Meet the maker: Saga-Mariah Sandberg, illustrator

Artist Saga-Mariah Sandberg is inspired by nature, observing plants, insects and the forest

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The artist with some of the designs from her new Dawn Chorus wallpaper collection, available from Photowall

I have always been curious about the wonders of nature. As a child I was constantly in the undergrowth of the woodland around our home, looking for frogs, snakes or beetles. I loved to follow the black ants around our house, and put out offerings for them, like syrup, much to my parents’ great irritation.

I grew up in the region of Värmland, in Sweden. We owned an old farmhouse in the middle of the forest, and we had chickens, ducks, rabbits and a couple of cats who tried their best to catch all the mice that thrived in our semi-wild garden. When I started drawing, these subjects came naturally to me.

I happily drew everything around the house, from the ants, the woodland and our pets, to the garden, leaves, nuts, mice and so on. My parents quickly understood that this was my path in life and encouraged me. So, when I got a little bit older they found a local artist and paid him to give me lessons. I was ten, and everything he taught me I absorbed like a sponge.

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From left: Saga-Mariah Sandberg at work in her Stockholm studio; She is inspired by nature, observing plants, insects and the forest with the eye of both an artist and a biologist

As a young lass, I asked myself where I wanted to live, and one of my desires was to live in Scotland. This was based on films I’d seen as a teen (like The Wicker Man) and books I’d read on Scottish folklore. Despite knowing nothing more than this, I packed a bag and flew to Glasgow. From there, I took a bus to Edinburgh, asked the Edinburgh Visitor Centre to set me up with a cheap hostel and within two weeks I had found a flat and a job.

I learned a completely new vocabulary, I celebrated Hogmanay, had neeps and whisky sauce for tea and admired the black crows that hung out in the parks (we only have hoodie crows in Scandinavia). When I moved back to Sweden, I decided to apply to a design school in Stockholm. As well as the painting lessons I’d had as a child, I had taken classes in field biology as a teen (I think if I wasn’t a designer, I’d be a biologist, researching ants!) and later studied art history at Linköping University.

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After studying at the Berghs School of Communication in Stockholm for a few years and receiving a diploma in graphic design, I decided to stay and open up my business here. This is a great city for making contacts and finding clients, as well as being a beautiful place with many opportunities for a designer.

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Painting an intricate watercolour from some still life subjects

I paint and design educational posters on our Nordic flora, fauna and fungi, as well as prints of wild edible plants, berries and mushrooms, and sell them via my web shop. Dawn Chorus is my new wallpaper collection. Some days I stay in the studio painting from early morning until past midnight, then I might work from home the next day to take care of something more chilled, like tending to my bookkeeping and replying to emails. I could be packing orders, painting, scanning paintings, receiving a delivery of fresh prints, having a meeting with a potential client or be heading to the post office to send out customer orders.

When I’m not working, I love to go hiking in the forest or play video games. I also enjoy reading; we have long winters here in Sweden and the darkness does make a perfect backdrop for a good book and some rosehip tea. The access to nature and the vast forests, the clean environment and the Allemansrätten (freedom to roam) allows me to explore the woodland to collect inspiration and reference photography.

I try not to seek out ideas too heavily. I think looking too much at other people’s work can be very interesting but it can also have an over-stimulating effect – and never before has it been this easy to find inspiration, thanks to social media and Pinterest. I try to keep a more Zen-like approach to my own work and allow fortuity to play a part in it.

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