Latest – New website, Easel, Competition and Thoughts on motivation.

Marshfield High Street on UK’s hottest day


Dear reader,

Thanks for joining me again and I hope you are well. 

The painting above was done on the hottest day ever recorded in the UK.  Not something I would have considered attempting, if I’d known in advance this would be the case.  In fact although it was hot, it wasn’t as hot here as in some parts of the country.

The sheet of paper was quite odd, which I realised as soon as the first brushstrokes went down for the sky.  I don’t know if it was the heat, but it seemed as if it had an unusual sizing, and this paper (Bockingford) doesn’t have any external sizing.  Anyway, considering as usual I chose a spot in full sun, I was fairly pleased with the result overall.  Not all of it (of course)!

In recent times it seems I’ve naturally been posting to my blog less frequently.  I may change what I do here a bit, and would like to ask my subscribers for your feedback on that – especially if you notice changes for the worse.  I may post a bit more frequently but with shorter posts, but I’m not sure so we’ll see.  

My feelings keep changing about everything.  After years I still don’t know really what I want to say here on this blog, and I certainly don’t know if anyone wants to hear it.  Life is complicated and seems to get more confusing, which I don’t think is a good thing.  Google has an influence on the decisions I should make, as I’m self-employed and google is the super-power I’m supposed to bow to. But I don’t work like google, and I don’t necessarily think that ‘consistency’ (or monotony) is a good thing, for a start.  

This post and and future ones may not contain so many of my latest paintings, so please keep an eye on my galleries pages for additional ones.  With the new website design there is now some background information about each painting within the galleries, which opens when you click an image, though I’ve got a few still left to go through with my recollections.


New website

You might have noticed already – my website has had a big makeover, and I think much for the better.  

I’ve taken objective advice on all aspects, and been lucky to work with the talented professionals at darkHouse Multimedia ( who have done the work.
I hope you will enjoy the functional improvements and style.  Style-wise they immediately picked up on my use of Indian Red and Raw Umber.  I was delighted and had been going to suggest this, but it has meant adding extra patches to my threadbare Indian Red coloured shirt – an old plein air friend, now back out of retirement. 
I’d like to recommend darkHouse Multimedia if you need a website making.  I’m so grateful for the enduring patience they showed this particular non-techy person throughout the collaborative process.

Perhaps the biggest functional change to the site is that you can now purchase my paintings directly – from the Galleries pages – just like any online store.  However, please feel very free if you’d like to contact me to discuss paintings before purchase, or to arrange a sale by a more ‘old fashioned’ method.  Please note that I continue not to sell prints, only original watercolours.


The Rocks at Freshwater West, Pembrokeshire

This was during a heat wave earlier in July, during a few days I spent camping in Pembrokeshire – from where I may run a future course!

I returned to this beach from where I’d previously painted on the cliffs.  It is a huge beach the top half of which is very rock covered. Beautiful sand revealed at low tide.  The main difficulties with this one were the heat and sun (again) and also the content of the scene. Rocks, more rocks, abstract shapes to convey somehow without too much monotony, with suggestion, and without buildings or man-made things to use by way of contrast/offsetting, or to help with scale.  I did put a couple of figures in, but they’re about half a mile away so you may need to adjust your lenses to spot them.



I’m going to set my own competition again, with the ‘prize’ being one of my paintings, in case that might tempt anyone to take part (always feels quite presumptuous!) I ran a similar competition a couple of years ago and had a good number of very competitive entries.  I hope you might see it as a good painting exercise – I will be setting a specific kind of challenge.  More on that next time.


Pembroke Castle

Again from my visit to Pembrokeshire in Wales.  I was almost blown over doing this. A great view of the scene from here, but my vantage point was on a little causeway over the river and hence a bit of a wind tunnel.  Quite a battle and some parts could have been much better without this struggle. 


