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Watercolor Tutorial

Bern Sundell's Techniques and Tips

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Bern Sundell uses a surprisingly messy palette for his clean and crisp watercolor paintings. He mixes constantly changing colors in the center area, adjusting them as he paints the rocks in this example. Each rock requires a different color and texture in this evolving process.

He paints the first rock in the demonstration with plain water, staying strictly in the pencil outline to prepare it for the first washes of paint. Bern then paints directly into the wet area to make the washes blend and spread, creating the initial formation of a rock.

Bern recommends using great control over the water and paint in the brush itself. For washes he uses a fairly wet brush. For final details he often touches the brush tip to a towel, quickly removing excess moisture for the precise control a drier brush offers. Experimentation and practice refine this technique to a high level of precision.

He uses the drying cycle of the paper to good advantage. After the first wash is in place, he works on another rock while allowing the new wash to dry. He may return before it is completely dry to add details that need slight blending. Then he works on another rock as the wash continues to dry. Once it is completely dry, he paints the sharp details of fine lines and cracks with a drier brush.

Bern also recommends using excellent quality watercolor paper and brushes. Poor quality paper does not allow the paint to work properly and fails to create the desired results. A poor quality brush also makes it extremely difficult to control the paint and achieve the intended effect.

For a different look, Bern rubs the partially wet surface with his fingers to disturb the surface of the paper slightly. This changes how the paint puddles on the paper and adds a new texture to the rock. He enhances this texture by painting over it later in the drying process.

He uses the traditional watercolor sequence of gradually adding darker and darker colors while leaving the original white paper itself for the highlights. With practice such painting takes on a graceful rhythm as Bern moves from rock to rock, painting on each according to its current state of wetness or dryness.

Firmly stretching watercolor paper and taping it to a board before painting makes the work dry flat. Since Bern often prefers to keep his paper free on the table instead, he wets the back of the paper with pure water from a spray bottle once the completed painting is dry. Then he inserts the dampened painting between clean sheets of mat board and places weights on it overnight. By morning the new painting is flat and ready for framing.

Rock Closeup

Observe this rock and imagine how Bern painted it, using the initial washes and then dry brush techniques as the paper dried. Bern hopes this online watercolor lesson helps in understanding how to take a detailed and meticulous approach to watercolor painting.

Stone Spirit Watercolor Painting

He named the completed painting Stone Spirit. The original painting sold but limited edition giclee prints are available.

Written and photographed by Lexi Sundell