Foraging plants in the norwegian mountains – 12. My working practice

Bearded Iris in graphite
Accidents happen

In my last blog I showed you how careful I generally am to cover my artwork as I go along. But in this case I had finished the piece and had it propped up by my computer to scan and print it.

Unfortunately I ran out of pigment in the printer and needed to refill. Once this was done, I sat at the computer to check everything on the screen, looked up and saw this magenta splash across the artwork. I was shocked. How many hours had I used to no avail?

Be careful to keep artwork safe!

In my previous blog I wrote in general terms about the materials I use, including colour. My sketchbook contains notes of the colours used in the sketches, but these are only a guide for the final artwork.

The sketched colours are on white paper and the final artwork is on a warm vellum which can affect the overlaid transparent paint. If possible I try to match up the colours I used in the sketches if I don’t have enough live material to work from. For example, the leaves often change colour over a growing season and if I’m unlucky I might be painting young leaves in the autumn. This happened with the Bilberry leaves.

I try to limit the number of pigments I use in a picture but still have favourites that appear in most paintings. 

Watercolours used to paint the Small cranberry picture.

As an example, I used these colours in the small cranberry picture:

  • Quinacridone Magenta PV122
  • Quinacridone red PR209
  • Perylene violet PV29
  • Quinacridone Gold PO49 (I don’t think single pigment can still be obtained)
  • Winsor Blue Green PB15.

The last three are a must for me, but I might also use a brighter yellow or warmer blue. On this occasion I added a lemon yellow to lift the green in the leaves.

Introduction of graphite

Getting graphite on vellum is normally considered a negative. Graphite does not seem to work in the same way on vellum as it does on paper because of course it is slightly greasy and tends to slide around on the surface. 

I wanted sections of graphite in my pictures to try and give some relief to the colour. The compositions are quite small with a lot of detail. To separate details from each other I wanted to allow some of the picture to fall back and behind sections of colour to create focus.  I therefore decided that elements conveying habit would be either in graphite, or in graphite with a slight colour wash. But how was I going to get the graphite to go on reasonably evenly and to sit? 

I checked out how other botanical artists had handled using graphite on vellum, then tried out various ways of developing a technique on scraps of vellum.

Bilberry trials on vellum with colour and graphite

Luckily, as with graphite on paper, the use of water on top helps it to adhere to the surface. I also learnt that using a little mucky pigment/graphite water and allowing it to dry would also help to control use of the graphite on top. But, some of my details were much too tiny to make full use of this technique.

The way forward was to use a combination of graphite pencil for the finest detail and soluble-graphite. I generally used a graphite pencil first – possibly a 2H, then with a very small brush I either went over it with pure water or used the water mixable graphite. I found that the graphite worked much better where I had used a light watercolour wash first. 

Process for each picture

Once each composition was complete and transferred to the vellum mounted block, I started with the watercolour sections.

Except for the Cloudberry, the main branch which catches the eye, was enlarged to twice its normal size. I normally started with this so that I could determine how much other elements of the picture needed to come forward or fall back. After this I completed the flower and fruit sections.

Once the watercolour-only sections were complete, I worked on the graphite sections. As mentioned before, the use of graphite means that these sections fall a little into the background and give relief to the eye of the beholder. But the detail in those sections needs to be just as clear as for the remainder of the picture. Each part of the picture needs to give new information otherwise there is no reason to include it. In this case, the graphite sections were done life-size.

Last of all came the scale-bars. To work out the best placements for these, I scanned each picture onto my computer and digitally placed and sized the scale-bars, comparing them from picture to picture. This happened in January 2023 when preparing for professional scanning of the artwork.

Actually drawing the scalebars onto the final artwork caused most headaches. Applying the graphite in even lines on the vellum was more difficult than doing the line drawings, but I got there!

Now I will write about each species individually – starting with the next blog 30 April 2023.

Life-size small cranberry flower and stems. Water-soluble graphite being applied with Rafael 8408 size 1 brush over faint graphite pencil lines.

Foraging plants in the norwegian mountains – 11. My working practice

Using a lightbox to make an overall transfer for the bog bilberry picture.

Transfer process

For this series my transfer process hasn’t been very straightforward. Once I knew which sketches I wanted to repeat in the final artwork, I made line drawings of each, scanned them and arranged them on my computer, constantly comparing and assessing. Once I was happy with each composition, I traced each sketch into its place on a sheet of tracing paper (see picture at the top), then transferred the composition to a vellum mounted block. In some instances, I continued to make further adjustments underway.

