A sense of (a new) place, *Colour* lowdown and upcoming ventures

Friends, hello! 
I hope this long-delayed blog may come as a welcome distraction, from more important things.  It has been months, again, since I last blogged, so there’s quite a lot here. 
I hope you are well, or ‘bearing up’ under life’s pressures, anxieties and the practical difficulties of the times.  I think it helps to remember that we are at least not alone with these issues.  In this blog I have paintings to show, of the new landscape in my life, and some upcoming ventures to mention which I hope may be of interest.  I also share some of my strategy on the topic of Colour (ever popular subject!).  So, here’s some distraction…

Salt Lake beach, near Boarhills, Fife.  A wild beach with a lone, derelict cottage that makes a great subject or focal point. I look forward to returning to make more of it, plein air.  This was a studio painting after a long coastal walk to this fairly remote location.  My first studio painting in our new house with my ‘studio’ space mostly still a pile of unpacked boxes.


I now live (or ‘stay’, as they say round these parts) in ‘the East Neuk of Fife’, Scotland.
Getting here really has been difficult!  In all honesty one of the most testing periods of my life, hence no recent blog, amongst the many other things that need attending to.  But I have had chances to begin exploring the landscape and nature around my new base, which is what it’s all been about.  To me the notion of ‘home’ seems not to be linked to place, but rather to a feeling, of being at ease.  I know many of us experience this most when out in nature, connecting to those bigger things that we are just a tiny part of.

Anstruther, The Dreel halls and cottages from the beach.

This was my first actual painting done in Scotland.  Hannah and I were staying in the village/’toun’ of Anstruther.  We ended up living ‘out of suitcases’ for months.  The first opportunity I got to paint out was literally a bit late in the day, so the sun disappeared below the buildings when I was only half way through this very speedy capture.  But I felt really desperate to paint. Was inspired by this new place and that lovely sea air.  I had to just get out and see what happened. Who cares!


Sun almost down after just drawing out in pencil.  Late September.  The beach to myself!  Actually, it’s often almost that.


Although we are only beginning to get our bearings in many ways, I have pretty much trodden the coast path of the East Neuk now and know the layout of all the villages along it, taking as always far too many photos along the way.  There are so many paint-worthy picturesque or totally wild spots, with inspiration from nature, history, sea air…  And all the evocative bird calls.  I find it an inspiring atmosphere.  And full of new painting challenges, particularly in conveying the sea itself. 
Inland this area is pretty intensively farmed, and I think I will miss the numbers of old trees that I was used to in the west country (though I’ve been noting ones here to return to).  But in terms of the landscape it was the coast that we wanted to come here for,  and despite the comparatively low number of trees and hedgerows there is still more birdlife here, which certainly helped us decide to make the move.
This was the next painting I did:

Crail harbour from the beach

Crail is now somehow my home village.
I was lucky one October morning to have a still, sunny and warm couple of hours when I arrived here and it was idyllic.  The painting is left slightly unfinished, as the tide came in and was at my feet.  I am resisting putting the ever-present coastal birds into all these paintings.  IF a painting can work without them then I like to try not to rely on them – for atmosphere, compositional assistance and other things they can add.  You can waste birds, you know.  But they’ll definitely be in some!  In fact I hope to paint pictures that are of and about them.  Anyway, on this particular morning I think they may have all taken some time out to sunbathe.

Nearly wet feet! And everything else.

And here are a couple of shots from up at the harbour.  So many good compositions here, and come Spring I’ll definitely be getting down here again with the easel.  The only question is, where to put it first time?

Crail harbour.

Next time

Before we go further a brief mention of things I’ll discuss next time:


  1. Price reductions!  Look out for a bargain – Check the prices in my galleries, as these are gradually being reduced in the case of older paintings to LESS THAN HALF PRICE, and P&P is still included in the price.
  2. My ‘virtual plein air’ Zoom demonstration/talk for art groups and new presentations with the titles   ‘Composition’ and ‘What Matters Most?’
  3. One-to-one and small group Plein Air tuition
  4. Workshops at Sandpiper Studio in March and Dedham Hall course in April.
  5. International Watercolour Masters Exhibition in May.  I am now booked to demonstrate at this fantastic global watercolour event (including being televised on the SAA’s TV channel), at 11am on Tuesday 24th of MayAll of the above are booking now.

