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Elisabeth Biström interprets LINUM.

It’s late winter in Roslagen and snowdrifts struggle to cling to the north-facing hills. For weeks now, the ice has thawed then frozen again, leaving the road in front of us gleaming and treacherously slippery. We drive slowly past farms, cottages and horse paddocks, while ponies clad in their winter pelt stare inquisitively after the car. A small wooden sign reads "Elisabeth Biström, studio". We have reached our destination.

Elisabeth Biström is an art teacher who became a watercolour artist. She is originally from Västerbotten in Norrland, but is now a true Roslagan local and lives in a cottage dating back to the 17th century. Her husband and children also live on the small farm, which lies in heart of Uppland. This is where she lives, works and finds inspiration. We took the opportunity to ask Elisabeth Biström some well-chosen questions about her watercolour interpretations. A conversation that, both figuratively and literally, centred on brushstrokes of all sizes.

How did it feel to be asked to do something like this?

I get a lot of requests, but they’re often about doing something that is too far from who I am. When I was asked to paint, it felt creatively interesting, because it’s through art that I express myself. It gives me free rein and becomes more of a fun and artistic project.

Was it difficult to interpret LINUM?

I approached the task as I approach all my work. I depict what is close to me. I turn and twist it, trying to see if there is more to it than what’s obvious at first. I feast on everyday details and what others might have missed. And I did the same here. If you look closely at the painting that represents the PEPPER cushion cover, you see the fabric’s mottled look, tiny, tiny details where I captured the texture of the cushion cover. Contrary to many people’s beliefs, there is something peaceful and almost meditative about it. It’s a mood thing, that doesn’t try your patience.

Are you happy with the result?

Yes, I think so! I think that’s the nice thing about the LINUM brand, the fact that it doesn’t bring out new collections that try to make people constantly buy new things. When I buy things for my home, I too feel like I don’t want to have to keep changing them. I moved so much when I was younger and it made me rootless. There was something special about coming back home to see my grandmother, where nothing ever changed. Maybe it’s a shift between generations that’s going on right now? My generation spends so much time worrying about what others think of our homes. My grandmother cared about what things looked like, but wasn’t swayed by the opinions of others. Today, we treat our homes as if we were living in the middle of an interior design magazine spread.

What made you decide to express yourself with watercolours?

I have actually worked with many different techniques, but watercolours have stuck. I’ve worked with this technique for over twenty years, and it took a while to learn it. Watercolour is one of the hardest things you can do and I still find it difficult. I discover new things all the time and it is mainly through mistakes that my work develops. Watercolour holds so much: it can be soft and almost poetic or really raw. Whatever you want to portray, the one thing they have in common is that you only get one chance.

Tell me how you choose what you portray?

Artists tend to have this dramatic and anxious image. But I think that’s wrong. My life is quiet and ordinary, but also fun, it’s a great privilege to work with this. I paint from what I see around me, for example, I drive past a deforestation area on the way to preschool. I wondered whether I might be able to create something from it. The idea resulted in 40 smaller paintings and an entire exhibition. I don’t have travel to the other side of the world for inspiration, but it feels important to be able to appreciate what I have close to me and work with that. The sun shines beautifully through the grass here too.

Who are you addressing with your art?

Many of those who follow what I paint also paint themselves. So maybe it’s some kind of common bond?

What tips would you give someone who wants to start painting watercolours?

  1. Don’t wait for inspiration to hit you to get started. Just sit down and start. There’s no perfect moment, so it’s better to start and just carry on.
  2. Don’t have such high expectations of yourself. Many people think that being creative is wonderful, free and unpretentious. But is it really? We don’t look at the other commitments we have in our lives and say things like “”I can’t drive this bus today, because I don’t feel inspired enough””. We can be so hard on ourselves in creation and picky about the fact that everything always has to be right.
  3. Accept that it’s hard. It doesn’t always have to be anything great. Creativity doesn’t always have to become a product. It can be a lovely time for you to just be in yourself and to focus on something you enjoy doing.
  4. There’s this myth about the “lone painter”. Art doesn’t have to be lonely at all. It’s nice to see other people and to paint together. Sometimes meeting up can be more important than the art itself.
  5. Last but not least: buy good paper!

Elisabeth on colours:

Watercolour paint is unique, as it involves more factors than just colour. Those of us who paint need to have some control over colours, but also over the different properties of each colour, such as if they are transparent or opaque. Elisabeth’s own favourites include raw umbra, French ultramarine, Antwerp blue and burnt sienna.

More about Elisabeth Biström:

Read more about Elisabeth Biström at https://elisabethbistrom.se/, where some of her paintings are also available for purchase. Elisabeth will exhibit at Tingshuset in Mariestad this coming May. She also shares her knowledge in a Watercolour School online and is happy to discuss painting in her friendly Facebook group ”Akvarellister emellan”.