I also made separate tracings of each element in the design and used these once the overall placement was sorted.

To make a transfer I trace the line drawing onto the right side of tracing paper, and then repeat the process carefully and with a sharp pencil on the backside of the tracing. This allows me to use the tracing several times should it be necessary and leaves only a light line of graphite on my artwork. 

This way of transferring reduces the amount of excess graphite that tends to float around. The pictures to the left demonstrate the transfer process. 

See links to videos and blogs giving more detail on my ‘Online Tutorials’ page. ‘How to trace an image to art paper’ contains links to two blogs and a video.

Painting process

Before I start to paint, I arrange some form of cover so that only the section I’m painting is available to me. I might use a sheet of tracing paper, layout pad or clear acrylic sheet – or even a combination. Its easy for accidents to happen, the slip of a brush  or even dropping a laden brush onto the artwork. Accepting this and preparing against there being too much damage is essential for a good result. I have spent time scrubbing out mishaps and I’m sure many others have too.

Bog bilberry covering to protect rest of artwork from splashes and dropped brushes!

Here is my covering for the Bog bilberry picture. I have used a combination of acrylic sheeting and layout paper whilst trying to avoid too much taping directly to the vellum.

Painting on vellum

Painting on vellum is very different to painting on watercolour paper as the pigment lies on the surface rather than absorbing into the paper. Therefore except for the very first layer it is important to paint as dry as possible, otherwise any other layers will lift the preceding layers.

Arctic Tern fired on Ceramic. From an island reserve in the Stavanger fjord in 1989

In some respects, it is a little like painting several layers on porcelain – as I did in the 80’s. Porcelain is very smooth and carefully layering colour on top of an un-fired layer is paramount, or the lower layers are whisked away.

For painting on vellum I use a variety of brushes depending on the level of detail. My first ‘go-to’ brush is a Rafael Kolinski sable brush with a beautiful point; series 8408. The other makes of brushes I use are DaVinci 1505 and Rosemary brushes series 8 and 66. They are all kolinski sable. To lift out I use various synthetic brushes. 

Importantly for all these brushes is a curl free and sharp tip. Brushes wear quickly and the long tip disappears gradually – but the brush still has many useful functions, so they almost never get thrown away.

The watercolours I use are all artist quality but from different suppliers. Most are single pigment and transparent. I have occasionally used Chinese white as an underlay in areas where I need to control ‘lifting out’ as in the Cloudberry flowers.  When lifting off it might leave  a very slight sheen. If I don’t lift the Chinese white off, it mixes with the other colours and dulls them, therefore I have to lift off very carefully to create highlights.

In my next blog I talk a little about the opportunities I had to learn about applying graphite to vellum – That is planned for 27 April 2023.

This is a very short YouTube slideshow from a demonstration I made to some of my students when they were learning to paint on vellum. I painted the tiniest of crab apples on a vellum remnant.

Foraging plants in the norwegian mountains – 10. My working practice


Do these three pictures have good compositions? It is not easy for you to judge from these as composition is the area within the mount edge – the image and background.

  • Benton Iris ‘Farewell’ is Watercolour and graphite. The painting is part of the Cedric Morris Florilegium.
  • Dying Rosa rugosa is in Watercolour. It was one of the first paintings I did after returning to Norway. The sprig was sticking up above the snow, so it shrivelled quite fast.
  • Rhododendron impeditum is also watercolour and graphite. This picture is part of the Chelsea Physic Garden Florilegium.

Composition in botanical art is not necessarily very straightforward. As botanical art is ‘art’ it should have a main focal point that draws you into the picture. Once your eye is drawn into the picture, something needs to lead it around within that picture and prevent it from being lead off elsewhere.

On top of this, botanical art must be botanically correct. 

The first digital arrangement of my cloudberry sketches

Combining the art and botany for each picture is hugely difficult particularly when you have different sections telling a story about a plant. Having a series of plants in separate pictures that elaborate the story compounds the problem. 

To try and reduce the problem a little I started to arrange the pictures digitally. I scanned some of my sketches and moved them around within a 31 x 25cm area. It gave me something to think about when deciding what to include in each picture and how many more sketches I would need to get all the information I needed.

