Out and about, Heat and rain, Paper tax & Miss Gloucester

Wells cathedral from the allotments. A different paper.


This was my experiment with Langton Prestige, in the studio.  A nice paper, I think, but I would need to adapt my painting approach to it, plus it is considerably more costly than good old Bockingford…

Paying the paper tax
No paper makes watercolour easy, obviously, so why keep hoping?…
Every so often, with the frustrations of it all, I do try my luck with alternative papers.  I’ve tried out a couple lately, namely The W & N ‘Professional Watercolour Paper’ Not, 140lb, and ‘Langton Prestige’ Not, 140lb.  I didn’t get on at all well with the former, but found the latter a bit better.  In fact I used to use the latter years ago in block form when I worked a bit smaller.  It’s horses for courses when it comes to materials.  The W & N seems very heavily surface sized, which many people love. It means the paint sits up on the surface allowing longer working time, and is generally good for retaining transparency.  Except of course it does allow much more time for fiddling, which can have the opposite effect!  To me this is almost like painting on a wax resist, and to adapt I’d need to move the brush more slowly, for one thing.  

And so, once again I return to Bockingford, which has been my staple for years.  Many people say it seems to vary a bit, Bockingford, and this can be a cause of frustration.  Perhaps it is very sensitive to conditions, such as humidity and temperature, etc. On a slightly different point, I had an interesting lengthy discussion with a man at a paper distributor and traced a particular, unbranded paper (a sheet a few years old) back to being, in all but name, Bockingford.  Yet it was definitely slightly different. No happy ending to this story, really.

A different point again.  As the felts at the paper mill age they are then replaced and this does affect the surface texture a bit, and very occasionally it is noticeable.  I also find that such a change can affect other characteristics of a paper slightly.
But Bockingford is, in general, one of the more absorbent papers on the market.  It has a vegan internal sizing only; i.e. is not surface sized with gelatine as I think the vast majority are.  It is also not a cotton paper. You need to paint on it without fuss in order to retain transparency. Paint lifts easily, so it isn’t a paper for a glazing method of approach either.  In other words you need to aim for one or two washes max in any area. It’s a good trainer for anyone, and it suits me especially for its way with soft edges (that is, when the timing is perfect!) and for the fact that I can move the brush so quickly without getting dry-brush marks all the time as I do on those ‘wax-resist’ papers.  This is my way now, and the speed makes it all quite hit and miss, but perhaps that’s something to do with a whole approach to life too. Certainly keeps me feeling on my toes when doing demos, I can tell you.
It’s probably only down to working on Bockingford that I developed this fast-brush ‘method’.  Because when covering large areas at half-imperial size it absolutely demands it. So, a bit of a chicken & egg scenario.

Every so often, then, I pay good money to try out something different in the hope it may ‘help me’.  But it’s worth paying the money I think just to be reassured, yet again, that difficulties included it seems I’m still using the best choice for me.  So I can put the idea of alternatives out of my mind and get on with the hard work, which is what good paintings is really all about.

College Street, Gloucester.

Miss Gloucester……
A funny thing happened to me in Gloucester.
I was invited to attend a plein air event in the city in the capacity of  encouraging/advising others who were having a go at plein air painting for the first time, and later presenting a prize.  

Local reporters were covering the day, and I had to pose a few times at my easel.  (I don’t go for that thing they seem to want where you pretend you’re actually painting whilst simultaneously looking sideways into the camera.)  But in the evening I was photographed randomly with ‘Miss Gloucester’.  I didn’t know there was such a thing, but there is. She happened to be at the prize presentation, and as I was obliviously walking past I got grabbed and told to stand with her for a photo.  I think I had time to say “Er, why, who am I?” or something equally clever, but that didn’t concern them at all so there I was posing for the newspaper photo with her arm around me on one side and someone else on her other side.  I imagined being credited as ‘random passing man’ in the photo caption – which would probably never exist.  Quite funny.

