I have long admired the work of Swedish born illustrator Petra Börner, who brilliantly mixes Scandinavian and Arts and Crafts influences to create a style all her own. Her book cover for Emma by Jane Austen (artwork above) is nominated for the 2012 V&A illustration awards so I thought I’d find out what makes her tick. Be very inspired…
You have a very distinctive style – what are your greatest influences?
I still draw inspiration from objects and books I’ve collected since I was a teenager, books on school posters and photographic references on anatomy and plants and DIY books form the 70’s.
I like studying LP covers, especially ‘classical’ ones and browsing antique shops and I like drawing in public and from life.
I’ve been taught to be hands-on and ‘do’ from my family and I’ve learnt creative skills from my mother.
I like work by Max Ernst, Niki De Saint Phalle, Carl Johan De Geer and Katja of Sweden.
How long did it take you to come up with your look – was it a gradual process or were you always attracted to working in this way?
I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t really into drawing and making things.
It’s taken me a roundabout way to get to a place where drawing is central and a means to living though.
I suppose it’s good to pack many things in your bag along the way.
A friend of mine sent me a drawing I did when I was 18 and it looks just like my current work – that was quite shocking!
You trained as a fashion designer and had your own label until 2004 – why did you decide that your heart was in illustration and was it a hard decision to make? Any regrets?
It wasn’t a very hard choice to make at all.
I’ve always wanted to be an artist and my experience from the fashion helped build my drive.
I had quite a few tough and interesting years creating my label with partner Tove Johansson, but it felt right to finally focus on my goal.
In fashion I felt like a cowboy, a strange fish in a big pond!
Petra Borner – field print for Cacharel SS 2007
In terms of moving across industries, did you have to develop a new set of contacts for illustration or was there a lot of crossover?
I’d illustrated a little for magazines parallel to my work in fashion, so I had a few contacts.
But generally, I had to start a fresh and it took a while to generate an interest.
With a fashion angle I broadened my chances and managed to bridge fashion and illustration into an interesting mix of commissions.
You’ve been based in London since 1994 – what brought you here and what keeps you here?
I came here to study Fashion whilst improving my English during a one- year foundation course.
It turned out to be an intense and exciting year leading onto a degree in Fashion at Central St Martins and my London roots grew deeper.
I lived in NY for a while which was great fun, but I seldom contemplate moving anywhere else now.
Having family ties here and in Sweden at times makes for an ambivalent longing for ‘home’.
London always keeps me on my toes.
Petra Borner – partridge bowl for Seto Seikei.
When you are working on illustration in a decorative capacity (on 3D objects etc.) what has been your favorite project to date? And why?
It’s amazing to be able to work on projects with open briefs, but with technical support to maximize the result.
I often wish I had more knowledge and skills of many crafts to increase the level of intricacy and open possibilities within a project, but sometimes it’s good not to know all the limitations before you start.
Collaborating with Studiothomson, Clements Ribeiro, Bally, Aquascutum, Seto Seikei and Jonathan Adler has also been interesting.
Petra Borner – gift box for Systemet.
If we were to take a peek inside your inspiration library what would we find?
Books, paper scraps, comic books, postcards and photocopies on arts and crafts, design, pottery, folklore, nature, portraits, travelling and maps, anatomy, animals, foods and eating, antiques, DIY books, interior design and architecture, rubbings and sculpture.
You have illustrated lots of book covers – which was the best book you had to read for a job?
I love ‘The Lover’ by Marguerite Duras.
How do you balance looking after a toddler with work? You are incredibly busy!
She’s managing me.
Petra Borner – summer papercut for Harper Collins.
Your logo adopts your father’s signature – do you come from a creative family and if so what do they do?
On my mums side of the family there is an army of hands on, inspiring creativity, a well of skills within all sorts of arts and crafts.
My father’s side holds many in a row of painters, a photographer and a composer.
Most of the paintings are portraits, still life’s and scenes from the sea, as we come from an island.
Most of my family members prosper academically and save their creativity for relaxation.
Petra Borner – greetings card for Habitat.
Can you tell us about your new product range in collaboration with Studiothomson, aimed at encouraging writing and correspondence?
I’ve always been a keen letter writer and as a teenager I’d spend hours decorating envelops before posting them.
I like the time and thought that goes into handwritten letters and though it it’s ‘out-of-date’ as soon as it’s posted, it ‘s magical to receive them.
We are currently developing the prototypes for a range of bold products, which will make staying in touch with your friends a treat.
We are launching the collection early autumn 2012.
What kind of imagery can we expect in your new range of hand tufted fair trade rugs for the Design Museum?
This is an early collaboration and my designs are in the making.
The project is directed by Chris Haughton for Design Museum and involves a group of artists including Sanna Annukka, Donna Wilson, Jon Klassen and Neasden Control Centre, so the rugs should be a striking collection!
The limited edition rugs will be handmade in Nepal according to Fair Trade regulations and will be on display at the Design Museum this autumn.
You are also writing your own book about collectables – tell us more! What do you collect?
This is exciting!
Having been a keen flea-marketeer and collector since I was five, I am now in contrast ruthless about what I keep.
What I’ve kept has a real value (to me!) and I am assembling these objects into a journey of sorts.
Finally and not least you are nominated for the V&A illustration awards, and the winners will be announced tonight – what inspired the Emma artwork?
The first ideas for the cover of ‘Emma’ by Jane Austen, was sketched in the V&A.
I aimed to create a bold and lush interpretation of the novel in contrast to it often soft and feminine covers.
I decided to let her hand symbolize elements of the story.
Petra Börner sells her book cover artwork and much more on big cartel – so you can own your very own piece! See what else she’s up to on her website. I hope you win tonight Petra!
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