Scanning and arranging digitally gave me the opportunity to do something similar with my other species and the ability to compare them against each other. This composition looks nothing like the final one, but I kept rearranging until I was satisfied.

I worked hard to compose my set of pictures so that they looked a series. This can be quite difficult when some are from different families 

  1. Rubus chamaemorus – Rosaceae
  2. Vaccinium oxycoccus Subsp. microcarpum – Ericaceae
  3. Vaccinium uliginosum – Ericaceae
  4. Empetrum nigrum subsp. hermaphroditum- Ericaceae
  5. Vaccinium myrtillus – Ericaceae
  6. Vaccinium vitis-idaea – Ericaceae
  7. Arctostaphylos uva-ursi – Ericaceae

The first word in each species is the Genus name from which the plant is derived. Four are Vacciniums from the same Genus.  Six of the plants are from the Ericaceae (heather) Family and you can see this by the similarity of the flowers. One is from the Rosaceae(rose) family, and the stipules on the leaves (tags at the base of the leaves) is a clear indication of this.

Deciding the enlargement was relatively easy with the plants from the Ericaceae Family where the fruit is comparable. But as everything was larger on the Cloudberry picture, only the scale bars can give the size.

My aim with all the pictures was to let people see and understand the incredible flora and edible fruit available in the mountains. Many look at plants and think them pretty, or know where to pick certain fruits, but not so many study the plant and understand how intriguing it really is. This is an opportunity.

What to include in each composition.

I went through my sketchbook and made sure that I had enough information about each plant to fit on my vellum, mounted on blocks by William Cowley’s. I didn’t want to overcrowd each picture. 

The focus was the plant and its fruit, but one can’t do this without highlighting its flowers. I decided to introduce a picture of the flowers and fruit but restrict dissections to the fruit only. That is until I got to the cloudberry which was going to be the most difficult to integrate into the series. But it isn’t called ‘Mountain Gold’ for nothing.

In the end, all but the cloudberry picture included a branch enlarged and branches actual size to indicate habit. Each had an enlarged flower, plus fruit with both longitudinal (LS) and transverse sections (TS). These are the finished longitudinal sections from each fruit; the largest being the Cloudberry.

In the next blog I will be talking about my transfer process. This comes 23 April 2023.

Only Eight weeks until the RHS Exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery in London;

Foraging plants in the norwegian mountains – 9. My working practice

By the lake Fjelløkteren at 1000metres – Ripe Cloudberries mid July

Imagine how the artwork might look if measuring various parts of a chosen species was not accurate. The photos above all contain the Vaccinium oxycoccus subsp. microcarpum – small cranberry. Click on the images to see them larger.

  1. Small cranberry flower in the moss with Bog bilberry leaves, bog rosemary leaves, and heather. Note the tiny leaves of the cranberry lying across the moss surface bottom right.
  2. Small cranberry flower with bog rosemary to the left, bog bilberry leaves and flowers. Note the woody stem that distinguishes it from the bilberry. Sprigs of mountain crowberry also clearly seen with the white line on the back of them – this is the leaf folded back.
  3. Two small ripe cranberry fruit lying on the top of the moss by the side of a larger cloudberry leaf. There is also heather and mountain crowberry leaves. The stems of the small cranberry can be seen across the moss if you know what to look for – narrower than the grass.
  4. Two ripe small cranberry fruit either side of a cloudberry leaf. The reddish stems of the cranberry with the tiny triangular leaves can be seen.
  5. The growing tip of the small cranberry.
  6. A stem and leaf of the small cranberry. A further series of well chosen photos would show the connections of leaves to the stem, the branching and flower connections.

Measuring for the sketches

Amongst my original chosen plants for the 2023 exhibit were some very tiny flowers, but each of the species contained some tiny detail. I needed the facility for measuring accurately, particularly whilst sketching and of course for enlarging where needed. 

To the left is my trusty digital calliper in use for measuring the Cranberry. Whenever I take a measurement, I make a note of it with the drawing and additionally check it against the research done on books and the internet.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have this essential tool when initially sketching the Cloudberry and spent several years trying to catch up as already mentioned. As I wasn’t living in Norway at the time, I tried to coincide my visits with the months that I thought I might be able to get the missing detail, but either the plant flowered earlier or later than my visit. In fact, I didn’t get the missing dimensions until 2022 when I was again living in Norway. But even then, it still took several trips up into the mountains to hit the right time!

