Handmade cards

A Traditionally Modern Nordic Christmas

Rosemaling, a Norwegian art form beloved for centuries, gets a face-lift this holiday season

Originally published in Sweet Paul Magazine, Winter 2020

During this pandemic Christmas season, I suspect we’re going to need all the comfort and cheer we can muster. I’m personally looking to my Norwegian roots and embracing that lovely sense of hygge that Scandinavians are known for. Now I’m sure you know that there’s much more to hygge than flickering candles, a crackling fire, fluffy blankets, and anything else that makes you feel cozy. Indeed, hygge is a mindset, a lifestyle. It’s a sense of togetherness—of dining in and lingering over the meal until long after the plates are empty. Of enjoying one just one more spiced cookie to dip into the gløgg while savoring a spicy conversation. Of slowing down, embracing the stillness, and opening your heart. That said, some visual cues can certainly help, and that’s where these projects come in. Inspired by rosemaling—a traditional Norwegian painting style—these projects will have you embracing your inner Nordic in no time.

Centuries ago, Norwegian families would commission traveling artists to paint the interiors of their homes with rosemaling. Characterized by its acanthus scrolls, fanciful flowers, and other embellishments rosemaling traditionally appeared in a palette of toned shades of red, orange, brown, green, and blue. Though toned, the results were dramatic and striking, and sure to brighten up the darkness of a northern winter. Now, I love traditional rosemaling, and even wear my late grandmother’s own rosemaling art on my skin in a rather sizable tattoo. But just like I enjoy refreshing old recipes by adapting them for modern tastes, I love to play around with this traditional art form and use its elements to create something new.

Cookie tray with Norwegian rosemaling

Cookie Tray

If Santa Claus were real, I’m pretty sure he’d leave an extra-special present behind after encountering this alternative to cookies and milk. The aged finish and neutral palette of this cookie tray is perfect for serving Mr. Claus some flavorful pepperkaker and a cup of hot, spiced gløgg.

You’ll need:
Unfinished wooden tray
Acrylic paints in shades of warm brown, rose gold, and white
Paint brushes (medium filbert or flat for the scrolls, liner for the details
Paper towels

  1. Brush a coat of water over the tray. Drop in a little warm brown paint in a few areas and dab with a crumbled paper until you have an aged effect. Let dry, and repeat if needed to build up the color.
  2. Using a pencil, draw one figure eight lengthwise across the bottom of the tray, then another one intersecting widthwise.
  3. Fill in the figure eights with brown and rose gold, using one color on one side of each loop and another color on the other; use long, flowing strokes and allow the colors to blend as they reach the middle.
  4. Once dry, add flourishes with white paint using a liner brush.

Letter box

For those of us trying to bring back the old custom of sending handwritten letters—or those who simply need somewhere to stash this season’s Christmas cards—this letter box offers a subtle and elegant display option.

You’ll need:
Unfinished wooden box
Acrylic paints in shades of warm brown, rose gold, white, and black
Paint brushes (medium or small filbert or flat, plus a liner for the lettering)
Paper towels
Fabric or decorative paper of your choice

  1. Create a vintage effect by following step 1 of the cookie tray instructions.
  2. Once dry, use a pencil to lightly sketch a design; I chose a simple rosemaling-inspired flower with small scrolls, but dramatic scrolls would be pretty as well.
  3. Paint the flower, keeping in mind the double-dipped brush technique used in rosemaling—you can get the same effect by blending colors into one another where they begin to touch.
  4. Use a liner brush and white paint to add outlines and accents.
  5. When dry, add a word or name of your choice with black paint and a liner brush.
  6. To finish the project, line the interior of the box with fabric or decorative paper of your choice.

Handmade greeting cards

The lucky recipient will love opening the mail and finding this handmade creation, made with love by you.

You’ll need:
Plain white greeting card and envelop
Acrylic paints in the colors of your choice; I recommend a deep berry red, soft brown, rose gold, and white
Paint brushes (medium and small filbert or flat, and liner)
Carbon paper

  1. Size the template to fit the card, then transfer it using carbon paper and a pencil with a light touch.
  2. Lay in the lighter color, such as a warm brown or rose gold, first—it should fill up most of the scrolls.
  3. Double load a brush with deep berry red on one side and the lighter color on the other. Beginning at the root of the scrolls, paint with long, sweeping brushstrokes, keeping the red on the outside, and allowing the brush to curl around at the ends of scrolls.
  4. Use a liner brush to add additional emphasis where needed with the dark color, rose gold, or even your lighter color mixed with a touch of white.

Statement ABCs

Your only limit for these strikingly simple decorations is the number of words you can craft from the alphabet. Create a festive word like “CHEER” or “SAVOR,” or make it a monogram for your mantle. I opted for the initials of my children’s first names.

You’ll need:
Paper mache letters
Acrylic paint (red and white)
Paint brushes (large and liner)

  1. Cover the entire letter with red paint and let dry.
  2. Using a liner brush, add all sorts of flourishes inspired by the linework in rosemaling.

Cozy votives

Create a cozy Nordic vibe in five minutes flat with this simple little project that will have you doodling to your heart’s content.

You’ll need:
Glass votive candle holders with candles
White chalk marker

  1. Shake and prime the chalk marker according to the package’s instructions.
  2. Draw your favorite elements of rosemaling, keeping in mind that less is more.

One thought on “Norwegian Rosemaling with a Twist”

  1. Made the Sandbakkles! My grandson is crazy abt. them! At 18, he could eat the whole batch in one sitting, if I let him! Thanks for delightful recipes & all things shared, Christmas idea wise! All 4 grandparents from Norway (Odda & Stavanger!). Reared in Mn., now living in N.C. No lutefisk anywhere that I can find! My gr.son & I may make lefse this wk.! So much left to do! Am just beginning to recuperate from bad cold, so way behind!

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