First Christmas for 24 years living in Norway

I haven’t been able to write a blog since the last one in May. A lot has happened since then – not only for me but for many people! But this is a very brief description of what we have gone through, just to bring you up to date.

As in most families the world over, children are always concerned about their parents, particularly during these difficult times. My daughter asked us if we would consider moving back to Norway and my husband said yes immediately. It took a little while to persuade me as although I have always loved Norway, it took me a long time to get used to living back in the UK again. Eventually I said yes and the process started.

We sold our house – not without hiccups on the way, and whilst this was going through we packed and moved late August. My daughter invited us to live with her whilst we got sorted here in Norway and although all the legal issues have taken far longer than normal because of Covid, everything is completed this week and we now are legal residents. Best of all, my daughter and I are still friends!

We have found a lovely house (address and contact details above) and will be moving into it 11 January. It is a very exciting time even though we have had continuous rain for the last 14 days and 31 of the last 44 days. Global warming hits here too. We are coming towards the shortest day of the year after which everything will start getting lighter again. One notices how dark and short the days are, even in southern Norway, when it is overcast. But when the sun comes out, it is fairly low on the horizon and sparkling bright.

I’m not going to bore you with loads of writing. I have only done some painting to keep my hand in, such as the Amanita mascara above, and a fairly regular weekly entry sketch into my perpetual diary. I am still running my Botanical art online course https://gaynorsflora.com/tuition-2/online-botanical-art-course/. I have discovered that the pandemic has given many old students the chance to finish off the course and for many new students the excuse to start it.

There are two sections of photographs here. The first are from my perpetual diary since being back in Norway and the other is a series showing the area in which we are and will be living. Notice the change in light and obvious temperature.

My latest piece of botanical art – in Watercolour

Bog Rosemary at 900 metres in the Norwegian mountains. Peeping up from Sphagnum moss and surrounded by Cloudberry leaves.

Its been a while since I last did a blog about my process, but as I am getting into a new piece I thought I would share it with you as I go along. First of all let me tell you the story behind the plant.

The plant is Andromeda polifolia or bog rosemary and I first saw it in wet boggy areas high up in the Norwegian mountains.

I am painting a series of plants with edible fruit from this area  but found this beautiful little flower and decided to investigate it. The fruit is not edible and may in fact, cause some uncomfortable side effects, therefore not suitable for my series.

Andromeda polifolia in Chelsea Physic Garden, London.

The plant was named by Linnaeus, comparing the plant to Andromeda. The plant is indeed beautiful in its native boggy setting.

I am a member of the Chelsea Physic Garden Florilegium Society (CPGFS) and one of the plants in the garden is an Andromeda polifolia, although at lower altitudes it seems to be a much sturdier plant, taller and with more leaves. Being part of a Florilegium means that on a yearly basis one has to paint one of the gardens plants as part of its documentation process. With the beautiful little mountain plant I had in mind from Norway, I thought this a fantastic opportunity to study and paint it properly for the CPGFS. By the way, although I am painting it for the CPGFS, it doesn’t mean that it will be accepted. A rigorous process is gone through before artwork is accepted into their collection – this I won’t know until February 2021.

As I normally do, I studied the plant carefully, researched it and drew detailed sketches in my sketchbook. I also dissected the flower as I thought this told a story in its own right. The anthers have appendages which is typical of plants in the Ericaceae (Heather) family. Also, the petals (5) are fused into a tube. I am not a botanist, but the more I study the plants I paint or draw, I feel I always want to know more about them!

Once I felt I had enough information I planned my composition. This is not always easy and although we have lots of ‘rules’ etc to guide us, in the end it is what you feel looks best that is the decider. Here are two plans that I made to choose from.

Which one do you prefer?

In the end I chose the composition to the right as I felt this was more likely to guide the eye around the composition.

I did both of these compositions digitally, using the sketches from my sketchbook.

The following pictures are are photos taken at different stages, but as the painting is not finished I will need to come back with additional blogs to show you the rest of the process. By the way, the graphite line drawing in the centre is a habitat drawing showing the plant at its natural size.

When I wasn’t walking in Norway …

…..I was either hunting for plants or painting.