Another tool I use when making enlargements accurately is a technical divider. You can see it in use here when I did my Bilberry sketches. The divider allows me to measure exactly or enlarged by a specific amount. 

Technical divider adjusted to make a 1.5 enlargement.
Technical divider in use with bilberry sketch.

The other picture here shows the technical divider adjusted to create an enlargement of 1.5. In the ‘old days’ before digitalisation, one could write an enlargement of 1.5 (x1.5) on the illustration. Although this helps when doing the illustration, it will not work if showing artwork digitally on a website etc. 

In such a case one has no idea at which size the original drawing will be seen, therefore scale bars need to indicate exact measurements.

Example: When drawing x 2, or twice the size of the actual subject, one knows that 2cm of the illustration is actually 1cm in real life. So one could draw a 1cm long scale bar with 5mm written beside it to indicate that the 1cm line is in fact equal to 5mm. This means that when looking at the original enlarged illustration, if it measures 5cm, you know that the plant section is 2.5 cm in real life. 

But, these days if viewing an illustration digitally, there is no way of knowing what the size of the illustration is.

Scale-bars from bilberry illustration.

To overcome this if viewing on-screen or in a book, measure the scale bar marked as 5mm (our example) and note the measurement, then measure the whole section on-screen and multiply that measurement with the measurement of your scale-bar. This will give you the size in front of you on your screen or book. But you will want the real-life size and to do this, multiply again with the figure written by the scale bar – in this instance 5mm.

As an example use this picture from my bilberry illustration to work out the size of the finished detail and the size of the actual plant. The picture shows where I planned the scale-bars digitally to repeat in graphite on the artwork. But remember that the scale bar is in mm i.e. 4mm = 0.4cm.

On my screen, the scale bar measures 0.7cm and the section is 2cm high. Therefore 2 x 0.7 = 1.4 x 0.4cm= 0.56 cm. This means that the illustration is 1.4 cm tall, but as the scalebar is equal to 0.4 cm, the live flower is 0.56cm high.

My next blog is scheduled for 20 April 2023

Foraging plants in the norwegian mountains – 8. My working practice

A year in the life of a Magnolia x soulangeana tree. In watercolour and graphite.

In 2011 I did my first RHS exhibit – ‘A year in the life of a Magnolia x soulangeana tree’. The tree was in my front garden, so I had a good source for the material I would need. But to get my eight pictures completed in time, I needed to paint throughout the year. The main picture from which all the others derived contained all the phases the tree went through during the year. It was whilst I was doing this series that I became interested in the inner workings of plants and started using a microscope. Of course, to do this I also needed a sketchbook. 

Sketchbook work

Malus x scheideckeri “Red Jade” in Colour pencil

Being a very impatient person I always wish I could get the perfect result first time around. When I started out painting plants, although I had drawn and painted most of my life, I was not very good at using sketch books. But I quickly understood that most of those who did botanical art also did a lot of work in sketch books. 

Sketches from my Crabapple pages.

Encompassing sketchbook work I felt was difficult as I paint directly from the plant in front of me. Why would I want to sketch it several times before painting the final piece? Surely the plant, or flower or leaf would at least have changed or even died before I got to the final painting!

For my second exhibit in 2014, ‘Small is beautiful; Crab apples explored’ I did six pictures from six different crab apple trees – also in my garden. As the title suggests I was doing an exploration of each crab apple  – again over the year. The final artwork displayed the fruit and flowers and dissections of both; I again needed my microscope and sketchbook to get together the necessary information about each of my plants. 

Malus x atrosanguinea ‘Gorgeous’ setup

But this time. I also worked out another way of using my sketches and my photographs. Yes, I take an awful lot of photographs which I use to confirm detail. I have painted three pictures using this photo; but each picture is completely different.

I used the same photo setup but picked different apples and leaves from the garden each time I painted a picture.

Below are sections from two of the paintings. Compare the difference.

But what has all this got to do with my work process towards my current RHS exhibit? 

I learnt a lot during the process of planning for my previous exhibitions and it has all come in very useful for planning this one.

My first exhibit was done in watercolour on paper and the second one was colour pencil on paper. This time it is watercolour and graphite on vellum. A completely different kettle of fish! 

Preparation and plenty of sketches is everything. 