Trees near Anstruther, cold wet day

Back to recent paintings, and this one features a family of three trees from a busy road verge just inland from where we were staying at an airbnb.  (I am reminded of the very kind owners of School House airbnb who put up with us for so long!) 
There are some great characters (trees) around the area, even though they are a bit few and far between.  These ones I will revisit, particularly since I later discovered a better angle from which to show off their personalities.  This was a dull and cold day, before and after rain, but I had to get out there.

Actually a very busy section of road. Obviously I waited until there was no car before taking a photo!


The Castle, Kilminning

Only just about out of the distance of the splashing surf. I love painting on such a spot.

Just up the coast from Crail, this big rock named ‘The Castle’ might be one of my new muses.
I want to be able to paint sea well, and rocks, etc.  Then there’s the sky as ever, and for me these should equal the kind of scene I want to evoke.  But I do feel in uncharted territory currently.  It is not a bad feeling at all though. We need new challenges, and ones that inspire us.  The water, like the sky, is alive.  It moves and needs us to create our ‘impression’ or interpretation of that key aspect of its nature.  How to do that my own way?  Well, I look forward to that gradual process of discovery.  This is being a painter.  I was full of a feeling here of not being bothered about the outcome, which is to me how it should always be.  It may not look experimental to others, but in some ways in terms of my approach it was.  

Elie lighthouse

Sun low even when I started this one.  Mostly this went okay – and not an easy one – but I didn’t like the result.

I’ve been out a few times which I’ll not show the results of, and this one I am hesitant in showing.  The subject is a tempting one, especially with the wonderful setting sun and clouds, but this result is just a bit of a cliche. It’s a fine line, so I’ll try again one day.  

At Elie beach.  A beautiful day, but you can’t see the wind. I could hardly stand up straight, never mind paint well!


Pittenweem, ‘House on the rock’, tide out.  Plein air demo painting for a student

This one was done as a demo during a morning one-to-one plein air session with a new local student.  I never have high expectations for my paintings in such a situation.  It’s always about the learning/teaching, and in demonstrations I’ll usually do certain things to make a learning point, often deliberately exaggerating or doing some things I’d actually never quite do in the specific context.  But I was quite happy with this result – a nice surprise.  Again, we just about finished as the tide was at our boots but this is another great spot to enjoy a bit of plein air action, don’t you think?  Pittenweem (love that name!) is another of the picturesque historic fishing villages of the East Neuk. Its harbour has some interesting architecture and more working boats than most of the other villages.
This spot is also great when the tide is in, with the buildings reflected in the water.  Or contrastingly, on a stormy high tide those exposed fisherman’s cottages (some now holiday cottages) are right up and personal with the crashing sea (hint: great atmospheric place to stay when you come to visit to do some painting tuition with me!! 😉 )

Student working alongside me. Plein air one-to-one tuition – I love it.  Tide fast approaching again.  Nothing like a deadline!

A note on the weather

This was late October, and who said the weather was cold and horrible in Scotland?   This area has its own micro-climate. One of the sunniest parts of Scotland, it has less rainfall than Bristol (my old home city, in England’s southwest) by quite a margin.  A couple of other Met Office facts, it’s on average about 1 degree colder in winter and 2 degrees colder in summer than Bristol.  The latter of which I’m very glad of!  Half hour less daylight in the morning and in the evening (at dates of extremity) in winter, and the opposite (longer days) in summer.  So, if anything a little bit more chance for a plein air painter during summer days.

The Ladies Tower, Elie.

A spot just off the coastal path. The rocks along here are great, along with the obvious focal point. I could have put the easel down anywhere in a 150 metre stretch and been just as happy with the view.

Another special location just a twenty minute drive, this was in November, and so the sun by now doesn’t get very high.  Barely a breeze.  I’ve been here a few times just walking, enjoying the sea birds and atmosphere of the rocky and sandy inlets around this headland.  One time I was down on a beach and there was a bagpiper somewhere nearby, playing into the air.  And there was a wedding ceremony at the Ladies Tower by the look of it.

