My Bjorn Bernstrom Watercolor Workshop, pt. 3

Painting with Water

In this final post, I wanted to share Bjorn's process for painting wetter.  I know, is that even possible?  Yep.  Bjorn sometimes paints his clouds, as well as his distant tree lines by deliberately creating back runs.  He also sometimes paints reflections and skies, even the shadowed masses of mountains, by painting very wet into wet—using that “brush pinching” technique I outlined in the previous post.  I’ll be going over both of these.

So, in these pics from the first demo, he’s leaning in and deliberately dabbing in lots of watery pigment to the horizon line.  He’s already painted the sky, which has dried a bit but is still damp.  He’s also already cut the shape of the buildings.  In this example, he’s also painted a simple wash over the foreground as well, which is separated from the sky.  He gets that water and pigment in there, bridging the two, and lets it push.  Looking at the pics in succession, you can see the time lapse element of the process, as the paint Bjorn is pushing in begins to expand into the sky and form the tree line.  I've made the photos extra large, to help you see in there better.

When you’re done, you can create fascinating treelines, with a distinctive crinkled look that you can’t get with a brush.  No two really come out the same.  Add in additional color to the tree area, as the water begins to bloom; do more water here and less there to create perspective; paint your background lighter or darker to create a different kind of rim, etc. 

Sometimes he paints over the bottom portion of the painting with a darker color, blending the treeline into the horizontal foreground, as in these.

Sometimes he lets the boom play at the horizon line and works with it, as in this pic, on the right.

Additionally, he uses this technique sometimes for clouds banks on the horizon.  This was done by adding nothing but a single swipe of water from a loaded brush across a mostly dry sky.  It really painted itself, once he had waited long enough for the reactions to work out properly.

Sometimes, he used it for clouds too.  This technique was very delicate, and required a great deal of patience.  The paper has to be almost dry, and Bjorn spent a lot of time just gently touching the paper with the side of palm, to assess just how wet/cool it was.   Too wet, and the water you lay in just explodes everywhere.  Wait too long, and it does almost nothing.  

His quote that “The hardest thing for a watercolor artists to do is to be patient.  You must learn to have patience, even when it’s boring” was dead on.  I tried this some during the workshop.  My results were less than satisfactory.  Hahaha!  Eventually, I stopped trying to paint “pictures”, and just worked on technique.

 The other thing I wanted to show a bit of was how he would pour, super wet into wet, also using the “pinching” technique, with more diluted solutions in his brush.  He deliberately did this when painting these mountains, which were from another demo he did for us.

He put in the first light washes, to mold the mountains' surfaces.  Then he dried it with a hair drier.  He came back in and cut the shape out the mountains with a wash for the sky, pulling the wash down to the valley between the two peaks. While it was still wet, he poured the purple streaks across the sky, keeping them very horizontal by aggressively tilting the board from one side while applying the paint (“painting with gravity”), and then “pinched” in the darker color between the peak.  The he titled the whole thing vertically and let it soften, as the paint dropped vertically.

Similarly, for the reflections and disturbances in the water, he painted the water after the mountains were done and (I believe) dry.  Then he dripped in pure water with his brush while the blue-green was still very wet, and let the water push down the page.  He did similar stuff for stripes on roads and what not too- rather than preserve the white, he would paint away, and then, when it was drying, he would swipe in it with a thin, wet brush, and let the water push the pigment away a little bit.

Wonderful stuff to watch.  It was so much fun to see someone really playing with pigment and water in such an abstract way, and yet have enough control and forethought to still be producing work that you can really read.  

Bjorn speaks English, and teaches workshops, some in Stockholm, some in Norway, one in Tuscany too, on an annual basis it seems.  I’m hoping we’ll eventually get him out to California, in the Bay Area.  That’s the kind of stuff the California Watercolor Society is all about, right?  I’d be game!  Can’t recommend the guy enough.