The Swedish Illustrator Inspired By Classical Figures and Scandinavian Florals

For Sweden-born, London-based illustrator and artist Petra Börner — known for her ink and watercolor images of bright, graphic florals, meandering foliage, and Grecian-inspired figures — nature is a source of both inspiration and consternation. “I love London,” she says. “I’ve been here for 26 years now, but coming from the countryside of Sweden, I have a set of values that’s different from those here. I feel a lot of despair toward our relationship to the outdoors. Living in the city, we’re very cut off from nature.” Perhaps this is why flora and fauna — dense, meandering, maze-like patterns and fields of color that one could get lost in — are so prominent in her paper cut-outs, paintings, collages, ceramics, and prints.

Börner’s mixed-media approach can be traced to her childhood, which was spent in a small town in the south of Sweden. Alongside her mom and aunt, she would explore various techniques of making; the rest of the time she could be found outside, tracking through the mud, playing in the grass and trees, or foraging fruit for a snack after working up an appetite. Her innate sense of color might be traced to her Swedish roots as well, having inspired her palette of fresh greens and blues with a smattering of vivid but earthy hues. “I never studied color, so I just sort of bang it on there in a quite crude way,” she says.

These days for inspiration, Börner goes to museums like the Louvre or Musée d’Orsay in Paris, or the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, to look at and draw sculptures, a notable influence in the classical figures and profiles in her drawings and ceramics. She’s also influenced by materials, constantly saving and then rediscovering old pieces of paper, fabric scraps, objects she encounters, and books she finds on the street or buys at vintage sales. In an uncanny and meaningful moment, Börner happened to stumble on three discarded books on ceramics in the streets of London just as she was beginning to experiment with the material.

Since 2005, Börner has worked as a full-time illustrator, with her works accompanying articles in publications such as Vogue and the New York Times. But recently, she’s been making a foray into the fine art arena. In the midst of COVID closures last year, she participated in her first major exhibition at The Museum of Drawings in Laholm, Sweden, and this past fall she opened a show featuring her ceramics in London. She’s also working on a small book that will be published soon. “I do feel a sense of displacement living abroad and living apart from nature, but making art is very fulfilling,” she muses. It’s in her lush work, full of vines, leaves, and flowers, that she’s found new roots.

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