Getting out, International Watercolour Masters and looking forward

Hi and I hope this finds you well.

I’ve had a busy couple of months, though less with painting-related things than I would have liked.  Time constantly taken too much with obstacles related to a new home/old house (/new life!) and I can see this might be ongoing indefinitely.  Life changes, and more than ever it seems a matter of keeping up just to stand still.  Perhaps it’s the same for you at the moment (can anyone get a plumber or electrician, or is that just my problem??)  Anyway, I know I’m very fortunate still to be earning my living through teaching and selling the odd painting.  And I have been able to get out plein air painting recently a few times.  I’ll start with those:


On the harbour Wall, Crail. Plein air.  (Spot the shag)

A bright sunshiney day, tide coming in close.  Which made me very hasty to get the paint down. Not entirely happy with the composition and I think I needed to simplify some areas more.  The buildings on the right are problematic as they are.  I have a plan now for when I tackle the scene again in future (a bit of artistic licence!)


Maiden’s Rock, St Andrews. Plein air demo during private tuition session.

A fantastic subject, but the result reflects the fact that I was chatting/explaining continually to a student throughout.  Also a lovely day, lots of sunshine, from almost behind us at the beginning which made the board glaringly bright. Passing clouds were the main opportunity to actually see the palette and painting properly in terms of the tones and colours!  But it was a windy day also, and at this spot we were at least sheltered from that.  So lots of plein air learning and experience gleaned!  Please get in touch if you are interested in one-to-one plein air tuition.  I chose to paint the view with cloud shadow over St Andrews in the background and sun over the rock.  I could just as easily have done the reverse, so may do that next time I’m here, as I surely will be.  (Another ploy could have been to throw a cloud shadow over the immediate foreground of sand, as that would have made even clearer the fact that the rock was in full sun, and that it was a ‘scattered cloud’ kind of day.)


Towards Crail from Sauchope. Plein air.

For this one I had to paint the light effect from memory.  That’s because it disappeared as I was setting up the easel and the sun didn’t reappear at any point thereafter.  The effect was the whole point – the thing that attracted me to the composition, so in the end I was fairly happy with the result, considering.  But I should have picked out more of a focal point within the background.

I’ve had a few other plein air ventures, but rather failed/foiled by weather, tide and simply the challenges of my new coastal subjects.  Always, only a percentage of paintings come off at all well, but you’ve got to do the ones that don’t come off in order to get the ones that do!


Dedham Hall course

My first ever course at Dedham Hall, in April, was really enjoyable.  I think everyone learned a lot and there was plenty of laughter in the dining room each night.  Jim and Wendy made it such a welcoming experience for me and the guests.  I love the place; it is a rural idyll.   The weather was mostly very good, with lots of sun, so great for plein air painting.  Below are a few photos, though I didn’t think to take very many this time.
I’m very pleased to say that I’m booked here again next year.  I’ve managed to get what I consider the perfect time for this area which has a lot of paintable trees.  Just as they are budding up/coming into leaf, while the trees look so good and before many views are obscured by full foliage!  (Also before it gets too hot in summer to paint watercolour very easily.)  Please consider joining me here next Spring.  Info on my Residential Courses/Painting holidays page.


Boats at Pin Mill. Plein air demo painting from my April Dedham Hall course.


Viewfinding the viewfinding artist, at Harwich Low Lighthouse


Another one of my demos, in the grounds of Dedham Hall where there are great subjects just outside the studio, such as these weathered outbuildings.


Some students painting around the pond at Dedham Hall.  (An inviting subject, but don’t forget the marvellous trees behind you!)


Some of the wonderful old willows on the river Stour, a brief walk from Dedham Hall.


Big Sky Art course, North Norfolk

I’m now looking forward to my course this June with ‘Big Sky Art‘ along the Norfolk coast, which is fully booked.
I consider myself so lucky to be teaching at what I think must surely be the best two bases for painting courses in the UK.  My course here for 2023 has now been confirmed also, again in June (18th – 23rd – Full info again here) As with Dedham Hall, I’m delighted to have established a recurring slot here for this exact time of year, perfect for this area in my view.  Fewer trees at these locations, more boats and water!  And for avid but somewhat nervous plein air painters, we avoid the busiest (school holiday) times.


