About Jem Bowden - Watercolour Artist & Tutor

My painting life consists of two mutually beneficial roles, as both a watercolour painter, and a teacher of watercolour painting. Details of my activities can be found on the pages of this website, though please get in touch if you have any enquiry. As a landscape painter knows, ‘background’ often doesn’t need a lot of detail. I’ll try not to say too much!

An outdoors vocation

Plein air painting keeps me feeling present and connected to the world.  When I’m out in the landscape I’m usually also thinking about how to ‘capture’ and share the experience.  The great watercolourists have shown that this medium is all we should need. In theory it can be simple, but watercolour has its own ideas.

The process of witnessing and interpreting nature is greatly rewarding, regardless of the result.   In ‘being there’ you are a part of the ecosystem and an active contributor to the moment, which creates meaningful experience.  Painting an inspiring and challenging subject while immersed allows entry to the meditative ‘flow state’, and this is when the good paintings are most likely to appear!

With a commitment to practice, despite struggles, and with a will to keep experimenting, it’s possible to progress skills and develop as an ‘artist’. However, watercolour tends to keep your feet on the ground, and a successful painting can always feel like a happy coincidence.

My main wish and intention for a painting is that it’s evocative.  I do believe that the full sensory experience of ‘plein air’ generally helps me in this aim.
During winter months I sometimes paint in the studio, while developing new workshops, videos and articles. Sharing the experience of painting through teaching is an enjoyable balance for an otherwise fairly solitary occupation.

A visit to the Turner collection at The Clore Gallery as a child got me painting  landscape. The way Turner did it seemed perfect, combining an experience of landscape atmospherics with the individuality of the artist.
Through the artist’s interpretation the world is provided with something unique and worthy of our consideration.  If the process is a modest, sincere effort, then the outcome just might be something of aesthetic or other value which can inspire in its own right.

My materials and 'Black Sheep' brush

Since people regularly ask and my use is fairly consistent, these are my main materials.  This is not a recommendation and I don’t wish to be a brand ambassador, but am very happy to let people know what I use.

Paint (tube paints)
Phthalo Blue (Red shade) – known as ‘Winsor Blue (Red shade)’ if buying the W&N brand, French Ultramarine, Indian Red, Light Red, Raw Umber, Winsor Lemon (or other cool, saturated yellow), Cobalt Turquoise, and (any) scarlet-type red.  The last three of these I use little.  Brand: Usually W&N Professional range, except Phthalo = Ken Bromley (rather than Winsor Blue..).
Click HERE for information explaining my choice of colour palette.

Bockingford, 200lb (420g), Not/Cold-pressed.

‘Jakar Lightweight Adjustable Watercolour Easel’
(Model as purchased approx. 2015/16.  I believe it has changed slightly since, to the effect that the legs may not spread quite so widely.  That’s a real pity, but overall I think this is still as good an outdoor easel to purchase as any other I’ve seen.  It is also possible to remove a nut and make your own ‘modification’ to enhance the leg spread, making it more stable than the majority of other easels – essential for painting in the UK’s often windy weather!)

For my plein air /residential courses, you’ll find a link to a fuller, suggested ‘materials list’ on the relevant pages.

I use a bare minimum of brushes.  Mostly just two types.  For large areas of wash (such as skies) I use a large squirrel mop, currently being the relatively affordable Jackson’s own brand Series 828, size 15 (model as of approx 2017/18, in case sizes might have changed since).  I have one, look after it, and thank the squirrels regularly.

The Black Sheep
My ‘right hand man’.  You can find out more about it here.

Painterly Quotations / Some sage advice!

The following quotations sum up a lot of my feelings about all that is watercolour painting, and I think give an insight into my own motivation and approach.  For those who wish seriously to learn to paint in this medium I also believe we can do a lot worse than to take on board the hard-earned wisdom contained within! –

“I have recorded in my sketch at least something of the joy of that moment with nature…. This is indeed a beautiful world. What need is there for shouting ‘I have painted a picture, come and see it’. What necessity for public appraisal or critic’s approval? My picture may be destined never to be seen by anybody but myself. It is done and I have added something to my life which nobody can take from me.”