Anyway, during the day I painted this piece above and the one below.  The top one I really took ages over, perhaps 3 hours, since I was there to be seen to be there, and also stopping to chat with people.  The other one was done within an hour, talking almost constantly to passers by. Was surprised that it turned out okay (I think) but now I do wish the cathedral’s shadows were all a slightly paler tone, to set it back a bit further.  But I just wasn’t thinking at the time.  It can be a useful exercise to work so fast that you feel you’re just ‘throwing the paint down’ with little thought or concern for anything. I have found in the past that it can pay off, with things to learn from the results.  But just as often it seriously doesn’t, so we ain’t happened upon no secret for success there!  

Gloucester cathedral.


Feeling the heat

A sunlit heath near La Tronchaise, France

This is one of a couple I did in France recently.  It was really too hot, so I was searching for shaded spots only.  The central group of trees were intended to have a few subtle soft edges within their hard outline edge – just a few – but the paper dried too quickly/wasn’t wet enough (except a little bit at the far right hand side).  Otherwise I think I would have liked this one, as it’s a bit different.  Done with the three-colour palette I sometimes use,  especially if it’s really hot, of Winsor Blue, Indian Red and Raw Umber. Had difficulty getting a decent photo of the painting, as it seemed the sun was too bright, so some of the pale tones have virtually vanished.  (Did try in the shade, but then my camera phone makes the colours go blue.)

Here’s a shot taken after the first wash and before the second, and one of the scene itself:

Keen observers may notice that, for sunny scenes, I often make mid tones lighter than perceived in reality.  For example here the sunlit green of the ferns and gorse. I do this in an attempt to capture a sense of the bright sunlight.  Individual leaves can appear to dazzle/shine pure white in the sun, and it’s partly this effect I’m trying to bring out (though this doesn’t come across in the photograph of the scene).  It’s a fine line though; got to be careful that things don’t look like a snow scene!


A hamlet in Le Limousin, France


Here again I was in the shade of morning, before the heat got too much.  A composition I’ve noted on previous visits which appealed to me because of the useful arrangement of shapes/angles etc, and the light & shadow.  It was the first time I’ve seen cattle in that field down the lane, which added a nice subtle focal point. This painting looked better about 15 minutes before I stopped.  I made some bad moves. It can seem a cruel aspect of watercolour, but sometimes you just can’t tell if something is right to do until you do it, and anyway I can’t be bothered hanging around thinking about it for too long – though I often wish I did afterwards.  Of course we watercolourists stand by our decisions, and live with our shortcomings forever. I am learning, honestly. Give me another 10 years and I think I’ll be a bit better in that aspect!
I used a sort of large version of my Black Sheep brush for the first half of this one (I call it the Dark Horse), Oh dear.. Well, it’s a Japanese pony-haired thing, which I’ve attacked with scissors. I’ve also been using a medium sized mop brush occasionally lately, for a change.  Not in this one, but in this next one:

Trees near Newton St Loe.



I used it throughout virtually all foliage, and I think you can see the difference, especially in the wetter looking foreground marks.  I really enjoyed doing this one, owing to firstly not putting any pressure on myself whatsoever, and also to great watercolour plein air weather. Typical English summer day; bit breezy, about 18 or 19 degrees, shifting clouds, light coming and going, can’t quite tell if it’s going to rain…

Well, I like it as much as any other situation, and the paint doesn’t dry up in your palette or on your paper too quickly (very helpful for a Bockingford user.)  I didn’t do the scene justice, but I enjoyed the process a lot.

Speaking of rain, I had quite a similar day doing this next painting….

The river Yeo at Congresbury.


I had intended to paint a view of Yatton church, that I hoped existed from along an old railway line (now a cycle track) but unfortunately was frustrated by obstructions to the view at every possible vantage point by trees or some not very attractive houses. I think there might be an option from a farm field, but will have to phone the farm and see if they’d mind me venturing there.

So I kept walking and got to Congresbury, and saw this great tree by the river Yeo.

The day began sunny, but changed and in the end I only just got the painting done, having to pack it into my folder a couple of times to protect from rain.  But good fun, and personally I’ve always been a fan of paintings with this kind of atmosphere. Certainly I don’t believe you need strong sunlight and shade to make a picture, and let’s face it, you’d hardly be capturing the whole feel of the UK’s landscape if you didn’t embrace some murky weather.
Do you notice the blue boat thing?  That was in use for a while, I think dredging.

