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Decorative Painting

Roses day at the studio

One of the students at today’s roses class was my 12 year-old little Kuwaiti painter. Last week she painted her first project – this plaque of sunflowers with the words “Welcome to our Chalet”.

Sunflowers Plaque

I thought it was an amazing piece of work for a 12-year old. And it was her first ever attempt at decorative painting too. It just goes to show that anyone can paint, given the right tools and some right proper instruction! :-)

She was so sweet that first day she came. She told her aunt, one of my regular painters (and a good one too!) who had brought her as a summer treat, that it was the happiest day of her life! It made me teary.

After that project she said that she wanted to learn roses and I agreed to let her join the class with other adult students. She chose a little trinket box which she wants to give her mom as a gift. Shhhhh!

Today she came for the class and did as well as any student could do in one of my roses class! Bravo, little painter..

At the end of the class she took out a little ziploc bag filled with shells and said “I collected these for you at our Chalet in Khairan over the weekend!”. That was super sweet of her. I told her that I actually collected seashells and would make it a point to collect a couple of seashells wherever I was to add to my collection. And I would add these seashells she gave me.

But I joked that I would paint a rose on one of the shells and show it to her at the next class. So after everyone left, instead of cleaning up, I used the paint I had on my wet palette and painted a rose on one of the small shells with my smallest angle brush!

A rose on a seashell 
It wasn’t the smallest rose I had ever painted but it was the first time I ever painted on a seashell. I certainly had a lot of fun doing it!

Art while travelling

While most people have just only upped and left on their summer vacations this year, I have been AND come back! Back to hot and dusty Kuwait and to my studio.

Anyway, this post is not about painting while travelling – its about the art I deliberately try to see while travelling or sometimes, serendipitously bump into.

Many years ago, while on a trip to Amsterdam in the Netherlands, my dear husband, knowing my passion for decorative painting and especially the folk art of various European origins, planned a trip to Hindeloopen.

The Dutch town of Hindeloopen is one of eleven cities in Friesland and is a quaint little place with lots of wooden bridges over tiny canals. It was pretty as a picture and simply lovely to walk around in.

Bridge over a small canal A canal view in Hindeloopen

Every now and then you will end up in a narrow street and then suddenly you are confronted with a beautiful canal view, a monument to remind you of the glorious past of Hindeloopen, someone’s lovely garden, a painted door or a whole street of shops with wondrous displays of traditional art also called Hindeloopen.
 Sign outside Harmen Zweed's Hindeloopen shop

THAT was why hubby brought me here.

The hindeloopen form of folk art originated with the Maritime community of Hindeloopen. During bad weather when there was no fish to sell, fishermen and sailors alike took to painting to pass the time and make some money. Through trade with their neighbours in Norway, especially, Hindeloopen sailors would bring home painted artefacts in other traditional styles such as the Baroque style of Norwegian Rosemaling. Over time, these “imported” traditional art pieces influenced the development of the Hindeloopen community’s own painting style into what we see today.

A beautiful painted Hindeloopen door 
The town of Hindeloopen is a haven for the traditional folk artist – there is a large number of studios of very talented Hindeloopen artists and for the souvenir collection a warehouse of painted objects in the hindeloopen style!

We discovered that, traditionally, it was the men of the village who painted while the women and wives ran the business. The lady we met, Jenny, was very conversant in the art although it was not her but her husband who painted.

Jenny Zweed pointing out the details on her husband's work

She explained that there were ten colours traditionally used in the traditional Hindeloopen style of painting. And there were at least two different ways of painting the highlights which created different looks of the final painting. The predominant floral motifs were the Dog Rose, Star Flower and Carnation. Tulips were also quite common.

Two ways of painting Hindeloopen highlights 
I bought a lovely tray painted by the meister Harmen Zweed himself. What I really wanted was the tilt-top table…but it wasn’t practical as I had to take it back to Kuwait by plane!