Jack Merriott

English landscape watercolour artist
“The timid watercolour painter is generally sincere in his regard for the craft; he is over judicious in the control of the medium, and fondly believes that the little painting so hazardously conceived does actually convey his impression of what he sees. To foster a broad simplicity of vision, to maintain a restrained and truthful palette, and to aim at a frank, bold, decisive handling are resolutions which should form a valuable antidote to tameness or over-finish, into which many modest students are so easily beguiled. The courageous student, on the other hand, suffers from too much confidence and asperity in attack. The rules by which he is guided are of his own devising and are made to suit the twists and turns of fortune. He does not believe that there should be any conventional restrictions, but stands or falls by his instinct. It is a brave creed, but it sometimes leads to a complete sense of frustration, when instinct fails and nothing he does 'comes off'. Both types of student, I think, can learn from the character who, while never timid, relies on instruction to confirm his initiative and strengthen his resolve. His methods are tentative rather than timorous and tenacious rather than emotional. Resourcefulness comes to his aid at that crucial moment when the more courageous student's "bluff has been called" and the timid one is baffled by lack of courage and faith in himself. This student does not strive to invent new processes but is conscious that the same language is capable of a variety of expressions. He is content to master the techniques of the past and to borrow from it all that best suits his individuality, so that what he acquires he moulds and modifies to suit his purpose, translating it into a language which is his own, and in the process enlarging it with new and further life.”

Adrian Hill

English landscape watercolour artist, author and teacher
“In the happy painting ground of Cotman, Crome and Constable I am making no more than a modest attempt to follow in the traditions of the English School.” "Why do you paint?" “That's really rather difficult to answer, for I've wanted to paint ever since I can remember. I believe that I have a perception of Beauty, and I want to give that perception outward expression. Partly because I have an overwhelming urge within me to do so; partly because it gives me pleasure, and because I can imagine no better way of spending my time; and partly because I sincerely believe that I can give pleasure to certain people who have a similar love for that perception, and an appreciation for it in the form of paint and canvas.”

Edward Seago

English artist and author
“A fine watercolour is not merely the result of a pleasant hobby, nor even some facile gift. It comes only with intense concentration, after many failures and years of valiant practice. A large number (of artists) write that they abominate sham, pose, ‘artiness’, the snobbish attitude towards art, distortion, lack of beauty and lack of poetic feeling, bad drawing, self-advertisement. From which we can deduce that sincerity is the main passion among artists. It is indeed, impossible for a man or woman to do fine work without possessing in abundance this particular virtue. A fine painting is a personal achievement and as much part of its creator as his own heart and mind. Many virtues enter into it, the most fruitful of which are reverence and love. On the general question of technique, let us first be certain that a watercolour painter uses the method in a fluent way. Its genius is inherent in the first wash. If that is put down with skill and courage, the artist being a good draughtsman, always refining and simplifying his subject rather than accumulating detail for the sake of detail, the picture will emerge in strength and purity. I should like to make it a rule that nothing should ever be altered in watercolour. If it goes wrong the picture should be put aside and another one begun in its place. Only with such hard discipline can we arrive at the point of authority that makes watercolour as strong and invulnerable as the perfect argument. Clarity of tint and surety of drawing are the essentials.”

Adrian Bury

Author and expert in English watercolour art
“Build up your picture as one great whole, one intention; not as patches of separate interests, but all tending to one purpose and only one, every part being interdependent upon another, that the whole be sure and certain, as confident as a sketch and as spontaneous as Nature.... There should be no sense of fatigue; you may have given it weeks of thought, you may have groaned and writhed in the deepest anxiety, yet the result should be as simple and direct as a beautiful sonnet.... See that you paint your subject under conditions that will best bring out its special characteristics. Consider what are the qualities essential to support its characteristics, and what are non-essential. Nature is so prolific in her offerings that selection becomes an artistic quality of the first order.... Perhaps the highest and rarest gift is the power to see the big things of Nature, the real essentials, those which reveal and stamp upon the mind of man those fundamental qualities by which it is expressed. Open your heart and your eyes widely. Approach Nature with the heart of a child. Don't try to be sincere, but be so. Your business is to give one a fervid impression of the place, its biggest facts painted in just relation to each other, and its characteristics set down frankly, fearlessly and in the most direct manner possible.... There is, I know, always the temptation to realise the beautiful details of Nature, but you must never sacrifice the big things of your landscape to the details.... The suggestion of the fact that the tree is thick with leaves, and that it is living and moving , is infinitely more satisfying to one's sense of truth than would be a painful mass of innumerable and carefully realised leaf-units.... You must, as I have said before, find out yourself, by careful study and observation, how this is to be done, bearing in mind that the greatest realism is the expression of the vitality and character of the thing painted.”

Sir Alfred East (abridged quotation)

English artist and author

Contact Me

If you’d like to contact me to discuss purchasing original watercolour paintings, arranging tuition, attending a painting holiday or for any other reason, then please feel free to email or call me and of course you can also network with me on social media.

E: contact@jembowdenwatercolour.co.uk
T: 0117 9711735