A few musings on Life, watercolour and everything.

French trees with crows. For sale

This time of year is one of my favourites because of how the trees are revealed without foliage.  The painting above is a recent one, and a bit experimental with its use of black in the mix.  Inspired partly by the crows too, which are often a distinct feature of walks in the fields through winter.  I do love ‘greys’ above most colour… (sigh).

I found myself in France this winter for an extended period in extremely sad circumstances following a family bereavement.  Unable to sleep I got up in the night one time and began some fairly desperate painting, in such poor lighting I couldn’t detect colour.  I should have gone purely tonal, but the point is, in a way I was reassured to find the extent to which painting is an essential part of me now, and how I cannot go for a long period without being reminded of my dependence.  In this case I had needed to pack and leave the country in a hurry with just a small travel bag, and no painting equipment came with me.   It was a very difficult time of course but after many days non-painting I found myself at some shops and bought a mop brush, and four tubes of paint.  Walks in nature were a help as always for me, in dealing with the situation, to put the puzzles of life into some perspective, and even in the saddest of times Beauty was having an impact in providing some sustenance.

Of course I couldn’t paint well in the dark and without my trusty Black Sheep, but it helped a bit just to paint.  Being in a rustic area with a wood burner for warmth and little else at times meant I worked a bit on my (potential) book; a longer-term project.  This is intended to give an insight into what painting is to me, though I have my doubts about how sensible an idea this is!  Not ‘instructional’ on the whole, rather I hope that the book will be a kind of companion for those who know how watercolour (and the landscape) can become a lifelong focus, obsession, challenge, support, and everything else.  The text includes excerpts from a ‘plein air journal’ I kept a few years back, along with absolute honesty on all related aspects of being a landscape-inspired painter.  Driven by a compulsion to make at least some use of ‘ideas’ and thoughts that have woken me too early of a morning on many occasions, I’m fairly sure some people would recommend against publishing it, so we’ll see about that.

An upcoming book of a different kind, and with a refreshing ‘perspective’ is one by Karen Thomas. (https://www.karenthomaswatercolour.com/).  Lovers of wildlife painting especially might like to check this out, as that is Karen’s main field.  Having not been painting for many years, Karen writes modestly from the angle of remembering well how watercolour is for a beginner, though she is a fast-developing talent now producing beautiful paintings, as you can see if you follow the link above.  I was fortunate to read a draft, which contained insights sure to inspire beginners in particular, but also longstanding stalwarts of this medium.  

Have many of you read the books authored by Edward Seago?  My local public library has a huge fine art Reference section, and I was lucky to find some of these there (Tip: always search the old catalogues!).  I then bought a couple of others from www.abebooks.com and I would recommend his writing to others.  Seago was as eloquent with words as with his paint brush, and each of his books is semi-autobiographical, providing fascinating insights into his life as a painter through different periods of the 20th century.

Did you know that Seago would often allow people visiting his home to watch him painting?  He would apparently regularly do ‘demos’ in this way for friends and associates but only ever in oil.  Never would he allow someone to watch him paint in watercolour.  Well, very sensible too!  He knew just how he might come unstuck and be made to look a fool, so avoided any chance of it.

I’ve only ever seen one Seago watercolour in the flesh, and it wasn’t one of his better ones.  In fact I’m surprised it made it out of his studio.  In the home of an experienced collector though, it was surely by the man himself and remains with me internally as a source of hope!  It’s reassuring to know that this medium can and does bring any mortal person, even of Seago’s talent, down to ground level at times.  Another insight from these books was that Seago would re-paint his watercolours several times before arriving at the ones we got to see.  It takes discipline for a painter to do this, but again it’s something to learn from, as well as take heart from.

Leisure Painter

I thank Leisure Painter (http://www.painters-online.co.uk/magazines/leisure-painter.htm)

for continuing to feature articles by me this coming year.  There will be several over the next 12 months, beginning with another 2-part painting project in spring, but then the rest being of a different kind, each focussing on a particular aspect of painting.   I hope these are of practical benefit to readers of the magazine.

Another thing that wakes me up too early sometime are ideas for upcoming tuition; workshops, demos, courses, and so on.  I have many this year, including visits to art groups around the country, so please see my Welcome/Tuition page for details if I might tempt you to join me.  I’m also still available for one-to-one tuition at my home studio, though this is getting a bit booked up.   
One thing it all has in common is that I do my level best to openly pass on everything I’ve learned that is most relevant for good watercolour painting.

All the best for a great year of painting to you.  May they all ‘come off’ well!  (well, let’s be realistic, some of them…)

Where the starlings roost, Ham Wall RSPB reserve.