The main sketch that I used in the Cloudberry painting was the one below, drawn in 2017.  When working on my final artwork in 2022, I found appropriate plant pieces to paint from and the Work In Progress (WIP) is as you can see. The immature top fruit is rather different to the sketch, and the lower one has even started opening. This development is not on my original sketch, but I liked the layout of the sketch and wanted to incorporate it in my final piece. The final leaves were painted from several new ones, to include the ‘tatty’ nature of one of them from the sketch.

Rubus chamaemorusCloudberry WIP
Rubus chamaemorus – Cloudberry sketch.

Foraging plants in the norwegian mountains – 7. History of the project

Above are the seven plants I chose with trial pieces on vellum offcuts.

The species I chose, with common names also in English and Norwegian

  1. Rubus chamaemorus – cloudberry -multe
  2. Vaccinium oxycoccus subsp. microcarpum – small cranberry – tranebær
  3. Vaccinium uliginosum – bog bilberry – skinntryte
  4. Empetrum nigrum subsp. hermaphroditum– Mountain crowberry – krekling
  5. Vaccinium myrtillus – bilberry – blåbær
  6. Vaccinium vitis-idaea – cowberry/lingonberry – tyttebær
  7. Arctostaphylos uva-ursi – bearberry – melbær

I have listed the plants in the order according to the type of ground in which they grow – from boggy to sandy:

  • The cloudberry and small cranberry often found intertwined together in the boggy moss of a swampy lake edge. 
  • The bog bilberry is more of a bush and guards the very marshy plants perching on rocks in the marsh. 
  • The Mountain crowberry grows in various areas from rocky outcrops at the edge of a swamp, to tiny examples without much soil, clinging to the rock on mountain tops.
  • The bilberry and cowberry are generally in a similar habitat in damp woods and forests; the cowberry can be the main plant on an old wood ant heap often with bilberry and mountain crowberry.
  • Bearberry grows in sandy areas on the edge of forests or creeping down over smooth rock.

The next stage of this blog goes into my working practice for this series. After which I will talk a little about each of the species and how I painted the final pictures. I will use the above order of plants as I would love others to learn more about them, where to find them and their uses. 

The next blog will be on 13 April 2023.

Foraging plants in the norwegian mountains – 6. History of the project

My best view – Andersnatten at 23:00 in June.

Anyone would think I am trying to sell Norway. I am, it is a fantastically beautiful country. The picture above is in Sigdal, the valley below Haglebu. It is the view we had from the house we built in the late 1970’s. It is from here that I learnt to love Norwegian flora.

In the previous blog I finished off by saying that I still hadn’t seen any sign of one of the two species that got me going with this series of plants. This was the Bearberry (Arcostaphylos uva-ursi). I had already found out that they were not known to grow in the county I now live – along the west side of the Oslo Fjord; In fact locals didn’t seem to know about the plant!

In 2017, that very first summer of sketching, I managed to do some sketches of each of the five species already found. This gave me a feel for the plants but I still needed to do a lot of research into them. I had found that the cloudberry is dioecious – the male and female reproductive organs are separated in two different organisms; each plant is either male or female. My girlfriend from whom we had borrowed the cottage that year, was not aware of this. But, it seems, she was not alone in this as it was a surprise to many Norwegians with a cursory knowledge of the plants around them.

There was plenty of mountain crowberry ( Empetrum nigrum subsp. hermaphroditum) in the area round the cottage. The crowberry is a family of plants that isn’t quite straight forward in that the species at lower altitudes is dioecious like the Cloudberry, but at this altitude in the mountains is more generally a subspecies called ‘hermaphroditum’. This means it carries both male and female reproductive parts.

Finding plants and choices in 2018

The cottage at Flatvollen, near Haglebu. 906 metres over sea level.

As I realised I was going to need quite a few years to complete my series with only two weeks at a time when we could get to Norway, we decided to rent a cottage at a higher level in the mountains. We looked at an area where I had used to go skiing when younger – Haglebu at the top of the Sigdal valley where it goes over the mountain then steeply down into the next valley. This time we found a cottage at 906 metres over sea level and I could see that I would be near the plants I intended to paint. Although I still hadn’t found the one plant I had been looking for.

In front of the cottage there was quite a boggy plain and I knew that I could get plants such as Cloudberry there. Behind the cottage was steep mountain and I knew most of the other plants would be available to me there. 

