A workshop with Jem Bowden
Every now and then, you get lucky enough to watch a new tradition being forged. A new name slot appear magically, Harry Potter-style, from previously unseen ink, into the 'family tree' of the subject you love. It's thrilling. It isn't magic of course, it is the result of years of unseen hard work and dedication. This is how I feel when I see Jem Bowden's work. Like some people remember where they first heard their favourite song, I have my favourite art burned on my retinas in a series of moments when the world fell away. Standing in Wells on my first watercolour holiday - my initiation - watching magic created again and again. Standing in Dedham Hall, mesmerised by my first sight of a John Yardley original. Standing at Windrush (another place Jem holds workshops), commonly regarded as the seat of English Watercolour and home of the late great James Fletcher-Watson, gaping at a Steve Hall original. Standing in Steve's studio, overwhelmed by Wesson, Merriott, more Yardleys. Standing in Patchings viewing the award-winning paintings and clapping eyes on my first Jem Bowden original. Sounds dramatic? This sort of art can freeze me to the spot and give me goosebumps, and I know when I come across the next inheritor of the crown. Jem is a very modest guy and would no doubt dismiss this idea as nonsense, as far as he's concerned he's still working hard on his own improvement. Which is precisely why his art is so astonishingly good. Although I'm known for painting wildlife, I love nothing more on a painting 'day off' than to get out on the land with my easel. I get far less time to practice landscape, so every second doing it feels like a luxury. It also gradually improves everything else painting-wise! I'm still not close to getting on paper what my head and heart intends and that is why a day with an artist of Jem's calibre is so valuable. The journey to Timsbury, near Bath was well worth it. Along with exceptional painting ability, Jem is a skilled teacher. Listening to a quick analysis of some of his favourite works proved extremely useful, especially as an impatient painter who often goes off half-cocked with the brush before planning anything! Some of the most well thought-out and useful exercises I've seen followed, and the hush settling over the room, as artists became absorbed with their own efforts, was very comfortable. This method of breaking the subject down into techniques was a good confidence booster, and took away the pressure to 'perform' that stops a lot of artists continuing to attend workshops once they've reached a certain level. Jem covers the room well and has that knack of arriving at your shoulder just when you need help. The demos were as mesmerising as you'd expect, whilst still communicating a lot of important information. Applying the techniques in the context of a full painting brought the afternoon to a very satisfying, tired and happy close. All in all, a thoroughly enjoyable day. I'll certainly be looking for further opportunities to attend. Do yourself a favour and visit Jem's website. The gallery is a feast for the eyes ... or you could always treat yourself to a workshop!