‘West (and fresh) from Freshwater West’.  Plus Flatford Mill, 2018…

West (and fresh) from Freshwater West. For sale


Action shot (featuring sun/drizzle hat. – And a Sandmartin, just to the right of my hand.)


The scene: I was stood just the other side of this 19th century ‘seaweed drying hut’.


Well, you can keep your heatwaves, thank you.
We took a short break in Pembrokeshire during the searing heat of last week.  As always I’d intended to paint a few plein airs whilst exploring a new area to me, but find heat one of the worst things.  Very short periods, okay, lovely, but in terms of getting things done that requires some movement of limbs…  Our accomodation was a hut in a field, literally surrounded by a herd of young cows, and we ended up fending off horse flies too.  I tried a painting in a nearby hedgerow, but it didn’t go well, so was so relieved when on our final day the cloud, wind and rain arrived.  We discovered Freshwater West beach, on the western tip of our bit of Pembrokeshire and I loved it.  A proper exposed, wild and interesting strip of coastland, with some surf, and we had to sit in the car for a while until rain just about stopped and visibility was restored.  Just how it should be, IMHO.

I then did the above plein air painting in about an hour, fending off wind and cloud still ominous.  I felt inspired by it all though and was raring to paint.  I have to say I do love our ‘proper’ UK weather and atmosphere.  (Can you spot the figures in the painting, by the way?)
The sun came out soon after finishing, and I then explored, taking about 400 photos of the two halves of this large beach, firstly the very rock/rockpool dominated section (seen in the painting) and then in the other direction a large dune system, which I’ll be painting scenes from soon.

Outside the pub, Castle Combe.

I’ve not been too happy with much of my plein air painting so far this year.  Here are a few efforts, beginning with a view from a visit to Castle Combe.  This place has often featured on TV period dramas.  It is very picturesque and I think TV ariels are actually banned from the rooftops.

It was a very grey day when I was there with my plein air friends though.  This is perhaps less good for compositions based around buildings.
I did try to create a bit more light than there was, in this first painting here, but that is something that without a lot of practise can bring you unstuck if you’re not careful, so only a little bit.  In the second painting here I aimed to paint it as ‘flat’ as it actually was in terms of light, so the composition relies more on the outline shapes of the buildings, bridge etc than any light and shade.  It’s all a bit mid-toney as a consequence and being a complicated scene (in fact I simplified it quite a lot) was a bit of a rushed job all round.  Would like to return and do this view again on a sunny day, and spend longer over it.

Dull day, Castle Combe.


I currently have the following plein air painting (still available for sale) on loan to an exhibition in Bath.  The exhibition is celebrating the 200th anniversary of this building and adjoining ‘Royal Crescent’, which is a famous bit of Georgian architecture.  The exhibition is also actually in this building.  I had no idea when I painted the picture, and the Bath Preservation Trust recently got in touch after, I think, finding my painting through a bit of googling.

Corner of Royal Crescent, Bath.

Courses update:

My Autumn Absolute Beginners class in Central Bristol, at the Folk House: www.bristolfolkhouse.co.uk is now booking.
This is a 6-week course to begin in November, and bookings are through the Folk House, if you’d like to join me for that.  More information is available on the Folk House website, but of course contact me if you’d like to know more.

I’m really pleased that next Spring I’ll be tutoring a residential painting break at Flatford Mill in Essex.  A great location in ‘Constable country’, and the course will be based on working outdoors as much as possible, given April weather – so we’ll play that by ear!  Actually April is perhaps my favourite month of the year for the landscape. Please consider joining me here, and we can do our own version of ‘The Hay Wain’ amongst other things.
More details on this to follow when the programme for 2018 is released by the Field Studies Council (a fantastic organisation in every way) with whom the course is run:

View from Clun castle, Wales.

Finally here’s a studio painting of a view from Clun castle in Wales.

I liked the composition a lot, and this is what usually first draws me to paint something.  The light coming through the foreground tree I think came off okay, but the mid-ground tree was intended to be more sunlit on it’s right side – it’s all too dark.  I intend to re-paint this at some point to hopefully get that aspect right.

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Mike Porter 1 year ago . Reply

When I read your commentary, Jem, I feel as though I’m right there with you having a conversation. That pulls me in. Then, I relate to your struggles and successes, your plein air experiences, and all that. The photos of the painting and then the scene that inspired them are quite helpful. Please keep doing that as they are instructive, and especially so when you add your own observations about the piece. If I was available, I’d think we’d get along quite well, me as the student.
Thanks very much for your posts.

    Jem Bowden 1 year ago . Reply

    Thanks, Mike – I’m pleased. Always nice to be appreciated!
    And sure we’d get on – we do here anyway.
    I kind of don’t really want to get into doing any particular thing here too regularly, but will post the photo with the painting from time to time. Regarding plein air photos, I do quite often forget to take them.

Patricia Brander 1 year ago . Reply

I agree with Mike Porter, seeing the photo and then the painting is very instructive, particularly how you focus on certain parts of the scene and disregard others to create a satisfactory composition like ‘forgetting’ the buildings on the left and making a lot more of the distant trees. Thanks for this blog and I look forward to the next.

    Jem Bowden 1 year ago . Reply

    Thanks for your comment, Patricia. I will be beginning work on a book this Autumn. Included in this I will have some proper explanation regarding my approach to interpretation, and one of the things this will contain is photos alongside paintings in this way.

Harry Francis 1 year ago . Reply

Beautiful watercolours.I am 94 and still painting Plein air.

    Jem Bowden 1 year ago . Reply

    Wow, that’s quite something, Harry. Keep it up! Thanks very much for your comment.