Easel issue


When teaching I’m often asked about my choice of easel, which is the ‘Jakar Lightweight Adjustable Watercolour Easel’.  I think my easel is great, so I have often happily recommended it to others.  However, I need to make something known, which I have only just realised.  

The thing above all else that for me gives this easel the edge over others is the really wide spread of its legs, making it really stable in wind, despite being very lightweight.  I’ve often thought I should get a spare just in case mine breaks or Jakar stops producing them. Recently I did just that, and made an unfortunate discovery.

The new easel appears precisely the same as my first one (which I think I’ve had for about 3 years) but THE LEGS DON’T SPREAD SO WIDE because the back leg doesn’t go back so far.  I had seen a few other artists with the easel and wondered if it was just my eyes, and when I bought the new one I did so thinking ‘well, it’ll be good for demos on slippery floors if nothing else’ (where the leg spread is less useful). 
I am hoping that I can file down the plastic at the leg join section by a millimeter or two and thereby allow the back leg to go back further.  But I have to say, this slight manufacturing change was a step in the wrong direction for the easel model, in my opinion.


Workshop/courses news

A bit of a reminder – you can now book onto my new Cornwall workshop, a two-dayer next May at Truro Arts Centre.  Please see the Workshops page for details.

Last week I did my workshop up at The Sandpiper Studio up on the Wirral, which was really a real pleasure as always.  I hope to return again next year, and perhaps to do a one-day plein air workshop there to make the most of some great saltmarsh/boaty coastal places that the Wirral offers.  

There are places available still for my East Devon Art Academy workshop (in Sidmouth) this Autumn.

In 2020 I am spending my time differently and will be teaching only two residential painting courses/holidays, one at Dedham Hall and the other back at Big Sky Art.  Please join me at these exceptional places for plein air painting.  I’m currently looking forward to meeting the students on my fourth painting holiday of 2019, coming up at Big Sky Art (north Norfolk coast) in September. 



Giving demonstrations is one of my favourite things to do. 
Here are a couple of photos, one of a recent painting I did at Clevedon Art Society (50 minute painting from the second half of the evening), the other of the scene post-demo, at Wallop Artists Group.

Please contact me if you might be interested in having me visit your art group to give a demo in 2020 or beyond.


I always take this frame with me to bung the demo painting into quickly at the end.

At Wallop Artists, in Hampshire.


Thoughts on motivation – my own painting

It feels like a very important time for life on this planet, and this has been occupying my mind a great deal this year.  I hope I don’t too often presume my more personal thoughts will be of interest in my blog, but high emotion can make you re-inspect the reasons you have for doing things, and I hope there can be some value to others in sharing the following.  Keeping to painting, though, here’s a bit about my own ongoing experience as an ‘artist’.  I would be very interested to hear about your experience on similar matters, if you’d like to leave a comment.  

Painting, or ‘art’ – I have learned, with regard to my own practice –  has more to do with attitude, psychology, philosophy and our frail human aspects than it is to do with techniques and materials.  Motivation and inspiration are 100% vital, once you’ve come a certain distance with the basics of handling a chosen medium, and realise that there is no right or wrong in how you paint. Yet, perhaps not for everyone.  I would not paint these days, nor try to without those things. I won’t paint unless I know I’ve got the right attitude for it. Some people can force themselves into the studio and for quite noble reasons (‘keep practising’, ‘keep a routine – it is work, after all’, or they simply love the process of using the medium, applying paint to paper, and so on – which really isn’t something I feel very often).  I don’t do this, and find it a better, more productive use of my time and indeed ‘work’ time to do apparently unrelated things instead, if there isn’t that right attitude.  

Painting for me is, in a way, a form of self-expression, though I don’t really like to admit it because my paintings are not intended to be in any way ‘reflecting’ the artist, nor really ‘about’ the medium.  The artist is relevant in terms of how the work will not look exactly like someone else’s, but that’s about it.  Before I focussed on painting I was involved with music for a long time.  I wasn’t technically a good ‘musician’ but I never felt that mattered.  It was all about the creative or adventurous aspect and I rarely miss it now, as this was replaced entirely by painting.

