Cumbria and camping. It’s been a while….

Hi, and I hope this finds you well!

It has been quite a while since my last post, for a number of reasons.
I have long been in the delightful throes of selling/moving house, and this is still ongoing. We’ve now moved out, but have yet to move in again.  I am heading northward though, with a destination fully planned, but until it ‘happens’ experience has taught me not to dare mention its name!
Anyway, I have quite a few pictures to show you.  Below are the best from any painting outings I’ve managed over the last few months.  First are my most recent, during a camping trip (part of my temporary accommodation) to Cumbria.  Photos were taken on my phone camera, which always bleaches away the very pale tones to almost nothing (anyone who views my Instagram always sees such images, which is a bit annoying but I can’t successfully adjust for it).

View from above Caldbeck

This painting was accompanied by a feeling of real inspiration.  As I found my spot the light was great, the subject was great and I was totally up for this.  I was also up for attacking the painting with absolute abandon, so my most direct approach, totally gung-ho intuitive and spontaneous.  As is most common with that situation, it was a very enjoyable process, bold, going with the flow and experimental to a degree, and it led to a result where I was quite happy with much of it, but not all.  The light effect was continually changing, as is to be expected in the afternoon at this time of year and especially somewhere like Cumbria. Sun is mostly pretty low now and likely to hit clouds and maybe not come out again for quite some time.



View towards Solway Firth and Scottish mountains beyond, with tree in morning light.

Early morning light giving warmth to this tree and, at the time I started, the sky and very thin cloud that was beyond.

This was a short walk down the very straight (Roman) road, from my campsite.  Always a tricky and quite a delicate operation, I find, to capture sunlit (as opposed to backlit/’contre jour’) scenes.  I did actually prefer the tree from the other side, but when I arrived at the scene the sun was almost directly behind it and everything was just black and white, and blinding.  The tree shape was even more distinctive from that side, and I did intend to return to do that view, but in the end my opportunities were scuppered by rain.


View from the gorse above Caldbeck, Cumbria

I’ve been experimenting a bit with using my Cobalt Turquoise more, particularly in greens.  I could easily see the colour in gorse, from certain angles and in one light.
I love being in this kind of habitat.  I had to walk/wade quite a distance to find this spot, avoiding bits of bog in places, and then the easel needed setting on quite a slope in order to just about get the view/composition I wanted.  Gorse around my legs too.  Many a fashionable easel would have been hopeless in this situation (and many situations I find myself in), but this easel really is a trusty friend.
The light really didn’t last as it started, so this was for long periods not so much observed as fictional.  I really can’t be sure about the result.  I love tackling this kind of subject and find it inspiring.  But at the same time in fact I’ve not painted it very much, at least not for a long while, so there are real challenges in it being a fairly ‘new’ subject for me.  I ended up doing a lot of thinking and standing back for this one, and walking fully away to clear my eyes.



Early morning at Bassenthwaite Lake, Cumbria.

After being virtually stuck in the tent for a few days due to bad weather I eventually got back out early one morning to Bassenthwaite Lake.  I’ve been to the Lake District many a time, but never to here.  There was a bit of sun poking through when I set off but again more or less gone by the time I set up here.  The view, with Skiddaw at the back/left (the top lost in cloud, as usual!) was a bit flat in the gloom, so I was really glad to have some people that I could use to create more interest.  The painting was really quick and spontaneous.  A bit half-inspired really, and I thought very crude in places, but at least I don’t think I overworked it. Actually I seemed to be having a more than average bit of bad luck in the painting from the outset, to be honest, but also making a few stupid mistakes/decisions, too.   Still, I managed to stay present and the whole visit was really enjoyable, especially due to some nice chats with several groups/couples.  And some good laughs amongst a group of first-time paddle-boarders.  They fell off quite a bit and we all enjoyed that.  The ducks seemed to laugh their heads off with perfect timing!

Ducks. Always delightful and relaxing company. They actually tried to eat my rucksack! Well I suppose its worth a go.


One that didn’t come off at all well…

This was too flipping windy.  I liked the idea of this scene.  The road winding away into the distance reminded me of a few James F-W paintings of Scotland I recall.  And I haven’t done such a scene before.  I planned to ‘enhance’ some of the hills and other features just slightly, and was looking forward a lot to that sky!  It wasn’t  to be, though.  Went wrong quickly, the light changed utterly and the easel and palette were getting buffeted around in strong gusts.   Never mind.
Below, see this useful tip! – a type of tent/gazeebo/tarp peg (shaped like an elongated squared-off ‘n’), which worked well hooked over the foot of my front easel leg.  It didn’t lift up after that.  Now a regular in my rucksack!


