Seven Questions Over Breakfast with Laura Ljungkvist

h1 November 3rd, 2011 by jules

I do these breakfast interviews a lot—today’s guest has brought, as you can see here, her plain Kefir with Cinnamon Life cereal and blueberries—and my favorite question is the simplest one: “Are you an illustrator or author/illustrator?” The answers I’ve gotten over the years, which are surprisingly varied, tell me a lot about the interviewee. I’m not surprised that today’s visitor, author/illustrator Laura Ljungkvist, opts to call herself a “visual problem-solver.”

And that’s because Laura, also an editorial illustrator, creates picture books that are often picture puzzles, relying mostly on what one reviewer once called “acrobatic lines” (I love that Laura Ljungkvistdescription) to tell her tales. Her Follow the Line books (there are four total thus far, the most recent one released this past summer), as well as her debut picture book, feature one continuous line, beginning on the cover, running through the entire book to create shapes and tell and name and designate and identify, and ending on the back of the book. The lines zoom, circle, zigzag, twist, turn, and dance, encouraging reader participation and lots of examination for curious eyes. (In this recent blog post of hers, one can see she was destined to make books like this.)

This June 7-Imp post featured some of Laura’s editorial art, including her “Tables for Two” illustration for The New Yorker, which was clearly a predecessor to her Follow the Line books for children. It’s interesting to note how her editorial art informs her children’s book illustration — or perhaps vice versa. “It’s natural,” she told me around the time of that post, “for an editorial illustrator to write and illustrate their own books. After ‘solving your clients’ visual problems’ comes a time when you want to ‘solve your own problem.’ It’s the same process; only now you’re the boss!”

I thank Laura for visiting this morning. I’ll get the coffee brewing and get the basics from her while we set the table for seven questions over breakfast.

* * * * * * *

Jules: Are you an illustrator or author/illustrator?

Laura: Visual problem-solver.

Jules: Can you list your books-to-date?


Jules: What is your usual medium, or––if you use a variety—your preferred one?

Laura: I used to looove my Winsor & Newton gouache paints. I had developed a technique that enabled me to paint perfect large flat areas of color. With the introduction of the computer, that which used to be a skill became a waste of time. Now I spend my time obsessing over textures and patterns on my Mac computer, and in my {latest} book I have started to photograph actual objects.

“Say hello…to your friends and go to your classroom.”
(Click to enlarge)

“…to pick out a book and to hear a story…”
(Click to enlarge)

For example, the “Show and Tell” spread has a car that I photographed in Sao Paolo, Brazil, and there are a lot of things from my daughter’s school.

“…because it’s time for show and tell…”
(Click to enlarge)

My daughter was eight when I was working on this book, and she has contributed a lot of art for this one. We had so much fun working together. I would give her assignments if I needed a specific piece of art. She has hand-lettered my name on the title page, for example, and the portrait in the corner in the “art room” is her self-portrait that she made in school.

“Violet’s school project…hangs on the wall in my studio.”

Jules: Where are your stompin’ grounds?

Laura: Born and raised in Sweden. Moved to New York (Manhattan) in 1993. Nowadays, I call Brooklyn home.

Spread from and cover of Follow the Line Around the World (Viking, 2008)

Jules: Can you briefly tell me about your road to publication?

Laura: Determination, frustration, frustration, amazing luck!

“Pepi the parrot lived with Peter. Peter loved space.
Every night while Peter stargazed, Pepi sang him a special space song:
Twinkle, twinkle, little stars, / Satellite, planet, galaxy, Mars. / Comet, Venus, telescope, / Jupiter, rocket, Asterope. / Saturn, Mercury, Milky Way, /
Neptune, orbit, moon, sun ray.”

(Click to enlarge)

“Soon Pepi had batches of tasty things to sing about. So his next stop was…”
(Click to enlarge)

Spreads from Pepi Sings a New Song
(Beach Lane, April 2010)

Jules: Can you please point readers to your web site and/or blog?

Laura: and

Jules: If you do school visits, tell me what they’re like.

Laura: They are all so different, depending on dynamics in the group.

Spreads from and cover of Follow the Line through the House (Viking, 2007)

Jules: If you teach illustration, by chance, tell me how that influences your work as an illustrator.

Laura: I taught illustration in Stockholm for a couple of years before I moved to NY. This was a full-time, college-level graphic art school. I had graduated myself five years earlier, and some of the students were older that I.

I had a blast. Working a few years, I had learned what NOT to do, and I thought I knew everything. It was great being back in a place where there are no rules and everything is possible.

{Pictured right is Laura’s contribution to The Exquisite Book, published by Chronicle Books in 2010.}

Jules: Any new titles/projects you might be working on now that you can tell me about?