I had a list of plant detail that I had worked out I needed to complete the composition planning for my series of pictures. My vellum size for each piece is 25 x 31 cm – which I suppose relatively speaking is quite small. But all but one of my plants is very small with leaves varying from 2-6mm long on the Vaccinium microcarpum, to the Rubus chamaemorus where the leaves vary hugely in size.

Vaccinium microcarpum – Small Cranberry – Leaves 2-6mm long.

Impetrum niger ssp. Hermaphroditum – Crowberry – Leaves 3-6 mm long

Rubus chaaemorus – Cloudberry (image is 13cm high)

I decided that rather than work on all seven pictures at once as I have done so far, I would work on half this year and the rest next year. For all of them I needed to do some colour matching on vellum as this will be different to the colours I have used on paper. You have already seen the small piece I did on the Cranberry a couple of blogs ago. You may also have noticed the difference to the actual flower size (tiny) and the painting  which I did at twice the size.

Luckily enough although there is a slight difference in the terrain from which each of the plants come from, we have found each species within walking distance of the cottage in which we have been staying. The Cloudberry and the Cranberry can be found intertwined with each other in the soggy sphagnum moss – but not always. The Bog Blueberry (Vaccinium uliginosum) comes from a similar area, but I have seen it reaching up the side of rugged outcrops. The Crowberry can be found all over the mountains although the Ssp Hermaphroditum can only be found at higher altitudes. The Bilberry can also be found pretty well most places, but doesn’t seem to be above the tree-line and doesn’t seem to like really boggy areas. The Cowberry – Lignonberry (Vaccinium vitas-idaea) is spread on ant mounds and rocky outcrops.  Common Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) likes much drier conditions and is often found in pine woods. But we did find an example not far from the cottage. Last year Robin drove about 150km to find a spot that I knew about!

Below is the colour sample of the Bog blueberry done this year. The very new new leaves start out quite red and as they get older they become bluer and stiffer. Sorry the photo is a little dark.

Vaccinium uliginosum – Bog blueberry – Watercolour on vellum 5×7″, painted twice natural size.

How the weather and the plants change in the mountains.

The other side of the valley looking down to the cottage

Robin, ant directing!

You might not be able to make out too much detail in this picture, but we were on the other side of the valley from the cottage in which we stayed. To get there we went down to 806 metres and the highest part was 1104 metres. We only walked about 10 km – in 5hours and finished it off with a waffle and sour cream. Delicious!

This time the day was fantastic. The wind had dropped and it was actually warm-ish – about 16º C. In some areas we even took off our fleeces.

On our journey we found female Cloudberries, Pedicularis sceptrum – Moor King, ants struggling down a little river (so we provided some with a life raft and others with a bridge).

Usnea Lichen

We also found a birch wood with a lot of fresh Usnea lichen hanging off the trees.

Birch skog.


I have always found that the colours in Norway at this time of year really sparkle. The green of the grass seems so new and the blue of the sky is also amazing. Of course you can see for miles and miles.

Waiting

We still had a way to go and my poor daughter stretching ahead, sometimes had to wait for us old fogeys. I think she is almost at the highest point of our walk at this stage, just about to trek downhill.

Trailing azalea – Loiseleuria procumbens

Unripe Cloudberry – Rubous chamaemorus

We continued to see some amazing flora including the Trailing azalea and large patches of female cloudberries.

Seeing so much cloudberries meant of course that we were walking through areas of quite boggy ground. But I can’t tell you exactly where, because for a Norwegian, the site of ripe Cloudberries is a trade secret and never divulged to anyone!

When you see the final pictures of Norwegian mountain foraging plants in a couple of years time, you will know what lengths have been gone to to get subject matter!

The length botanical artists go to get the right plants!

My daughter, husband and I ready to battle the elements on our first hike together this working holiday. We managed 3 km in 4 hours!

Preparing to climb the mountain behind the cottage in the bitter cold and hail!

It was bitter cold and hailing when we started out, with a temperature of only 2º, and the wind coming from the north! It felt quite a tough climb particularly as I wasn’t in as good shape as I used to be. But the views were worth it, as were seeing the variety of plants.

On the way up we saw quite a lot of wild flowers from Wood Cranesbill, Bilberry, Bog Bilbury or Blueberry, Cowberry (or for Ikea addicts – Lignon berry), Bog Rosemary, and loads of Chickweed Wintergreen everywhere we looked.