To me, my paintings are 100% ‘about’ the subject, being generally a ‘place’.  I’ve always thought of them as kind of my own small, personal tribute to a place in time, or ideally an experience of being at that place.  Being at new places gives me pleasure, because Nature creates awe, providing ‘perspective’ on life, and when struck for the first time especially (i.e. new places), the feeling is vivid and can even seem graspable in painting.  I tend to talk about these things of nature as ‘landscape’, but it includes the weather, the sky, the shapes of natural forms, the history contained within them, and greatly it is about the life – the movement and also much to do with the wildlife (the unknown and more interesting life than our own!) and also the wind or breeze within grass or trees.  It’s even partly about people, though they don’t usually play a big role in my paintings. It is I suppose sometimes about the light, too, so often mentioned, in so far as that affects atmosphere and how all these other things are perceived or not noticed.  It is about the connected nature of all these things and being part of that connection. When outdoors I feel closer to the whole world and feel our inherent nature of being just a tiny but interconnected part of it.  Maybe we are closer to a better part of ourselves for that.
Plein air painting can bring about a full experience and pleasure of consciousness, removing the unhelpful sense of self for a precious while, yet all senses make their experience felt somehow in every painting. To the right viewer, as much as the artist.

I feel compelled to paint when there seems to be a reason to want to ‘share’ the experience of being somewhere, and less often to record it sometimes just for myself.  Painting is enjoyable for me when it is uninhibited, carefree, a process from beginning to end of what can feel like ‘risk-taking’ (with a mistaken view, after all, there is no actual risk involved!).  It has then to be spontaneously motivated, and intuitively painted. It isn’t then very much lingered over in terms of the tech-nique-al side, or planning, but instead it flows relatively naturally in a way that seems almost a part of the place, or certainly ‘being’ at the place.  In fact, for this to actually happen is quite a rare thing overall in my experience, but I think it is the thing that makes me keep doing it.

The resulting outcome, especially if I feel I’ve done a reasonable job when I stand back and look at it later, can seem to mean a lot, and provide a lasting additional feeling of connection and importance to the experience.  And whether or not it will be viewed well by others matters little. When painting happens like this, I feel like I’m doing something, and which might somehow be worthwhile, if only to myself.

Additionally, I think purpose comes from the act of painting for me when it’s an emotional experience. The painting arrives spontaneously and mostly intuitively, driven entirely by the inspiration of the moment.  I do value the immediate translation of inspiration into a result. Value it above a necessarily successful result, any day of the week.  This means I’m happy (or accepting, at least) for my ‘losses’ and to walk away until the next time inspiration strikes.  It all keeps me in the here and now, which is where I want to be.  

As I’ve said, it doesn’t all come together in the ideal way very often.  Additionally, all of this being an ‘artist’ always seems very self-indulgent, as is writing down thoughts on the basis that someone might actually wish to read them.  Luckily, I have been finding in recent years that teaching watercolour – helping others with something essentially harmless and generally beneficial for themselves –  provides more of a sense of purpose.  Teaching is not always easy, but the thing that makes it most difficult from my perspective is when people become despondent too quickly, because they assumed that watercolour painting was easier than in fact it is.  Being a teacher of watercolour painting therefore is sadly not always about spreading immediate happiness, but I wish it could be!

I think considering our motivations is helpful in deciding how to make the best use of the future.  From 2021 onwards I’m hoping to teach more than ever before.  But there could be some big changes before then.

That’s probably more than enough from me.
Until next time, friends, whatever your reason for painting, don’t be afraid of messing up a bit of white paper!

Best wishes,


– A few more of my recent plein air adventures below:


At Uphill boat ‘graveyard’. No pencil drawing used for this (that vessel on the left really was a wierd, stubby shape!)

