First Norwegian botanical art workshop since our move.

The first botanical art workshop in Skoppum

At the end of February this year I decided that at last the situation in Norway was such that it was reasonably safe to have a workshop for the first time since the start of the pandemic early 2020. I therefore put together an email with very short deadline – one month.

I sent the email to everyone who had been in touch with me with a query about botanical art workshops in Norway. I was surprised to see that there were quite a few on the list, but as this was the first workshop since moving back to Norway, I decided that I didn’t want too many people first time around.

Yes I had taught in Norway previously whilst I lived here 25 years ago, but I knew that I would need to rebuild my reputation for teaching here again. I needed to find out if anything had changed and if expectations were different from that time, or from my experience in the UK and the USA in the interim.

Three people got back in touch with me immediately and signed up for the workshop. They arrived on Friday late afternoon, and came back raring to go both on Saturday and Sunday. I think that the smell of newly made coffee and home made cakes just out the the oven helped to relax everyone from day one.

This was the first time I had met any of them although one was a student from my online course. All of them were fairly / very new to botanical art and from the atmosphere, I think that each of them became just as thrilled at discovering what nature has to offer as I have become over the years.

The subjects chosen: The ground is still fairly frozen here with several minus degrees at night, although the sun is beginning to warm well during the day. The are some new shoots in the verges and woods starting with Coltsfoot. But all of the plants chosen this time were from the local garden centres; tulips, fritillary, daffodils and narcissus. The temptation to choose something very exciting looking such as a rose or filled narcissus, is huge. But when starting out, looking at something simple and how it is put together so that that you know what to look for, is very important.

I am glad to say that in the end, each chose plants suitable in relation to their experience in painting botanically. And, each commented on the joy of being able to ‘see’.

Everyone chose to paint using watercolour. Norway doesn’t seem to have many botanical artists at all, so hopefully their enthusiasm will help to change this situation. But just as botanical art in itself is unusual, so is the use of coloured pencil. Hopefully this too will expand with time.

I am thrilled to say that I now have several new Norwegian botanical art friends and look forward to making more with further workshops planned.

Outside my comfort zone

I love painting small plants; plants that seem insignificant but are beautiful and worth noticing.

I love the challenge of painting the detail of these small plants so that everyone gets a chance to admire them and perhaps look out for them whilst out and about.

One day I was walking near the station in Tønsberg, Norway and saw some shrivelled Rosa rugosa hips in the snow. I picked one little branch thinking I might paint it on vellum. However my daughter thought I should accept a challenge outside my normal comfort zone; She felt I should portray it much enlarged on paper.

The thought of doing this felt very uncomfortable as I have noticed that some artists who suddenly go large do not increase the amount of detail and the picture doesn’t do the plant justice. I have drawn and painted parts of some compositions scaled up so that the viewer can actually see the detail, but have never done a whole painting like this. Was this going to work for me?

Sketching the Rosa rugosa

I started sketching the hips into my sketchbook, then once I had a good line drawing I transferred this to my Fabriano paper; Luckily I have quite a lot of the ‘old’ batches of both Artistico and Fab 5. This is done on Artistico Extra white.

Ready to start painting

You can see here that I really look after my paper whilst painting. It is so easy to get splashes or ‘dropped brush’ marks if one isn’t careful.

I normally cover the art paper with layout paper hung from the top. Then I cut it into about three strips so that I only have the part I’m painting, uncovered. On the lower part I tape clear acetate.

First stage of painting

I always lift out the graphite tracing before I start the first layer of paint and lay the clearest colours first. However, in this picture I decided to lay a neutral tint wash(made of three primaries) under my colours to indicate the direction of light and form.

For the next rose-hip in the bunch of four, I decided to replace the graphite outline with a watercolour pencil. I sometimes do this if I am a little unsure of where I am going in the painting, but I use only a pale colour. I lift off the excess pigment with a putty rubber and using a slightly dampened brush I soften the watercolour pencil edge making sure no water goes outside the line of my subject.

… And so the third rose-hip….

I wanted to do some of the picture in graphite, leading into the main part with the hips. Sometimes using graphite towards the background can reduce the heaviness of a picture. The stem of the Rose-hip is very prickly and therefore doing some of it with various graphite pencils made sense. I used graphite along the whole length of main stem and then colour washed part of it.

I did this picture five times life-size and it comfortably fits an A3 sheet of paper. Does it succeed?

One final comment; Rosa Rugosa grows everywhere in southern Norway and it is not a native species, therefore they are being removed wherever possible. This is because they take over the habitat from other species that belong here. I remember with shame that I was one of those people in the early seventies who planted a Rosa Rugosa hedge in the front garden – across the fjord from where I live now. My children were small at the time and I knew that the hips provided a lot of Vitamin C. But I know now that it is not a good enough reason to introduce a foreign species.

