The Daily Heller: Where Laura Ljungkvist Draws the Line

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Laura Ljungkvist finished art school in Stockholm in 1988, and in 1993 moved to New York City. As a new illustrator back then, editorial work was the easiest work to get, so she bought a bunch of magazines and started making calls and dropping off portfolios on “drop-off days.” She started getting assignments right away, and her first big job was The New Yorker. “They asked me to make sketches for their ‘Goings On Around Town’ section, and they ended up buying 20+,” she recalls. “That was a good day!”

From there, it just continued—as did the development of her linear style, which she discusses below.

Laura’s first New York job: Mademoiselle Magazine
Logo for section in The New Yorker

How, and why, did your linear style evolve?
Sweden, where I came from, is a very “small market” for an illustrator. It’s easy to get “overexposed” when you’re hot; therefore, you need to be able to do many different styles. While here in New York, I quickly learned that there are so many illustrators that it’s imperative that you have your own personal style that sets you apart. I had some “one-line illos” in my portfolio when I came and those were the ones clients responded to and wanted, and soon my portfolio consisted of only “one-liners.” Then I started evolving, adding shapes of color in the background, with the black line crossing over, completing the objects. 

Laura’s first “one-liner” was a logo for herself.
Above: illustration for The New York Times’ Letters page. Below: illustration for Harpers Bazaar.
Book cover from Sweden, made in NYC.
Barney’s department store window.
Laura’s first experiment with shapes of color and line crossing over, as well as firsthand lettering.
UK Anorak kid’s magazine.
Cover for UK Evening Standard Sunday Magazine.

What books have you done?
I have been really, really fortunate. Working and getting a lot of exposure, even here your style gets “worn out,” and when other artists [mimic] your style, you need/have to move on. And the world I work in is always looking for something new, and one day you are not “up-and-upcoming” anymore. The word experienced isn’t necessarily a compliment.

Eventually editorial work stopped. At the point, it wasn’t really challenging me anymore. Then I got the idea that I wanted to do children’s books! And it was a case of being “at the right place at the right time” that my first book was published. 

To date I have written and published 13 books (I illustrated one for another author). My claim to fame is a series of four for Viking Children’s Books: Follow the Line.

Laura’s latest title. “I was always uncomfortable with the title ‘author,’ as I was just writing to my pictures … but this one I actually authored.’ Research, character development and a story with an emotionally satisfying ending.”

Your swirling linear graphics always seemed made for textile designs. When did you start your line of products?
I found these two platforms—Society6 and Redbubble—that let you as an artist apply your patterns to different kinds of products. I have always been fascinated by patterns (an art teacher I once had said I “have a fear of empty space”) and I have a library of a million that I have done that I put into my illustration work, but that are just crying out to be placed on products.

You’ve done books, illustration, film titles, etc.—does this physical medium suit you better, or is it one of the many media you enjoy?
I have been so tremendously fortunate in my career, doing so many different thing. As an example—designing a town that you put together after punching out shapes that come on boards in a box. This was an assignment from MoMA. I might have had a sleepless night or two, but I enjoyed building in 3D enormously. I love a challenge!

3D assignment from MoMA.
“When I designed the cross on the roof, and the awning over the entrance of the hospital, I felt like a genius.”
The “final” for the hospital.
Chronicle Books’ “punch out” concept.

What are your favorite items?
They all inspire me! I love to adjust my patterns to fit them. But I have a favorite pattern—it’s actually an illustration in black and white, a very graphic map of the city of Stockholm that was an editorial, full-spread assignment ages ago.

Map of Stockholm used for pillows, blankets, aprons and more.

What do you see as coming next?
I think you mean what do you hope comes next?

I have written my first “big people” book about dogs. I have multiple children’s book ideas in my drawer. (One is out with editors now.) More products! I used to teach illustration at a college in Stockholm, and that is something I’d like to do again. It would be a dream to have my own product line! I hope to be challenged with new things.