Submit Saturdays: Warm and humorous illustration from Saga Bergebo
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Saga Bergebo is an illustrator and graphic designer based in Stockholm. Her character driven work is full of warmth and humour, combining a bold use of colour with a keen sense of narrative. Having graduated from Konstfack University College of Arts, Crafts and Design, she works across graphic design, illustration, comics and animation and is one of the founders of Rundgång Publishing. We caught up with her to find out more about her work.
Your exhibition Body of Work is currently on display in Stockholm. Could you tell us some more about the concept behind the work and how you curated the show?
”Body of Work” is a series of images made for a solo exhibition at Subtopia, a creative cluster based in Botkyrka. I found inspiration in what they do, and worked with the body as a theme. I asked myself what a body is and what, if anything, separates us from it?
The Swedish Academy’s dictionary defines the body as “the material substance of a human being”, and I wanted to explore the body as the matter we identify with, the body as the home of our consciousness. What can and what may a body do? I believe there are agreements that make us think of the body in a certain way, and in my imagery I want to stretch the boundaries we create for ourselves.
Most of my work starts with a text and a client, but this project was all me and it was quite daunting. Nevertheless it was very inspiring, and I let myself work much more intuitively than I usually do. I had some abstract feelings I wanted to translate into imagery, but no articulated ideas, and the process felt very organic. I worked on a bunch of images simultaneously, and then chose the seven I thought worked best as a whole. I write a lot when I work, and that definitely helped me find the core of the project and tie it all together. The show is up until 30 August if you want to pop by!
Why did you become an illustrator? What have been the defining moments of your career so far?
My initial plan was to become a graphic designer, but while studying I realised that I found the thrilling part to be the illustrations. I’m not one of those people who’ve been drawing all my life, I quit in my early teens when I thought drawing had to be perfect and accurate and I lost interest. It wasn’t until my early twenties I realised it could be whatever I wanted it to. I started to put illustrations in all my design work and eventually it seemed sensible to make them my main focus.
I am a curious person and I really enjoy plunging into all kinds of weird subjects, trying to understand and translate complex issues into images. When I understood that was something you actually could do for a living it seemed almost too good to be true. Another thing I really enjoy in being an illustrator is the power we have. The power of affecting who’s represented in the media, and how people are depicted. Visual knowledge is a major issue in today’s image-centered world, and I’m super excited about a lot of the images I see now even though we still have tons of work to do!
The first art director I ever worked with five years ago, Cajsa Unnbom, has a very normcritical approach to visual communication, and working with her was an excellent eyeopener that made me think about my own role as an illustrator and how I could contribute in making this place a little bit less shitty.
Your work combines humour with warm observations of life. Where do you find inspiration?
Humour and warmth is super important to me in my work. Even, or maybe especially, when dealing with darker subjects.
Everyday life and struggles are definitely my best source of inspiration. I collect people, conversations and unexpected events. I also love spending time in nature and watching documentaries about deep sea animals, space, time, dark matter and other almost-impossible-to-grasp-stuff. It’s all very humbling and kind of makes me want to giggle about life itself.
What are your favourite methods and medium of working? Could you offer us an insight into your creative process?
My go-to mediums are gouache and ink, but last year I bought myself a Cintiq and it has been really helpful in speeding up my process. Now I often combine the two methods and it’s especially handy with client work where there might be some edits along the way.
My process when getting a new assignment often starts with me reading the brief and jotting down all bad and predictable associations and ideas that I have. It gets them out of the system. Then I take a break. Then it’s on to carrying out some research on the theme, doing sloppy sketches and trying to think a bit more critically and cleverly around the subject. As said before, I do write a lot. Mostly since I appear to forget everything that’s been passing through my mind if I don’t, but it really helps me to focus my thoughts and ideas. Then I do a sketch, or sometimes a few, to send to the client and after their response I dive into drawing it. If I work in gouache I usually do a pretty well thought out sketch since it will be difficult to change things later on, but if I’m working digitally or mixing the two I work more freely and make all the parts separately to combine and play around with in Photoshop later on.
Who influenced your style when studying and developing your particular aesthetic? Who are your heroes?
When starting to illustrate I was very influenced by people like Tove Jansson, Luke Best and Emma Adbåge, who inspired me to play with perspectives and be more daring with colour. I’ve also always loved Swedish folk art like Dalmåleri and Olle Olsson Hagalund.
Some people whose work I love now are Carson Ellis, Mari Kanstad Johnsen and Laura Carlin. Nowadays I’m not consuming as much illustration as before but finding inspiration in art, film and literature. My heroes are among others writer Märta Tikkanen, artist Misaki Kawai and comic pro Klara Wiksten. And of course Sir David Attenborough and cross country skier Johan Olsson!
What do you have planned for the year ahead?
I have some fun collaborations coming up that I can’t really talk about just yet, but I’m very excited about them. Apart from that I will keep on exploring new topics through my editorial commissions, hopefully get to do some fun jobs I know nothing about yet and work on some personal textile projects. The comic collaboration collective I am part of, Rundgång, are working towards releasing book #4 next year as well.
On a personal level I’m going to Iceland in August which I’m super thrilled about, and I guess it’s quite probable it’ll leave some marks in my work.
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