Seven Questions Over Breakfast with Birgitta Sif

h1 August 14th, 2014 by jules

Yesterday I did a guest blog post at BookPage, talking about my favorite new illustrators. That is, those illustrators who have come to prominence in the past couple of years. I snuck author-illustrator Birgitta Sif onto my list, and today she visits for breakfast.

Here’s what I wrote at BookPage:

“Hailing from Iceland (but currently living in Sweden) is author-illustrator Birgitta Sif. Her debut, Oliver (2012), is the picture book I’d point to that most accurately gets what it is to be an introvert. And Frances Dean Who Loved to Dance and Dance, coming at the end of August, pretty much nails shyness. And Sif executes it all with style and warmth.”

Yep. That. I think she’s one to watch, and below she talks about what else she’s done, beyond Oliver and Frances Dean, as well as what’s next for her. Best of all, she shares some art and sketches.

As for what we’re going to pretend-eat while we pretend to sit across an actual table from one another (though I really super-bad wish I were in Sweden right now), Birgitta says, “I would say a scone with apricot marmalade and a perfectly hot cup of coffee. Or on fancy days, Nutella-filled aebleskiver with strawberries. Mmm. Those are yum. But truth be told, on most mornings I’m lucky to grab a quick piece of toast and and lukewarm coffee. A 2.5-year-old and 6-month-old keep me on my toes from very early in the morning to night.”

Let’s dream big and go for the Nutella-filled aebleskiver with strawberries.

I thank Birgitta for visiting!

* * * * * * *

Jules: Are you an illustrator or author/illustrator?

Birgitta: Both. But perhaps illustrator/author, English not being my first language. I’m from Iceland. But I’d say perhaps pictures are my first language.

— From Sue Monroe’s The Magnificent Moon Hare (Egmont Books, 2013)

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

Birgitta: Oliver (illustrator/author), Frances Dean Who Loved to Dance and Dance (illustrator/author), [Sue Monroe’s] The Magnificent Moon Hare (illustrator, chapter book series), Miss Hazeltine’s Home for Shy and Fearful Cats (illustrator — forthcoming), Where Our Feet Go (illustrator/author — forthcoming).

Jules: What is your usual medium?

Birgitta: Pencil. It’s my favourite tool. Then digital colouring.

Jules: If you have illustrated for various age ranges (such as, both picture books and early reader books OR, say, picture books and chapter books), can you briefly discuss the differences, if any, in illustrating for one age group to another?

Birgitta: I worked also on a series called The Magnificent Moon Hare, which were chapter books for children. I think in that particular case, when having so much more text and perhaps story, the illustrations play a different role. They are aiding or punctuating the story. Picture books are creating worlds with pictures and text, hand in hand. But there are exceptions to this, of course.

Jules: Where are your stompin’ grounds?

Birgitta: Currently, we live just outside of Gothenburg, Sweden. But I am originally from Iceland. We are a bit of a traveling family. We love to adventure and show our little girls the world.

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

Birgitta: I started as a designer for a newspaper in the mountains of a small town named Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Then I interned for Candlewick Press and moved on to work in the children’s book art department in NYC (HarperCollins and Henry Holt and Co.). Finally, I jumped oceans to England to try my heart at a masters degree in Children’s Book Illustration at the Cambridge School of Art. At our final degree show in London, I was offered an amazing chance to work with Walker Books, UK, and they have been lovely!

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

Birgitta:; Instagram:; Facebook:

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“Oliver felt a bit different.”
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“The next day, as he was playing tennis on his own . . .”
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Sketches and illustrations from Oliver (Candlewick, 2012)

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

Birgitta: I recently did an illustration for a new book Amnesty International is publishing called, What is Freedom? I’m really so honored to be part of such an incredible project. My book Oliver is also endorsed by Amnesty International, which makes working with them again even more amazing.

And currently, I’m also working on a new book with Knopf, Random House, called Where Our Feet Go. It’s really exciting, and I’m thrilled to be working with the great people at Knopf.

From Miss Hazeltine’s Home for Shy and Fearful Cats (forthcoming)
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Mmm. Coffee.Okay, I’ve got more coffee (a perfectly hot cup), and it’s time to get a bit more detailed with six questions over breakfast. I thank Birgitta 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?

Birgitta: I’m still learning as I go and developing new ways to do things. But I usually start with doodling, and a main idea evolves from that. And when I feel the doodles start to make some sort of sense together, I start adding text. And then I add more doodles to make it all come together — and more text, like layers upon layer, oftentimes erasing or taking out just as often as adding. It’s like one of those sliding puzzles, each piece moving opens up new possibilities, but you hope that after sliding it around and around, a beautiful story will emerge.

