Spring 2023 – at long last! (lots of pics already though)

St Monans and the old kirk in the evening light.  I’ve waited for months to get to this spot, in this direction of light, with a high tide.  The final piece of the puzzle also fell into place, being a fairly interesting sky giving me some inspiration to work with on that front too.  This scene is so exacting; a lot of drawing to get right with issues of perspective literally ‘from all angles’ – in not only the buildings but the waves, bank and clouds.  There are bits of the tidal walls in this that might look as if I’ve NOT got the perspective right, but I promise that’s the angles of the wall in reality.   I was fairly pleased with this one, which was much needed after doing three or four previous plein airs that really had not gone to my liking.  This church has the claim of being the ‘closest to the sea’ of any church in Scotland.  It makes a really great subject I think, from various vantage points.   In the distance on the right here you can see St Monans windmill, right at the other end of the village.


I had visited the day before to do the painting, but alas St Monans was stuck in a ‘haar’, as they say up here (Scottish word for mist or fog).  That lasted for several days! More on that later.


Dedham Hall course

Thames Barges at Maldon, Essex. One of the demos from my plein air course at Dedham Hall.



Another demo painting from the course. There are so many characterful old tree subjects around Dedham, each deserving of a careful portrait, though being a demo this was done rather more speedily.


Just a photo, of a scene that caught my eye at Pin Mill while the students were all painting.


A happy portrait (as Bob Ross might say!) of Dedham Hall, late afternoon, from the back garden. I painted this to be a little gift for Wendy and Jim, the owners of Dedham Hall.  I was time limited so it was done literally as quickly as I could paint.  I honestly never eat such good vegetarian food for a week as I receive from Wendy and the staff at Dedham Hall.  As usual, the course was a real pleasure to do.  I will be teaching at Dedham Hall again in 2025, taking a break in 2024.


More recent plein airs


The Denburn Willow, Early spring morning.  A tree at the edge of my local wood, which sadly is due for removal due to a bad fungal infection.




A boat that’s lived. From a local area of land adjoining a remnant World War 2 airfield, on a bright sunny day.  I had a nice long chat with the owner of the boat.  It was apparently lifted out of the water some years ago for maintenance, but it didn’t get done and now probably never will.  I think it would need a lot of ‘maintenance’ at this point.  Makes a good painting subject though.




The Lady’s Tower, Elie.  One of my regular haunts.




Towards the May Isle, from rocks near Sauchope holiday park.  First time I’ve painted a scene quite like this. There are endless such views towards the Isle of May along this coast.




Derelict cottage at the somewhat remote ‘Saltlake beach’.  A cloudy day.  I will return in the sun… Still not done a painting of this subject that does it justice or captures atmosphere as well as I could.



Camouflage! My partner took this photo of me in my ‘natural habitat’.  As you can see, I’m dressed not to stand out. (Around the village I’m a bit worried that people may think I’m a military enthusiast. Or they may think I’m a ‘twitcher’, as there are some of those around here too. )


The Castle Rock, Kilminning nature reserve (my most local muse).



And again.  The Castle Rock and fishing boat in bright light. Spot the ‘coasteering’ human, out the water for a break.  As you can probably tell, this is from the opposite angle to the previous painting; a view from west to East (well, southeast).



‘In a slight haar’, on the coastal path near the Rock and Spindle.  I was not happy with this one; got overworked and full of unhappy accidents – a bit of bad luck, but I think also a tired painter.



Talking of a ‘haar’, we spent the best part of five days in one, I think it was.  That got annoying.  I’ve been told that happens here sometimes, but hadn’t witnessed it before.   But I had seen this following scene not far from my village when out driving, in previous haars.  I wanted to try painting in the situation, so this was my opportunity.  It was about a mile to walk, then the painting took about all of ten minutes to do.  My water pot has never been cleaner at the end of a painting!  Fun to try this, but actually, barely practical to paint in 100% humidity.  This was also the only time I can  remember wetting the whole of the paper before beginning.  A very simple scene (too simple, as I made it) and not as atmospheric a subject in fact as I’d remembered it on those drives in the mist.  I think that was at a different time of day, and light perhaps more behind the subject.   Once my paint was on the paper I knew it was done.  It wouldn’t get any better.  To be honest, a wood pulp paper is not right for this kind of treatment.  Not a surprise, but oh well, now I know for sure anyway.

And another first for me – snail in the palette!  I wonder what effect the slime will have as a watercolour additive?  Actually I’ve already painted again, having not wiped it down and haven’t noticed any difference.


One to one tuition sessions

Demo painting from a teaching session at Kingsbarns beach. That tide sure moves fast and those rocks disappeared at an alarming rate!



Teaching session at Kellie Castle. We were photographed at the time and posted on National Trust for Scotland’s Kellie Castle Instagram feed!



