Getting back out there! Big Sky Art and IWS exhibition

Middle Drove, near Glastonbury, summer evening. This tree had my name written all over it, as they say.  31 x 51cm (as usual). For sale.


This painting was from photos taken last summer when I visited Glastonbury to film a demo for my plein air video.  That was done further down this narrow road on a footpath through fields to the left, following the river Parrett.  Even from this spot a 45 degree turn to the left gives a great view of the tor from the south.  Most of the best views of the tor are from the south/southeast/east and to some degree southwest. All of which means it tends to be sunlit (if there is sun) rather than backlit.  There are one or two exceptions, involving difficult or long walks. Probably the farmers have the best views.  Anyway, I enjoyed this painting.  It was done the way I try to paint; taking risks from beginning to end.  Impetuous at times, which shows negatively in some places, but positively in others.

Big Sky Art  (

A scene at Brancaster Staithe, north Norfolk coast.

After a difficult year it will certainly be great to be back outdoors painting in our inspiring landscape.  My Spring course at Dedham Hall has unfortunately had to be postponed due to the pandemic, and has been rescheduled to April 16th – 23rd 2022.
My Big Sky Art course, based at ‘The White House’ near Burnham Market, North Norfolk is my only other residential course/painting holiday this year and it’ll be fantastic.  The dates are June 20th – 25th.  As with all my courses, I’m looking forward to making it my best one yet.  Details, including links for my recommended Materials List and the Big Sky Art brochure are available on my website Courses page, here:
Here is a link to Big Sky Art’s website, for booking info and more:  And here is a link to The White House’s (our studio base and accomodation) website:  (These two websites provide links to each other, as you’ll see.)

Some things the course will cover:

Taking risks/Being free (from beginning to end)
What matters?
Finding a subject/using it
Observation – nothing more important
Good painting, rather than good paintings
‘Interpretation’ in general (seeing your subject and making it yours)
Artistic licence
Importance of tone & getting the darks (and lights) you want
Big brush, speed, prioritise, compromise
‘Dry into wet’
Uses of and control of the soft edge
Counterchange – dark against light and light against dark
Relativity and relationships
Creating interest, impact and dynamism
‘Freshness’ over transparency
Doing something different
Using energy for vitality
Simplifying  (sign one corner before you start!)
Range and contrasts in all factors
A whole approach to Colour – limiting number, moving away from literalism and towards liberation. “Any green will do”.  (Now we can focus on the rest of painting!)
Analysis & Re-working
Being there, listening to the birds, befriending the wind (and other painters).
Big sky, boats, saltmarsh, muddy creeks… there may be a windmill, beach or church.
Eating, drinking, exploring, relaxing.  And actually a lot more than these mere words.
So that should keep us going for a few days (four and a half).

I look forward to helping any and all game students of this horrific and terrifyingly humbling medium!  There will be some planned studio time but please note, if weather behaves then much of our painting will be done outdoors.  The good news is, the North Norfolk coast usually sees pretty  good weather in June.

The White House is luxurious and the north Norfolk coast provides us with many choices of inspiring, atmospheric painting subjects.  Currently I think there are only 4 places on the course left, so please enquire soon, and do give me a call if you have any questions at all about the course content or if you’re unsure whether it will suit you.

Plein air demo of Burnham Overy windmill, from my 2018 course.

Wells-Next-The-Sea, grey afternoon.

Wells again, from the other end of town (based on the same grey day photos!).  Note the old granary building in both these paintings, which makes a great focal point from both ends of the seafront.


Thanks to Ann for the group photo, at Burnham Overy Staithe

You may have seen this already, but if you fancy a bit of a ‘big sky and boaty’ warm up, you could have a go at following my demo on youtube, here:


First Plein Air of 2021 !

Covid-safe; in a corner of my local cemetery.

Cemeteries often have good subjects, since they have a range of shapes and compositions. Quiet, too, so make a good location for those nervous about being seen painting outdoors.
When I arrived here there were a couple of yellow-jacketed men at the other end of the cemetery, eyeing me with circumspection.  Quite reasonable too, given my floppy-hatted backpacking, folder-carrying appearance in a cemetery.  Turned out that they wanted to explain their own suspicious behaviour to me, since they were about to use a drone to film the cemetery from above, helping to map it for the city council.


Timsbury trees, grey morning.

Second plein air of the year.  This got quite boggy, which reflects a bit being out of the game with regard to simplifying subjects plein air.  Though it often happens to me with ‘tree portraits’ as there’s so much I want to capture.  Worried too much about getting the tree shape just right, since it was a beauty, but still didn’t!  I do find it difficult to paint – in a simplified way – a tree like this.  Bits like that low section of trunk with branches coming towards us, especially.
It was a bit disappointing in terms of light.  Forecast was for sun, but though it tried to come out at the beginning (which was about 9.30 am) it ended up getting worse rather than better. Still, it’s great to be out on a local footpath somewhere, getting back into the swing of plein air painting.


