Swedish watercolorist Gunnar Tryggmo is inspired by all of nature, loves the never-ending challenge of watercolors, and wants to capture those intimate – but fleeting – moments with wildlife.
I was born in Växjö, a small town on the south Swedish highland. I grew up on a forest farm in the middle of Småland.
In 1988 I began art school and moved to Helsingborg on the southwest coast close to Denmark.
I met my wife here and in 1995 we moved to her home village Viken, 10 miles north of Helsingborg. We still live here in a house with a studio. I have a house on the spot where I grew up and spend quite a lot of time there.
I have been interested in drawing as long as I remember. Luckily, I have an uncle who is an artist. He saw my interest at the very beginning and has supported me ever since then.
Simply said, I paint birds and animals from wherever I go. From the beginning, and what I always come back to, are birds and animals from Sweden.
After some journeys to Africa (the first time in 2007), the megafauna has become a big inspiration for my art.
A goal for me working on this show has been to get to know the American animals better. I have always been interested in them but since my first time in the Grand Teton area, it has fallen deeper in my heart. I need to get to know the subject before I can do anything reliable.
I think nature is a wonder!
In this exhibition, is there a piece you’re most proud of or excited by?
Two of my favorites are the moose, Out of Nowhere, and The Lonely Dreamer.
The moose because it came to me so smoothly. I spent some late hours in the studio, left it for some days, and made some finishing layers.
The Lonely Dreamer is the opposite. My first time in Jackson Hole was in 2011 and I was fascinated by solitary bison resting in the middle of huge open valleys in Yellowstone. I guess there was something universal that attracted me to it, a lonely peaceful creature in the middle of nowhere left in the hands of the elements.
I have made some smaller paintings on the idea since then but I felt it was now time to do a bigger painting on the subject.
It’s very different from piece to piece. Some are made on the same day without pre-sketches and -studies. Some, most commonly, consist of pre-sketch composition ideas or even pre-studies in color to see if the idea works before the actual painting starts. Over the years, I have destroyed lots of paper and time beginning on a big painting too early in an inspiration rush. In the case of the bigger, more heavily finished paintings, it can take about a week from the beginning to the end, including drying time. Some of them consist of many layers.
I have included two pre-studies for The Lonely Dreamer to show the stages of the process.
If I were to decide, I would go for a box frame with the paper floating and deckle-edges visible. I think this is a lovely presentation of watercolors.
The painting mounted inside a passepartout with the edges visible could be another way.
It’s like Africa. After you’ve left, you start to think of coming back.
Jackson is so much, almost in Grand Teton National Park and close to Yellowstone, and all with the mountains and the wildlife. For someone who loves wild natural beauty, this is a great spot.
The town, lovely people, friends, the art-life, the concentration of galleries, a museum dedicated to wildlife art. There are still things to explore, I have only been here in the fall so this time will be a new experience. I hope to have some time to go skiing.
Maybe this answer is connected to the one above.
Watercolor is a medium where it’s not so easy to change the direction of a painting. My way of painting watercolor is a spontaneous medium. I try to both control it and give the color some chance to live on its own. You have to be quite clear what you want before you put any color on the paper. There are not as many lucky accidents as I wish.
Sometimes it drives me crazy, one minute I feel like a king with some strokes, but one wash too much and I feel like a newbie. But now and then it ends up in something. It’s a never-ending challenge, I think that’s the reason I love it so much.
The drying time. The stress when you have to do a lot of things in different areas of the paper, all at the exact time of when the paint is dried to a specific point.
I tell myself all the time to be sure of what I am doing before I do anything, but that easily disappears in the rush of inspiration.
One very difficult thing in watercolor is to control the different edges. a sharp edge is not a problem, but a controlled soft edge takes a lifetime or two to master.
And of course, the eternal question when to stop and consider the painting done.
I try to make “art” not just an effigy of a bird or an animal. I like to combine realistic parts with abstracts. Sometimes this makes the feeling even more realistic. I want to leave something to the imagination of the viewer. I like to play with empty areas. I feel it’s more difficult to know how to end the outer wash and make an interesting composition, rather than paint the main subject.
If you can feel the thrill of that, then I have succeeded! When you are close to a wild animal it’s very much like this – a small change in the wind and it’s gone. It’s like walking on thin ice.
I tend to paint the things I see around me. When I lived in the forest it inspired me. Now I live on the shoreline with lots of migratory birds and this is a source for inspiration. I liked the feedback I got from the exhibition visitors. I make art to connect with others and hopefully open the audience’s eyes to nature’s beauty.
My wife and children are my hardest critics. I try to listen to them at least a bit.
Over time, it is birds. For many reasons, in the beginning, I was very interested in birds and their life. They are easy to study – you have them around. Everything from tiny ones on the feeder outside the window to the mighty eagles and the migrating flocks with their invisible paths.
For me, in the end, it’s not so much about which animal or bird as the precious moment and feeling I want to transfer to the viewer.
Most often the best is to start over instead of trying to rescue a painting that can’t be rescued.
I’m too optimistic here. Luckily I have people around who are not afraid to make up my mind and tell me the truth.
If the piece is not overdone, I could leave it for a while and hopefully see what to do with fresh eyes.
I run a small company together with my wife. I work in my forest now and then. Hunting, fishing, skiing, travel and any kind of outdoor activities.
Searching for ideas references and inspiration for art is connected to all of these activities.
I had one once, though I don’t think of it that much now: “If you decide to do something, do it fully.”
It’s the best advice but hard to follow. Less is more.