New year, new ideas, videos update, course update and plein airs of course.

Crail from Roome Bay, Christmas eve. Studio painting following a walk that morning.


A bit late for Happy new year.  But here we are again!
A slightly shorter post this time, but plenty to show here and some news.  Time flies and is definitely never ‘spare’.  I’ve done some paintings and some tuition and breathed some fresh air.

For me, getting past the winter solstice is always a good moment. Opportunities to paint outdoors will be getting a bit more frequent now.  Painting outside in winter (in Scotland) leaves just a few decent hours of daylight, and that’s if its not too cloudy.  Recently, it’s mostly been too cold or else windy or wet, though I’ve grabbed a few opportunites, which will follow below.

Locations, wanted!

I’ve got a lot of exploring to do around my new patch, here in Fife, Scotland.  But it occurred to me, I’d be grateful if anyone who knows the Fife area would like to recommend to me particular locations or exact viewpoints, worth visiting to paint.  Edinburgh city, too.  I’ll be going there this year for my first visit ever.  I intend to paint as well as spend much of a day just looking around.
Normally I spend quite a while, in this situation, searching in advance for where I’ll paint, so I’m not wasting valuable time when I get to a place that I don’t know.  That’s using Google Streetview/satelite view/photos.  But if you know of a great, highly paintable spot where I can put down the easel please tell me, always!


Reminder re. competition

Don’t forget (please see my previous blog post for full details) and win a watercolour.  Deadline is end of February. Here’s a link to the demo video:  Studio Watercolour Practise: A backlit landscape


Latest plein airs

At St Monan’s Windmill, November afternoon. Plein air painting, 32 x 52 cm


At St Monans windmill. I may never tire of being here, painting this subject.


House in the trees, Kingsbarns. 32 x 52 cm


Half way stage, muddy feet and covered in tiny spiders….


The long shadows of winter sun. Finished painting in the scene


The Castle Rock and Isle of May, December morning. Plein air painting, 32 x 52cm


Cloud came and went, light changing dramatically, and that low, low sun of winter again.


At Lady’s Tower, January afternoon. Plein air painting, 32 x 52 cm


Half way stage.


Completed painting in the scene. The Lady’s Tower, Elie.

A brief video of the scene (with mysterious sound in the background).

A January one-to-one plein air tuition session. At St Mary’s Quad, in St Andrews.  You could almost see those shadows moving!


Video on demand, and the future of mine:

My videos are at about half their original price, and now may only be available until this March 9th!  MARCH 9TH will be the last date for hire.  Hire period is one week and on 16th of March they will be gone!  BUT ANYONE WHO HAS PURCHASED MY VIDEOS IN THE PAST WILL RETAIN ACCESS TO THEM, so don’t worry about that.
I hope to arrange a new way of selling videos after March, but ‘Vimeo on demand’ as I have been using it has frankly not been profitable for me and is no longer viable.  I have considered Patreon as a way to proceed, but that is no silver bullet.  On the subject of videos, I plan to make a new plein air video featuring some of the classic coastal scenes in my new locality.  I’ll certainly get at least a portion of that filmed this year.  Possibly I’ll be returning to DVD as a way of selling in future.

Also, a reminder that if you’ve purchased (not hired, purchased) one of my videos then you are able not only to stream them online but download them to keep offline.  You should see the option when you’re logged into Vimeo.


‘ASK ME ANYTHING’ type video shorts – an idea:

This is one idea that I’d like your views on, as subscribers to my blog.  I’d be grateful if you would comment below, or email me.
I could make a short video for each blog, appearing actually within the blog posts, to reply to any questions you have.  This may be me demonstrating a particular technique in simple form, for example. Or anything else, in theory.  You would simply use the comments form of my blog to ask me questions or make your request.   Could this be good?   Your feedback, please!


The painting sale within my galleries has ended, though I’m keeping many older works at a far reduced price than recent work, with a few exceptions.


Some recent studio paintings

A snowy field corner, Kingsbarns. Studio painting, 32 x 52cm


At Crail Tidal Pond, Early December Morning. Studio painting, 32 x 52cm


These and the painting right at the top of the post are all Studio paintings.

Very often I can’t ‘create’ beauty in the studio, to my mind.  I don’t even want to attempt it.  I’m not one who magics up beauty.  My role is more as a funnel for an experience of the real world.  I’m happy enough with this role.  In a ‘former life’ I wrote songs, for over 20 years.  In that I played a more directly ‘creative’ role; forming something out of nothing.  I actually don’t seem to need or want that in my life now.    My studio work is almost always done very quickly after being outdoors on a walk, during which I’ve soaked up the atmosphere and become inspired, and taken photographs.  Sometimes I can get in the studio straight away after arriving home and knock something out which seems okay, and doesn’t feel totally vacuous.  There is nothing *wrong* with painting indoors in any sense, it simply isn’t the best way for me.  Not at this point, anyway.  I’m pouring a lot of thought all about this, among many other things, into to my book.  (The book may be released before I’m dead.  Possibly not!)


The Maiden Rock, near St Andrews. ‘Studio edit’.