‘Selfy’ moment in my kitchen.


Towards Kelston ‘tump’ from by the river Avon.

The river Avon here is just off to the right. A damp morning.  When I started this there was a really atmospheric mist or haze, but it lifted very quickly.  I wish I’d got the sky just a tiny bit darker all over, but it’s a very fine margin.  Too dark would have been no good (actually I think the sky IS just a touch darker in reality than it looks in the photo, though this one wasn’t taken on my phone).



Cows and rhyne west of Yatton, North Somerset.

Done the same day as Kelston Tump, this was afternoon and an adventure into an area I’d not been before. Out on the North Somerset levels, and requiring a bit of a walk from the nearest place to park a car.  But I’d planned to go further.  In the end I did like this challenge, especially the idea of some fast cow painting.  They hung around just long enough.  Quite a similar placement of largest tree as in the Kelston painting!



A lock, somewhere in Wiltshire.

I’ve done a few additional outings of course – with poorer results – and I thought I’d show a couple of those.  I really wasn’t in the mood, for some reason. The subject didn’t grab me, at least not that day, and in the end I just stopped without exactly finishing. Well, it wasn’t really going anywhere very different.  Sometimes I plough on even when I’ve entirely lost faith with the painting because it can still be good practise even if the result can no longer be successful.  Occasionally I just know that I’m not being present enough for it to even be good practise.  And I’m not trying enough and I just can’t force myself.  It happens, I find, especially when there’s a lot on my mind that seems more important.  And painting when tired is usually pretty pointless.  (Someone will like this one best!)



Tintern Abbey, The Wye Valley.

A quite nice but at times frustrating visit to this great subject.  Not happy with the painting.  A tricky one, but we can always say that.  There was some smoke from a farmer’s fire rising nicely behing the right-hand edge of the abbey.  But I made such a mess of other parts that this subtlety doesn’t really work in the context.


I had planned a different composition, from the other side of the river.  Unfortunately, according to my OS map it is clear that the farmer there has blocked off a public right of way entirely. This doesn’t look like a legitimate Covid restriction measure, by the way.  Further up another path I discovered another (attempt) at a blockage to the area I wanted to get to, which I was able to get through.  But again, just beyond it is clear that for a long time the public passage has been closed off.  I assume no one local or anyone else has put up a fight about this, and if we don’t then we lose our footpaths.  Sad, and to me very annoying, but I’ve encountered it plenty of times before.


On the common at Broughton Gifford, Wiltshire.

A day that it nearly rained but just held off, at least while I was painting.  I fancied doing a fairly distant view of the village buildings, so that I could actually give a sense of the large grassy areas that define the feel of the place.  Unfortunately I didn’t think to take a photo of the scene with easel on this occasion.


Woodspring Priory, from outside the orchard.

A really nice subject from various angles, which I only discovered recently.  I saw it from about 10 miles away, poking up above the coastal flats near Clevedon.  Sadly though, its ‘private property’.  Well, this is England.  I won’t go on.  Getting the best views were very difficult, in fact I am straying off the official path here, but I did see some dog walkers doing the same.  I stopped at the gate with the no nonsense sign.  Apart from a couple of brambles this afforded a reasonable composition.  As per the tree in Cumbria, when I began this the main subject was fully sunlit, which is a challenge.  And all the foliage merging as it appears to is also difficult.  As I started the priory tower was no darker in tone than the sky beyond it, being a pale stone colour and in full sun.  So I aimed to counterchange that a bit with blue sky behind it, though that then came out a bit paler than I’d intended! (Again a fine margin though, as too dark would be no good either.)  So, at the end I pulled out the old cloud shadow ploy, just coming over the top of the tower.  I think it just about worked, and helped.  The soft edge at the bottom of the shadow was important, as doing this can easily just end up looking as if the tower has a darker stone just at the top.


One of the good, more distant views, from the public footpath – for next time! Though that could be a long while now…


COURSES FOR 2022!  Now booking –



Brochures have arrived for my painting holidays/courses next year at both Big Sky Art (near Brancaster, north Norfolk) and Dedham Hall on the Suffolk/Essex border.

