Reflection but no water & water, no reflection. And video.

Windpump, Somerset Levels. For sale


Happy New Year!
Ah, okay, perhaps a bit late for that.
Well, I hope your year hasn’t gone off the rails yet, then.
I’ll admit I’ve been struggling lately, with my painting. Perhaps I’m not well advised to admit this ‘in public’ (I have been told, as a teaching artist), but I believe I should do; after all, that’s painting and we all go through it.
I feel a real need to get back working outdoors as soon as possible.

Snow scene, from photos taken during the recent snowy spell. Shown here half way through and bunged into my ‘ready-frame’ to look at it. Didn’t start brilliantly and I went on to ruin it further…

So, not that much I’d like to show here in the way of new paintings. Even this one of the Windpump was quite a struggle but perhaps the best I’ve managed lately.  It involved some lifting out (which always feels wrong to me) and to be honest, I do not like that tree!  Let’s pretend that in reality it was just a really strange tree…

After a period that I’ve kept quiet (so that I could concentrate on my new video – more on that below) it’s all about to kick off again this weekend with more art group demos and workshops and the year’s courses/painting holidays.
I have one of the latter each month of Spring – April, May & June – so that they can include as much plein air work as possible at my favourite time of year to paint. Unless it just rains, of course.  But it won’t!
All that green can be a challenge once it’s fully formed, but we can just change the colour, so that’s not such a huge issue.
We had our first bit of Blackbird song here yesterday evening, which really is always the greatest thing on earth to me at this time of year. The males have been chasing each other around for a month or so at least here. I find it hilarious when one is chasing another and then at some point they just change roles, from chaser to chasee.
Anyway, I’ve had a bit of a tidy up of the studio, got out and re-acquainted myself with all my tuition materials (piles of small demos, workshop exercises, step paintings, folders of handouts and ‘examples’ of this and that) and also done my annual leafing through the paintings of the past year that are in ‘the big pile’.
Some of those pieces appear not quite so bad, with the distance of time.  And some are probably worse than they seemed at the time. Some needed a miracle to come off at all, to be fair; fights with wind or light.  Lots failed due to lack of real inspiration, or impatience, and most just failed because…. watercolour is just difficult and I’m not good enough at it!

For some reason this got me looking back at much earlier work, too.
Most of my earliest landscape watercolours (beginning about age 11, I think) are either somewhere in the attic, or else gone for good. There aren’t many.  If they are in the attic I know there weren’t many that survived my parents’ apparent ‘need’ to empty their own attic many years ago.  I expect that’s familiar to many of us.
But this one below I salvaged from my father some time ago. It’s definitely one of my earliest paintings, and is a copy, done from a library book, by Wilfred Ball.  Wilfred Ball was based in the Peak District and painted very atmospheric rainy and misty conditions of moorland, fells, and other craggy landscape. I think I loved his work straight away.  I already loved the Lake District, which he often depicted, so that probably helped.

Wilfred Ball copy, with tippex. In the same clip frame it’s been in since I did it, about 32-plus years ago. Some of the white is negative painting, but not a lot!


Wilfred Ball book – a typical page. Excellent tonal counterchange. And use of cloud shadows/lightburst. Not sure about the lightning bolt, but he was making a point with that. – lighting up the side of that building, look.

I bought this a few years ago for old times’ sake. Thanks to – great source for second hand books.


Most of Wilfred Ball’s books, as many art books then, contained B & W images except for a few colour plates in the centre. I have wondered if this fact helped me to learn the value of tone in painting.  (By the way I have articles on Tone and Colour as separate issues in Leisure Painter mag, current issue and next month).

Leisure painter, current issue.


Wilfred Ball’s paintings definitely worked well in B & W.  It’s funny how these books would still talk you through the paintings mentioning all the colour mixes though we couldn’t see them. I think he used Raw Umber sometimes (and my use of it may stretch back to this fact) but at the time I wondered what on earth that looked like.
My Wilfred Ball painting features two ‘colours’; Lamp Black and tippex!
I think I did this painting when I was 11 or maybe 12 years old. Not many soft edges evident. And it must be one of my very first, being that I used tippex. I don’t think I ever did that again, so perhaps I actually started reading the books at that point, rather than just looking at the pictures…

My Windpump painting was somewhat fictional, based on an actual windpump and wetland nature reserve I know well, but with liberal artistic licence.  There’s no such view there, but the scene is similar to the place, overall.
I was aiming to capture a broad sense of space and scale.
On reflection, this issue brings to mind Edward Seago.  I noticed how well Seago does this as soon as I discovered his work. I also noticed one important aspect of how I think he does it.  He’ll often have a very small percentage of land to sky. Having something small, with ‘detail’ so close to the bottom of a composition can make it fail, dragging the eye down too much and appearing unbalanced as a whole. But it can be made to work by having something equally eye-catching close to the top edge of a composition – often a hard edge in a cloud, in Seago’s case. So, the eye is then drawn both ways equally and the composition is balanced. Additionally, there may be some strong feature, hard-edged shape or tonal counterchange close to the left and right hand edges too. Again it’ll be carefully balanced, but the cleverness is in how dragging the eye to the peripheries of the painting means that the area in the middle seems vast. Not many artists I know of make a painting that is seven-eighths sky work so well in this way. Google Seago watercolours and you should find an example or two, perhaps with a marshland gate, bush or white sail in them!
Anyway, my painting was sort of an attempt at a similar thing, and I think the areas of white sky at the top are important in dragging the eye all the way up there, but the rest suffered from not being based closely enough on observation. The composition was based on a few scribbled sketches, which were in turn based on photos of the location. This approach can work, but needs a fair bit of luck. I’d really like a huge monitor/TV screen to display photos on, as it can really help with creating the feel of actually being at the location. This, by the way, is one of the benefits of the indoor sessions at my two FSC-based painting holidays; they have enormous digital screens in the studio rooms – a brilliant teaching aid that I wish everywhere had (especially in case it does rain!)
Here are my scribbles – this is how my sketches normally look – they’re not really meant for anyone else’s eyes of course.

