Ulla Saar

Ulla Saar (1975) is an illustrator, product designer, graphic artist, and interior designer. She graduated from the Estonian Academy of Arts in product design. Her first illustrated book Lift achieved immediate widespread recognition and was listed in the 2014 White Ravens catalogue. Since then, every one of her books has received international attention. Saar practices a contemporary, design-like approach to book illustration: her spirited and playful art is often more a part of the work’s overall design than free-standing pictures.

I started illustrating books from about the age of three, when many of my children’s books at home acquired new designs, mostly in a rather abstract form. A short break happened in the meantime, during which I dreamed about becoming a geologist, instead. Back then, one of my favorite books was Anatoly Chlenov’s Geology in Pictures – inspired by it, I started putting together my own personal rock collection. Over time, it became clear that field didn’t suit me, and I turned back to art.

I try to proceed more from context in my works – whether it is some fragment of text that has been haunting me, a text I am presently illustrating, or else something that eludes me at first and demands more concentration from the viewer, hopefully resulting in questions and motivating me to seek answers.

Pencils and I have a long history together that may contain blood, sweat, and tears, but we’ve come a long way and we know each other through and through. By now, we get along swimmingly. When I work on a book, I try to proceed from the text and catch the tone of it in my drawings; to support and elevate it rather than compete with it. That’s why all the books I’ve illustrated look different – to me, a technique is just a tool that I execute to create a good book.

Look, Kairi. Piia Präänik ja bandiidid (Piia Biscuit and the Bandits), Tänapäev 2019
Piiper, Kristi. Armunud keldrikoll, vegan verikäkk ja teised, Tänapäev 2019
Seiklused ja sekeldused kunstiga, Eesti Kunstimuuseum, 2019
Jürisson, Helvi. Mida tähed räägivad (What Letters Say), Menu Kirjastus 2018
Norton Juster. Milo imelised seiklused (The Phantom Tollbooth), Draakon & Kuu 2018
Pervik, Aino. Tähenärija raamatukogu (Starchewer’s Library), Petrone Print 2017
Vainola, Kätlin. Krips-kraps, eesti laps (Estonian Child – Mild and Wild), Eesti Instituut 2017
Vainola, Kätlin. Poiss, kes joonistas kaarte (The Boy Who Drew Maps), Pegasus 2017
Hinrikus, Kadri. Sandra 12 kuud (Sandra’s 12 Months), Tammerraamat 2016
Koff, Indrek. Ilusti (Nice), Härra Tee & proua Kohvi 2016
Koff, Indrek. Ma elan hästi (I Am Doing Well), Härra Tee & proua Kohvi 2016
Look, Kairi. Piia Präänik kolib sisse (Piia Biscuit Moves In), Tänapäev 2015
Oster, Grigori. Vallatu matemaatika (Mischievous Mathematics), Varrak 2015
Pervik, Aino. Jääpurikas, murelik piim ja teised tüübid (The Icicle, the Worried Milk, and Other Things), Tänapäev 2015
Saar, Anti. Kojamees Urmas (Urmas the Maintenance Man), Päike ja Pilv 2015
Vainola, Kätlin. Sonja ja kass (Sonya and the Cat), Pegasus 2015
Contra. Kõik on kõige targemad (Everyone’s the Smartest), Tallinna Keskraamatukogu 2014; Mina Ise 2015
Vainola, Kätlin. Lift, Pegasus 2013

With other illustrators:
Lewis-Jones, Huw. Archipelago: An Atlas of Imagined Islands, New York; Melbourne: Thames & Hudson 2019