Harmen Zweed tray which I bought

Before saying goodbye to Hindeloopen, we visited the Hindeloopen museum to find out more about its painting heritage. The Museum Hidde Nijland Foundation was located in the Town Hall (circa 1683) and housed an enthralling collection of colourful tines, bowls, and cupboards, furniture and even staircases for wall-beds, dating back to the 17th and 18th Century. There was a whole blue and white wall with floral and bird motifs. I was mesmerised by the detail and  passionate handiwork of the artist. No photos though as photography was prohibited. :-(

The Hindeloopen Museum

I personally love painting in the Hindeloopen style and I think its a painting technique that stretches you to develop and perfect your comma strokes. Its one of those techniques that, after painting a few pieces, your comma strokes seem to come out effortlessly!

Simple Hindeloopen on Malaysian clogs

Repetitive two-tone Hindeloopen

I’m really glad hubby arranged that trip to Hindeloopen. Not only did I get to see the little historic town, and enjoy its scenic beauty, I also learnt first-hand about its origins and saw the original work of its talented artists. It was truly memorable!

Tulip Day

I never knew but it seems that the 13th of May is Tulip Day! So I shall remember to wish everyone a Happy Tulip Day every 13th May from now :-)

Tulip motifs are fairly common in the world of decorative painting and you can find them in the traditional folk art of Hindeloopen, Bauernmalerei, Rosemaling, and even Zhostovo as well as in the contemporary style of decorative painting.

Stylised tulips I painted on a Rosemaling plaque

Multi-loaded tulips in the style of Bauernmalerei 

It is said that…

…the tulip is one of the world’s most easily recognized and loved flowers. The meanings of tulips coupled with the immediately identifiable shape of their colorful blooms make them a comfortable flower choice. They are not too elegant, too romantic, too big, too small, or too bright; the tulip is always just right.

The meaning of tulips is generally perfect love. Like many flowers, different colors of tulips also often carry their own significance. Red tulips are most strongly associated with true love, while purple symbolizes royalty. The meaning of yellow tulips has evolved somewhat, from once representing hopeless love to now being a common expression for cheerful thoughts and sunshine. White tulips are used to claim worthiness or to send a message of forgiveness. Variegated tulips, once among the most popular varieties due to their striking color patterns, represent beautiful eyes.

By coincidence I just finished a tulips class painted in the contemporary style. It was the second project for another student of mine from Egypt. But it wasn’t red, purple, yellow or white tulips!

It was pink.

Pink tulips bouquet 

In traditional folk art the stylised tulips would for the most part be painted with a round brush and the technique used would be strokework. These contemporary tulips were painted using a filbert brush which allows us to blend the strokes and achieve the soft colours and a variegated look of a tulip.

We had a lot of fun painting these lovely spring flowers..Happy Tulip Day!

Painting on alternative backgrounds

Most decorative painting projects look amazing even on a plain background but sometimes its nice to do something to the background BEFORE painting on it.

There are many alternatives to a plain background. You can create a faux finish such as a marbled background or a smoked background. You can even crackle the background and then paint on it.

There is only one rule. You must base-coat the item you want to paint and leave it to cure for at least a week. In fact, the longer the better safer.


If we work on it immediately after basecoating there is a chance that the still drying basecoat paint will lift-off as we do our special effects. Its not so risky if you’re creating a smoked background but its very risky if you’re creating a background that requires you use masking tape, for example, to create stripes.

And, depending on the kind of background you create, you should again leave it to cure for another week.

A crackled background, for example, is very delicate to paint on unless the crackle has been allowed to dry thoroughly. Once I wanted to paint on a background I had crackled and I left it to cure for almost a month.

Recently I wanted to paint a gift for a friend who was leaving Kuwait and I thought I had a lot of time. I wanted to paint her a dainty plaque of roses on a striped background and had also decided to write “Home is where the heart is” on it. Suddenly her departure date was brought forward almost three weeks and I had to hurry to paint her something. I panicked and wondered if I had to cancel my idea because I would not have time to basecoat a plaque and let it cure before striping it.

Thankfully, I discovered I had a few base-coated items among my hoard which included two plaques. They have probably been there a year…obviously I never got round to painting them. Sometimes procrastination does pay! LOL

So I was able to stripe the background without any mishaps! I completed one plaque for my friend and I liked it so much, especially since the quotation was poignant for me too, that I decided to paint another for myself.

Two striped plaques

Striping is easy – the only meticulous part is the preparation. The part where you measure and mask the areas to create the stripes. But that time is an investment.

