Competition. Courses 2018. Bird paintings.


Sparrow in the dust. A new subject to me.


And a whole gang of sparrows. A bit more detailed.


Starling. A bit more fast & loose this time.


Competition entries & result.

Competition reference photo

Well, ‘the results are in’ and as promised I’m displaying here all entries to my competition, which was to paint a Lake District scene based largely on my rather dark photograph shown above.

Thank you to all entrants for taking part, and I hope you found it a worthwhile challenge.  You’ve made it a real competition and honestly very difficult to pick a winner.
Here are the entries in no particular order, and don’t they show just how great a variation in painting can be achieved from one reference source?  Click an image to enlarge, and Page Back to return here. 

Roger Jenkins 1

Roger Jenkins 2

Bob Ferguson

Carolina Rosario Nunez Diaz-Corralejo

Frank Scrivener

Graham Kemp

Marie Macalister

Javier Traver 1

Javier Traver 2

John Pedlar

Greg Clements

Manola Solo

Margot Cornish 1

Margot Cornish 2

Mary York

Pete Batho

Steve Terris

With composition an important factor is the relative placement of the largest shapes.  Each will carry some ‘weight’ in the scene, the amount of which will depend a lot on its strength of tone, relative to its size.  If the darks (and lights) in a composition are not placed well, then a composition will probably look unbalanced. Often it helps to view a picture as a ‘thumbnail’, or at a distance to immediately see if a composition is working well or not.

The competition asked entrants to consider light and counterchange, as this was quite lacking in the photo.  Contrast is something that can be heightened, lessened, moved, or invented to some degree.  I think it’s an essential creative skill to practise, and small tonal pencil sketches can help you try out alternative compositions with different placements of the lights and darks. The tones in any sketch need to be a fairly precise equivalent to what the tones will be in your painting, or it defeats the point.  A very soft pencil will help you  achieve those darks.  
Another tactic you can use very effectively to create light is to maximise tonal range, employing not only stronger darks and lighter lights than you might, but also to deliberately limit the use of those mid tones in between.  We can’t achieve on a piece of paper the full range of light-to-dark provided by nature, and sometimes something’s got to give.

The scene in the reference photo has depth, because there is distance from foreground to background, and there are areas where the landscape overlaps itself.  Where the foreground overlaps the mid ground you could in theory have one in the shade and the next in the light (or vice versa) as happens when light falls in patches across land through gaps in cloud.  
You also had the option to add elements such as figures, trees or buildings if you wanted to.  A bit of artistic licence like this can often be a huge help in making a composition come together.

There are some effective instances of these things in all these paintings, so well done to all entrants on a task that wasn’t easy.
4 or 5 entries I particularly had difficulty deciding between in the end, but I’ve eventually picked as a winner Greg Clements’ painting.

Greg has produced an eye-catching watercolour that fully ‘met the brief’, improving on the photo while using the best aspects of the existing composition.  Achieving added light, and depth through counterchange, and a full tonal range, altering some of the shapes and adding elements to help the composition.   
The background mountain is not only pale in tone, but also a cool colour, and has no internal detail.  These things all help it to look distant.  The foreground (track and up to the building) has some carefully retained white paper, and some very pale washes.  The building is the focal point here, which is well placed.  It grabs the eye particularly because it features the strongest counterchange of the painting, its white sunlit face set against a powerful dark of the trees behind it.  

The mid ground hillside coming in from the left is also made distinct by means of being darker overall than the area of ground in front of it and the sky behind it.  To me there’s a real touch of magic that makes this painting, and that’s on the right-hand edge of this hillside, where we can see the light catching.  It’s a well judged subtlety, and I think very important to the success of the whole.  Very well done, Greg, and your painting prize is in the post to you.

I must say it’s a pleasure to be able to discuss someone else’s work rather than mine for a change, and I will run another competition at some point in future.  My thanks again to all entrants.


2018 courses/painting holidays and shorter workshops.

Please consider joining me at one of the following in the coming year.  All except the Sandpiper Studio workshop include some plein air painting, or a lot – weather permitting of course. And they include some really inspiring locations.

All bookings are made through the organising venue, a link to which is provided below, but please don’t hesitate to contact me if you’d like further information on the content of a course.
I hope I will have the pleasure of meeting some of my blog readers to share in the challenges and rewards of landscape watercolour.


Flatford Mill – Inspired and direct watercolour landscapes, 9th – 13th April

(Information about our base and location)  (the course in detail)


Alpha Painting holidays – Paint historic Wells & the Somerset countryside, 6th – 9th May


Windrush Gallery – Atmospheric Landscapes, 17th May


East Devon Art Academy – Impressionistic Landscapes in Watercolour, 7th – 8th June


Sandpiper Studio – Shadow and Light in Watercolour Landscape, 21st July


Big Sky Art – Paint the north Norfolk coast, landscape, and sky! 10th – 13th September:


Much Wenlock Priory. Ink & wash again.


Leave a New Comment


Graham Kemp 4 weeks ago . Reply

A worthy winner, well done Greg!

Thanks Jem, I look forward to your next competition.

    Jem Bowden 4 weeks ago . Reply

    Thanks Graham.

Prue Furse-Roberts 4 weeks ago . Reply

Well done Greg! Very interesting to see how everyone interpreted the original photo. I look forward to seeing your next competition Jem.
Also, I am loving your bird paintings Jem!

    Jem Bowden 4 weeks ago . Reply

    Thank you, Prue.

Mike Porter 4 weeks ago . Reply

Clements’ painting was also my pick! I’ll have to pay more attention to your postings for I completely missed the competition. Great idea to get you followers engaged and painting. I especially liked Greg’s use of warm and cool in the shapes. When wife and I were in the Lake district just over a year ago…just before we stopped by your place, we had crystal clear weather. Beautiful but I missed seeing interesting skies. English landscapes and interesting skies go well together.

    Jem Bowden 4 weeks ago . Reply

    Glad you agree, Mike.
    Yes, good use of warm/cool, simplification, and markmaking too…
    A well accomplished painting, but it had a few close challengers!

Javier 4 weeks ago . Reply

Congrats to Greg, and hope to see similar challenges. Thanks, Jem!

    Jem Bowden 3 weeks ago . Reply

    Thank you Javier.

Roger Jenkins 3 weeks ago . Reply

I agree with the choice of winner; Greg’s painting is lovely, full of light.

    Jem Bowden 3 weeks ago . Reply

    Thanks Roger, glad you agree. Lots of good bits in each though, including your own.
    Cheers, Jem