We went for a short hike and explored. The marshy area was quite wet, but there were a lot of Cloudberry plants. Unfortunately, it was too late in the season to see any flowers but getting onto my hands and knees I got a real surprise. Weaving in and out of the boggy moss was the tiniest plant, with the smallest flowers and leaves. The plant was so insubstantial but lying on top of the moss were the remains of some red berries. This was Vaccinium oxycoccus Subsp. microcarpum (small Cranberry). The Cranberry bought in our shops is Vaccinium macrocarpum – large cranberry, and of course cultivated in large amounts in the US. 

I had just found my 6th plant, but still not the bearberry.

Below you see the small cranberry on top of the moss with sprigs of bog bilberry and mountain crowberry and a little Betula nana (Dwarf birch), often found as the last tree (no more than a low shrub) on the tree line.

I had to remind myself that the reason for getting interested in this series of plants was because the bearberry often got mixed up with the lingonberry (cowberry), and this often happened at lower elevations. I needed to continue my hunt for the species.

We went hunting and eventually I found quite a few plants in a dry sandy forest area in the next valley. This was Arctostaphylos uva-ursi (bearberry). I now had my seven species, although one of them was not in the immediate area where I was collecting my samples. That is, until I found some very near the cottage, growing down a rock face.

Finding the Arctostaphylos uva-ursi (bearberry)

More on the 9 April 2023

Foraging plants in the norwegian mountains – 5. History of the project

Since moving back to Norway there have been two bumper years for Cloudberry fruit and this is why we have so much in the freezer now.

But back to my sketches that were incomplete right up until last summer (2022). This plant in particular is not easy to find if you don’t know exactly where to look, and even then you might miss the right period of time.

We took a couple of long day trips into the mountains to look, and we eventually found what was missing. As well as a lot of driving, I extended the workday when I got back home. The flowers don’t last long and whilst I had them, I needed to dissect and sketch with measurements before going to bed. 

Robin birdwatching

The typical demands to a botanical artist. But luckily during the summer months we have a lot of daylight hours in southern Norway – in fact around mid-summer the sky doesn’t really go dark. Birdwatching at midnight is different to say the least! The picture to the left is Robin birdwatching at 5 mins past midnight on the 12 June – still over a week to mid-summer!

The lesson learned? Make sure when sketching that you have the where-with-all to measure various aspects of your plant and to make accurate colour swatches.

Equipment for sketching outside

As you will see from the pictures at the top, sketching on location can have various problems, from ants still defending their old anthill, a very hard bottom rest and a helpful cat.

The anthills in the Norwegian forests can be huge, but so too can the ants. They have a large territory to look after and a lot of old wood to turn into something future generations of trees and ants can live off. But they do have a painful bite! One often finds several of the plant species I was considering, growing on them. One often finds lingonberry, bilberry and mountain crowberry, well established on them. It also suggests what some of the ants transport to their home.

When I am out sketching in nature I minimise the amount of equipment I have with me. I try to keep everything in the same sketchbook and for watercolour use a Stillman & Birn, Zeta series. It has stood up well to the battering it has had and takes the watercolour washes well. 

Normally I use a bum-bag when walking not too far and it will contain this kit:

Of course I go nowhere in the mountains without my mobile phone, but these days they are much more than a phone or safety net. The Victsing 3-in-1 mobile phone camera lens was introduced to me many years ago by Sarah Morrish and I use this to get the details not normally seen very well. In particular it enabled me to get a picture and draw the growing tip with flowers of the Empetrum nigrum subsp. hermaphroditum (mountain crowberry) . I keep a small piece of mm paper with it to measure within the photos.

My palette is an old one with the original student colours removed and replaced with artist quality colours. I use transparent single pigment colours and normally have a couple of yellows and Quin Gold, Permanent Rose, Perylene Violet, Purple, A cold and warm blue and this time a single pigment green.

The pencils preferred are a 3B and HB as they are easy to lift if necessary, plus a single black fine liner pen. I only need to sharpen one of the pencils so have a sharpener to fit that. Otherwise travel brushes, ruler and erasers, magnifying glass, small water holder and kitchen towel. 

Sketching in the New Forest in the UK. I got a tick bite this time, but it wasn’t infected.
A dire warning; this is what happens when an infected tick bites. This is Robin’s leg last year.

If I take specimens with me, then I have a small plastic bag ready and can add some of my painting water. Sketching back in the cottage or at home means that I have all my equipment available.

I nearly forgot an important addition to the list above; Insect repellant because of the ticks, and sun screen, particularly here in Norway where the air is so clear.