International Watercolour Masters exhibition/event

I attended this event/exhibition which I had a painting in.  The event at Lilleshall in Shropshire was superb.  Not only the best global exhibition of watercolours that I’ve personally ever seen, but many workshops and demonstrations by some of the most highly regarded watercolourists on the planet.  I was one of six winners of the open competition to exhibit, amongst the other, invited artists.  It was a pleasure to meet a lot of nice people and a privelege to be involved.  I’ve not tried to enter any of these international competitions/events before, and it’s great to discover that most watercolour artists are both humble and very friendly.  This is what really made the event so enjoyable and memorable.
I was also one of two of the competition winners who were invited to give a demonstration.
Streamed live on SAA TV and simultaneously on Youtube, as well as in front of a live audience, this was as nervous as I’ve been giving a demonstration.  We had just 55 minutes total, which is not a lot!  Some artists did a section of a painting they’d already started, or didn’t talk at all.  Perhaps I should have considered this!  I did my usual half-imperial size painting (of a scene at Walberswick) from start to finish, with full commentary – the idea being as with all my demos, that it is informative and hopefully even somewhat entertaining.  Demos are always pretty nervewracking – for most artists – and always make me wish I painted in one of the opaque mediums, or at least not with such a high-risk, ‘one chance’ method of watercolour.  As I started drawing out the composition I realised that my hand was shaking quite uncontrollably, which seriously didn’t help!  I watched the demo by Alvaro Castagnet, and even he made more than one mention during his demo along the lines of ‘you must appreciate how hard this is’ and ‘this is just a demo, you know, you can’t expect a great painting’, and even ‘you should try this if you think its easy!’  That was a bit of a surprise but reassuring.
A couple pics below of my demo, courtesy of Cesc Farre.  Check out Cesc’s work, by the way.  I don’t know of a watercolourist who paints the sea/water better than him.  A few other pics also, showing the exhibition and event.  I don’t tend to take many photos at things like this, preferring to just be present at the time.  But anyway, these hopefully give you a flavour of the event.  Let’s hope this major feat of organisation will happen again in future years, as its a great thing for the UK (often regarded globally as the ‘home’ of watercolour) to be hosting such a thing.
ALL DEMOS from the event are currently (at time of writing) FREE to watch on Youtube, at this link:
I recommend the demo by Eudes Correia.  He paints in a highly controlled and calm way, but still embracing aspects of ‘random’.  He doesn’t say much, but worth watching the video especially as he gets going, if you want to see ‘masterful’ control of the medium.  Be quick though, as I think these soon these will be taken off Youtube to remain available to SAA members exclusively.


My exhibition painting (which very happily sold) is far-left. A pretty good spot, hey? – sharing a wall with the work of a certain Alvaro.  Thanks very much, organisers!  I only heard one comment about my painting, the whole time.  A short while after arriving, I came across it (actually had forgotten I had a painting in the exhibition until I saw it!).  There was a couple looking at the piece as I got there.  He said to her “Well, I don’t know what that’s doing here. No, don’t think much to that one at all”.  Well, I do agree with him.  I left that arrival afternoon (after a 7-plus hour drive from Scotland) feeling somewhat as per expectations; events/exhibitions/schmoozy ‘art’ things in general = really not for me.  And I’m no good.  What a fraud.  Nature/being out there in it/painting it = my rightful place.  Thankfully, that evening in my hotel I got a text from the lovely Mr Joe Dowden to meet him down in the bar with a few people.  That evening and the next day were better.  Thank you, Joe.



Post-demo relief! (Thanks Cesc Farre for the demo photos)

As full a house as I would have wanted! I was on the first demo slot of the day at 11am, but already a lot of people in attendance.


One of my favourite pieces from the exhibition; a pure watercolour (no gouache, but I think definite masking out employed) of green foliage, by artist Abe Toshiyuki.  My painting was in the minority in terms of being ‘impressionistic’.  Also, I’m not aware of any of the other paintings being done entirely plein air, with a lot of them very highly detailed, quite often ‘realist’ in nature, carefully and flawlessly executed.  There was a real range of style though, including a mix of abstract and all sorts. Overall it really displayed the huge, almost limitless breadth of what watercolour can do as a medium.


Another demonstrator, Ali Abbas Syedd. He sold his demo for £300! I’d have let mine go for £50, if anyone had asked! Fair enough though as it was a pretty impressive painting, although he did paint in almost silence and for over an hour.  Maybe that’s the way to do it.


Some ideas in pipeline


I have been considering a Patreon account.  I’ve looked into this at some length, but Patreon doesn’t work out well for a lot of people and is a major investment of time and work.  Any thoughts on this (but especially such as if you’d consider supporting me, and what you’d like me to do), I’d be really grateful if you’d let me know.