Please join me for a great experience of painting, learning and BEING at these superb venues, both renowned for their hospitality and locations in inspiring surroundings.  I’ve written more details about the courses on the relevant Courses/painting holidays pages of my website.  Please click the link to discover more and don’t hesitate to get in touch if you’d like a chat about any aspect of course content, locations, suitability for you, etc.   These are, for the most part, plein air-based painting adventures, as per all my residential courses.  Weather permitting, of course.

Well, I will be continuing to get outdoors painting as far into the Autumn as I can.  Next time I post I hope I might even be in a new home.  If you follow me on Instagram or Facebook there should soon be some coastal painting appearing, which I am excited about.  This will be a new challenge for me, and of course a pleasure.  I’m looking forward to figuring out better how to paint rocks, sea, sea birds, harbour scenes and beaches.  Just as well I’ve had a good bit of practise in high wind this year, perhaps!

Take care and all the best,





Comments On This Post

Joe Griffin 2 years ago. Reply

More lovely paintings Jem. Hope the move goes well. It’ll be interesting to see how this influence your work.

    Jem Bowden 2 years ago. Reply

    Thank you, Joe. I agree, I’m very interested to see what happens! So far, I’m encouraged by it’s effect on my approach. Am staying open and going for it. Feels better than for years.

Sophie 2 years ago. Reply

Thank you for sharing your paintings and adding a photo of the view, it’s good to see how someone more experienced deals with not being literal. Also thank you for being honest about it not always working out, that maybe you’re just not able to be there that day. This, I guess, silly idea that whatever I paint needs to be great.
And I share your sadness at unused and blocked footpaths, I come across them too often.

    Jem Bowden 2 years ago. Reply

    Hi Sophie
    Thank you for your comment. I’m glad you enjoyed the blog. It seems that honesty about that kind of thing makes an impression, as I’ve always had comments about it (including advising me not to do it / “don’t be ‘negative'”, etc). I understand why they suggest that, and that’s quite sad as well I think. I don’t believe many painters actually think they always produce great work. Except perhaps bad painters. Viva honesty. And hopefully integrity. Things that we need to strive hard for sometimes in the face of what the world encourages. Thanks again and all the best, Jem

Sally Simpson 2 years ago. Reply

Hi Jem
Sally from Melbourne, Australia. We are still in Lockdown here, crazy times. My last trip to UK painting was planned for 2019 and included Big Sky Painting with you up north somewhere. If only I’d been able to get there I’d have had that to remember during 2020 and 2021.

That said, I am so enjoying vicariously following your painting adventures and reading about your process.

Take care and happy brushstrokes,


    Jem Bowden 2 years ago. Reply

    Hi Sally and thank you very much for your message.
    I recall your having to pull out of the course. I hope you’ve been managing to cope okay with things during this time, and have been enjoying some painting at times. I really appreciate messages like yours; it makes doing this worthwhile to hear that it connects with people.
    Sometimes it really is a huge boost, much needed. Perhaps we’ll get another chance to meet one day – I hope so. Thanks again and all the best, Jem

Mike Porter 2 years ago. Reply

Quite a bit to look at and adsorb, Jem. Thank you. I especially like how you show the photo, as it is, and your work. I study those and compare to my own way of interpreting. I tend to be more literal than you, but I like how you put light into your landscapes.

I also appreciate your honesty about how you are in the mood or not and how you see your work coming out. Hope you are well and that the teaching season next year is kind to you.

    Jem Bowden 2 years ago. Reply

    Hi Mike
    Thank you for your comment and I hope you’re well and enjoying your painting.
    It’s great that none of us create similar paintings from our interpretations/impressions of our experiences.
    A fascinating thing, and one which is so outside of even our own control, too. I do like honesty, so I try to be authentic. I’m glad that you appreciate that and thanks for saying. I dare say it will annoy some people. These kind comments on my blog from yourself and others are actually crucial to me. They’re a real and needed psychological boost. All the best, as ever Mike. Cheers, Jem

Olga 2 years ago. Reply

So good to see you back again and I’m delighted that you’re moving further north. I am inspired by all your paintings; I always find they are much more attractive than the photos. I love the two Wiltshire ones in particular. And your view from the gorse above Caldbeck is magnificent. Thanks for much for sharing.