Dying Rosa rugosa

An update: life and botanical art

Empetrum nigrum & tracing to vellum

I have been working on four of my six or seven pictures to go to an RHS exhibition in London. This has been a very long-going saga as the process has been interrupted several times since I decided to do it.

Mountain area – home to the plant series.

After the last time I took part in the RHS exhibition in 2014 I decided that I was going to do a series of plants called ‘Foraging in the Norwegian Mountains’. Anyone who has read my blog, which more recently has been rather sporadic, will have heard me talk about the series on numerous occasions.

Whilst living on the South coast of England I travelled to Norway for two weeks each year to sketch the plants I had chosen. This was the only time I had them accessible although I had some similar plants in my garden in Bosham. I have to say that they didn’t flourish there – too warm.

But then other things got in the way;

Invitation to the England part of the Botanical Art Worldwide exhibition

2016-2018, I started up the Association of British Botanical Artists (ABBA) and managed the England entry to the Worldwide Exhibition in 2018.

2018. As founder and president, changed ABBA to a membership organisation

Support from Dr Shirley Sherwood who became the ABBA Patron
ABBA logo from 2019
ABBA logo 2016-2018

2019. By the middle of this year ABBA was well on its way as a recognised botanical art organisation and Elaine Allison took over managing the ABBA project completely. I thought, at last I would have time to paint. I had done some, but not as much as I would have liked and working on the Norwegian plants project had been limited to two weeks each year.

December 2019, Covid hit us all.

Before – Bosham in May – South coast England

Mid 2020. My daughter, living in Norway, expressed her anxiety for us if anything happened. What she actually said was that we were too old to live in England by ourselves and that it was about time we moved back to Norway. Robin, who had never lived in Norway, promised to learn the language and his son (who had just moved back to England) gave his blessing. The rest of 2020 became filled with house selling, packing, moving, home searching and buying – my daughter even coped with us living with her!!

After – Skoppum in May – Eastern Norway

Robin started to learn the language, but all the legal stuff in relation to officialdom and applying for residency in an EEC country, plus details in relation to house buying, fell to me. I managed to paint the Fly agaric – Amanita muscaria and a couple of sketches in my perpetual diary (painting cup half-full), plus continued to advise and mark assignments for my Botanical art online course students.

Long shadows at midday, a month after the sun turned.

January 2021 – we moved into our new home with a view of the Oslo fjord in the distance. The year was used to make the house into our home, although we had a lot to learn about what works here and what doesn’t. The garden is mostly rock, so planting is very much an ongoing trial as we battle with little earth and a temperatures that vary between -20˚C to +35˚C (warming climate). Botanical art is not as well thought of as in the UK, but once the lock-downs are over I already have quite a list of people wanting to do a botanical art workshop.

Icy walking is only safe with studs – but the kitten doesn’t care as long as there are laces!

Now I have to plan my botanical art work a little differently living in Norway. We have had snow since November last year but it hasn’t been quite as cold as last winter, although that can change. With recent thaws during the day and minus degrees at night, the snow turns to thick ice. This means I don’t have access to my plants during the winter so I had to change my working process.

‘Foraging in the Norwegian Mountains’ botanical art series on vellum.

NB; I won’t be showing you the finished compositions until they are shown at the RHS exhibition – probably 2023, but will show parts of them.

After all these time delays for the series, all I had was sketches and colour samples in my sketch book, plus some small studies on the vellum I would be using. I had heard the phrase ‘productive procrastination’ and thought I now knew what it meant!

Cloudberry – Multe- Rubus chamaemorus sample on vellum
Sketchbook drawing Crowberry – Krekling – Empetrum nigrum

I had worked out the composition of all of my pictures and how they would be hung as a group at the exhibition. Each picture will be on mounted vellum and shows the plants both enlarged in colour and actual size in graphite. Last summer I painted the colour part of four pictures so that I would have the actual plants and could match colour at the same time. I planned to do the graphite on those four paintings during this winter and so far have completed three of them – except for scale bars.

Graphite on vellum is not easy and depends upon the vellum, which, as a living material can change from one part to another. In some areas I have been able to use pencils, but in others a brush. My last two paintings have very tiny leaves and the last one, Empetrum nigrum which I will show part of here, has been a bit of headache!

Graphite drawing on vellum

With Empetrum nigrum the leaves actual size are about 2mm long and the unripe fruit is about 4mm. I have had to vary the hardness of the pencil used so that I get clean lines, rather than gritty ones. It doesn’t seem to matter if I use my most expensive pencils or not as it is the surface of the vellum that decides. Sometimes I use the pencil first, if too pale I paint a layer of water-soluble graphite on top, then finish off with another layer of pencil, finally lifting off loose graphite and ’fixing’ it with water. It certainly is not as straight forward as using graphite on paper.

This winter, only one more vellum picture to finish off with the graphite drawing. Spring is on its way, although the sun is still low on the horizon; plants will wake up after their winter rest; trips into the mountains to look forward to and planning for the colour part of the final three pictures.

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.