IWM (International Watercolour Masters) Exhibition 2022

In February I found out to my great surprise that I have won a place in the above exhibition.  I entered a couple of pieces and then put it out of my mind, fully expecting not to succeed.  The exhibition will feature some of the world’s outstanding watercolourists, so I only hope that when viewed in the flesh my plein air ‘sketch’ (essentially what my paintings are) doesn’t stand out for all the wrong reasons.  There are many superb painters in the UK and abroad who are likely to think ‘how did that picture get in’.  Well, I don’t know, but I’m grateful.



‘Master’ isn’t a term I ever use.  I just can’t see that anyone ever really masters anything, least of all watercolour.  If you can still improve at something, then you haven’t mastered it, have you?  The struggle or imperfection is always evident (sometimes) in watercolour, even in the work of history’s best.  In fact that’s one thing I actually love about the medium; shows our fallibility (= humanity).
I’ll look forward to the exhibition, though I’ll also be nervous about it; not only for seeing the work and meeting some of the artists, but also part of my prize is that I get put up for the night at Lilleshall Hall in Shropshire and a seat at a grand artists’ ‘banquet’!  Again I’m very grateful to the organisers and judging panel for the opportunity.

Some other recent (studio) paintings

Lapwings near Glastonbury.  I’ll hopefully get back down to the Levels again soon for some plein air.


Chalk cliffs at Lewes, from the river park.   From photos taken on a holiday camping in East Sussex several years ago.

Towards the Isle of May, Fife, Scotland.

This one above was done as a full size, one-hour demo for a Zoom one-to-one student.  Done from her own photo, cropped, plus one of mine for the sky.  I hope to be able to visit here to do a plein air version of something similar within a year or so.

Sleek Mrs. Black.  An oldy.  ‘Portrait’ of a female blackbird, which of course are actually brown, but don’t necessarily look brown with a bit of iridescence (or imagination!).

Hope you have a good month and are able to enjoy getting out a bit, soon.

All the best,  Jem



Comments On This Post

Skip Larcom 6 months ago. Reply

Hi Jen
I’m writing from the States. I love your gray skies, but is your weather always so dismal? Here in the western mountains, our skies are sometimes boring blue. I feel it necessary to put a little activity in for interest. Is that the reason for you active , interesting gray skies?

Best, Skip

    Jem Bowden 6 months ago. Reply

    Hi Skip
    I love the sky. But definitely least of all boring blue skies. I think this is what you’re noticing.
    I live in one of the dampest parts of the UK. We get some blue sky – it just comes and goes pretty quickly usually! I don’t think our weather is dreary at all, though. I love weather, rather than a lack of it. I would find boring blue on a regular basis to be the ultimate dreariness in a sky, and in life. And in that situation I doubt I would have come to love the sky and to be inspired to paint it. Maybe I’d then be instead a painter of cities, zebra crossings, cars, parasols and figures, but as things are, I rarely find that the addition of humans improves anything much (unless some suggestion of scale is needed).
    All the best, Jem

Joe Griffin 6 months ago. Reply

Wow, first prize. Congratulations. Your art is being recognised and I hope it is onwards and upwards for you. Unfortunately I don’t think I will be able to get to any of the painting courses this year, we are well behind on our vaccines here and travel will probably not be an option. At least I have your videos to return to. I had my first plein air outing this year yesterday. Not a very good result but the experience was useful . So thanks for ecouraging that. Keep well.

    Jem Bowden 6 months ago. Reply

    Hi Joe, and thanks for that.
    The first prize thing is a bit misleading. There were six people who won ‘first prize’.
    There were other prizes, like for materials, many certificates and ‘Highly commendeds’, etc, but these six won the prize of entry to the exhibition. Plus I think they all win accomodation at the venue and place at the artists’ meal.
    Thank you for the thought, Joe, of coming on a course with me again this year, but of course I understand your position entirely. I would not be at all surprised if the virus comes back at us harshly or various unforseen things affect whatever plans we might have anyway. Glad to you got out to paint and found it useful. Keep well, too.

