Gateway Decorative Artists Chapter of the National Society of Decorative Painters is “leading the way” in preserving the old traditions of Tole and decorative painting but also is encouraging experimentation with evolving styles and new surfaces.  Decorative painting is defined by the Society as “a diverse art form that utilizes a variety of techniques and media to decorate functional and nonfunctional pieces.  “Our modern decorative art has its roots in the Old World styles of folk art painting such as Rosemaling, Bauernmalerei, Hindeloopen, and more recently Russian Zhostovo.

The tradition of Rosemaling folk art painting, which translates to rose painting, began in the southern provinces of Norway in the 17th Century and flourished into the 18th and 19th Centuries. Characterized by strokes shaped like Cs and Ss and stylized flowers, scrolls, and fantasy figures, Rosemaling reflected the rich imagination and cultural tradition of the people. Within Norway, several regional styles emerged such as Telemark which used heavy leafed scrolls and strong colors, and Rogaland which incorporated Dutch and German motifs and the dark background colors and detail of the Orient. Rosemaling was used to decorate household items such as trunks storing the family valuables. At Christmas time, the brightest, most beautiful pieces were used to serve food. After 1880, Rosemaling declined but interest in it was revived in the 1900s in Wisconsin by artists such as Vi Thode who soon gained a national reputation because of her precise style and method.

Bauernmalerei, which translated from the German means peasant painting, originated in the Alpine regions of Germany, Switzerland, and Austria and was used to decorate wood furniture. The colorful designs and painted flowers brought cheer to the people who had to live through long, dark winters. This folk art style went through various phases from stiff and stylized to the simplicity of the Biedemeier folk art that emerged in the early 1900s. Today, the enchanting designs of Bauernmalerei are preserved in the art of popular American folk artist, Scottie Foster.

In the late 17th Century, artisans in Hindeloopen, a small town in Northern Holland, began to color wood carvings and paint on furniture in a style characterized by toned intense colors, sophisticated stroke interpretations, and stylized flowers. During the 19th Century, the Country and its production of art pieces went into decline, but in the latter part of the century an exposition that included pieces of Hindeloopen lead to its rediscovery and subsequent revival. Hindeloopen painters have their own art guild but do not teach their art style, since it is their means of earning a living. They do pass it on to their sons but not to their daughters, since women painters are not recognized.

Zhostovo Floral Painting
Zhostovo is a Russian style of floral painting that has been done for over 150 years in factories in the Village of Zhostova, just outside Moscow. It uses striking colors, strong contrasts, and intricate borders. The designs are conceived by master artists and painted by highly skilled artisans. This lovely art form has only been known to this country since the end of the Cold War. During the past decade, American decorative artists have traveled to Russia to visit the factories, and several Russian master artists have come here to teach their unique painting style.

American Folk Art
In the early 18th Century, tole painting was brought to this country by immigrants who settled mainly in New England, upstate New York, and Pennsylvania. Most were self-taught, using what they remembered from the old country and adopting it to the materials and needs of the New World. Despite their hard lives, these early pioneers found time to decorate the walls of their humble cabins with brightly painted designs. Some took their painted wares on the road to sell. Because the demand was high, they had to work fast to produce enough to load their carts, so that the designs were usually not unique but copied over and over again. In the mid 19th Century, traveling artists began to paint wall murals depicting American commerce, heroic war scenes, and patriotic symbols of the flag. The Pennsylvania Dutch developed a distinctive folk art characterized by simple, colorful designs which often including tulips, Biblical scenes, and symbolic motifs such as the "tree of life" which represented birth, death, and regeneration.

The highpoint of American folk art occurred between 1750 and 1850. It declined with the coming of the Industrial Revolution but was revived by antique dealers searching for original pieces in good condition which were almost impossible to find because of wear and tear. They, therefore, began restoring old pieces and painting new ones thus leading the way to the rebirth of folk art painting in America.

Decorative Painters
Today, decorative painting is so popular that there are shops and instructors in almost every community and thousands of “addicted” decorative painters.  Who are they and why do they paint?  They vary from highly talented teachers to down-to-earth homemakers but all share on characteristic in common.  They smile a lot.  Decorative painting has allowed them to rekindle that sense of creativity and unselfconscious spontaneity that everyone is born with, (just look at the delightful crayon creations of young children), but which most lose along the way.  Because it is so lose and creative, decorative painting is just plain fun.  Painters don’t agonize over creating a technically perfect piece but rather revel in the sheer delight of color, form, and compositions that break the rules with light coming from all directions, landscapes lacking perspective, people with comical features, and whatever pleases them.  There are no failures.  Painters do learn various styles and basic brush control techniques but in the process, their individual, unique styles emerge.  The painted pieces elicit smiles because they reflect a delight in life, nature, families and spiritual/religious feelings.