Bristol’s floating harbour

Clevedon Pier

At the Extinction Rebellion demonstration in Bristol

Painting out with friends in Sherston, South Gloucestershire – ink and wash.

Comments On This Post

Jim Morrison 8 months ago. Reply

Thanks for your thoughts Jem. I’m at a stage where I look back at my sketches and paintings and it gives me great satisfaction to remember the place and the mood. So I loved what you said about a connection with a place. I have found that quick little sketches while traveling or hiking capture the feeling more than putting a lot of time into a studio painted watercolor. I think you mentioned “an emotional experience.” I recently looked at a quick sketch I did while sitting on the summit of Mt. Tyler with friends several years ago. Seeing that picture and remembering the moment was an emotional experience for me.

    Jem Bowden 8 months ago. Reply

    Hi Jim. Thank you for your comment, and I appreciate and can relate to your own experience with your sketches.
    I tend to see my plein air watercolours as sketches; I think I approach them in that way, or many of them at least. And probably the better ones, as they turn out – though there’s no simple rule as to why those will work out well…
    I think there are also more reasons why it’s an emotional experience, which is re-liveable, as you described.
    Every moment of focus, and moment of ambition, the chancing of every brush stroke to convey something we want it to.
    This commitment contains emotion, I think. Sometimes for me it’s just an overall memory that’s retained with a painting, and sometimes lots of specific little bits of the journey through its creation. So I find, anyway. My memory is really not great, and I put most importance into enjoying the process of creation at that moment. Very best wishes, Jem

Mike Porter 12 months ago. Reply

Hi Jem, although we’ve met only once that time at your place when my wife and I were touring on holiday from the States, I have followed you ever since. This post I read in its entirety and found it compelling and thoughtful…of value to me. I think often about why I paint and why it keeps compelling me to pick up the brush and why it can also be so frustrating. My oil friends say it’s the medium I’ve chosen! Nah…watercolor is so unique there is nothing quite like it.

Thanks so much for this post and the time it must have taken to put your thoughts together. I wish you only the best. I encourage you to pursue the teaching as it can bring back to you many rewards to see others pick up the brush and as my old friend, the late Ron Ranson would say…”give it a go!”

    Jem Bowden 12 months ago. Reply

    Hi Mike, and thanks.
    I appreciate your continuing interest and feedback a lot.
    So, I wonder, is it partly the challenge and difficulties that make you keep up your painting, as well as the elusive brilliance of success with watercolour?
    And yes teaching can be very rewarding. It’s just great helping people and seeing them make progress and being happy on those occasions.
    And ‘giving it a go’ is a great expression to describe the attitude needed, continually. That’s all we’re all doing with it.
    Cheers, Jem

Margot 12 months ago. Reply

Hi Jem

I enjoy reading your blogs. So much information and interesting snippets and vignettes! I find I need to take time to read and absorb your ‘gems’ of information! So insightful and motivating!
Thank you Jem I love your style of painting. Your new website is user friendly, professional and informative.
The demonstration for us at Exmouth was wonderful. Thank you! I know I shall be inviting you back again.

    Jem Bowden 12 months ago. Reply

    Hi Margot,
    Thanks very much for your feedback.
    I’m pleased you approve of the website too and thanks again re. the demo.
    All the best,

Anne Halliwell 12 months ago. Reply

Hi Jem, I’ve followed your painting 🎨 adventures for a while and really like the style of painting but although I try I don’t seem to be able to get your loose freehand effect in my paintings. Mine just finish up a mess and not really much like the view I started with, unlike your paintings which are a very good likeness. I think I shall have to come to another of your workshops. Thanks for sharing your blog.