Comments On This Post

Linda Leatham 2 years ago. Reply

Love your musings, thank you. You are right about Karen she is very inspiring; I will be having a closer look. There are plenty of “instructional” books out there, I’m pretty sure you would have lots of interest. Looking forward to your painting project in the Leisure Painter

    Jem Bowden 2 years ago. Reply

    Thanks Linda.
    Yes, Karen is someone to watch in the watercolour world. She is not only inspiring, but inspired.
    I’d need to be ‘bold’ to go ahead as planned with the book thing. But I’m in no hurry and feel under no pressure.
    In fact didn’t mean to talk about it again, but due to recent circumstances not a great deal else to blog about very recently, other than ‘more of the same’…

Mike Porter 2 years ago. Reply

I like reading articles like this as I have similar trains of thought regarding painting and additionally in my case turning wood into something attractive and functional. Woodturning also has a long English heritage as does watercolor. The Painters Keys website is a nice one I found years ago. Robert Genn now passed away wrote a nice book along these lines. His daughter still keeps the website and blog going.

    Jem Bowden 2 years ago. Reply

    Thanks Mike, and I’ll check out that website, when I get chance.

Roger Jenkins 2 years ago. Reply

Lovely paintings, great musings and…etc etc…..! We should all do more of this; Happy New Year btw..!

    Jem Bowden 2 years ago. Reply

    Thanks Roger! Belated Happy New Year to you too, hope you have a great one for painting!

Patricia Brander 2 years ago. Reply

Dear Jem, my condolences, I am sorry to hear about your loss. Thank you once again for your blog, which I always enjoy. I have a technical question; is this an OK place to ask it? I like to use tube watercolour paints at home, but in the field and when travelling I squeeze paints out into pans for convenience. However, I find they dry up and do not easily yield up a good strong colour. Do you have any comments or advice?

    Jem Bowden 2 years ago. Reply

    Thank you Patricia.
    Absolutely fine to ask that question here.
    My advice really is that unfortunately this will happen, and you’re back to using pans, in effect.
    In general we have to accept that we need to carry tubes with us, and usually squeeze out some fresh paint each time. Some paints dry faster than others, and I don’t just mean different brands.
    It helps a bit if you can keep your palette in something airtight when not in use, perhaps with a damp sponge so the humidity is high there. But it’ll still dry out when you’re using it.
    Some people find spraying the palette with water helps when outdoors, and I used to do this too, but it usually just means your blobs of paint sit in a little puddle, and the tops quickly dry out again in the wind or sun. You can access softer paint from the underside of a blob, rather than the top.
    Having tubes with you is no great deal, I find, so long as you have a fairly limited palette of course. In fact I really don’t agree with the whole general sales pitch that ‘pans are more convenient/better for outdoor painting’. As far as I’m concerned pans haven’t got much going for them at all really! Unless you work very small you’ll also normally need larger mixing areas than those that often come with a supposedly convenient small ‘travel pan’ set.
    Hope this helps a bit.

      Patricia Brander 2 years ago. Reply

      Thanks Jem, that is very useful, especially the tip about the damp sponge. My biggest problem is with raw sienna which goes rock hard and doesn’t dissolve again, but just turns to wet grit after much aggitation.

        Jem Bowden 2 years ago. Reply

        Yes, I don’t use that W&N pigment, not least because of that issue, and it isn’t cheap either! it’s not the only one though. All the best.

Jem Bowden 2 years ago. Reply

Thanks Geri.

Stephen Slater 2 years ago. Reply

Sorry to hear of your family problems. I find painting is a good relief at such times, good to hear you have projects planned. Trust the year brings good things for you and yours.

    Jem Bowden 2 years ago. Reply

    Thank you Stephen, much appreciated. All to the best for a happy year to you and yours too. Jem

Mary Ann 2 years ago. Reply

I’ve missed you on u-tube…..hope to see more soon. I look forward to reading your book when it is
published (and it will). Your soul comes thru in your paintings and writings. I love your confident
strokes and tone and atmosphere. You are an inspiration for me to fulfill my need to paint!!!

    Jem Bowden 2 years ago. Reply

    Thank you, Mary Ann, for your very kind comment.
    And as it happens I now have a new video demo on youtube, here.
    I bit the bullet – probably never going to be totally happy, so put one up.
    I hope you enjoy it. Here it is:

Ken Smith-Ormesby 1 year ago. Reply

Jem, Admire your work greatly. Would appreciate some ideas, Video ?, on Greys, You have mentioned Red Greys, Blue Greys etc in your videos. Wesson, like you realised how they can add to the atmosphere /mood of a painting but how to achieve this is not easy. What are your thoughts pl;ease ? Regards Ken

    Jem Bowden 1 year ago. Reply

    Hi Ken,
    Thanks for your comment and idea. I’ve made a note. There is much I could and do (in my teaching) say about colour, and greys. Less easy to do on video perhaps, but possible. One idea I recommend trying is to ‘colour up’ your greys and try painting that way. i.e. rather than ‘greying down’ some colours.
    Start with Black, say Lamp Black would do. squeeze some into several palette areas. Then add slight colour to each, warm, cool, greens, etc. Just a small area of a painting with more saturated colour will, by contrast with more muted/greyed areas, leap out. Useful for a focal point, perhaps.
    Will respond to your email next – thanks. Jem

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