Friday, October 10, 2014

My Bjorn Bernstrom Watercolor Workshop, pt 2

Painting with Pigment and Gravity-

In the first demo, Bjorn utilizes the technique you see in the painting above, where we have these very granular sedimentary drips pouring down the foreground.

First, in this demo, he paints the sky, foreground, and background, blocking in the buildings as he does so.  All pretty straight forward.

Then comes the crazy stuff!  ;)  This very very rich wash goes in- Burnt Sienna perhaps.  He mixes it wetly with some other darker pigments, to give it some visual texture.  Eventually, most of this won’t be seen much.

Quickly, while it’s still wet, he saturates his brush (its quite a big brush for this part) with a very heavy, very thick puddle of a granular pigment and either paints or “pinches” the pigment out of his brush down onto the canvas in very loaded dribbles and washes, but basically only over the already wet areas.  That wash of Burnt Sienna you see up above is basically there as a chromatic vehicle for the new super-thick Raw Umber dribbles to move on.  Speaking of which, he used Raw Umber a lot, but we experimented in class, and stuff like Ultramarine Blue worked well too, so I would assume the primary goal is to use a heavily granular pigment.  The tricky part is figuring out how long to let the first wash sit.  If you do it too fast, everything just disperses.  If you wait too long the Raw Umber won’t really “move” much, because the first wash of Burnt Sienna will no longer be wet enough to let it slide.   That’s where experience, and understanding the properties of water, really counts!

Tilt the board and you get this!

But wait, there’s more! ;P  Load a thin brush, like a rigger, with just water and do a quick swipe across the horizon line.  The water pushes down through that drippy, granular wash of Raw Umber you just “pinched” onto the painting.  I come back to that Bjorn quote from the first post, that “The best thing is to make one stroke and leave it alone.”  That couldn’t be truer with this technique.  It works best when you let the dripping pigment and water paint itself as much as possible.  You only need to deposit the proper tool in the proper place at the proper time!  Ha!  Easier said than done, but when you do, you can get an absolutely gorgeous foreground that looks like this one-

In the painting we were working on, I didn’t get in there fast enough to get a pic of his process, but you can see the way it works out here-

What’s cool is that you can lay a darker color into a lighter color, like in the previous pics, or a lighter more chromatic color into a darker wash, like in this example, where he’s using Mars or Lunar Black.  You can stretch the technique in a number of different ways.

By the way, in that earlier pic from the demo, if you’re paying attention, you can see that Bjorn has a tube of watercolor paint in his hand.  Why?  Because he’s painting with the thin, threaded edge of it.  In that pic, he’s using it to paint the super thin, highly chromatic stripes onto the side of the brown/orange barn.  You can see the results if you look closely.  In this pic, he uses it to paint telephone wires.

In this close up, you can see the stripes too—he’s painting the wires between distant telephone poles.  He used a rigger a few times for this in other painting, but in this one the double wires come from the metal threads of the tubes.  

In the next post, I’ll be showing some of Bjorn’s techniques with making clouds and tree lines using backruns, as well as some of the pouring/ "pinching" he does.  Beautiful stuff.  :)


  1. This is such a fun Saturday morning coffee-side read...thanks. I watch this one about once week to remind to loosen up. She's a bit all over the place with the different mediums she adds in, but so fun.

  2. Very interesting, wish I had been there,

    So the picture with the finished lancsape and the text "In the painting we were working on, I didn’t get in there fast enough to get a pic of his process, but you can see the way it works out here'' under the image, is your own right?

    Ano from France

  3. That's very kind of you to think so, but they are all Björn's paintings in this post- even the "extra" one. I have done some other paintings since then that definitely have some aesthetics in common, but not the ones from the workshop.