The Class Connection: Mats Carlsson

Mats Carlsson started as a Swedish house painter in the 1970s. A 1991 chance encounter with a master painter changed his life forever. He later studied at Institut Yannick Guegan and became the first Scandinavian graduate. Mats and his colleague Lotta Olsson have successfully run a two-year decorative painting program at their Palm Fine Arts educational centre since 1996. Palm Fine Arts offers Summer Master Classes taught in English. Mats does commissions about 4 months per year and shares with us his uniquely sensible roof pricing system.

Who taught you?

I had the fortune to be taught by Swedish Master Painter Stellan Palm which happened thanks to a coincidence. (If I had been half a minute later to that shop I would have missed it Destiny??) I was in a paint shop asking for advice about wood graining (this was in the beginning of the 1990’s). The man in the shop said “you just missed one of the greatest wood grainers who has ever been. He just went out when you entered.” So I rushed out in the parking lot to an old man (I had no idea who he was, and it was raining heavy) stopped him, and said “I’ve been told you are a great grainer and I really want to learn – have you got any tips?” He looked at me and said “well, it’s raining quite a lot so why don’t you come to my studio Wednesday evening and we can have a talk”.

So I did, and after that first talk I was allowed to watch him paint every Wednesday evening between 5 – 8pm for 2 months not painting only observing. After 2 months he took me to his office and said, “well, now I know that you are serious and really want learn this craft, as you has been patiently here every Wednesday for 2 months only watching so today I will give you a brush and you will actually learn by painting.” That was a great feeling.

A year later, my colleague of today, Lotta Olsson also joined his training. That training kept on for 8 years. He did not accept any payment for his time brushes, pigments, paint etc. He said, “Seeing your progress is worth more, and now I know that I have transferred my knowledge to next generation, which probably you will do in the future as well.” He was so right.

After some years I found out it was possible to take longer classes abroad. I did a couple of trips to France looking at different schools and decided that somehow I should take one of the French educations. In 1996 I went to Yannick Guegan’s school in France for 5 months.

Together with Stellan I had prepared to open a 1 year education directly after France – and so we did. I did run that school until I, together with Lotta Olsson in 2000, started Palm Fine Arts. At that time we changed the school to be a 2 year education, including 1st year with old techniques and 2nd year with contemporary color, form and design.

Beside the long education we do other classes, for example our summer master classes. Those classes have given us students from together 19 countries through the years. Pascal Amblard has been guest teacher for one week class/year at our school, now for 13 years.

Participating in Salon have given us a lot of connections over the years and also introduced us to the American market.

Who inspires you?

I get inspired from most people in the craft. I have also have the fortune to be at the Salon since 1996 and get inspired from that event every year.

Not to mention FauxForum where you see so much wonderful works by very talented people.

What do you get out of teaching?

To teach is really a pleasure To follow the students growing the more they learn is priceless. In the same time you as a teacher learn a lot from students – so it works two ways. To teach in our field means that the students you get are really interested and eager to learn, and that makes the teaching easy and fun.

Mats specialty is wood graining (here he has matched the floor).

I like most of the jobs but when I make decoration in the style of late 1700’s, I must say I enjoy a bit more. The same with some (not many) clients who want that little extra touch and are not too concerned about the pricing. These days most jobs have to be produced in a very short amount of time which is both good and bad. Good because you must develop techniques to save time but keep quality, and the bad is that you know that you could have done the thing better if you just were allowed to spend some more time. I have specialized in wood graining and illusion so I do a lot of faux wood and tromps. It’s a pleasure when you can add some faux mouldings or ornaments.

How has your business changed in the last 5 years?

We have a quite stable base for our business, and it has increased over the years. We also now work on contract for the Swedish School Ministry. That means that the School Ministry pays us as a school to run the education. It also means that the students only have to pay a small amount themselves to take our 2-year education. (Otherwise it would have been really hard for us to find students for our 2 year program.) The Swedish School Ministry classifies our school as important to the nation because it secures old traditions as well as develop the craft to the needs of today.

We think that our education has increased the level of work in Sweden. In the 70s and 80s the work in Sweden was really bad and it made clients not choose faux finishing. One of the reasons we started the school was to try to raise the standard of work, and today it is actually quite good quality overall. The school takes a lot of our time so we only do 4 month commissions each year and we have enough clients to fill that quota.

Please describe your classes including the practical applications to what you are teaching.

Well, we teach most techniques. Because the market now demands low prices, or maybe I should say fast techniques, it forces us all to do what we do in minimum time. All techniques we do in classes are based on reality work, simplified but still good customer quality. I think it’s important to teach that way – exhibition quality is rare to do as job.

We have a special week class for house painter school teachers, which is important so they introduce the house painter students to decorative painting.

Our master classes are always taught in English because of international students.

This year our master class program has 3 different week classes: Marbling with Lotta Olsson on August 8 12, Mural with Pascal Amblard on August 15 – 19, and Wood/trompe l’oeil with Mats Carlsson on August 22 – 26. Have a look at

Anything else you think is important or interesting about your business or the industry please talk about.

Pricing job is always up as question – at least from our students and colleagues. One of the hardest thing is the pricing the jobs. Of course, it get easier the longer you have been in business because you know your own capacity. Most of our clients (probably 99 %) demand a fixed price. We always bid the projects down to “molecules” and set the working time on each part. That’s a safe way, but still, for a bigger project it can be really costly if you miscalculate so there we often set a “roof” price. In that system we have to count all used hours. If we reach the roof price the clients only pay 50% of everything above it . The other way, if we don’t reach the roof price the client still have to pay 50% of the difference up to the roof price. This is quite safe for both parts when it’s hard estimate the cost.

For Example:

Roof Price $40,000 real time $50,000 – client pays $45,000

Roof Price $40,000 real time $30,000 – client pays $35,000

At the moment I’m preparing for my classes at IDAL. One tromp/wood graining class, and one demo/lecture for fast techniques wood graining. This year the IDAL dates made it possible for me to go. It will be so much fun coming over for a couple of classes.