This painting was a plein air painting done as a demo for a one-to-one student last year.  As with almost all demos, I wasn’t happy with the painting in its own right and so for a change decided to enter into a bit of studio editing; something I very rarely do.  The plein air as completed at the time is below.  As you can see, I’ve added passing cloud shadows over the top of the rock and the foreground sand. Also added a few birds, an additional figure, and reinstated the lost hole in the top of the rock.  Often this kind of tinker/tamper/tweak will makes things worse, not better, hence I don’t do it.  Sometimes, there’s just nothing to lose even if it does make it worse.  That’s how I felt about my painting in relation to the greatness of the subject.  BUT, there IS something to lose, in a different way.  That is, losing the attachment to even a poor painting’s PROCESS. This muddies the purity of the experience it represents. No one else need be concerned about this, and I know I should not be so keen to stay attached to a past experience either…  but I’d rather it be the experience I’m attached to than the painting.
So anyway, from your perspective, have I improved this painting?

The ‘before’ version


Dedham Hall course

Join me!  This April the 8th – 15th.  It’ll come round very quickly.  Full details HERE. 
One of the best parts of the country for great plein air weather in spring.  Often too hot for comfort down there in summer, to me anyway.  Mind you, anything’s possible at any time now, isn’t it?  Make the most of now and let’s go out and paint, come whatever.


Spring trees on the river Stour, near Dedham Hall.  A studio painting.

A short walk from the back door of Dedham Hall across a couple of fields and you arrive at the river Stour.  It is lined with grand old pollarded trees, like the one in this painting.  They should be budding or just coming into leaf around about the week of my course, in a ‘usual’ year.  Catching them before being in full leaf I think shows their fullest character.


Pin Mill boats.  This was a plein air demo painting from my course at Dedham Hall last year.



‘Big Sky Art’ course, June, North Norfolk – GETTING FULL

I’ve been informed that my course for this June is already almost full, and I’m now booked to return to this fantastic place for plein air painting in 2024.  If you’ve been considering joining me this June in Norfolk at the luxurious ‘White House’, please book now. 


Magazine of the International Watercolour Society.



If I’ve ‘peaked’, that’s fine with me.  I gave myself the afternoon off after I saw this cover.  A complete surprise seeing this on Facebook, though I had been invited to contribute to the magazine (two plein air step by steps and a piece about my motivation/relationship with painting).
I’m never sure if anyone’s interested in comments like these, but this made me want to mention a few things:
My ‘ambition’ has always been just to improve.  And ‘improving’ is achievable.  I think I have improved, so I’ve achieved my ambition. But I’ve still got that ambition to achieve, too!  I think this is healthy.  We are all just a part of a process, playing the long game. You can seem to get moments of ‘breakthrough’ in your painting – very occasionally – by putting in the long shift, but I don’t view that so much as I made it happen, but rather ‘it happened’.  Much of everything is outside our control, but all sorts occurs along the path, if you just stay on it.  I rarely enter competitions, and haven’t tried for the big societies (RI, etc) as people often aspire to.  I won’t try to explain it, but I’ve never been convinced that ambition is even a good thing.
Slight tangent, but I have a moral disagreement with some of the ways I’m encouraged to earn my living these days, so haven’t pursued some of the more profitable avenues.  Stupid, is rightly what many people would call me.  I still consider myself fortunate, but people often have an idealised view of earning as an ‘artist’.  I don’t think I’ve mentioned before – because I don’t suppose anyone wants to hear about it – but I do get ripped off sometimes (in a variety of ways) including very recently, which is highly demoralising and makes me reconsider shelf-stacking.  Often due to of our  globalised digital existence, ‘out there’, and partly oweing also to being a teacher.  It is what it is.
So, it is a really helpful relief in fact to occasionally receive acknowledgement – from ‘colleagues’ in ‘the industry’ – in a nice way.   The painting shown on the cover now hangs at Dedham Hall, among some illustrious company, which to me is another honour.
The magazine is digital and 58 pages, featuring in this issue 14 watercolour artists of different styles from all over the world, with each sharing their work and explaining their motivations and methods.  It’s a modest price and can be ordered here:


Thanks as always for your interest or support.  The fact is my ‘career’ looks more tenuous with each passing year.  I could go on strike, but no one would notice.  There’s no pay rise for artists.  If you’ve ever bought a painting, video or taken some tuition with me, I’m grateful.

Next time:  the results of the competition/painting challenge, and the blog will feature each entry.
Still time to email me a jpeg if you’d like to have a go.  Deadline is end of February.

Happy painting til then.



Comments On This Post

Prue Furse-Roberts 10 months ago. Reply

Great paintings Jem, and congratulations for getting on the cover (and the articles inside!) Of International Watercolor Magazine. I have enjoyed reading it in the past so must purchase this edition.
A belated Happy New Year to you too.

    Jem Bowden 10 months ago. Reply

    Thanks Prue! Hope you will have a good year.

Reed Saunders 10 months ago. Reply

Dear Jem, you did a Zoom mentoring session with me two years ago and it dramatically improved my work. Thank you! Like you, I have no interest in competitions, etc. My only goal is to paint joyfully. I try to paint outdoors every day even if for 15 minutes. Your work and approach to your art continues to inspire me. Best of luck.

    Jem Bowden 10 months ago. Reply

    Thanks very much, Reed. I’m very pleased to hear about your painting. Gives me a smile.

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