The whole area around this scene is perfect as a teaching location for a painting holiday/course.  The lighthouse, a few different beaches and Elie itself are all just a brief walk away.  An East Neuk painting holiday is something I’m planning for the future, once I know well enough the very best spots for each tide and sun/shade scenario (and parking, toilets, lunch venue…etc!).   I will need a year at least of painting experience around here before that.

Kilconquar church from the edge of the nature reserve, December


Candid camera (sorry if this is a bit unnecessary).  Note how the brush helps lead the eye around the composition. But maybe there’s more than one lesson here!

One of many paintable churches of the area, perched up like an icon above the village of Kilconquar (pronounced  “Kinnuker”, so I’m told).  A cold day in mid December.  Twice as I was painting this, passing van drivers stopped to express a positive word out of their windows, which was nice.   A necessarily fast so pretty rough painting, but I enjoyed it.  There was a big flock of crows (or maybe ‘parliament of rooks’) passing over at one point, which fitted with the composition quite well (in this case I DID feel they would help, slightly!).  Light was mostly pretty dull, but I took inspiration when a deep cloud shadow fell over the tower.  I know I’ll be back here again.


Trees on Cadbury hillfort.  A studio painting.

Trees at Cadbury hillfort, North Somerset.  A studio piece, from photos taken on a plein air visit last Spring. (The plein air painting from that day features in the article at the bottom of this post. Same pine tree, different direction.)

And the last painting for now, a recent Zoom demo for an art society…

Recent Zoom demo of a farmland scene.


Zoom tuition: Thank you for bearing with me while I was without a studio during my long move to Scotland.  With our possessions (including my web cam) now back out of storage this has now resumed.  Please get in touch if you are interested in learning with me, one-to-one, in this way.

Okay, I’d better wrap it up here.
Thank you
for your continued support. I hope we can connect in some form again this year, and wherever safely possible, in person.  Wouldn’t that be nice?  A bit late for ‘Happy New Year’ maybe, but here’s hoping it’s a better one!

I’ll leave you, see base of this post, with one of my recent magazine articles (thank you to the Society for All Artist’s ‘Paint’ magazine) on the subject of colour.  People ask me about colour perhaps more than anything else.  This article contains some fundamental points.  I also contributed (along with a few other landscape artists) to a blog on the subject of colour for Jackson’s Art.  I think this complements the other article well, covering some different points.  You’ll find that one at this link:
https://www.jacksonsart.com/blog/2020/07/02/which-colours-are-on-your-palette-five-watercolour-landscape-painters-respond/  My article here is the third of the five artists featured, so if you scroll down a bit you’ll find it. 

I hope these may be of interest.

Til next time, wishing you all the best,


PS: Have you seen that ‘Watercolour Challenge’ is back, on Channel 5?  My old palette and a Black Sheep brush had a few moments in the sun a couple of weeks ago, when a former student of mine was on the programme.  (You did really well, Ash!)

(Article on Colour below; if you right-click each image and ‘save image as’ then once downloaded the images are high-res enough to be read when you zoom into them.)


I am now available to give demonstrations, workshops or talks at art groups in Scotland (in person) and potentially the north of England.  Where viable I will travel.  And of course demos are possible ‘worldwide’ via Zoom. 
I do intend to continue running annual painting holidays and some other workshops in England, including the ones I have coming up this year (click here for details).

All my paintings are for sale and all are approx 31 x 51 cm image size. Original watercolours only; I don’t sell prints.  The new paintings in this and my previous blog have now been added to my Gallery pages where they can be purchased directly, but  Please get in touch if you would like to enquire about a painting or tuition of any kind.


Comments On This Post

Julian 2 years ago. Reply

Hi Jem, wonderful batch of new paintings. Full of atmosphere as you have a great talent to capture that in all your work. Nice too see some people scattered about in a few of those paintings. I think the term is “incidental figures” (haha). Stay warm, probably gets a wee cold up north there. Take care!

    Jem Bowden 2 years ago. Reply

    Hi Julian
    Thanks very much for your comment. It’s interesting about the figures. I generally don’t think about them much.
    If there are people in a scene when it’s time to put them in then I’ll put them in, I think. Often there aren’t many, or any.
    Sometimes I do it more consciously though, such as if the painting really needs a bit of help, especially in terms of scale or focal interest.
    Cheers, Jem

Brian Ahern 2 years ago. Reply

Lovely paintings, Jem. They seem much fresher and more cheerful than the south-west….or perhaps the move has given you renewed inspiration.