    Jem Bowden 2 years ago. Reply

    Hi Olga! Thank you for your comment. I hope you’re well.? Glad you prefer the painting to the photos. There’s always the risk it might be the other way round! I think we find the beauty in what appeals to us and somehow bring that out. And watercolour helps things look appealing on its own, of course.
    Hannah and I are now in Scotland, by the way, and very happy to be, too! Been out exploring in incredible wind today, but sun mostly, and seeing so many stunning views that I cannot wait to start painting. Cheers, Jem

John Haywood 2 years ago. Reply

Hi Jem, always a pleasure to read your posts which are characteristically honest about the ups and downs of painting, but also inspiring for the quality of work. There’s many a rich picking in this selection of paintings too! I especially like the Cumbria paintings where you seemed to be at one with your surroundings. I note from one of your other comments that your supply of Raw Umber is a little depleted! I don’t use Raw Umber but I do have a barely used 37ml tube of W&N pro that I’d be delighted to send to you, if you’d like to drop me an email with your new address, I’ll pop it in the post – far better that you make some use of it than have it lying around here!

    Jem Bowden 2 years ago. Reply

    Hi John. Thank you for your comment, much appreciated. And it is very generous of you to offer the paint. Wow, 37ml! That’s incredibly generous of you, John. I will email you. Cheers, Jem

Reed Saunders 2 years ago. Reply

Thanks for this wonderful blog. I really appreciate your technique and eye for composition. Best of luck on your new home and look forward to your painting adventures there.

    Jem Bowden 2 years ago. Reply

    Hi Reed and I appreciate your comment – thanks very much. I hope to be out painting in my new home territory soon!
    All the best, Jem

Ian Barnes 2 years ago. Reply

Some lovely paintings, as always,
there Jem

    Jem Bowden 2 years ago. Reply

    Thanks very much, Ian. Hope you are well. Cheers, Jem

Brian Le Masurier 2 years ago. Reply

Brian Le M
Hi Jem,
Pure magic mate, all of it, I particularly liked the Solway Firth picture, such a delicate touch and softly blending brush strokes. Braughton Gifford was also a cracker, I do like a wee bit of detail to provide a focal point and the buildings provided that in spades.
You are moving to a beautiful part of the world and I can’t wait to see your next blog, you are a little remote for us Southern types and it can be a bit draughty up there but I wish you all the best and look forward to seeing your work. As ever I strive to adopt your style and I do spot, now and again, a stroke or two that I am satisfied with.
All the best in Bonny Scotland.
Brian Le M.

    Jem Bowden 2 years ago. Reply

    Hi Brian,
    Many thanks for your comment. Totally agree with you about the need for a level of detail. The common quest for simplification can easily go too far and miss the point of capturing what’s important and necessary. It isn’t the magic ingrediant (there is no one) that equals ‘capturing atmosphere’ or a successful ‘impression’ that one can be lulled into thinking.
    Yesterday I arrived in the East Neuk. This should be my new home. Today I’ve been out for mighty blustery but sunny coastal walk, and man, it’s stunning beyond words. Can’t wait to paint what I’ve seen! Keep up your own striving – if you get the odd mark you like I reckon that’s good going! And someone else will probably like a lot more of them. All the best, Jem

Paul T. 2 years ago. Reply

Hi Jem – hope you are well. Another very enjoyable blog with some great art work as usual. My favourite has to be the view towards Solway Firth – just wonderful – delicate and light filled, really demonstrating the versatility of your limited palette -maybe I’ll get my W and N raw umber out again. I can’t take my eyes off this picture – some magic happening here I feel. I am also particularly drawn to cows and rhyne west of Yatton. I had never heard of the word rhyne before I heard Steve Hall use it in one of his videos – just googled it to find it is a Somerset/ Gloucestershire term – that would explain it! -Always loved those Seago Norfolk drainage ditches/rhynes pictures.
Good luck with the move to bonny Scotland – Fife looks wonderful and full of artistic promise! Wishing you every happiness for the future.
Paul T.

    Jem Bowden 2 years ago. Reply

    Hi Paul. Thank you for your comment.
    Doing okay here, hope you’re okay too! That painting of the tree was my first of the trip. Some delicate variation of colour and tone amongst the foliage and branches, depending on where there is shadow or direct sun. Uses the raw umber in places and indian red in places for the sunlit branches.
    Places are currently sold out of the W&N Pro Raw Umber, so I’m finding. I might end up needing to use an alternative in a week or two!
    What do they call rhynes over in East Anglia? Is it a dyke? I know that can also mean a bank…. I think you’re the first person I know of who’s liked the Yatton one much, so thanks for that. Thanks for your best wishes too, I might need them. Fife has some really nice coastline which should provide good compositions. Thanks again. All the best, Jem

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