Sara Lundberg worked as a painter before focusing on picturebooks. She’s now illustrated over thirty books with Swedish authors, and has written several of her own. Her 2017 picturebook ‘The Bird Within Me Flies Wherever it Wants’ received the prestigious August Prize and Snöbollen for the best Swedish children’s book of the year.
In this post, Sara talks about the creation process for ‘Fågeln i mig flyger vart den vill’ (The Bird Within Me Flies Wherever it Wants), and she shares some beautiful development work and final artwork. The book was originally published in Sweden by Mirando Bok, with the English edition due to be published by Book Island in Spring 2020.
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Sara: ‘The Bird Within Me Flies Wherever it Wants’ is a story about being true to yourself, to follow your heart. It’s inspired by the life and childhood of Swedish artist Berta Hansson.
The story takes place in the north of rural Sweden, in the 1920s. Berta grows up on a farm and she wants to be an artist, but her father wants her to follow the tradition and marry someone in the village, to take care of the home and the family. Just how things have always been.
Berta is different and she doesn’t fit in. Her mother is the only one who sees and understands her. But her mother has tuberculosis and eventually dies from it, leaving Berta alone and in despair.
This is a story about a young girl with the bravery and willingness to take the consequences of living her own truth and following her own path, despite the protests of her father and the society at the time.
That kind of courage fascinates me.
I am eternally thankful to the many forgotten female artists who have trodden the path before me. Those who had the guts to live an unconventional life and sacrifice so much. If they hadn’t, I wouldn’t be where I am today in my profession. Berta Hansson, not known to many, is one of these women.
First I wrote the text, then I did a lot of sketching, storyboarding and research. I decided not to be a slave to history or reality, but to have a free and open mind to my fantasy and inner-imagery.
I worked in close communication with my publisher Jenny Franke (Mirando Bok). We would go through the story and the sketches, discuss symbolism, the images, the text. Then I would go back to my studio to rewrite, redraw, change scenery, etc. It was very challenging, but creative and fruitful work. And it was quite scary too, because I had never done this kind of project before. The book is about 130 pages, with an illustration on every spread. It took two years to finish it.
The story of Berta revolves around the myth of creation. The image of Adam’s creation by Michelangelo is central. It’s a postcard that’s given to her by her uncle. The image makes her reflect on God, on the biblical story, Adam and Eve’s roles, on herself and her role in society.
Who is the creator? Is she in fact the actual creator of her own life?
Berta reflects on the magic of her own hands and how they are able to carry out her thoughts. Her hands that can create drawings and sculptures out of clay. Things that she gives to her mother.
Berta believes that what she creates has the power to cure her mother, because of the joy it gives.
Through the story we come back to her hands. The action of her hands, the expression of her hands when she gives up after her mother dies.
And then, through her hands, she rediscovers herself.
The style and techniques of the illustrations vary from spread to spread. Sometimes I use realism. For the character of Berta I used a live model. I wanted to create the feeling of vulnerability, pulsating life, the blood underneath the skin. How it varies in colour, shadows, temperature. How the skin is sometimes glowing.
In other illustrations I simplify, using collage and thick paint. Characters go towards the abstract. Broad strokes with the brush. Only expression. Here, the goal is imperfection, almost towards the ugly and unfinished.
It was important for me to allow myself to be inconsequent. The characters didn’t have to look the same on each spread, I didn’t have to stick to a specific style or technique. So I just did each scene intuitively, and with the intention of bringing out the most interesting – the essence in each.
I felt confident that everything would tie up in the end anyway, so I might as well have fun on the way there, and avoid trying to do something perfect.
Illustrations © Sara Lundberg. Post edited by dPICTUS.
Fågeln i mig flyger vart den vill /
The Bird Within Me Flies Wherever it Wants
Mirando Bok, Sweden, 2017
What do you do when it feels impossible to live up to everything that is expected of you? What do you do when the only person who really understands you suddenly disappears?
‘The Bird Within Me Flies Wherever it Wants’ is based on the life of Swedish artist Berta Hansson, but it’s also a universal story of grief, longing, intransigence and the power of the imagination to change things.
- Swedish: Mirando Bok
- English (UK, NZ, AUS): Book Island (published in 2020)
- English (North America): Groundwood Books (published in 2020)
- Danish: Straarup & Co.
- Croatian: Planet Zoe
- Belarusian: Koska
- Korean: Sanha
- Arabic: Dar al Muna
- Hindi: A & A Book Trust