    Jem Bowden 2 years ago. Reply

    Hi Brian, Hope you’re well and thanks very much for your comment.
    It’s interesting – a few people have said that. I can’t see it objectively of course, but it is true that I do have renewed inspiration from the new subjects here. I’ve been looking forward to it for years! Needed it. Here’s hoping it lasts!! Cheers, Jem

Mike Porter 2 years ago. Reply

Wow! What a collection of great work. Jem, your new home suits you. Your paintings exude freshness, boldness, and excitement. Happy for you.

    Jem Bowden 2 years ago. Reply

    Cheers, Mike! Thanks very much. I hope your exhibition has been enjoyable!

Tony and Ann Faris 2 years ago. Reply

Hi Jem,

Others have said it better than I can, but I can really sense your new enthusiasm for your subject matter. Ann and I will be interested to hear about your painting courses. She is always trying to get me to Scotland and you are within a reasonable distance of her daughter and family in Aberdeen. Neither of us have painted since our move in October as there has been much to do. It’s never far from our minds though and we are always on the lookout for subject matter nearby. Best wishes and hope to see you in the future.

    Jem Bowden 2 years ago. Reply

    Hi Tony, Hope you are well. Thanks for your comment and it would be great to see you if you could come up for a course.
    Hope you manage to get back to your painting soon, but I can totally appreciate how moving house means there are many other things that easily occupy time! We are in exactly that situation ourselves. Can’t even get a lot of things done, given Covid, backlogs, supply chain issues, etc etc… Best of luck with your, cheers, Jem

Patricia Wafer 2 years ago. Reply

Hi, Jem – Many thanks for your thoughtful response to the previous email I sent re: wishing to see “more” color in your paintings. I know I was more than a bit impertinent with my suggestion about color and your reply was generous and I totally agreed with it. I am retired and paint just for my own pleasure and education and but I have several friends who earn their living painting so your comments about being mindful of your audience and collectors I can well appreciate. And I realize I need to LIMIT my colors much more than I tend to do esp when I paint with pastels. They are so beautiful in themselves and it is easy to grab for one just because it is pretty but that does not help the painting more often than not. I read the article you included in this post which was excellent as well as the Jackson’s blog you mention which also was very interesting. What you say about not trying to match the colors you are actually seeing but using ones that are best for that particular painting AND being mindful of how the colors are relating to one another on the paper is so important and I will try to keep that uppermost in my mind when painting indoors or out. Thank you again for sharing your work and ideas on your blog.
I have not moved house since 1985 but did several times prior to that and it always seemed to me to take a whole year to start to feel really at home in the new place. It is a major upheaval in one’s life but it sounds like you are over the worst of it! And what fabulous scenery you will have to work from. I have been to Ireland many years ago but not Scotland (yet). My favorite radio program is Iain Anderson’s show on BBC Radio Scotland on Sunday and Monday nights. The shows are archived for weeks so you can listen anytime. If you don’t know that one yet do tune in. GREAT music and a wonderful host. On Sunday nights there is also a poem! I have sent in a couple (not my own!) that he read on air. Your paintings are absolutely wonderful. My favorite thing about them is the way you paint the light. I am taking your comments about color to heart and will work on that aspect of my paintings and esp my plein air paintings. I am working with a teacher at present who is always reminding his students that color is RELATIVE to the other colors in the painting. Best wishes and again thank you for taking my comments seriously and sending a thoughtful reply. I know you are VERY busy so do not worry about replying to this one. Pat Wafer, Madison, Wisconsin – PS (Loved the flock of crows which I think is referred to as a murder of crows but that is a bit creepy. I like crows a lot and do not think of them as malicious.)