Pied Wagtail. Bit of a change. This was a little commission for a farming friend, who regards this bird as ‘the closest thing to a Dæmon’ he has.


Upcoming tuition

I’m busy teaching periods of classes for a few local art groups in the coming months, with demos/talks at others, and I have my residential course at Big Sky Art in June which I know was getting filled up some time ago – though there may still be a space or two.  I’m also giving one to to one plein air tuition with a few visitors in the coming months, each over a period of days (including a  two-to-one over a week).  These can be designed in an entirely personalised way with the student/s, visiting the best of local subjects in the East Neuk of Fife, depending of whatever the weather/tide etc is doing at the time.  Please get in touch if you fancy doing something similar yourself in future.  It could be combined with a holiday before or afterwards elsewhere in Scotland, for example.
I’m also about to conclude my ‘Beginners & Strugglers’ weekly class at Forgan Arts Centre in Newport on Tay, and hopefully will be running my next classes there in either the Autumn or winter terms.

The next (free) video

Before next time, please get in touch and let me know what you’d like me to do a video on, as I did with the subject of greens in the previous blog post.  I’ve received literally no requests, so no need to hold back.

I hope you’ll enjoy the rest of spring and into summer.  I’ll probably post again in a month or two.
All the best for now,


Photo sent to me of a recent sale framed up by the customer.

Comments On This Post

Joe 6 months ago. Reply

Jem, I missed the email with this blog and only just read it today. Lovely to see the work you are doing and great that you are doing more teaching (I assume you also think this is great, better than being a swimming pool lifeguard or is that still another thing you do?). Anyway as we talked about last year I would be interested in a one to one (or one to two or more) teaching experience with you in Scotland. keep me in mind when you are working out your calendar and we can see if it would work.

    Jem Bowden 6 months ago. Reply

    Hi Joe
    Thanks for your comment.
    I’ve never been a lifeguard (must be thinking of someone else?) and the level of teaching I’m doing is actually about the same as always.
    (By the way did the email go into your spam? If it did please can you mark it as ‘not spam’ if you haven’t already.) Anyway, thanks again and I’ve already got down on my calendar to contact you about potential dates for next year, as previously discussed. Not too long now before that, I think, but don’t worry I won’t forget to contact you, just got to allow a few more things to pass then see where I’m at. Hope you’re enjoying life. Cheers, Jem

Marian 7 months ago. Reply

As always your newsletter delights! I love looking at each and every painting and seeing the photographs of the actual locations. Thank you so much for taking the time to document all of this. It’s the closest thing to feeling like I’m traveling along with you! I am enjoying your painting so much, each and every day. I am thrilled to have it. My suggestion for the next tutorial would be a marsh scene. I look forward to the next newsletter. Thanks, Marian

    Jem Bowden 7 months ago. Reply

    Hi Marian. Thank you very much and it is very nice to have you travelling along with me! Regarding the marsh scene, have you already seen my youtube demo which is called ‘marsh harrier over the starling roost’? So glad you are enjoying the painting. This all means a lot to me. Thanks again, Jem

Olga Hammock 7 months ago. Reply

I’d love to see how you tackled the pied wagtails. I am always too afraid to paint birds so would be glad of any tuition on them. The rest of the paintings are all stunning: I think my favourites are the rocks near th holiday park and the Kingsbarns beach. Thanks once more for your inspiration.

    Jem Bowden 7 months ago. Reply

    Hi Olga, That’s interesting. Having only ever painted about 5 bird paintings, I always feel the fact shows. I can say that as far as I’m concerned it mostly comes down to all the same things as with other subjects: observation more than anything, and then all the usual techniques. But I’m pretty tentative doing them, always feeling my way. This one is pretty rough (I mentioned it was a commission, but it was at far lower than my usual fee, being for a friend!). I also used paused video as the reference so as not to infringe anyone’s copyright – in any intentional or damaging way at least. I’m often encouraged when you mention your favourite paintings of the blog, so thank you for doing that. Those ones I wouldn’t have anticipated, but am glad to hear.

Mike Porter 7 months ago. Reply

Some very fine work there, Jem. Good to see you teaching. You have a lot to share that’s in the finest English watercolor tradition.

    Jem Bowden 7 months ago. Reply

    Thanks, Mike. I enjoy teaching (usually!) and am actually doing it all the time in some form or other. It’s how I’m still here as a painter, just about.

John Hofman 7 months ago. Reply

Hi Jem,
your blog posts are very informative and a pleasure to look at your paintings. Thank you!
If I can make a preference for your next free video, please include a huge sky with rocks and ocean in the foreground.
John Hofman

    Jem Bowden 7 months ago. Reply

    Thank you, John. Also for the video request. I’ll consider that. You mean similar to the one shown here with water flowing in over the rocks? First time I’ve tackled that type of subject and it is challenging, being a continually moving/changing one! I much prefer to work from life in that situation – especially – rather than from a still reference. The big foreground will tend to reduce the size of sky possible, too, but something like that one above again might be possible. I’ve just enjoyed having a look at your ink and wash sketches. Nice work. Thanks again.