Its funny, but this last plant really livened up the steep slopes and the Norwegian translation of its name felt more like the experience we had of it – Star of the Woods!

Wood crane’s bill – Geranium sylvaticum

We rapidly got above the tree line with lots of heathers (most of the plants I have mentioned come from that family) and low lying Mountain Birch.

The small plateau on which we arrived had a lake and a further track leading over the mountain top. Patches of winter snow still lay there.

Rypebaer, Arctostaphylos alpina – Arctic Bearberry

On a patch of rock clung another plant carrying its immature fruit – The Artic Bearberry. I have heard of it, but hadn’t really made particular note of it before. Perhaps the redness of its autumn colour confused me with the red of the prostrate Mountain Birch.

 

Vaccinium uliginosum – Bog blueberry/bilberry – Skinntryte

This is the other plant I managed to colour match on vellum whilst up in the mountains. But I will update about that one in a later blog.

Cold but stunningly beautiful!

Summer snow in the Norwegian mountains

Whilst everyone else is suffering extremely high temperatures in Europe, we are experiencing +4 high in the mountains of southern Norway! I believe it is warmer at the North Cape.

However, as there is now no longer a direct ferry from the UK to Norway, we drive here over several days, with our cargo of painting equipment. A necessity for the job I am going to do whilst here.

On the way we stopped off in Amsterdam to visit my son and partner and had a cycle ride to the coast in 37 degrees. It was almost a relief to eventually get to a cooler climate, although the day we arrived it was in the high twenties lower down in the valley.

Today’s view from our rented cottage.

Since then, the temperature has gradually sunk even lower. Today we are awaiting my daughter who lives on the Norwegian coast, advising her to bring  winter woollies. I didn’t dare tell her that it has been snowing today – although it hasn’t settled.

So why am I subjecting my sun loving and warmth seeking husband to todays chill in the Norwegian mountains? It’s the plants of course. I am now back to getting all the plant information to paint my pictures for my next RHS exhibit. I know I have spoken about this for a couple of years or so, but my involvement in the Worldwide Botanical art exhibition last year and continuance with setting up the Association of British Botanical Artists (ABBA), rather delayed things.

Because of the delay, I also lost my right to exhibit at the RHS – this year being five years since I last exhibited. I therefore had to apply again. Luckily, my work in general was again accepted as potentially worthy of a medal place, so now I am going to work through my subjects properly and, rather than rushing it, plan to exhibit in 2021.

Små Tranebær is Small Cranberry in Norwegian. The practice piece is twice natural size (the actual flower top right) is on vellum – as the final work will be.

This year I am focusing on three of the plants I have chosen and plan to get information I feel is lacking to complete a picture. My first is Vaccinium microcarpum – or Small cranberry. Last year I was able to find ripe fruit and was able to get all the information from that. Previously I had only drawn one flower, so I am concentrating on these now.

I thought you might be interested in my already messy workplace setup at 910 metres over sea level!

If Denise Walser-Kolar sees this blog, I hope she will notice I have taken on board her teaching. As long as I practice what she taught in Vienna, painting on vellum is going much better – even with the tiny leaves! Thank you Denise.

The other two plants I hope to get some more information on is the Vaccinium uliginosum (Bog Blueberry) and a little from the Rubus chamaemorus (Cloudberry). In both instances, it is only small details I need. I have already noticed that the leaf colour of the Bog blueberry seems to change in the sun. New leaves have a red tinge to the edge of the leaves, older leaves don’t, but in the sun they become red to almost a Perylene Violet (for watercolour artists) colour. I didn’t realise that before.

The Cloudberry fruit is only to be found on female plants. Each plant can be quite huge and spread many metres. Around the cottage I have only seen the male flowers of the Cloudberry – no female ones at all. it might be because it hasn’t warmed up very much yet where we are. The temperatures are set to improve, but I doubt we will be here long enough to benefit from it.

Please don’t get the wrong impression of Norway. The summers can be hot and the winters cold. It is a fantastically beautiful country and every area has its own attraction. I like it in the area we are staying as I lived in the valley for several years. Lastly, a picture of the sun rise a couple of days ago. It doesn’t get totally black at night at this time of year, but this was taken at 03:30.

Bringing you up to date with Gaynor’s Flora

It is an awfully long time since I last wrote a blog! It isn’t because I didn’t want to – it was just the usual problem – Time!

