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.


Comments On This Post

Graham Kemp 2 years ago. Reply

A worthy winner, well done Greg!

Thanks Jem, I look forward to your next competition.

    Jem Bowden 2 years ago. Reply

    Thanks Graham.

Prue Furse-Roberts 2 years 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 2 years ago. Reply

    Thank you, Prue.

Mike Porter 2 years 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 2 years 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 2 years ago. Reply

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

    Jem Bowden 2 years ago. Reply

    Thank you Javier.

Roger Jenkins 2 years ago. Reply

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

    Jem Bowden 2 years ago. Reply

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

Gregory Clements 2 years ago. Reply

Dear Jem, and October 2017 competition entrants,

I hope you are well and relaxing over the holidays. No painting!

I am, definitely, a little late off the mark in writing to you. I just want to say many many thanks to you Jem for your painting prize. I have just arrived at my parents’ place for Christmas and this is where I had your painting delivered. I opened it last night: you are as adept at packing a watercolour as you are at creating one- very nice job!

The painting is just as I expected it to be- superb. You have used great perspective, I think, and it recedes beautifully in scale and tone. This was a fantastic prize to receive and I am delighted to now have an original Jem Bowden. I know that can learn more from continued looking at this painting. Thank you. (My mother is not allowing me to take this painting home and has insisted she have it. Who is to argue? I think I’m going to have to).

I want to say a very big thanks too to the other competition entrants for their encouraging and most supportive comments . Thank you all! It was very interesting to see how everyone interpreted the photograph so uniquely. I thoroughly enjoyed entering this competition and it got me thinking a lot about painting- it was indeed a great learning experience.

Best wishes to you all over the holiday season,

Greg Clements

    Jem Bowden 2 years ago. Reply

    Thanks Greg. I’m glad the painting arrived safely.
    Merry Christmas to you and all the best for 2018.

alan conner 2 years ago. Reply

Jem Happv New Year. For various reasons I have not been able to paint in 2017 but decided to catch up on your posts to try and stimulate some action. As usual your paintings are so inspiring. You mention blacks but one of first things that attracted me to your work was your use of small varied black marks. Not dull blacks but exciting warm and cool blacks. And I am glad to see that you are working on your book.
All the best for 2018. Just sorry I can’t attend one of your courses.

    Jem Bowden 2 years ago. Reply

    Hi Alan,
    Thank you for your comment, and I’m sorry to hear you haven’t been able to paint lately.
    Really appreciate your thoughts on my paintings, and re. the darks. It’s true that a dark need only have a hint of warmth or coolness in it for the eye to detect the colour.
    Often it comes across better in life than in the photos, though, so it’s good to hear you can see it in the photos.
    The book will be slow progress, and may well be another year or longer in the making. I want to be proud of it, as much as I ever can be. If it does see the light of day it will certainly be different. We’ll see…
    All the best, Jem

Pekka 2 years ago. Reply

Interesting to see different paintings of the same image.
I always find it slightly disturbing to see art competitions.

But fascinating to see. Also interesting the bird images

    Jem Bowden 2 years ago. Reply

    Well, I’m not sure what to say. Glad you found it interesting.
    Competitions do give us a challenge, which I think can be a good thing, and of course is optional.
    Judgement of a winner is of course subjective, but I think most people realise that.

Debbie 2 years ago. Reply

Beautiful work! I am so glad I found you on YouTube!

    Jem Bowden 2 years ago. Reply

    Hi Debbie, and thank you!

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