Brian Le Masurier 7 months ago. Reply

As always Jem, wonderful technique, so soft and, seemingly, so easy, until one tries to get a similar effect. The castle Rock, a subject I probably would have walked past, the shadow work makes the painting, for me. I always seek to understand your colour choice, not always the same as the subject, but non-the less making a great watercolour from a not so great subject. I suppose that is the object, it’s just recognising the possibility of a good painting from what is before you.
Soldier on.
Brian Le Masurier

    Jem Bowden 7 months ago. Reply

    Thank you, Brian. Choice of subject is absolutely as you suggest, one of the most personal aspects of being a painter. As is colour choice.
    My inspiration could be described as ‘being outside’, if I boil it down. Then I find it very possible to be inspired by many a thing that I know lots of people would walk past. Letting time pass with a subject reveals its potential. I feel this ‘rock’ is a lot more than that, given its surroundings – always different and changing and alive – and it’s basic shape has enough character to enhance from and bring out different aspects of, that I think it’ll last forever as a subject for me. I don’t try to replicate it, drawing-wise in an exact way. No point, for one thing, but also, that allows the form to be slightly modified for the (hopefully) benefit of the paintings, too.
    The point about colour could also bring a very long answer! One thing people do definitely forget when looking at these ‘easel next to the subject’ photos alongside the finished painting is that, over a period of two hours or so the atmospheric conditions, light, colour etc goes through often dramatic changes. I’m quite surprised sometimes by how similar the painting looks to the photo that I take at the end!! (Sometimes the weather/clouds return to something similar to what was there at the start, having been completely different throughout much of the painting.) There can be reasons that this affects the colour choice, too many to mention really. One is that, in the case of the second Castle Rock painting here (the brightly sunlit one), it was so sunny and bright that things appeared (almost blindingly) black and white IN THE BEGINNING (so, not as in the photo at the end, then). It was painted at lightning speed, in the knowledge that the sun go disappear at any moment, in an attempt to capture THAT aspect as number one priority. ADDITIONALLY, I decided to set off painting this aspect with the thought that I MIGHT come back over later and overlay some ‘light mid-tone’ colour on top, at least in places. But then I decided in the end that it would muddy things, reminding myself that (anyway and also) I don’t need to think like that – i.e. matching the reality – but can just take what I like from the subject. One of the most important things to remind ourselves of, I always think. The subject is just the starting point, and we’re under no obligation to it in any way at all; we’re just making a painting whilst being there and enjoying doing so.
    I don’t think the painting turned out great though. Normal. It is literally the case that one can never achieve all one’s intentions and hopes for an interpretation. Reality of the subject/situation is one thing; a painting is another thing. Cheers, Brian.

Cathie Wright 7 months ago. Reply


    Jem Bowden 7 months ago. Reply

    Thank you very much, Cathie, for commenting 🙂

Jacki Frey 7 months ago. Reply

Love your paintings, colors are fresh. Images are beautiful. I will be visiting UK (1st time) in July in Cornwall then near London. I hope to get sketches and photos to paint in my studio in Bloomington, Indiana

    Jem Bowden 7 months ago. Reply

    Thank you, Jacki. I hope you enjoy your visit. I spent a lot of my holidays in Cornwall as a young person. A beautiful area.

Bill Phillips 7 months ago. Reply

Hi Jem,
Always pleased to receive your messages and images of your work. Well into my eighties now. But hoping to make a long overdue tour of Scotland. To fit in for 2024.
The news may or may not have reached you, but very sad – the Underfall Yard, here in Bristol has just been destroyed by an arsonist’s fire. I dare say you will have more than a few images of that which you might like to share?

    Jem Bowden 7 months ago. Reply

    Hi Bill and nice to hear from you. I hope you’re enjoying life and painting still. I’m well into my forties now! (and feeling it) Not that I expect any sympathy!! Good luck with your tour of Scotland. Should you be passing through the East Neuk area (and I reckon you should!) then let me know if you’d like to possibly meet up, and even paint. I’m sorry to hear about the Underfall yard. I have two paintings that feature it to some extent. Looking at the photos online it looks as if not all adjacent buildings were affected, at least. Though that wasn’t too clear, from what I found. All the best, Jem

Ian Barnes 7 months ago. Reply

Hi Jem
I really like the painting of the Rock and Spindle which you thought was overworked. Nice sky and sense of recession

    Jem Bowden 7 months ago. Reply

    Hi Ian. Thanks for the vote of confidence with that one. Some aspects of it were okay, but for me it is messy and definitely overworked. There were points through the painting of it that it looked much better! It suffered somewhat from the fact that I was painting (and making decisions) at a hundred miles an hour with the expectation of the haar lifting, as it did.

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