    Jem Bowden 12 months ago. Reply

    Hi Anne, and thank you for your comment.
    The truth is it’s not an easy way to paint, and it’s not really as ‘loose’ as it seems, and is often described.
    Thickness of paint and timing are critical, so soft edges are in fact very controlled mostly, and tone must be very accurately recorded.
    The initial drawing also needs to be accurate of course, as with all watercolour, in order for there to be a good likeness with the subject.
    It would be nice to see you if you’d like to join another workshop. The longer courses/’painting holidays’ are the best I think when it comes to really getting to grips with an approach, and you see lots of demonstrations. Also, have you seen my videos? They might be useful.
    All the best, Jem

Carol McKinlay 12 months ago. Reply

Thank you for the time and effort required in putting your thoughts to paper. After reading your blog and then looking at your pieces of art, I can really feel that you were ‘there’ in the paintings and that comes across. I sometimes get that feeling when looking at paintings of some of the old masters knowing that they were there on location and can almost feel the weather and see the light as they saw it. There is a very real sense of your being present to the location in your work.
I understand about the feeling of painting being self-indulgent and it is good that you are able to teach and share your wonderful skills in that way. . You were probably raised to ‘be of service to others’ which is a wonderful character trait. I will be happy to continue to read your blog when ever you feel like writing it and will of course continue to enjoy your beautiful artwork and your teachings in publications..
Kind regards,

    Jem Bowden 12 months ago. Reply

    Thank you for your valued comment, Carol.
    Hopefully I’ll find something useful to show in Leisure Painter again next year.
    I’m pleased you think the plein air work carries something of being there.
    To my eyes (unobjective) it does, normally, look different to my studio work, though I wonder if other people would just describe it as rougher or ‘sketchier’, rather than anything else. Anyway, I prefer it, when it goes okay!
    It does all feel self-indulgent at times, even teaching feels very ‘lucky’ when with a lovely group of people. I am grateful for it, and hope it can last. All the best, Jem

Ewa Collier 12 months ago. Reply

How refreshing to read genuine feelings about being an artist. I have not spotted any ramblings from either you or your other readers. I’ve been struggling with overwhelm. There is so much I would like to attempt to paint, or draw and so little time to fit it in, so nothing happens. However one thing I would be interested in finding out, is how do you determine where the boundaries are in your scenes? I suppose I’m struggling with deciding on the composition, what to leave in and what to leave out. If I start, I find I get lost and muddled and it shows. As for moving objects around, well then I get confused about shadows and other matters. So I would be interested to know what goes through your head as you select a scene to capture. I could just be feeling fear about getting it wrong and as you rightly say, it’s only a piece of paper, but it is also time that I fear I’m wasting.

    Jem Bowden 12 months ago. Reply

    Thank you for your comment, Ewa, much appreciated.
    Overwhelm is understandable and the fear of wasting time I think you must dismiss!
    It WILL be a gradual learning, so I think just forget about where you want to ‘end up’ and just begin. One small thing at a time.
    Again it comes back to enjoying the process, and fully accepting that it is all just a part of one.
    Nothing you do is wasted, as you will learn from it. It is helpful to spend time I always think on analysing what you have done, a while afterwards with clearer eyes. To help the learning from it. What worked and why? (and what didn’t and why not?)
    I use a viewfinder firstly, to find a composition, whilst walking all around a location exploring all vantage points (careful you don’t fall over for not looking where you’re going!). That is my camera (phone camera nowadays).
    Simply move it around whatever ‘thing’ attracts you at a place (which might be your ‘focal point’) until you arrive at what you find an attractive or appealingly balanced image. Zooming in and out also. Shadows (if there are any) will be an important, integral part of that ‘balance’. But you’ve got to bear in mind they might go, or appear…
    What to alter about a scene is less simple to explain, but you’ll gradually learn what needs doing and why. Often it will be partly about simplifying things, but yes, things such as shadows need to be consistent.
    Learning with painting continues forever, so I think just begin enjoying the process from wherever you currently are.
    Hope that might be some small help. All the best, Jem

Barry Probert 12 months ago. Reply

Simply you give me hope!