    Jem Bowden 2 years ago. Reply

    Hi Pat, Thank you for your comment.
    I will check out Iain Anderson’s programme, I agree about the crows, and I appreciate your thoughts.
    Yes the effects of colour are about relativity, relationships, context. But ALL aspects of painting are likewise.
    For example, shapes, edges, tones, texture, size of mark, even ATTITUDE of approach. Light only exists because of dark, a cool green is only cool in relation to warmer colours, including perhaps warmER greens. A small mark is only small by comparison with a bigger mark. One soft edge will only stand out if there are harder edges in relation to it. All create their effect only BECAUSE of the relativity of each to not only the whole, but to all the interdependent parts that make up the whole. I think the ‘living ecosystem’ is a good analogy, everything affects everything else. Everything has an effect, everything matters. Cheers and all the best, Jem

Reed Saunders 2 years ago. Reply

Any painter who fights an incoming tide to complete a plein air study is a true inspiration. Don’t get swept away while being swept away by your beautiful new surroundings

    Jem Bowden 2 years ago. Reply

    Hi Reed! Thanks very much for your kind comment!
    In fact as you suggest I do need to be a bit careful, as it has been quite a close call more than once already. When you’re in that zone, it does indeed creep up on you as if out of nowhere. I don’t want to be bothering the lifeboat team!
    Cheers, Jem

M. Brown 2 years ago. Reply

I feel an exuberant new life in your palette and looseness in these new Scottish paintings. I like your warmer colors often in addition to the neutrals you favor. This blog is an inspirational discovery for me both for your many paintings but also your descriptive and poetic prose. I hope your book follows suit. Thank you for being so generous in sharing it all. I think your new homeland suits you very well. Your coastal scenes of water, rock and cottages are exceptionally well done. I feel the wind and mist through them. Very much alive. I thought the photo of you with brush in mouth was serendipity. Brush an iconic bagpipe!
I look forward now to your new discoveries. My heritage is Scottish and I feel I’m touching some roots there through your artwork and prose. My best wishes for your new path taken. MB

    Jem Bowden 2 years ago. Reply

    Dear M,
    What an incredible comment to receive. How kind of you. Thank you.
    I am working on the book. You have encouraged me. And actually, I need it. I look forward to sharing more of this landscape with you. Thanks again.

Ray Smith 2 years ago. Reply

Fab Blog Jem,
So pleased for it’s return.

    Jem Bowden 2 years ago. Reply

    Hi Ray, Hope you’re staying sane and are well. Thank you for your comment, much appreciated. Cheers, Jem

john 2 years ago. Reply

Hi Jem,

Great painting and great shots thank for all the magic.
I hope to get back into the swing of watercolour after looking at your paintings.
They are very inspiring.

    Jem Bowden 2 years ago. Reply

    Hi John, Thanks you for your comment. I’m very glad you enjoyed the blog and all the best for your own painting! Jem

Wendy Griffin 2 years ago. Reply

What a lovely read with your brilliant paintings too. It sounds like you’re on a great adventure with all those stunning places to paint. I find that the sea is an exciting subject to paint, with plenty of opportunity to experiment and let loose! Enjoy! All the best, Wendy

    Jem Bowden 2 years ago. Reply

    Hi Wendy, Very nice to hear from you. Thank you for your kind comment. Well, I hope our adventure gets a bit easier than the nightmare of actually moving here!! I think we just about passed the initiation! But seriously you are right of course about the places to paint and like you I am excited by the sea as a subject. I’ve long wished I had better access to it, rather than just an annual holiday if I was lucky. So good just to not have to sit in a traffic jam just to get out of the city, in fact! I will indeed try to let loose whenever I can. Cheers, Jem

Olga Hammock 2 years ago. Reply

These are wonderful, as always, Jem. I’m so glad you manged to make the move to what I think is such a pretty part of the UK. I walked the Fife coastal pathsome years ago. I hope they make you feel at home there! I particularly like the House on the Rock in Pittenweem, Crail Harbour and the Elie Lighthouse. You inspire me to come back! Many thanks.

    Jem Bowden 2 years ago. Reply

    Thank you Olga.
    Yep, it sure is pretty. Like where you live too. I hope I can get to visit the west coast before too long.
    So far the people we’ve met have been very friendly, thankfully! Being Covid time it’s not been great in terms of being able to meet people though. Let’s hope that situation might be improving! I guess the warmer weather will help, when it gets here. I hope all is well for you. Take care, Jem

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