Laura: Well, my next book is written by another author, which is something I said I would never do. When this manuscript came along, I was really exhausted and stressed out. It’s a lovely “seek and find” story and seemed to be just my thing. So I said yes! After seven adventures into “authoring,” I will enjoy just getting lost and focusing on what comes easy to me. All while I plan my next {Follow the} Line book.

Mmm. Coffee.Coffee’s ready, cereal’s out, and the table’s set now for seven questions over breakfast. Let’s get a bit more detailed, and I thank Laura again for visiting 7-Imp.

1. Jules: What exactly is your process when you are illustrating a book? You can start wherever you’d like when answering: getting initial ideas, starting to illustrate, or even what it’s like under deadline, etc. Do you outline a great deal of the book before you illustrate or just let your muse lead you on and see where you end up?

Laura: I always come up with the visuals first. The idea for my very first book, Toni ’s Topsy-Turvy Telephone Day, came from and old illustration that I had done for a client a few years earlier. I sketched the book out with simple stick figures — with thumbnails for text. That’s how I present the idea to my editor.

For my series of {Follow the} Line books, I first come up with a concept. I prefer to keep my sketches pretty simple and minimal. That way you leave some to the magic that happens when you are in “the zone.” I like to start working on the spread that I am most inspired by and let that set the tone for the rest of the book. …I leave the spread that I have difficulty with till last. With the rest of the book done, it will fall into place.

Laura’s studio (the view from the studio and drafting table pictured below)
(Click to enlarge studio photo)

2. Jules: Describe your studio or usual work space.

Laura: I have a big room on the 3rd floor facing the garden of our Brownstone in Brooklyn. I don’t have any of my art up on display in my studio. As matter of fact, I don’t have any of my own art anywhere in the house on display.

3. Jules: As a book lover, it interests me: What books or authors and/or illustrators influenced you as an early reader?

Laura: I have saved some of my old favorite children’s books from way back. I think the one that I really loved was about a bear exploring the solar system (!) — Brumbo och stjärnorna in Swedish.

(Click to enlarge second image)

One other book that I have saved all these years is Richard Scarry’s What Do People Do All Day? Looking at my work, I think it’s pretty clear that that book influenced what I do today.

4. Jules: If you could have three (living) authors or illustrators—whom you have not yet met—over for coffee or a glass of rich, red wine, whom would you choose?

Laura: Lane Smith, Ian Falconer, {J.} Otto Seibold — and it would have to be margaritas.

5. Jules: What is currently in rotation on your iPod or loaded in your CD player? Do you listen to music while you create books?

Laura: I get very emotional and music really affects me, so I prefer silence when I work. On my iPad, you will find only one or two tracks from many different artists.

6. Jules: What’s one thing that most people don’t know about you?

Laura: That I am not very interested in art (!) — I never go to art museums or galleries.

7. Jules: Is there something you wish interviewers would ask you — but never do? Feel free to ask and respond here.

Laura: Wow that’s a tough one/good one! …

What are you most proud of?

My answer would be: Being a mother.

* * * The Pivot Questionnaire * * *

Jules: What is your favorite word?

Laura: “Broccolili,” which is what my daughter would call broccoli when she was a toddler.

Jules: What is your least favorite word?

Laura: “Maybe” and “almost.”

Jules: What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?

Laura: What turns me on creatively is when I have a problem to solve — could be an illustration assignment or decorating a room.

Jules: What turns you off?

Laura: Nonchalance.

Jules: What is your favorite curse word? (optional)

Laura: “Jävlar i helvete.”

Jules: What sound or noise do you love?

Laura: The noise that a bunch of tulips makes when you pick them up.

Jules: What sound or noise do you hate?

Laura: When I work, most sounds are irritating to me. I guess I am very sensitive.

Jules: What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

Laura: Dog trainer.

Jules: What profession would you not like to do?

Laura: Dental assistant.

Jules: If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

Laura: “Welcome. Well-done!”

* * * * * * *

PEPI SINGS A NEW SONG. Copyright © 2010 Laura Ljungkvist. Images reproduced by permission of publisher, Beach Lane Books/Simon & Schuster.

FOLLOW THE LINE TO SCHOOL. Copyright © 2011 Laura Ljungkvist. Published by Viking Juvenile, New York. Images reproduced by permission of Ljungkvist.

All other artwork and images used with permission of Laura Ljungkvist. All rights reserved.

The spiffy and slightly sinister gentleman introducing the Pivot Questionnaire is Alfred, © 2009 Matt Phelan.

2 comments to “Seven Questions Over Breakfast with Laura Ljungkvist”

  1. I love Laura’s art and reviewed her newest, Follow The Line to School, on my blog. Your interviews are just what lovers of books, readers need. It was interesting to see where she works. When sharing this new Line book with my students I can tell them that her daughter helped her. Thanks, Jules.

  2. Wild lines…love it! Simply intriguing.

Leave a Comment

Should you have trouble posting, please contact Thanks.