Correspondence course
I’ve mentioned this in a previous blog but I’m probably not going to advertise this again.  If you’re interested in learning from me and think it might be for you, please enquire.   Each student I take on via this course I view as a substantial investment of my time and energy, so I’m leaving this for people who, after good consideration, really think that I am the person to help them develop their work.  The course includes six one-to-one critique & advice sessions of 30 minute duration, via Zoom, and is based around a book-sized course text, with set assignments.  It covers basics to advanced aspects of learning watercolour and is aimed at those who are fairly new to the medium but serious about making progress.

Upcoming things

It’s been difficult to plan in recent times.  Later this year I will be exhibiting eight paintings at the Pittenweem Art Festival, in a gallery space, which will be the first time I’ve done that in years.  Reason being it is often barely worthwhile as a watercolourist, in my experience at least.  But that’ll be nice, and interesting to see what happens.

I’m booked to teach a whole term at a local art group here in the East Neuk in Autumn.  I’m looking for more ‘local’ type roles in future, as I believe we should be (and will need to be) based more locally in general as the future unfolds.  I’ve also taken on a community job, part-time in a non-art capacity.

My book.  I’ve been considering a ‘crowdfunding’ type thing as a way to allow me to produce this.  I need dedicated time to do the job of completing it well.  I’ve stalled so many times, for many reasons, but chief among them is that I don’t think the world needs the book.  I’m all for what the world needs, not spending time and effort on a pointless exercise in self-indulgence, which is truly NOT what the world needs more of.  Then again, actually it’s not self-indulgence as I don’t enjoy it much and it’s a lot of work!  I know, inconsistencies and contradictions.  I believe my book would contain content that is not ‘standard’ in the field, but basically as usual I lack the belief that seems to propel most successful people to get such things done.

The Isle of May

Finally, something a bit different and a few pics I hope you might just enjoy, of our nearby very special nature reserve.
We had a jolly bumpy ride out here (a fun/’swell’ time) and it was an absolute joy to enter as an outsider into ‘bird world’.  In Autumn it’s also a major seal breeding colony (as featured on BBC Autumnwatch) but in Spring it has the world’s largest Puffin colony, of 90 thousand pairs.  As well as huge numbers of other birds.  When approaching the island, and on it, you are surrounded entirely and continually by amazing fly-pasts of whirring puffins, arctic terns, razorbills, guillemots, Kittiwakes and more.  It felt a huge privelege and I’m glad to say it seems they don’t mind the people at all, apart from the protectively dive-bombing terns – but they are used to people visiting here for a century at least.  The landscape is also terrific, and of course I hope one day to paint here.  A few shots from my cheap camera then, though they don’t do it justice and the birds barely show up:






Okay, all for now.  Thank you for your continued interest in my work; I really do appreciate it.

All the best til next time








Comments On This Post

Joanne hendsbee 2 years ago. Reply

I always enjoy your blog posts Jem! Love to see your paintings which are wonderful…and the bonus is seeing the landscape from the comfort of my home! Even though I’d love to go back to Europe.,.there is always a place for you here if you ever want to come across the pond and paint! Thanks joanne

    Jem Bowden 2 years ago. Reply

    Hi Joanne. Thank you for your message, which is much appreciated. That is something I will try to remember – re. your very kind offer! One day, who knows. I’d love to be able to paint over there, but currently I’m not in favour of travelling by plane, and am aiming to cut down the travel I do even within the UK, though I don’t do very much now compared to many people. But it’s good that we can bring other parts of the world to each other by painting and photography. Thanks again.

Joe Griffin 2 years ago. Reply

Another great blog, thanks. I thought your demo at the IWWM was brilliant and I didn’t notice yoru hand shaking except when you mentioned it. As a former university lecturer I can tell you that my nerves never went away even after 30 years of teaching! But it does get less of a problem the more you do it.
Regarding your various ideas for the future I think something like Patreon is a good way but it does really mean a lot of commitment. But I also see Patreon as a way of supporting artists and don’t necessarily expect anything like a demo each month. Your blog here, for example, would be good enough for me and I’d happily support you for just that type of content with the ocassional 10 to 15 minute painting demo. maybe this would also help you to start regularly writing and the output could go towards your book? And as was mentioned above Tim Wilmott is on Patreon but also has a monthly demo on another platform where he teaches. Last time just over 100 people at $7 each (an American platform hence the $). So a regular thing would be great from my perspective. Even a fully demo once every few months and suporters pay as they go? Also I have to say that having just completed your corrrespondence course it is something I would highly recommend. But only to those who are serious about completing such a course. It has so much in it, certainly a full year or more of a degree course in terms of content. And I learned so much. I still go back to the notes to recpat on what was covered as there is so much there. Soo five stars from me for that course. Sooy for being so long winded!

