My Bjorn Bernstrom Watercolor Workshop, pt. 1

Spotlight on Bjorn-

This last spring, I found a watercolor artist online, Bjorn Bernstrom (from the Stockholm area of Sweden) and instantly fell in love with his work.  His paintings are rich in color but simple in composition, full of landscapes, marvelous skies, and remote buildings, with a loose and expressive style easily identified by  the drips, runs, and intentional blooms he often uses.  It was this element of his paintings that attracted me to him in particular-- how he was painting using the natural properties of water and pigment, and not just “with the brush”.  

Well, at the beginning of my trip to Europe this summer, I had the pleasure of taking a 2-day workshop from Bjorn, and what a fantastic experience it was!  Bjorn, it turns out, is not only one helluva painter, but he’s also an all-around cool guy, is in a country/rock band, loves Neil Young (!), and works in a cute little studio in a beautifully rural area about an hour outside of Stockholm.  

This is Bjorn.  A serious looking artist in some pics, but actually a mellow, friendly guy with an honest laugh.

These are some of his paintings, to give you a taste of what I’m talking about.  Back runs are used on purpose to make distant tree lines and clouds; skies and lakes are, I found out, often “poured” in with heavily loaded brushes; heavy, granular affects are explored as he lets paints drip and expand with judicious strokes of water, etc.  Many of his affects border on the abstract, but the composition always remains representational at the same time.

As for the workshop, he rented out a space a mile or so from his studio, where the 10 or so of us set up.  He was the type of instructor who’s pretty “hands off”.  He painted for us, talking and answering any and all questions we had about his process while he was at work.  He was very friendly and mellow about that.  Then we would start to paint, and he’d go around and check in on us individually, giving us pointers.  He wasn’t the type to assign a task or assignment.  Each of us set about painting and attempting to apply his techniques in our own way.  Some tried to duplicate his work, others of us just made stuff up.  

We didn’t paint plein air at all, everything was done in studio.  I think he does paint plein air sometimes, but not as a regular part of his practice.  He often painted flat,  and sometimes without taping his paper down at all, to be allow him to tilt and manipulate the paper.  I've applied a number of the techniques he modeled while having my paper taped to gatorboard, which is very light, and that has worked well too.  He did set up a tripod easel at one point though, and painted with a bit of an angle for a few paintings.  So, he wasn’t particularly religious about his methods.  My memory is that he did 3 paintings for us each day, and that even included breaking for lunch.  He layers and uses the blow dryer, but his process is still pretty spontaneous and quick.   Much like Alvaro, his seemed more iterative and exploratory, and less about laboring over a painting for a long time.

In the next few posts, I’ll be sharing photos from the workshop, detailing some of his process, my own (failed) attempts from exploring them, and any pointers and advice I picked up.

Three Bjornisms from the workshop-
“The best thing is to make one stroke and leave it alone.”
“The hardest thing for a watercolor artists to do is to be patient.  You must learn to have patience, even when it’s boring.”
“Squint your eyes and see the big patterns.”