I’ve made some preparations to allow me to paint outdoors more often next year.  I think I need to in order to progress my work, so roll on Spring 2019.


Sandpiper Studio Workshop

Sandpiper Studio workshop


I had an enjoyable time up on the Wirral peninsula at the lovely Sandpiper Studio.  Our subject was ‘Light & Shadow in watercolour landscape’.  We got a lot covered, looking at many aspects related to observation and creative interpretation, and everyone produced some successful results.


Told off!
I received a slightly unnerving answerphone message quite recently, which was brief enough to remember word for word:-

“Hello. I’ve just been reading through my latest issue of Leisure Painter, and reading your article… [pause]…
Don’t keep saying ‘paint from left to right’. One in ten people are left handed!…[pause]….Goodbye.”

Suffice to say I will sort myself out for next time.  On that subject, I have written three further articles for Leisure Painter which were due to be published this year, but two of which have now been moved back to early 2019 to fill gaps there.  The third is due out late this year. I’ll also be doing at least two additional painting projects for Leisure Painter in 2019.


Notice of date alteration:
On a similar theme, the dates of my 2019 painting course in Scotland have been moved forward a week, to 3rd – 7th June.  I have amended the dates on my 2019 Courses page to reflect the change.  My sincere apologies for this but it was necessary owing to something unforseeable at the host centre’s end.  I hope those I know had already booked will still be able to attend.

By the way, a recent poll in Scotland has voted Millport (where the course is based) as Scotland’s most beautiful town! I’m not at all surprised:-
Milport: https://hiddenscotland.co/scotlands-most-beautiful-town/


Tip (-off) of the month
Finally, I thought this was great, so wanted to share for UK folks (perhaps there’s something similar for elsewhere?)…
I’ve just had a free week’s trial of Ordnance Survey’s phone (and simultaneous PC) app, which provides access to all of UK OS mapping, at all scales.  A yearly subscription is about £26. Amazing value and so helpful. It means I’ll be able to ramble and paint along footpaths countrywide, and know where I’m going.  The ability to plan, or not to plan…. Brilliant.
Hope you might find this helfpul too – check it out!

All the best,


Comments On This Post

Karl Pitwon 1 year ago. Reply

Very interesting reading your article about paper ….I have been using Bockingford paper but thought I would try some W/N professional 140 & 300 gms , was very disappointed with it , just such a dead paper.

    Jem Bowden 1 year ago. Reply

    Thanks for your comment, Karl. Yes, it definitely wasn’t up my street. Paper varies such a lot, I think there’s a great deal to be said for getting to know one well, and finding out it’s advantages.

Roger Jenkins 1 year ago. Reply

Excellent “blog” and great work as usual !

    Jem Bowden 1 year ago. Reply

    Thanks you, Roger, appreciate that and I’m very pleased you enjoyed it.

Prue Furse-Roberts 1 year ago. Reply

Great to see your paintings Jem. Inspired me to do more!
Do you try to stick to a limited palette when you are painting en plein air?

    Jem Bowden 1 year ago. Reply

    Thanks, Prue. My normal palette is mainly only 6 colours, with very minimal use of a couple more. But when it’s very warm or hot or sunny or low humidity it’s a good time to go down to 3, I find, since it means you dip into each blob of paint regularly enough so they don’t dry out! I think using 3 colours only is good practise too, though. Especially at handling colour in a way that is not so dictated by the subject literally.

Ashley Raddon 1 year ago. Reply

Hi Jem,
Really enjoyed reading that and made me laugh in parts. Thanks for sharing, very informative too.

    Jem Bowden 1 year ago. Reply

    Thanks, Ash. Glad it gave you a laugh!

Mavis 1 year ago. Reply

Thank you Jem for such a variety of comments – so useful and amusing. Lovely to see your paintings with the photos and realise how you turn a mundane scene which I would walk past into a delightful picture. The ones of Gloucester are superb.

    Jem Bowden 1 year ago. Reply

    Thanks very much for your comment, Mavis. Very pleased you enjoyed the post and hope you are well. Jem

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