    Jem Bowden 2 years ago. Reply

    Thanks, Joe.
    I’ve done a lot of demos over about a decade now, and I did notice it feeling easier after the first few, but since then it’s always about the same. This time was a bit worse, though I think caffeine also may have played a part! Was a pretty big occasion and of course I’m very aware that it’s going onto ytube and the SAA get to keep it permanently. People I think don’t really tend to appreciate just how easily I can produce a really rubbish sky (it has happened to me plenty of times and including the odd demo in front of many people) – and indeed the rest of the painting. Anyway, got away with it again this time, at least passably.
    Thanks for your input re. Patreon. I guess I’m just not going to know until I try it whether the take up will make it worthwhile. Tim W is very knowledgable when it comes to tech platforms, but there’s so much to look into and to need to learn about…… If I go for it with Patreon it would probably be from Autumn or winter time now as I’ve got too much on until at least that time. I really appreciate your feedback, but wonder how many people would be of a similar mind about paying something to me for the blog and brief demos. I have other ideas too, but it’s all a lot of work that needs keeping up constantly.
    My videos are making me no profit now, though, because the hosting fees with Vimeo are too much, so I’m thinking about other options like this.
    Thanks also for the comment re the correspondence course. 5 stars is not bad! Glad you feel it didn’t leave you short. Cheers

Reed Saunders 2 years ago. Reply

Thanks so much for a wonderful newsletter. I thought your demo was outstanding and your work is a source of inspiration and hope for where I want to go. Keep up the good work.

    Jem Bowden 2 years ago. Reply

    Thanks very much, Reed. That’s very reassuring and much appreciated. And you keep up the good work! Cheers

Olga 2 years ago. Reply

I love the paintings of the Fife coast, particularly Crail. How wonderful to have that on your doorstep. I much prefer your work to that of your favourite at the exhibition, ha ha! Some day I’d like to come to Dedham Hall or take a correspondence course but am about to move to Inverness – new painting possibilities! So will have to settle in first. Lucky Fife people to have you take a regular class.

    Jem Bowden 2 years ago. Reply

    Thanks very much, Olga. Yes, I’m grateful to have this coastline on the doorstep as you say. Good luck with your own relocation, then. I hope it goes more smoothly than our did! Nice to have new painting options. Keep in touch and yes, hope to see you again one day. cheers

Patricia Wafer 2 years ago. Reply

Beautiful scenery and paintings, Jem! The demos are as wonderful as the rest. Hope you have a great summer and look forward to seeing more of your work. Always inspiring. Pat Wafer, Madison, Wisconsin

    Jem Bowden 2 years ago. Reply

    Thank you, Patricia. I’ve now got to produce a lot of new paintings for the exhibition from all the beautiful scenery around here, and ideally not sell any of my remaining (good) recent local ones. Hope you have a good summer yourself. Thanks very much for the encouragement, which I always appreciate.

Debbie Scott 2 years ago. Reply


    Jem Bowden 2 years ago. Reply

    Thank you, Debbie. Very glad you’ve got my back. Someone bought the painting, too, so perhaps just bad timing of mine to arrive when a photorealist fan was passing? You can’t please everyone anyway!

Julian 2 years ago. Reply

Really like the paintings you posted Jem. Overall results are pleasing to my eye, but only you as the artist know if your intent was captured on the paper. I will be checking your demo, thanks for the link. You asked about patreon. You have to post a lot of content on patreon every month, it’s time-consuming. Don’t think the financial reward is worth the effort. Maybe check with Tim Wilmot, he has a patreon-like site. You seem super busy already from what you said. Anyway, just my two-cents. Wishing you best of luck in all your endeavors.
Cheers, Julian

    Jem Bowden 2 years ago. Reply

    Thanks very much, Julian. It’s so rare that the result matches my hopes, but it’s interesting this capturing intent/vision thing. People often say that you need a clear idea before you begin, but I think it’s just as true to say that a painting should be an adventure, with unknown turns (etc), because if its a foregone conclusion in some sense then what’s the point? Well, maybe it’s a bit of both, perhaps. Thanks for the thought on patreon. As I’ve heard quite a lot. I know about Tim’s Patreon, though haven’t spoken to him about it. He does have many, many ytube followers but not all that many Patreon patrons, if I recall correctly. Perhaps a good example of how it goes. I think you’re right that you need to do a lot of work for the patrons on a regular basis. I am busy enough, but could be busier making income! Thanks again.

Karl Pitwon 2 years ago. Reply

The Harbour wall Crail ……… an excellent watercolour , first class

    Jem Bowden 2 years ago. Reply

    Thanks very much, Karl!

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