Masking for stripes

Once that is done, and you’ve made sure there will be no seepage, you paint the stripes, and that part is easy.

Its important not to use a hairdryer when you finish painting the stripes. Firstly, the hairdryer “melts” the masking tape glue which can be messy to remove from your basecoat, and secondly, its better to slowly and carefully remove the masking tape immediately after you paint the stripes because you can use a damp flat brush and clean up any seepage.

Which way to stripe? Paint the coloured basecoat first then paint the white stripes? Or paint a white basecoat then paint the coloured stripes?

I have done it both ways and I have to say, I prefer the first method – paint a coloured basecoat then stripe it white because the stripe looks “softer”. You should try both ways and see which suits you. There is no wrong or right here.

She did it!

As a teacher, I feel really happy when a student gets highly motivated to paint AND she paints!

My Kuwaiti friend and student with whom I sat down and helped choose a colour scheme for her Hindeloopen project said she was going to do it when she went home, and she really did it.

I felt privileged to receive a blow-by-blow account of her progress with her blues three-toned hindeloopen tray project all day long. Via text message! A couple of days ago she brought over the finished tray project to show me and it was beautiful. She allowed me to share her adventure here.

Hindeloopen is easy to paint if you put your heart and mind to it – and provided you understand the simple principles and have developed the necessary strokework skills, of course.

The very first step - basing in the first strokes

The first stage is the easiest and involves involves painting every stroke of the design in the medium value of the chosen colour.

Stroking in the shadows

Next, the shadows are stroked in using the darkest value of the colour chosen for the project. These strokes are usually smaller than the base strokes so that the base colour shows through. These shadow strokes start to define the various objects whether they’re leaves, flowers or birds.

Painting the highlight strokes

The third stage involves lightening the medium value used as the base colour and using this to paint the highlight strokes.

The objects become more defined at this stage.

The completed Hindeloopen tray

And finally, the detail strokes are added in the lightest shade of all, almost but not quite white.

So there it is. Its really easy if you know how!

I knew she could do it and she proved she could do it. All on her own. Next week we will paint another Hindeloopen project in class in the traditional Hindeloopen colours and I’m sure it will be just as breathtaking!

Stunning red roses on fabric

Most of the projects I teach my students are painted in class on wood or MDF (medium density fibreboard).

Having said that, the beauty of what I teach in my decorative painting classes is that you can paint the same subject matter on many other different surfaces. The medium we use – acrylic paint – is very versatile and can be used to paint on canvas, metal, leather, fabric, even candles and plastic!

Today I had a class with a student who had a red piece of linen-like fabric on which she wanted to paint roses. When completed she would have the painted fabric fitted onto the cover of a tea-box which she will give to her sister for Christmas. I suggested really red roses and she loved the idea. Red is after all, very festive this time of year.

Really red roses on red linen

The finished painting was really very nice, bravo! I’m sure her sister will be very proud to receive such a nice piece of work, and for sure its going to be a family heirloom!

Painting on fabric is an easily learned skill, especially if you have painted the subject matter on a wooden item before.

Some things to note about painting on fabric are as follows:

Your fabric should, preferably, be “mounted” onto a piece of cardboard. This serves two purposes – firstly, your fabric won’t move around when you scrub your strokes, and secondly, the cardboard absorbs the paint that seeps through the fabric. I use masking tape and this is easily removed once the painting is completed.

As with painting on wood, you can trace your pattern onto your fabric using the regular transfer paper or if you prefer, the transfer paper specifically produced for fabrics. You would buy this in a haberdashery. Of course you can also free-hand a design onto your fabric using a water soluble pencil or fabric pencil.

Pattern hand-drawn and painting begins!

The brush is normally “scrubbed” into the fabric otherwise the paint doesn’t get transferred to the fabric – so you would need a flat or angle brush with stiffer bristles than those used for painting on wood.

With fabric medium, the paint is easily scrubbed into the fabric

Because I paint mainly with acrylic paint, I have never tried fabric paint to paint any of my designs on fabric. I simply use my acrylic paint with a fabric medium and it works out really great. I can use my favourite colours and apply my colour palettes to any of the projects I want to paint.

