Rosemalers might paint on just about anything! You can find rosemaling on signs, furniture, bowling pins, in banks and laundramats throughout Wisconsin. Lois Mueller has rosemaled many different types of surfaces: jewelry, glass, ceilings, window crowns, — even a violin! Click on this image to see the back of this violin.
How does she do it?
Before she begins to paint a wooden item, Lois first sands it. Next she chooses the background paint. In most cases she’ll apply a coat of paint, sand that, and apply a second coat. Then the piece is ready to decorate.
Lois decides which style she’ll follow. You’ll find many traditional styles of rosemaling, each named after their home region in Norway. Lois mostly paints in Rogaland, Telemark, and Valdres styles. When she wants a challenge she’ll try a style like Gudbrandsdal or Hallingdal.
Sometimes Lois paints freehand. That means she doesn’t sketch a design first; she just starts painting. She paints freehand if she’s doing an asymmetrical design, like in the Telemark style. “I find designs or patterns traced on just get in the way, so I would much rather just create as I’m going,” she says.
Sometimes Lois will sketch out designs on paper before painting. This is often the case when she paints in the Valdres style, which is more balanced than Telemark. “I don’t want to have it sort of lopsided so that I would have all the small flowers on one side and all the large flowers on the other,” she explains.
To create their artwork, rosemalers rarely use paint right out of the tube, with the exception of perhaps black or white. Colors are always mixed. “We try to tone them down to create muted shades rather than bright brilliant colors. You don’t want those blues and greens or yellows that say, ‘Hi, how are you?’ before you get there,” Lois said. “You want them to be soft.”
But Lois has fun with colors too. One of her recent rosemaling instruction books is called, “Have a Stroke.” In it, she encourages using daring reds with white designs. “People love it,” she says, “but it’s nontraditional. The colors may not be traditional but the designs are.”
Vibrant colors may be non-traditional in rosemaling done today in the United States, but they might have been used in older Norwegian paintings. Think about this story Lois tells:
“There are pieces...in Norway that friends of mine have told me about. They were allowed to visit some attics or storage areas on some of the farms in the countryside, and were able to see some pieces that had been stored that were not exposed to much light. They found that the colors are quite bright.”
Flowers, scrolls and roots
Have you noticed the word “rose” in “rosemaling”? Flowers are the main trait of rosemaling. You will see lots of flowers, plus leaves and scrolls in typical rosemaling patterns.
To tell rosemaling from other types of painting just look for the “scrolls.” Scrolls are decorative S and C strokes that are in most rosemaling designs.
Every rosemaling design needs a root, much in the same way flowers and plants have roots. All flowers and scrolls can be traced back to a root.
“When I do scrolls, I start at the outside and pull them toward the root,” Lois says. “There are other rosemalers that can start at the root and pull the stroke out to create the scroll, but I prefer the look I get when I pull the stokes toward the root.”
If you were a rosemaler, would you paint toward or away from the root? Try the two methods to decide. To see Lois make a flower by pulling her brush stroke towards the root, click through this slide show.
Are flowers and scrolls the only images in rosemaling? No! Scenes of mountains, buildings, trees, waterfalls, and lakes done all in one color are prominent in the Valdres style of rosemaling. This surprises some folks. “Most people say, ‘That’s rosemaling?’ But many of the old pieces did have these scenes on them,” Lois says.
Find out even more about traditions in rosemaling on the next page!