Summer begins, 2021

In the city

Bristol harbourside near St Mary Redcliffe church

This was my first plein air of the year that I felt seemed to flow quite well.
I had some nice chats with a few different people, but for a change it didn’t cause a problem for the painting. In fact I kept going, plonking down paint as we chatted. Probably quite lucky that it turned out okay. A lovely day to be out, and not too busy at this spot, despite being close to the city centre.  The painting required a fair bit of careful drawing out and was one of my longer ones, though I was enjoying the time.  It was done in two hours, twenty five minutes (I know as I had paid for 3 hours in the car park!)


Big Sky Art course, north Norfolk.

I enjoyed my plein air course along the north Norfolk coast, as usual, with Big Sky Art.  Based at luxurious The White House, Sussex Farm, near Burnham Market, this really is a great area for painting subjects if you like your coastal scenery.  Loads of boats, sand, saltmarsh, interesting historic buildings, those old wooden ‘staithes’ (small quaysides) with a backdrop of bird calls and huge skies.
Mostly good weather.  One scorching day and just the one incidence of rain, right at the end of a day, helped us stick to the plan.  I have to study the tide times very carefully while planning this holiday. It comes in very quickly, and can get very high around the spring tide, covering the car parks.  At Wells next the sea (see demo below) the rise and fall is quite dramatic.  When I started my afternoon demo it was almost at the low point…. But was coming back in as a raging torrent, and getting pretty close.


Plein air demo from the slipway at Wells-next-the-sea


Plein air demo at Burnham Overy Staithe.  As with the Wells demo, this one was greatly simplified, including in terms of the number of boats.  I make sure my plein air demos are never longer than an hour.


Plein air demo at Brancaster Staithe.  I rarely quite finish my demos before stopping, and don’t do anything to them later. They’ve hopefully served their purpose of explaining a process.  Though there’s often something I can see that I completely forgot to do, which I’d notice with a quick walk away and back with refreshed eyes. An example of artistic licence with this one was bringing those sparse (I think half-dead) pine trees into the scene. In fact they were out of shot, about 20 yards off to our right. And a thing I forgot to do before stopping was to put a bit of the mud colour to the left of the boat, beyond the end of the quayside. Was never intended to be entirely white paper there.


Plein air demo at Thornham creek, bunged into my ‘ready frame’ back at The White House’s studio.


I was pleased that the course was as full as it could be; a limit of 10 painters to ensure Covid-safety at base.  I’m now booked in to repeat the pleasure in June next year, if you’d like to join me?
And just a few shots of the painters who kindly joined me for this course, about their business:-

Student here on the same spot where I did my demo, though by this time it had clouded over.

And this is from the quayside, looking back towards the spot of the demo (behind the boat on the right).  There are those trees I mentioned.

Our main morning location in Wells.  This is such a good spot for painting.  A nice patch of grass with good views in both directions and some benches where people sit and eat (massive) portions of fish and chips.  Some of you will know or recognise this spot, either from videos, DVDs or paintings by well known artists.

This one above was the ‘quickly packing up’ scene, as the rain arrived almost without warning.  Luckily it was very close to the end of that day and some had already finished their paintings here at Thornham creek.  Tide was pretty much at the high point, too.  At least we got away with that! – Really high tides cover the entire saltmarsh here and make the lone building ‘the coal barn’ an island.  Having seen some photos with its reflections on a still water, it looks a pretty special painting subject, if you can get to it.

The tide gradually encroaching onto ground above the banks of the creek. Painters were sat and stood around the slightly raised edge of the coal barn.


A few more plein airs from the last month

Lone pine tree at Cadbury hill fort, near Yatton.  A good location, with more compositions to return for at a later date. I went with the first scene that appealed to me as I came upon it. A pretty good way of settling on something, as a general rule.  After finishing I explored more, and this tree was even better from other angles.  It’s always great to discover a reason to return to a location.
There were some mini horned cattle around on the top of the hill, so I had to do a ‘meet and greet’ around my easel for the first 10 minutes, then they left me alone entirely.  While painting it was really windy, hence difficult.  I had to go down the handle to paint the tree trunk, otherwise it would have been all over the place.

Beautiful cows, aren’t they?  A sign about the hill fort mentioned what type they were but I can’t remember. Beneficial grazers for the wild flowers, etc.  I’m glad that they were only about 3 feet tall!