Julian Jones 6 months ago. Reply

Hello Jim, congrats on being selected for the IWM, always nice to get recognition right? Master just has a better ring to it than proficient journeyman (haha). I think most would agree that a few watercolor artists have “moved the needle”, but everyone’s list would be different of course. I really like the “Towards the Isle of May” painting, it has a mood, gives me a good feeling. Hey, maybe you are a master after all!
Cheers, Julian

    Jem Bowden 6 months ago. Reply

    Hi Julian.
    I absolutely love the ring to ‘proficent journeyman’! Can I use that, please?
    And you probably won’t believe me, but I have no desire to be one of life’s needle movers (which I’m certainly not and I know you’re not saying that I am!).
    At great risk of further sounding disingenuous and downright rude, I am not sure that the recognition is 100% nice, either. As I’ve said, I do appreciate the opportunity this exhibition gives me. But I don’t feel totally at ease with ‘awards’ (apart from the few that go to people who selflessly strive to improve the world). Don’t think me an ungrateful person. I think I am just much MORE grateful for the sort of things which are being destroyed on this planet, which aren’t properly recognised, and if people were less in need of awarding themselves with superficial ego boosts then maybe there’d be a better order of things. I’m aware my view of things is often contrary to ‘accepted norms’… Glad you liked that painting though and thanks for letting me know. It IS nice to bring pleasure or a ‘good feeling’ to another person, as you in turn bestowed on me in telling me that my painting gave that to you! If that makes sense. Cheers, Jem

Tricia Spink 6 months ago. Reply

Great to see you are at work again, Covid notwithstanding. It seems to have been months and months of nothing going on from my perspective. But it’s getting warmer! Beautiful today, and your work has re-inspired me. Thank you for a great blog. Keep safe! Tricia

    Jem Bowden 6 months ago. Reply

    Hi Tricia. Thanks for your comment.
    The months have certainly been the same in some ways for me. Delayed continually in various things.
    Let’s hope that when we are set free it doesn’t lead to… having to lock down again. I was concerned that some might think I shouldn’t be out painting. But it is actually my job. I’m partly therefore an ‘outdoor worker’ so I think I’m allowed. Not that I’m actually ever going to be a risk to anyone including myself while I’m out painting anyway…. As you say it is indeed warm enough now out there.
    Today it’s probably only about 13 or 14 here in Bristol, but feels very warm in the sun when out for the daily walk. Cheers, and you keep safe! Jem

Nicholas Cross 6 months ago. Reply

You are right Jem the word “masters” is often used, for you it works, you don’t let your own ego get in the way. Your paintings deserve to be up with the best. It is said of Socrates that what made him so wise was that he knew nothing except just the facts of his ignorance! As long as we look at our art and consider how it could be improved we are on the right track. I am sure I will never master watercolour but I am sure I am better than when I started which is not saying much!
Glad you are out there !
Best wishes,

    Jem Bowden 6 months ago. Reply

    Hi Nick,
    Thanks very much, this is very kind of you.
    I like the Socrates quote, and I agree with you re. the right track. I hate ego, but I think we all have to battle with it, those of us that see it as a problem anyway. Our society has it as a foundation, which didn’t have to be the case, in my view.
    It’s true isn’t it, that the more you learn the more you know how little you know. There is always certainly room for improvement and we never ‘arrive’ at perfection. So long as I can see a progression, I’m happy enough in terms of my painting. I just want to survive in a way that allows some enjoyment of life. Just hope my eyesight (and the small market for what I do) holds out so I can keep doing that within the realm of painting. Cheers, Jem

David 6 months ago. Reply

Hi Jem, lovely to have an upbeat blog from you to while away a very boring hi-tech morning writing software manuals that nobody reads and dying to have the kind of life where I can paint all day. My turn to be downbeat, you don’t have a monopoly on that (: Love the paintings and thinking of a one-to-one with you as you did for the Isle of May lady. When I want to relax, I watch other people paint. Will be in touch and hope you’re not too busy. Congrats on being chosen for the exhibition. Frankly, when I see those Russians and Chinese artists strutting their stuff, I just want to give up. Had a run of duff paintings recently and feeling a little dispondent (if I could spell it.). Cheers and glad you are finally being released from lockdown. Stay safe!

    Jem Bowden 6 months ago. Reply

    Hi David,
    Thanks very much for this.
    Given the quality often of ‘manuals’ (though actually I’m thinking more of ‘instructions’ for physical things) it would be surprising to hear that they’ve ever been proof-read, even once! I’d like the kind of life where I can paint all day, too! For the record that’s nothing like my own life.
    Would be good if you’d like to do that Zoom session. I’d need preferably 10 or so photo refs to choose from – much to discuss in this, usefully I think. Subject selection at the outset is a huge part of making a good painting, and we all do it differently.
    But we can talk about this more via email if/when you’d like to go for it.
    Meantime, I hope your downbeat period ends soon! Now back to the tedious work I was just doing… All the best, Jem

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