I might have another go at this, using the top kind of tree instead of the bottom, which I chose this time.

Oh, and one other thing about this painting that I intended was to have water but resist putting in reflections.  Reflections in water is something that I often feel can be overdone. If the water is rippled by breeze there are often no reflections to be seen at all. So I’ve gone for that here.

Which brings me to my new video.  It’s finally done.
You can see more information, buy it or just watch the trailer on my Videos page.
One of the five demos on the video features a similar subject to this wetland scene, where I do go a bit ‘out of my comfort zone’ (not that I’m ever that comfortable) with an alternative painting approach & paper to my usual.
The video was quite a piece of work in the end, for one reason and another, so I’m pleased to have it completed at last.  It’s 2 hours and 24 minutes running time.  Here’s the blurb….:

“Join Jem as he guides you through some of his key painting methods in the studio environment.
Featuring 5 half imperial size demo paintings, a few short ‘technique introductions’ and much discussion of composition, interpretation, prioritisation and compromise – amongst other watercolour issues!
2 hour and 24 minute running time, in Full HD (1920×1080)”

I apologise in advance for this, but the video is not available on DVD.  It is too long to fit onto a DVD, or I’d burn some for sale myself.  Unfortunately it’s not viable for me to have some professionally mastered, so I’m sorry to those who aren’t able to access videos online. (Still, if you’re reading this…)
I have made this video downloadable.  So, if streaming is a problem due to slow internet speed then you can watch it from your own computer once downloaded.  That should help.

In a later blog post I thought I could address and answer any questions – of a painting nature – that may arise from the video. Therefore if you do buy the video and have any painting questions please email me (rather than post them as comments on the blog), thank you.
Given current trends in the world I sometimes feel I ought to write a brief explanation of my views on the advertising-based income model (such as is the case with Youtube), and why I’m not going down that route if I can help it.  Social media has downsides in various ways, and I sometimes feel pressed by people’s expectations around this.

But I’ll conclude here this time, with a few more pictures.
And I’ve made a resolution. That is, I intend to work on a different paper each time I paint.
To keep me present and focussed, dealing with what’s happening, not being formulaic, not stuck with trying to reach my best on a technical level, but rather to stay experimental, drawing on intuition more and well, just enjoying managing whatever surprises occur.  I’m also going to do some quarter-imperial size painting.
There, so having said that publicly I’d better stick to it… for a while at least, before I go running back to my usual old faithful!
(Here’s one done on that; Bockingford 200lb Not)

Norfolk oak and pasture. For sale (spot the geese in the sky)


An art group demo from early last year; one salvaged from ‘the big pile’, and slightly cropped. This one was on Saunders 200lb Hot-pressed. For sale.

A scene I discovered on a recent walk, which I’d love to paint en plein air. However, it was freezing and I was virtually sinking into the mud. Plus I’m stood in the middle of a farm track… Shame, though, as I’ve been on the lookout for a good haystack scene forever!


Happy painting,



Comments On This Post

Charmain 1 year ago. Reply

Dear Jem, I so enjoyed the workshop you held today for our Monday Painters’ Group in Landford. I now feel inspired to continue with watercolour you showed us clearly how to achieve those elusive dark tones. and dry brush techniques. All the best, Charmain McBryde

    Jem Bowden 1 year ago. Reply

    Hi Charmain. Thank you for you kind comment. I’m really pleased you enjoyed the workshop and feel inspired. That’s all I could want.
    All the best, Jem

Nick 1 year ago. Reply

Once again thanks for being honest. I have hit a bad patch (must be the time of year) but what shook me out of it was your article in Leisure Painter. I did the exercise and will re-do it as I found it so useful. I like your tree above can’t see anything wrong with it. Perhaps you could start a new trend using tippex! Time to have a look at your new video.

Kind regards,
Nick Cross

    Jem 1 year ago. Reply

    Thanks for your comment, Nick, much appreciated.
    Yes, maybe tippex could be the future. Sometimes it was quite opaque, as I recall, but other times you’d need to overpaint with it loads of times! Perhaps that was a cheap substitute to the tippex with a capital T…. Very pleased you found the article useful. That’s great to hear.

Maryann Brail 1 year ago. Reply

Thanks for sharing your work and thoughts. So looking forward to your workshop in NY! I know I will enjoy your new video.

    Jem 1 year ago. Reply

    Thank you, Maryann, and you are welcome!
    However – NY? – New York? … I haven’t got a workshop in New York! Are you thinking of someone else? (this has happened to me before). Unless you know something I don’t! ?

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