2019 Edgar Valter illustration prize nominee
2018, 2019 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award candidate
2018 25 Best Designed Estonian Books, Certificate of Merit (Helvi Jürisson. What Letters Say)
2017 25 Best Designed Estonian Books, Certificate of Merit (Kätlin Vainola. The Boy Who Drew Maps)
2016 25 Best Designed Estonian Books, Certificate of Merit (Indrek Koff. I Am Doing Well)
2016 5 Best Designed Estonian Children’s Books, Certificate of Merit, Special Prize of the Estonian Graphic Designers’ Association for illustrations, Tallinn (Indrek Koff. Nice)
2015 25 Best Designed Estonian Books, Certificate of Merit (Grigori Oster. Mischievous Mathematics)
2015 5 Best Designed Estonian Children’s Books, Certificate of Merit, Tallinn (Kätlin Vainola. Sonya and the Cat)
2015 Good Children’s Books (Contra. Everyone’s the Smartest; Kairi Look. Piia Biscuit Moves In; Grigori Oster. Mischievous Mathematics; Anti Saar. Urmas the Maintenance Man)
2014 The White Ravens (Kätlin Vainola. Lift)
2014 Karl Eduard Sööt Children’s Poetry Award (Contra. Everyone’s the Smartest)
2014 25 Best Designed Estonian Books, Certificate of Merit (Contra. Everyone’s the Smartest)
2013 5 Best Designed Estonian Children’s Books, Certificate of Merit, Special Prize of the Estonian Children’s Literature Centre, Estonian Graphic Designers’ Associations’ Special Prize for a young artist (Kätlin Vainola. Lift)
2013 Good Children’s Book (Kätlin Vainola. Lift)

2019 Spring exhibition, Estonian Children’s Literature Centre, Tallinn
2018–2019 Exhibition of Baltic illustrators “Running with Wolves”, London, the United Kingdom; Estonian Children’s Literature Centre, Tallinn; Gdańsk, Wrocław, Warsaw, Poland
2018 Exhibition of Estonian illustrators “Running with Wolves”, Estonian Children’s Literature Centre, Tallinn
2017 Biennial of Illustrations Bratislava (BIB), Slovakia
2016 Travelling exhibition of Estonian illustrators, “A Walk on the Path of Fairy Tale Together with Charles Perrault ”, Russia
2015–2019 International illustration exhibition, “It’s Always Tea-Time”, Estonian Children’s Literature Centre, Tallinn; Riga, Latvia; Uusikaupunki, Finland; Gdansk, Wrocław, Toruń, Elbląg, Poland; Berlin, Germany; Szczecin, Płock, Poland; Budapest, Hungary; Oxford, the United Kingdom; Moscow, Russia
2015–2018 Exhibition of Estonian Illustrators, “Once Upon a Time…” (Grimm’s Fairy Tales), Aosta, Anagni, Lagonegro, Bernalda-Metaponto, Corato, Matera, Roma, Lacco Ameno, Irsina, Siracusa, Sassari, Roma, Bologna, Italy; Estonian Children’s Literature Centre, Tallinn, Estonia; Gallery “Culture University”, Minsk, Belarus; Kraków, Łomża, Białystok, Szczecin, Płock, Warszaw, Elbląg, Gdańsk, Poland
2013–2014 Solo exhibition “Majahoidja” (Housekeeper), Tallinn, Mooste, Estonia
2002 Exhibition of drawings and photographs with Lauri Saar, Tallinn, Estonia
2001 Annual exhibition of artists’ group Ydi, Tallinn, Estonia
2001 Exhibition of the Estonian Academy of Arts’ (EAA) Finno-Ugric expedition, “The Water-Bird People”, Belgium
1999–2001 Exhibitions of the EAA Finno-Ugric expeditions, Tallinn, Tartu, Estonia

Estonian Child – Mild and Wild by Kätlin Vainola
Finnish: Mistä on pienet virolaiset tehty? Tallinn: Eesti Instituut 2018
English: Estonian Child – Mild and Wild, Tallinn: Eesti Instituut 2017

Everyone’s the Smartest by Contra
Russian: Все мы умники, Tallinn: Bri & Ko 2018
English: Everyone’s the Smartest, The Emma Press 2018

Lift by Kätlin Vainola
Italian: A che piano va?, Sinnos 2016
Lithuanian: Liftas, 700 eilučių 2016
German: Lift, Willegoos 2015

Nice by Indrek Koff
German: Einen Tag ganz brav, Kullerkupp 2018

Piia Biscuit Moves In by Kairi Look
Finnish: Piia Pikkuleipä muuttaa, Aviador 2019