The Worldwide Botanical Art Exhibition held in May 2018 took over my life virtually from the latter part of 2016. Initially it was to put on the UK arm of the exhibition, but this evolved with the development of ABBA.

My last blog post was following the London RHS exhibition in July 2018 when I, as part of ABBA (Association of British Botanical Artists), helped man its stand. We had a great response to the formation of the organisation and found that there was a huge expectation and need for us to continue. That is where all my time has gone!

With a fantastic new team and a lot of hard work, especially from the other members, we have come a long way since then. A new ABBA website, which also opens up to membership, is planned for 21 March. As I write this it is only 18 days away. Read about what ABBA is all about and watch for when the new website is launched by following this link:  ABBA

After the RHS exhibition I realised that I had to get my own botanical art life back on track. I knew this would take time as work would continue with the development of ABBA.

I have previously mentioned the preparation I was doing for my own next RHS exhibit. It is a series of plants from the Norwegian mountains. Robin and I travelled to the beautiful Norwegian mountains in early August, where I continued to sketch my chosen subjects. In 2017 I had sketched my subjects in flowers this time I hoped to catch all of them with fruit. As we all know, the climate changes from year to year, so it is difficult to judge when is the absolute best time foreach of the plants. Heat and drought had also struck Norway, but luckily enough after much hunting we managed to find examples of everything. Whew!

Initially I had planned to get the series of paintings ready to exhibit this year, five years since my last exhibit and the last year I am allowed to do so without being re-assessed by the RHS. One has to be able to produce botanical art at a consistent set standard before being allowed to exhibit. The standard is rising year on year! But because of all the commitments already mentioned, I was unable to start on my final paintings and they will not be ready in time. I will not rush them. This means I have to go through the RHS application process again.

Here’s hoping they don’t refuse me! The sketches below were done in 2018 and are fruit, leaves and roots from three of the plants. In actual fact, I could write about my time sketching in the mountains and about each of the plants in detail. Perhaps one day I will. The more I learn about them the more fascinating they become.

Cloudberry, Cowberry and the tiniest plant is Cranberry.

There was a heatwave in the UK whilst we enjoyed cooler conditions at 900 metres in Norway. When we returned home for a short period the weather cooled down. In October we travelled to experience Spring in Western Australia with my sister. Again there was a heatwave in the UK whilst initially in WA we were dressing warmly with anoraks, jumpers and boots. My husband loves the warmth, I like it in between!

It was cooler in the southern part of the state, but quite warm by the time we went north. Whilst in WA we saw the most amazing varieties of spring flowers and took nearly 3000 pictures. Imagine if we had done this on the old 35mm cameras! I perspire (as I am a woman) at the thought of getting them all processed.

These pictures are from the northern part of the state near the Pinnacles in WA. It was apparently the worst period for flies. Although we laughed at the idea of wearing fly nets over our hats, it didn’t take many minutes to change our minds. But the flies still managed to get in many nooks and crannies you didn’t know existed. 

Since we got back at the beginning of November I have been trying to catch up. Nothing has been straight forward, but I now see this blog as the beginning of getting back to some state of normality – even if the ABBA website launch and membership is only a few days away.

I have decided that my next blog will show you how I have changed the ergonomics of my workplace in the shed. Hopefully it will be of interest as a well adjusted workplace is the best way to keep one healthy enough to keep on painting for many years.

Mountain gold!

This is a plant found amongst other places, in the mountains in Norway. It is one of the reasons For my next RHS exhibit – probably in 2019, I decided to paint Norwegian mountain plants that provide food for us mere mortals. Its scientific name is Rubys chamaemorus, but the common name in Norwegians is ‘Multe’, and in English, ‘Cloudberrry’.

Unripe Cloudberry

Why is it called ‘mountain gold’? Apart from its very special taste, it is not always easy to find. It likes boggy areas and generally you will find that Norwegians will not tell anyone else where ‘their’ patch can be found. I know one or two places because I used to live in the mountains in Norway. I also found some whilst staying in a friend’s cottage this summer (Tusen takk Eva og Jon for låne av din nydelig hytte Thank you Eva and Jon for lending us your beautiful cottage). I was in the mountains specifically to sketch these and other plants I had decided to include in my exhibit.