There are many different brands available on the market but I have used DecoArt Americana fabric medium as well as Jo Sonja’s textile medium and both convert acrylic paint into a fabric paint which easily penetrates and bonds with fabric. Both are permanent on the fabric once heat-set and the painted fabrics are hand-washable.

Once painted, your fabric needs to be heat set to create permanence. Heat setting also softens your painted fabric.

Its easy to have a go at fabric painting: all you need are your decorative painting instructions, a piece of fabric, an old shirt or T-shirt, you acrylic paints and some fabric medium and you’re all set!

Painting lines

I received an e-mail from a decorative painter recently asking for tips on painting thin lines for stems of flowers, for example, and that inspired me to write this post about painting lines.

I think that painting lines is one of those techniques in decorative painting that gets so taken for granted. That’s because it looks so easy! And mind you, it IS easy. As with everything else, the right tools and the right techniques are all you need to paint lines well.

White zhostovo on bisque

Linework is important not just for painting stems etc. You need to develop your line painting skills so that you can paint intricate borders such as the one on this zhostovo project.

First, you need the right brush both in terms of quality and size. Technically speaking you should be able to paint a thin line using any round brush (with Taklon or sable hairs or a combination) that is in perfect condition. A brush in “perfect condition” is important because it must be able to give you a sharp point once loaded with paint.

Of course, the best way to paint a thin line is to use what we call a LINER brush.

Heather Redick liner brush

This type of brush is specifically made for painting thin lines and so it has very few hairs. It almost looks like a make-up brush! There are many brands of liner brushes available on the market but the best liner brush I have used is Heather Redick’s liner brushes. She is a decorative artist and sells her own line of liner brushes. It is truly the best liner brush I have ever used! She has a website and sell her brushes there. There are three sizes available now and if you get the middle size you should be able to do all your line painting quite successfully. I think she gives a special price if you want to get all three sizes.

Secondly, you need the the right paint consistency. To paint thin lines you need to load your liner brush with watery paint, the consistency of ink. That’s very watery paint. Load the liner brush with just the right amount of paint – no blobs and certainly no paint on the ferrule of your brush – then paint away! If you buy Heather’s liner brush, it also comes with instructions on the right way to load the brush.

Lastly, the right technique. Its not difficult at all..basically you must learn to allow “the brush to do the work”. It takes practise to do this. The only way I can explain this is to not try to “draw” the line because your hands will shake and you will get a wiggly line.

Place your project in front of you at an angle that allows you to comfortably pull the brush TOWARDS you, not AWAY from you. Place the loaded brush at the base of your flower, press it down a bit to release the paint and pull it towards you. Try to use your whole arm to pull the line. Rest your arm or your little finger on your project to control your movement. If you want a thicker line, just put more pressure on the brush.

Its not complicated at all, it just takes a lot of practise and before long you will painting perfect lines without any effort at all. Just take some paper, ink consistency paint and a liner in perfect condition and practise, practise, practise.

Are you a messy painter?

It’s always a good idea to start your painting session with your tools and supplies properly laid out in front of you. And yes, there is a RIGHT way to place everything so that you can paint in a relaxed manner.

If you don’t set up your painting area properly, you won’t be able to reach your tools…. you might also spill paint all over your work, or worse, get paint on your sleeves.

The most effective way to organize your painting area is to place everything around you according to how you move your hands when you are painting. Everything else you don’t need, especially when you attend a class or workshop where table space is limited, should be put away out of sight!

This is how you should lay out your painting area whenever you sit down to paint – your project is always directly in front of you:

Right handed painters

Layout for right-handed painters

You pick out your brush from the brush basin where it is resting, move to the right to swish it in the bottle of water, pick up your paper towel with your left hand and dab the brush to remove water, refer to your instructions which are on the left, load the brush in your palette on your right, then paint.

Left handed painters

Layout for left-handed painters

You pick out your brush from the brush basin with your left hand, move to the left to swish it in the bottle of water, pick up your paper towel with your right hand, refer to your instructions which are on the right, load the brush in your palette on your left, then paint.

So now you see the logic of laying out your painting area this way: whatever you need to do, you should never ever have to reach out across your project.