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“When no one was around, she would feel the wind and dance …
and hear the singing of the birds and dance and dance and dance.”

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Sketches and final art from
Frances Dean Who Loved to Dance and Dance
(Candlewick, August 2014)

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

Birgitta: I work in the living room. I have a little corner there where my desk faces out to our yard, filled with trees and birds. Being a mamma to two little girls means that I need to grab moments whenever I can. I often work when they are playing, but I do most of my work at night when they’ve both gone to bed and the quiet fills the house.

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

Birgitta: Growing up in the U.S. and in Scandinavia, I had a variety of different kinds of books. But I did love reading Roald Dahl — a little bit of mischief in his books. And many of Astrid Lindgren’s books.

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? (Some people cheat and list deceased authors/illustrators. I won’t tell.)

Birgitta: Halldór Laxness, an Icelandic author (I named my second daughter after one of his books, a beautiful story with a strong female character, Salka); Astrid Lindgren; and Bill Peet.

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?

Birgitta: Ásgeir Trausti, or anything swing or folk or even a bit of ’50s, although I often have the Icelandic radio on. I love having Icelandic on in the background. It makes me feel less far away from home.

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

Birgitta: I taught wood carving to residents at a nursing home in Reykjavík.

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* * * The Pivot Questionnaire * * *

Jules: What is your favorite word?

Birgitta: “Bergmál.” It means “echo” in English, but in Icelandic it translates to “the talking of the mountains.” Icelandic has a lot of beautiful words.

Jules: What is your least favorite word?

Birgitta: “No.”

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

Birgitta: Sleep.

Jules: What turns you off?

Birgitta: No sleep.

7-Imp: What is your favorite curse word? (optional)

Birgitta: “Andskotinn.” I don’t curse in English, only occasionally in Icelandic.

Jules: What sound or noise do you love?

Birgitta: My girls’ laughter or the soft sound of their sleep.

Jules: What sound or noise do you hate?

Birgitta: Honking of horns.

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

Birgitta: Toy-maker.

Jules: What profession would you not like to do?

Birgitta: Being a suit.

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

Birgitta: “You’ve been loved.” Or: “Oh, hi Birgitta! I’m a big fan!”

* * * * * * *

FRANCES DEAN WHO LOVED TO DANCE AND DANCE. Copyright © 2014 by Birgitta Sif. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

OLIVER. Copyright © 2012 by Birgitta Sif. Spreads reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

All other artwork and images are used with permission of Birgitta Sif.

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

7 comments to “Seven Questions Over Breakfast with Birgitta Sif”

  1. Birgitta is an incredibly sweet woman with a radiant light that shines through in her work. I first became a fan of Birgitta when she was in high school making extraordinary chalk “paintings” on the street for an annual arts festival in Princeton, NJ. It is with pride and pleasure that I have given “Oliver” as a gift to friends, and I am even happier that soon I will be able to give “Frances Dean” along with “Oliver”!

  2. Amazing art! I was blown away. Exquisite visual storytelling. She might have to be my new favourite illustrator.

  3. Instant new fave!! Love the illustrations and the feelings evoked from the sweet drawings and sensitive story telling. Thanks so much for highlighting Birgitta and her work!

  4. Wow !!! Thanks Jules.These beautiful illustrations by Birgitta will definitely brighten up my ‘mundane adult day’ 🙂 Will try to get a copy of the books by her for my little son too.

  5. Wonderful interview, Jules and Birgitta. I was only introduced to Birgitta’s talents when Frances Dean Who Loved to Dance and Dance came out, and now I’m a fan! Excited to find a copy of Oliver soon 🙂

  6. […] Miss Hazeltine’s Home for Shy and Fearful Cats (Knopf, May 2015), illustrated by Birgitta Sif, with a bit of art from the book, as well as some early sketches from Birgitta. The review is here, […]

  7. Good morning! Jules review of the artist Birgitta Sif’s illustrations and art techniques beyond well written to meeting a lost friend in another part of the USA.
    What enchants me most of this illustrators work is that the pictures remind me of passed experiences with animals and people. Especially one typically fun drawing was of Ms. Sif’s work of a group of children and people having a yummy get to gather with food. My great aunt who said children should be seen outside not inside with the adults gave an afternood tea with delicious cakes and cookies. So the Sif’s drawing brought back our outrageous need to eat many cookies but stay away from the aunt.
    Also the child character “Frances Dean” dancing-of course I danced through out the my grandmother’s house and was given a good sit down talk. And the other drawing of the child dancing with a cat-I had a big clown doll that attached his shoes with mine-dancing took all day. Ha Ha what a lovely time to view these illustrations and so thanks. ATK

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