last week I had the pleasure to attend a demonstration by Melbourne based artist It Hao Pheh. Held at the Berwick Artists’ Society, it gave me the opportunity to see Pheh’s process in action over two hours as he showed the early stages of a large scale watercolour work.

Trained in Malaysia and England, his watercolours are both beautiful and sensitive. He tends to predominantly focus on architecture and landscapes. His art, unlike much traditional watercolour is quite drawing-dominated and tends to keep tight control over the medium, working flat on a table rather than allowing the water and paint to bend to gravity’s will through a more typical vertical set-up. He sticks with a limited palette and basic brushes, using a spray bottle to introduce the water just as much as applying it with the brush. He also uses a lot of stippling of paint which adds interest but is also quite beautiful when applied to imply the leaves on trees or other small details.


He is a very friendly and humble person and it was lovely to be able to speak to him after his demonstration. Watercolour is the one area of painting I have never been trained in and he said that was fairly common that it didn’t get covered. I’ve only tried it once myself and had great frustration with it but a deep appreciation for its beauty at the same time. Pheh said he considered it the hardest painting medium to master and I happen to agree. Watching him, it looked so easy but I feel that (to use a music analogy) it’s the jazz of the painting world. Oils and acrylics can be controlled and pushed to the artist’s will, however there’s a certain level of improvisation and ‘letting go’ required of a watercolour artist while under the surface there has to be solid technique. The work is extremely intentional and yet very free. There’s a lot of skill in getting that balance right.

I appreciated his tendency to limit his palette and materials. He was trained to work with what was available to him at the time and to value portability so he could paint anytime, anywhere. It did remind me of recently when I was playing with my son in the park -digging holes in the tan bark with sticks. The thought crossed my mind at the time how satisfying it was to create with what’s around you – that there’s a simple joy in drawing a picture in the dirt (or whatever colour’s left in your paint palette, in It Hao Pheh’s case). As a child I used to enjoy crushing rocks and clay and mixing them with water to create paint. There’s something in me that wants to get back to that idea of not needing much to create work. (It would also help me to fit my art supplies in my cupboard a whole lot better!)

It Hao Pheh’s work uses white space masterfully. He really knows what to leave out and doesn’t overwork his images. In response to a question asking why he didn’t paint the sky in his work, he said he was very influenced by traditional Chinese painting where it’s the subject that provides the context (if you paint a bird flying you know that what surrounds it is the sky). There’s no need to over communicate and it prevents the subject from being overpowered.

In light of what I saw and learnt from him last week I have a feeling I’ll be experimenting with watercolour fairly soon. Wish me luck!



It Hao Pheh’s next demonstration will be during Strathdon Art Show, Forest Hill, on 25 March, Saturday 2-4pm. Open to the public.

It Hao Pheh teaches classes at the Sherbrooke Art Gallery.

To view more of his work, see:


Welcome to Behind the Scenes…


Hello there! I’m Katy: artist, designer, teacher, stay-at-home mum and juggler of all things work/family/creative. Over the last 6 months I’ve started my fledgling business By Lamplight, selling art, photography and design online through and also at local markets in Melbourne. I named it thus because the only time I can really sink my teeth into my artistic endeavours is when my adorable and energetic little boy (who’s just hit the terrible two’s, might I add!) is off to sleep.

While creating and selling my art, photography and design work is fun, I thought it could be just as rewarding to show you my process, share with you the inspiration and new skills that I gather along the way, and let you in on some of the books, magazines and exhibitions I’ve been following. For you mums out there, I might even throw in some posts about parenting and being creative as well as how I’ve gone about launching my creative dream. And of course, I’ll be keeping you updated with my new artwork as it hits my Etsy store (

I’d love to hear from you with your own ideas, with any questions about the techniques I post, as well as hear about your sources of inspiration. It would be fantastic to build an artistic community where we can exchange our joys and frustrations along the way to making beautiful things!