The picture to the left is Robin’s leg last summer after a tick bite! We have a lot of dear and ticks, but doctors are very aware of the dangers and are quick to prescribe treatment.

A serious start on the series in 2017

My friend’s cottage at 800m over sea level.

By 2017 I still hadn’t decided which plants I was going to paint and this first year we borrowed a cottage from one of my oldest friends in Norway. The cottage was at about 850m over sea level. 

Around the cottage we found Rubus chamaemorus (cloudberry), bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus), cowberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea), bog bilberry (Vaccinium uliginosum)and mountain crowberry (Empetrum nigrum subsp. hermaphroditum). This was a pretty good start. 

Notice that three of them were Vacciniums – from the heather family. In fact the Blueberries you buy in the shops are yet another species (Vaccinium corymbosum) but they are farmed and not included in my choice.

Importantly I hadn’t found a bearberry (Arcostaphylos uva-ursi) which was partly the reason for choosing to do this series.

But there were loads of other lovely flowers such as Heath spotted orchids, geraniums and various insectivorous plants such as the Common butterwort. There was also plenty of Andromeda polifolia (bog rosemary) in the moss and amongst the new Cloudberry leaves. When seeing it growing at the Chelsea Physic Garden in London, I realised it was an opportunity to paint the species and the resulting picture resides in the Chelsea Physic Garden Florilegium collection.

Andromeda polifolia – Bog Rosemary

This continues on 6 April 2023

Foraging plants in the norwegian mountains – 4. History of the project

Weather is very changeable in the Norwegian mountains and although mid-summer, it can snow. This can make it difficult not only in choosing species to paint, but also finding them and making sketches in the open.

I still. hadn’t decided which species I was going to choose to follow up on, although I did have a rough idea. A lot depended on how easy it would be for me to access the plants and whether I could find them in the vicinity of the cottage we rented each year.

Several of the plants I had been thinking about had fairly small fruit and elements of the plants were also very small. How was I going to display this? One plant had large leaves and two had very tiny leaves. Some plants lived in very boggy areas, several had access to water but the roots weren’t lying in water, and one was happiest in dry areas such as sandy pine forests. Some of them intermingled.

How was I going to work this out? I wanted an exhibit that drew together seven different plants into a whole.

I started by just sketching mountain plants with fruit that were edible (not toxic). This started my several-year long period of ‘Constructive Procrastination’!

I started painting the final pieces in 2021 after moving back to Norway.


First page in my sketchbook – Cloudberry sketches

Today, my sketch pages are rather a mess. They started out beautifully organised, but as time has progressed, I have added more sketches, more information, and more colour matching. This means that my sketch book is now not a beautiful work of art but a tool to get enough information for completing a final composition.

This is the first page in the sketchbook I kept for this series. You can see the very first sketch of the cloudberry leaf that I did in 2014 whilst teaching at Åsgårdstrand. In later years I was able to add both male and female flowers actual size and enlarged dissections. BUT, I was stupid enough to forget to get all the measurements and have spent the last two summers chasing to find the relevant pieces at the right time of year. 

I had other pages with Cloudberry sketches including research done on the net, and referencing different photos I had taken, but none gave me all the information I needed!

It took me years to catch up on this plant as every year is so different. One can’t guarantee that flowering will happen at the same time each year, or, as in this case that you find both sexes of flower. One year, we had planned our trip from the UK to coincide with a roughly general fruit picking time for this plant. But when we got up to the cottage, everything was long over as it had been a very hot summer. 

I am telling you this here as it shows how important it is to get all the necessary information when you are doing the sketches. 

Cloudberry fruit sketches from berries given to us by a kind couple who had found ripe fruit 200m above where we had looked.

Each year we rented the same cottage in the mountains for a two-week period. I spent the whole time sketching and painting, when we weren’t out hunting for specimens or picking fruit.

By 2018 I had not been lucky enough to find any fruit since starting the project in 2014.

One day we were out picking Bilberries when below me I saw a couple walking along a path with two bulging plastic bags full of something orange. I knew immediately what they were and rushed down to ask the stupid question ‘where did you find these’? I knew full well no-one gives up the location of their ‘mountain gold’ – a name used for Cloudberry fruit. But luckily enough when I explained what I wanted them for, they gave me two berries. The above sketch is those two berries. My husband had never even tasted them at that point, so they became a treat for him!

This will continue 2 April 2023