That’s all there is to it – if you make it a habit to place everything where they should be as suggested here, you will find that painting is so much more enjoyable!

You can paint anything your heart desires..

Nina has painted with me since 2004 and its always fun painting with her. She always paints with a purpose. Once she wanted to paint a plaque for her chef husband for his birthday, so I taught her how to faux finish a woodgrain on an MDF plaque then decoupaged the picture of a chef and wrote her husband’s name on it.

Another time, her husband had bought her a traditional Italian long-handled pizza board and she wanted to transform it into something for her home in Lebanon. I taught her an Austrian bridal painting design and the pizza board now hangs in her home welcoming her friends and family into her home.

The most creative project yet was a plate she painted for her son who wanted to give to his girlfriend. He chose the picture – two clown fish swimming among some coral – and the cutest caption… “If you’re a fish, I’m a fish”! That’s a project I’ll never forget. It was fun teaching her to paint that and she certainly had a lot of fun painting it.

This week Nina wanted to paint an ostrich egg which had been fitted with a light fixture. She wanted to give it as a gift to a girlfriend and later wanted to paint another egg for herself. That’s a great way to learn by the way – paint the same project two times! We brainstormed on the subject to paint and finally decided to paint a landscape. We chose a lighthouse design.

 Nina painting the background on her ostrich egg.

Painting on an egg can seem a daunting task because of its shape. You have to basically hold it all the time and keep turning it as you paint it.

How to hold an ostrich egg when painting it

There is a way to paint it without holding it and that is to place the egg in a soup dish lined with a folded face towel. But some students including Nina find holding the egg just fine.  Its really not that difficult once you get the hang of it.

Whatever the surface we paint on the painting technique remains the same.

For this lighthouse project we first painted the sky, followed by the sea then the foreground.

The completed ostrich egg project

Once that was completed, we painted the background trees and foreground trees, followed by the lighthouse and all its decoration. Lastly of course we paint other elements that complete the picture – in this case some trees and of course, seagulls.

This was a unique project and certainly a first in my Studio. But I’m sure other students will want to try their hand at this after seeing the finished piece.

Painting Ostrich Eggs

One of the most unique surfaces you can paint on are ostrich eggs. Yes, ostrich eggs!

Of course, first you need to prepare the egg – make a hole at the bottom end of the egg where there is a “soft spot”, empty the contents, clean the insides, dry, then seal the opening. You guessed it – not easy and certainly, not everyone will be successful in this endeavour or even wants to go through the trouble of doing all this!

Me? I’ve never done it although I was tempted once when I saw fresh ostrich eggs in a supermarket here. Its easier to buy ostrich eggs which have already been emptied and cleaned, sometimes even the hole has been sealed. This is what most people who want to paint ostrich eggs do. If you have access to fresh ostrich eggs and want to have a go at emptying one, I found a site here.

The first time I ever painted an ostrich egg was at a workshop with Vicki Nicholson in Kuala Lumpur almost 10 years ago. We painted her signature pastel roses.

It was quite an experience painting on the egg (and learning her roses of course!) I went on to paint a few more eggs with roses for a Christmas Bazaar here and they were grabbed in an instant!

I usually varnish ostrich eggs using a high gloss varnish because it looks like a high quality porcelain egg when finished.


Its a great conversation piece once its sitting on an ornate egg stand in your living room.

034-04 Roses on White Ostrich Egg 01 024-04 Roses on crackled ostrich egg 2

If you already have an ostrich egg ready for painting, you only need to basecoat the egg and you should do this at least a week ahead so that the  paint is properly cured.

I use a shortcut to basecoat ostrich eggs by mixing Jo Sonja’s All Purpose Sealer with my paint in equal parts. I do three coats, no sanding required. You need to paint one side of the egg at a time, set it down to dry, then paint the other side.

So take your time and try and enjoy it because its worth the effort.

Note: If you are using the hairdryer to fast-dry your basecoat, DO NOT use the hot air selection. Make sure you use the “cool” selection.

Do you always have to paint roses on ostrich eggs? Of course not. We paint all sorts of things on ostrich eggs at my Studio. Today I had a class where we started painting a landscape on an ostrich egg and I think the finished product will be quite pretty.

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