Crafts From the Past | Episode
Jun 15, 2023 | 8 min

Rosemaling is an art form that originated in Norway during the cold winter months when boredom was just as troublesome as the cold. Artists began painting delicate flower motifs on wood that quickly took off and became folk art. Rosemaler Ruth Green takes us step by step through a simple rosemaling project.


Coming to Decorah, Vesterheim Museum offers classes in rosemaling. So, I was able to take classes there, which got me hooked and I have continued to do it to this day. 


(Text on screen: Crafts From the Past)

Hi, I'm Ruth Green and today I will be showing you how to do rosemaling. Traditionally, rosemaling was done on painted surfaces. So, I usually use an acrylic background paint in either dark or medium values and put the paint on.

(Text on screen: Rosemaling Fact: Rosemaling is decorative painting that originated in Norway as far back as the 1700s. It translates to Rose Painting.)

The first coat will raise the grain of the wood. So, once that is dried then I have to sand it down and I usually put on at least two more coats. Usually I let it dry about three days. Because it's a symmetrical design, I take and make a tracing pattern and then draw my design on that. 


Ruth Green: When that is finished, I tape it to the wood and transfer it with something called transfer paper.

(Text on screen: Rosemaling FYI: Transfer paper can be found in most art supply stores.)

I work with three different values of each color. I have a dark, a medium and a light value of each color. For this particular piece, I have five different colors that I'll work with.

(Text on screen: Rosemaling Facts: The many styles of Rosemaling include: Rogaland, Hallingdal, Telemark and Valdres.)

For this style, you work with the things that are underneath first. So, I will do the leaves on this flower and then I will work up the petals that lay on top of that. I work with small, flat brushes. Rosemaling is stroke work.

(Text on screen: Supply list:

   - Wood item

   - Paints (at least three colors)

   - Paint brushes

   - Pattern and transfer paper

   - Palette

   - Painting medium

Tips for Success: Try to work out your colors before you starting painting. You'll use less paint than you think. Hold your brush steady. Keep some folded up tissues next to palette to wipe excess paint.)

So, I lay on the paint in either a c-stroke or an s-stroke or part of one for each section. So, I have put the middle value green on and I have left room on either side for the dark and the light. Then I will do what I call side loading the brush and lay on the dark. 

(Text on screen: Side Loading: Dipping one side of the brush gently into the paint.)


Ruth Green: I like to keep some folded-up tissues next to my palette so that I can wipe some of the paint off the brush. You use surprisingly a small amount of paint when doing this. So, after I have the dark edge on the leaf, I want to go in and put the light edge on, and this is what I consider the underside of the leaf. And it is actually done in an s-stroke. I start out on the chisel edge, push down as I go through and then come up on the chisel edge as I finish that stroke. 


Ruth Green: And then three vein lines inside that run parallel to that light edge. Because I'm working in oils and it's wet it picks up some of that color that is underneath. But I personally like that because it kind of softens those colors. Then, to finish the leaf, we do what is called a tear drop. I go to a small, round brush. 


Ruth Green: And load it and come down about a third of the way down the back of that leaf and I want to make it look like it's just growing out of that line. The next thing that would be done is to start the flower petals. 


Ruth Green: After that is done, then I can go to my lightest value and lay on the outside shape of that petal. And then I like to decorate it a bit. So, I will, again, side load with the white, the lightest white, and come in and lay on a second stroke. And this time I'm not putting as much pressure on the brush because I don't want to be wiping off the paint that is underneath. The next step then is we want to finish up this petal and it has a little blue area. So, I will do the same with this. I will dirty my brush in the middle value, wipe it out. It just makes the brush move a little smoother if it has paint in it. After that is done then we can do the red petals. I want to make it look, again, like it's growing out of that petal. So, I will just tip the brush in my darkest value so that when I lay down the brush and pull it up I'm gradually increasing the pressure and push it down and let the paint come out from around the brush. I try to work out colors before I start painting, but sometimes when I do start painting you discover that you might want to change your color placement. Then we have some smaller flowers on the outside edge. 

(Text on screen: Rosemaling Facts: After slowing down due to the Industrial Revolution around 1850, Rosemaling has seen a resurgence of popularity.)


Ruth Green: The next thing then is we need to put the details on, which would be the stem lines to hold the outside flowers, tie it into the middle flower. So, I want to pull them out. 


Ruth Green: On the outside edge of the flower. 


Ruth Green: Then the very last thing that I do is put dots on the piece. And for dots I have to have paint that is really quite thin. And so, I use my wipe on polyurethane to add to the paint mainly just to help it dry a little faster. Then I can pick up the paint and just drop it off. 


Ruth Green: Then the last thing I would do for this is I would put a border on the outside edge of the piece. 


Ruth Green: And leave a little space in between each s-stroke. Usually what I do is I get almost all the way around and then I kind of measure with my fingers to see about how many more little s-strokes I can fit in there so that they will come together and then you're done. 


(Text on screen: Crafts From the Past logo)