Somewhere near Sand Point, Bristol Channel.
I’d gone to paint Woodspring Priory, which I’ve only just recently heard of, and which is a great looking subject.
However, it is privately owned and annoyingly a footpath near it was closed off by the farmer.  Perhaps due to lambs, so I hope I can return later in the summer for that, but instead I needed to find another subject, so found a route across to the coast near Sand Point, which gave me this view.  Again, it was very windy.  In fact this time it was truly stupidly windy in terms of trying to paint.  But the painting has reminded me that if you really concentrate and try to stay positive, focus, basically meditate on the careful physical process of brush going from palette to paper and back, and eyes to subject and back, then although very tiring by the end, it is possible to end up with something better by far than I’d expected, even when struggling literally to hold onto your palette and expecting the easel to take off at any second.  I know it just looks like a lovely day, doesn’t it?  But I also had to run for the cover of a dense old hawthorn tree soon after I started, during a sudden rain shower (see below).
Though I’ve painted loads of times in difficult wind, two other extreme situations compare in my memory to this: on top of a fell in the lake district when my then easel (and water pot) blew over into me about three times, and an early visit years ago to Uphill ruined church, which is another high up and completely exposed coastal location.


Tree near North Stoke, South Gloucestershire.

A cloudy and humid morning, which after a period of blue skies I was mostly glad for.  And at last, not windy!  But I really struggled with this right up til the end, and once again don’t feel I’ve done justice to a great tree subject.

Well, I hope you are well and hopefully enjoying some painting, whether indoors or out.
Thanks for reading/looking.

All the best, Jem


Comments On This Post

Clive Rumney 2 months ago. Reply

Thanks Jen. I really love your painting style and your blogs are inspiring me to aim to break through the ‘confidence barrier’ and paint outside. I’d love to join one of your courses but at this moment I can’t even leave locked-down Melbourne let alone Australia. Many thanks.

    Jem Bowden 2 months ago. Reply

    Hi Cive.
    Thanks for your comment. Good luck with your lock down there.
    I think it’s good to find a (very) quiet place for your first plein air venture.
    In the UK at least churchyards are a good option. Not every single one is ideal, but there are so many churches around that it’s easy enough to check a few out, and often you can find a spot in a corner where you can set up an easel and/or seat and not see anyone at all. Or they can’t see you! Also, there are often good subject options including the historic architecture, trees, foliage, paths, headstones etc.
    Just give it a go without any expectation at all about the resulting art. All the best, Jem

Jacki Frey 3 months ago. Reply

Love the loose watercolor approach, lovely work.

    Jem Bowden 3 months ago. Reply

    Thanks very much, Jacki! I appreciate your commenting. All the best, Jem

David Jones 3 months ago. Reply

Lovely blog, Jem and some really great skies. Love the first painting of Bristol and I’m with Olga on that painting of Sand Point. Spectacular!

    Jem Bowden 3 months ago. Reply

    Thanks very much, David. It’s gratifying that such a struggle can pay off! I like the subject of that painting, and hope I can soon paint more in the way of coastal rocks – in Scotland. But I thought this muddy Bristol Channel view would not be popular. This is probably about the best view I’ve come across along that whole stretch of coast; a lot is not very interesting.

Olga 3 months ago. Reply

I always find your blogs inspiring. I want to paint in Norfolk some day – I love the big skies of your paintings. Boats and sand – perfect. But the one I like best is near Sand Point, Bristol Channel. Stunning movement in the land. Maybe that was the wind which made it work?

    Jem Bowden 3 months ago. Reply

    Thank you Olga.
    I’m glad you like the Sand Point painting. As usual I think it is the strength of the subject that allows for a good painting. The wind was a massive hindrance, honestly. I thought the painting was a disaster at the time, hence the point I’ve tried to explain about how amazing it can be if you focus strongly on what you’re doing despite difficulties.

Skip Larcom 3 months ago. Reply

Love your blogs. I’m from the dry Western States where our weather is just the opposite, dry, clear no clouds, no rain in site nor wind. I just have to fake the clouds.
Best, Skip

    Jem Bowden 3 months ago. Reply

    Thanks very much, Skip. I think I’m lucky to have the skies I get here. Then again, maybe if I’d lived somewhere with few I’d just appreciate a different set of things altogether. Lots of things in the natural world are at risk, but I guess clouds aren’t currently one of them, looking on the bright side. All the best, Jem

Nicholas Cross 3 months ago. Reply

Always an inspirational moment when your blog arrives Jem. Some excellent pictures.

    Jem Bowden 3 months ago. Reply

    Thanks very much, Nicholas. I appreciate your commenting. All the best, Jem

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