If you travel to Norway and ask someone where cloudberries can be found, unless you know your host well, it is unlikely that you will be told.

The picture on the right is an unripe Cloudberry. There are very strict laws governing this plant, therefore it is illegal to pick them before they are fully ripe. At that stage they are a beautiful golden orange colour. Unfortunately I have no pictures of a ripe fruit as this happens in the autumn, that is why I need to travel back again next year to sketch the ripe fruit.

Over the years I have picked a lot of Cloudberries and thought I knew them! I also found that Norwegians are as un-knowledgeable as I am. Because I am now studying the plants to paint I decided to delve deeper. But I also needed to find the flowers and the unripe fruit to draw. This year, there were few fruit ripening, but an awful lot of flowers. On closer examination and with the help of a very good series of old botanical books borrowed from the Eggedal Library (Tusen takk Jorunn. Thank you Jorunn), I discovered that Cloudberries are dioecious, either male or female plants. Each plant has a huge underground root system travelling for some distance and that is why I found difficulty when looking for the unripe fruit.

Patch of male cloudberries.

Patch of female cloudberries.

The large patches of flowers were mostly all male, but we were soon able to distinguish these patches at a distance. They had a lot of beautiful white flowers, but also  many red sepals where the petals had fallen off.

The female plants seemed to be few and far between – less than last year. The flowers were  fewer and smaller, but with several immature fruits at different stages of development.

Like so many of the plants I have painted, I study them first then become completely intrigued by them. This of course helps me portray them as best I can.

Before I show you the sketches, this is a picture of a small female cloudberry patch in quite a boggy/Sphagnum moss area, together with nearly all of the plants I had chosen to do and which I will talk about in other blogs.The picture also includes Robin’s boots, Vaccinium oxycoccus(which I didn’t think I would find as its so tiny),Vaccinium myrtillus (small blueberry),Empetrum nigrum (crowberry),Vaccinium uliginosum (bog blueberry) and Andromeda pilifolia (a heather I won’t be including in the series).

Robin’s foot and a mix of plants.

So what is the difference between male and female flowers? It should be obvious, but I’m afraid I never looked and saw previously. I just took things for granted.

Male Cloudberry flower – larger than female.

Longitudinal section of Male Cloudberry flower.

The male flower contains stamens in a ring round the inside of the outer whorl.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Smaller female cloudberry flower.

Longitudinal section of female cloudberry flower.

The female flower is slightly smaller than the male flower, has several styles and stigma in the centre – one to each ovary, but round the edge is a ring of white, sterile stamens.

 

Cloudberry plant with developing fruit.

Sketch page of Cloudberries.

Wonderful Norway!

I have been in Norway sketching mountain plants that I will be painting for my next RHS exhibit in 2019. A long time in the future you might think, but in actual fact I now have my time cut out to get it all done in time. Not made easier by the views from the winter cottage where we were staying.

On the way up to the cottage we were kindly put up by some friends who also made sure we were able to celebrate St Hans in the Norwegian tradition. Our journey continued up to the valley where I used to live, called Sigdal and then further up into Eggedal where some dear friends have the winter cottage they allowed us to use for the duration. This was at 830 metres over sea level and a 5ºC difference in temperature from the village down in the valley.

The temperature difference and the incredible invasion of gnats notwithstanding, we had a really super two-week period. I found all the plants that I had chosen to include – which I will come back to in a later blog. But my main distraction was the two ‘bird’ houses just outside the cottage, one of them  directly outside the kitchen window where I was working. The pictures are just some of the animals and birds that were constantly at the table.

It was just as lucky that it was nearly 24 hour light. I think that the sky was darkish for about two hours, but the horizon was very light – at least when the sky was clear. The light allowed me to work long hours and the last evening I worked until 23:00 without extra light!

 

Bullfinch male and Coaltit

Inquisitive young fox on our way up to the cottage.

Mr and Mrs Bullfinch

Coal tit

Mr. Bullfinch

Red Squirrel – one of several. At times there were at least 5-6 trying to get onto the feeding table. Some with dark tails, some with red ones, some with tufted ears and others with only one tufted ear – even ears without tufts.

Nuthatch

European crested Tit

Checking if anyone else is home!

For good measure this was the some of my view from the kitchen window!

What a distraction!

My children also came for a few days and in addition they saw an elk and a Black Grouse.