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!

Watercolour As Vocation

Whenever I’m out in the landscape I’m thinking about watercolour.
Inspired by the former and challenged by the latter, painting is a consuming vocation which I expect to last my lifetime. 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…

Thankfully the process of interpreting nature is greatly rewarding, regardless of the result. With constant practise and the 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.

Painting Outdoors by Choice

Painting for me has become simply a part of being outdoors, which is my inspiration.  Trying to describe or explain the whole thing isn’t easy, but my main wish for the work is that it’s evocative.  I do believe that working ‘en plein air’ in general helps me in this aim – when they come off okay.
During the winter months I paint mainly in the studio while developing new workshops, demonstrations and articles. Sharing the experience of  painting in these ways is rewarding, and an enjoyable balance for an otherwise fairly solitary occupation.

A visit to the Turner collection at The Clore Gallery as a child awoke me to the idea of painting the landscape. The way Turner did it seemed perfect, combining an experience of the landscape 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 key 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), French Ultramarine, Indian Red, Light Red, Raw Umber, Winsor Lemon, Cobalt Turquoise, (+ any) scarlet-type red.  Brand: W&N Professional range, except Phthalo = Ken Bromley.  Click HERE for information explaining my choice of colour palette.

Bockingford, 200lb or 250lb, Not/Cold-pressed.  Mostly.

‘Jakar Lightweight Adjustable Watercolour Easel’ (model as purchased approx. 2015/16)


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

Finally….. The Black Sheep

My ‘right hand man’ – essential to my painting.  You can find out more about it here.

Painterly Quotations

The following quotations sum up a lot of my feelings about all that is watercolour painting, and I think give an insight into my motivation and approach…

“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