Decorative Painters have no clothes without paint stains, because they steal time at all hours of day and night to paint and forget to put on aprons.  In between painting, many fly long distances, leaving jobs and families, to attend national conventions where they take classes from “big brushes”(well-known decorative artists) and spend their last dollars on the latest project books that they simply cannot live without.  Many could write a book on cleaning and cooking shortcuts.  Some have been known to take shortcuts to an extreme such as wearing their clothes inside out while painting and then reversing them back before going outside….but sometimes forgetting to do so (Decorative Painter; issue No. 2, 1999, page 15).

The National Society of Tole and Decorative Painters
About 40 years ago, people in the Midwest began getting together to paint.  This shared interest and love for the art form forged a strong bond that inevitably led to the formation of the National Society of Decorative Painters in 1972.  Today the Society has 263 affiliated chapters and approximately 25,000 members and hosts an annual convention, which is every Tole painter’s dream event.  The Society also certifies decorative artists who must meet rigorous requirements and demonstrate painting excellence.  Gateway is fortunate in having several decorative artists such as, present members, Pat Rolwes and Bobbie Gray, and past members Kay Baranowski and Judi Krause.

This page is for all painters who have tips and tricks to share with others, to help make some of those tedious or messy jobs just a little easier. If you have some ideas to share, email them to us.

Acrylic Paints:
Since acrylic paints don't like hot weather, just add ice cubes to your water basin. If you are using a Sta-Wet Palette, add ice water to the sponge under the palette paper. Keeping your paint cold helps the paint flow and prevents it from drying so fast and becoming sticky or skinning over. -- Plaid, Ent.

Painting small items:
To paint small items, attach them to cardboard with a piece of masking tape rolled over to form a circle, this will secure them and the cardboard allows you to have something to hold onto without getting paint all over your hands.

Another excellent way to paint small items -- use contact paper.  I saw the technique on a TV craft show and I use it -- it works great!

Tracing Designs: 
To keep your original pattern clean, when applying your pattern to your surface, position your pattern, tape in place with masking tape, place transfer paper under your pattern and then lay a piece of wax paper over the top. You can use a ballpoint pen or stylus to transfer the lines to your surface. If the phone should ring, or the kids need your help, When you come back you won't have to worry about where you left off with your tracing job, the lines will show up white on the wax paper. (Submitted by Gloria Falk, O'Fallon, MO)

Another trick for tracing designs:
Some of us use our plain paper, top loading fax-copier. We put the tracing paper in the top along with the regular paper as a backing. Put the design in the fax-copier and press copy. The design transfers onto the tracing paper perfectly. (This hint came from the Siskiyou Chapter in Oregon).

Removing Paint from the edges of your design:
A Magic Rub pencil eraser works great for erasing those over-run lines, when floating or basecoating. Wet the eraser in water, dab off slightly and then using a light touch gently work off the dried paint. Wipe the paint off of the eraser and re-dampen as needed. Be careful not to rub too hard in one spot, as it can remove your original basecoat color also. This method does NOT work well on a stained surface. (Submitted by Gloria Falk, O'Fallon, MO.)

Breaking fingernails opening paint bottles? 
Keep a small can/bottle opener with your paint supplies. When you open a bottle of paint, use the blunt end of the can opener. It will save those expensive manicures. (This hint came from the Siskiyou Chapter in Oregon.)

Removing the plastic wrap on the paint bottle caps:
Hold the bottle in one hand and the cap in the other. Turn and pull on the cap as if you were going to "tighten" the cap. The plastic wrap will slip right off. (Submitted by Gloria Falk, O'Fallon, MO)

Avoid wet palette mildew:
Keep copper pennies under the sponge of your wet palette. The copper is a mildew inhibitor and will keep your sponge fresh and mildew free. (This hint came from the Siskiyou Chapter in Oregon.) 

Another mildew preventative is to use distilled water to dampen the sponge and paper. (Submitted by Gloria Falk)

Bean bag work:
When painting fine line work, if you place your hand on a bean bag it will hold your hand steady and make it easier to get straight lines. (This idea came from the Siskiyou Chapter in Oregon).

How to make a homemade wet palette:
Cut a piece of Miracle Sponge (thin sponge, available at craft stores-that swells once it is dampened) the size of your paper. Dampen with distilled water. Place a piece of dampened bakery parchment over top (cut the same size.) Place this into the bottom of an airtight container (ie: Tupperware, Rubbermaid). When you leave your painting session, put the cover on the container. This will keep your paint moist. Note: It also helps to puddle your paint and, occasionally, as you are using the palette to mist it with a light spray of distilled water. (Submitted by Gloria Falk).

Hand lotion:
BEWARE! Hand lotion can cause surfaces and watercolor paper to repel paint. Use lotion after your project is tucked away! (This idea came from the Siskiyou chapter in Oregon).