    Jem Bowden 12 months ago. Reply

    That’s quite something, Barry, thank you.

Nick 12 months ago. Reply

Speaking personally Jem I always enjoy reading your blog and its kind of you to share your inner most thoughts. My feeling and understanding keep changing too and I recently found an excellent quote:
“Let me be smart enough to know how dumb I am and give me the courage to carry on anyway”
Like you I find my painting depends on my attitude. Some days a painting really works and I have noticed it has to be a subject that interests me. I have taught myself that each time I pick up a brush I don’t have to produce a masterpiece, you are right its only paper. I try to relax and simply have fun, which is easy for me as I don’t make a living from painting (just as well really as I would be very hungry!). I think your paintings of places are full of interest and atmosphere. We used to live in Bath and as a result I recognise many of the scenes to paint in and around Bath/Bristol. Your love of the area shines through. I only wish I could cut the detail out like you.
I agree the painting needs to feel right to you and if someone else likes it then that is a bonus but the moment you try to paint something which you are trying to sell then I should think the passion for the subject goes too.
The new website is excellent.
Sorry for the rambling reply!
Kind regards,

    Jem Bowden 12 months ago. Reply

    Hi Nick and thanks very much for your comment, which to me is not rambling at all.
    I love the quote, too.
    It is very important to enjoy the process, as you point out. The most important thing of all, I believe.
    And not to feel pressure to produce a masterpiece. To enjoy the process for some doesn’t really require the same level of ‘inspiration’ (or enthusiam – generated by the subject/atmosphere/situation of being somewhere) to be there as a compulsion. I think partly because not for everyone is it the subject that is the main driver and impetus. They enjoy enough simply laying paint onto paper as a process.
    When writing this sort of thing I always fear some may think I’m suggesting there’s something ‘superior’ in my approach, but I’m not and obviously there isn’t. Which is one reason I don’t ever feel relaxed about writing honestly about my genuine process. It certainly isn’t the happier way of being either, I think.
    In terms of ‘painting to sell’, well, it’s not much in my mind apart from when very occasionally being at the odd ‘iconic’ location. Then there is sometimes a thought of “blimey, someone might actually want this one – IF I do a good job of it”, and here we need to fight the generally negative urges that come with that pressure, such as taking fewer chances, stopping the natural flow that can come from intuitive painting, ‘tightening up’, overworrying every brush stroke, etc.
    Now, this rambles a bit!
    Cheers, Jem

Brian 12 months ago. Reply

I always look forward to your blog Jem. How you want to continue with them in the future will be fine with me. Short, long or however infrequent will be entirely your choice, depends how you feel.

    Jem Bowden 12 months ago. Reply

    Thank you, Brian, for your valued feedback! Very much appreciated.
    Cheers, Jem

Carolina Rosario Núñez Díaz-Corralejo 12 months ago. Reply

I love to receive your newsletter and to read your interesting comments . The feelings and expressions of an artist like you transform the world we live in, and today it is an absolute responsibility not to give up. Google will have its time, but what you reflect on your beautiful watercolours show the truly essence of you and all of us human beings. We have to preserve the truth and real knowledge for the world and future generations. Art is the way to start finding solutions to our universal problems. Love from Madrid, Spain, your experience with high temperatures made me smile…

    Jem Bowden 12 months ago. Reply

    Thank you, Carolina. I appreciate your comment very much. And I am very happy I made you smile! If I can do that I will definitely not give this up. Very best wishes to you, Jem

Jem 12 months ago. Reply

Thanks Joe. I am currently camping but have seen your email and will reply asap! Cheers Jem

Joe Griffin 12 months ago. Reply

I always have to read your blogs a few times because they contain so much that is thought provoking. And it takes time to absorb all that you are saying but worth the effort. Thanks.

Leave a Comment

Leave a New Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.