Ulla Saar

Ulla Saar (1975) is an illustrator and graphic artist. 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 the 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.

Profile photo: Piia Ruber

Illustrated books

Nice

2016

Lift

2013

Translations

Liftas

2016

Lift

2015

Nätisti

2021

Awards

2021
5 Best Designed Estonian Children's Books, special prize of the jury (Aino Pervik. The Kite Spreads Friendship)

2020
International Illustration and Book Design Competition ‘Image of the Book/Obraz knigi’, Moscow, laureate
5 Best Designed Estonian Children’s Books, Certificate of Merit (Urmas Reinmaa. Where Did You Find it?)

2019

25 Best Designed Estonian Books, Certificate of Merit (Kristi Piiper. The Lovesick Basement Monster, the Vegan Blood Sausage, and Other Stories)
5 Best Designed Estonian Children’s Books, Certificate of Merit, Special Prize of the Estonian Graphic Designers’ Association (Kristi Piiper. The Lovesick Basement Monster, the Vegan Blood Sausage, and Other Stories)
Edgar Valter Illustration Award 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)
5 Best Designed Estonian Children’s Books, Certificate of Merit, Special Prize of the Estonian Graphic Designers’ Association (Indrek Koff. Nice)
Good Children’s Book (Indrek Koff. Nice)

2015

25 Best Designed Estonian Books, Certificate of Merit (Grigori Oster. Mischievous Mathematics)
5 Best Designed Estonian Children’s Books, Certificate of Merit, Tallinn (Kätlin Vainola. Sonya and the Cat)
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)
Karl Eduard Sööt Children’s Poetry Award (Contra. Everyone’s the Smartest)
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)
Good Children’s Book (Kätlin Vainola. Lift)

Exhibitions

2021
Exhibition of Baltic illustrators "Running with Wolves", Napoli, Rome, Frigento, Italy
Tallinn Illustrations Triennial TIT 2020, Moscow; Krasnoarmeysk, Russia
Biennial of Illustrations Bratislava (BIB 2021), Slovakkia
TIT 2020 & "Leafing Through Estonian Children's Books IV", Mytishchi, Russia
Sharjah Children’s Book Illustrations Exhibition, the United Arab Emirates
Exhibition of Estonian illustrators “Fox Spirit. Fox Charm”, Estonian Children’s Literature Centre, Tallinn; Central Library of Lääne County, Haapsalu
Spring exhibition of Estonian illustrators, Tapa Public Library

2020
Tallinn Illustrations Triennial (TIT), Estonia
Exhibition of Estonian illustrators "Once Upon a Time" (Grimm's Fairy Tales), Tapa Public Library, Estonia; Gallery Deák17, Budapest, Hungary
International illustrations exhibition "It's Always Tea-Time", Vyborg, St. Petersburg, Russia; Kondas Centre, Viljandi
Joint exhibition of nominees for Edgar Valter Illustration Award, Estonian Children's Literature Centre, Tallinn; Central Library of Saare County, Kuressaare
Midsummer spring exhibition of Estonian illustrators, Estonian Children's Literature Centre
"Picture World of Tales and Fairy Tales", Central Library of Lääne County

2019
Biennial of Illustrations Bratislava (BIB, Slovakia
Spring exhibition of Estonian illustrators, Estonian Children’s Literature Centre, Tallinn
International illustrations exhibition "It's Always Tea-Time", Moscow, Krasnoarmeysk, Mytishchi, Russia
Exhibition of Estonian illustrators "Once Upon a Time" (Grimm's Fairy Tales), Opole, Gdansk, Poland; Tapa Public Library, Estonia
Group exhibition of Estonian illustrators “Leafing Through Estonian Children’s Books II”, Moscow, Kolomna, Russia

2018–2020
Exhibition of Baltic illustrators “Running with Wolves”, London, the United Kingdom; Estonian Children’s Literature Centre, Tallinn (”Wolf Run“); Gdańsk, Wrocław, Białystok, Warsaw, Płock, Szczecin, Poland; Pordenone, Italy; Vilnius, Lithuania

2018

Exhibition of Estonian illustrators “Running with Wolves”, Estonian Children’s Literature Centre, Tallinn
Group exhibition of Estonian illustrators „Tra ghiaccio e fuoco“, Rome, Pesco Sannita, Italy

2017

Biennial of Illustrations Bratislava (BIB), Slovakia
Spring exhibition of Estonian illustrators, Estonian Children’s Literature Centre
Group exhibition of Estonian illustrators “Leafing Through Estonian Children’s Books I”, Moscow, Kolomna, Russia
Exhibition of Estonian illustrators “A Window into the Fairy Tale World”, Haapsalu Cultural Centre, Haapsalu Children’s Library

2016

Spring exhibition of Estonian illustrators, Estonian Children’s Literature Centre
Travelling exhibition of Estonian illustrators, “A Walk on the Path of Fairy Tale Together with Charles Perrault”, Moscow, Krasnoarmeysk, Mytishchi, Russia

2015–2020
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, Krasnoarmeysk, Mytishchi, Vyborg, St. Petesburg, Russia

2015–2019
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; Minsk, Belarus; Kraków, Łomża, Białystok, Szczecin, Płock, Warszaw, Elbląg, Gdańsk, Opole, 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
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

About the author

Sample of works 2022

2019
Estonian Candidates for the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award
Estonian Illustrators at the Pop Up festival (UK)
Ulla Saar at the London Book Fair on the 12th of March, 2019

2018
Emma Press Publishes a Poetry Collection by Contra and Ulla Saar
Estonian children’s book “Everyone’s the Smartest” now available in English (Estonian World)
Everyone’s the Smartest (The Emma Press)

2017
Kätlin Vainola and Ulla Saar at the Festival The Children’s Bookshow
The Exhibition “Baltic Tale” will open in Riga
The Opening of the Exhibition “Baltic Tale” in Vilnius
Estonian Artists Take Part in the International Illustration Project Pop Up
Estonian Illustrators at the Literary Festival Berliner Bücherinseln in Berlin
The Exhibition “Baltic Tale”

2016
Ulla Saar (VivaVostok)

2014
Residency Artists: Ulla Saar (MoKS)
Ulla Saar’s Emotionally Raw Graphite Drawings
Young Estonian Illustrators: Ulla Saar

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