The work of Ilon

From "Sammeli, Epp and I" 1997. Från "Sammeli, Epp och jag", 1997.
From "Sammeli, Epp and I" 1997


The work of Ilon

Ilon Wikland is a versatile artist whose pictures span a wide range, from the safe idyll on Troublemaker Street to the breathtaking black depths at the Karma Falls in The Brothers Lionheart. Generations of children around the world have grown up with Wikland’s vibrant illustrations. Even if they haven’t heard her name, they have probably seen drawings.

Ilon Wikland is perhaps best known for having illustrated most of Astrid Lindgren’s beloved characters. However, she has also written and illustrated several of her own books and worked with other authors such as Mark Levengood, Barbro Lindgren and Edith Unnerstad.

In the book The Long, long journey from 1995 llon Wikland tells the story of her childhood and the flight from Estonia to Sweden. The book was written together with the author Rose Lagercrantz and was staged as a children’s opera at the Royal Opera in Sweden in 2017.

In the picture books about Sammeli, Wikland created both the text and illustrations herself (Where is Sammeli, 1995, Sammeli, Epp and Me, 1997, and Sammeli, bada! 2001). Ilon Wikland has also illustrated paintings on Tallink’s ship M/S Victoria I.

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Astrid Lindgren and Ilon Wikland.
© Scanpix / TT


Working with Astrid Lindgren

In 1953 Ilon applied for a job as an illustrator at Rabén & Sjögren. It was a transformative meeting when the 23-year-old Ilon Wikland and the 45-year-old Astrid Lindgren, who by then had already published several books, met at the publisher. Lindgren, who had just finished writing ‘Mio, my Son’ immediately saw that Ilon could “draw fairy tales”. Ilon was given a test drawing for the Mio book and then the collaboration with Astrid Lindgren continued.

Ilon Wikland and Astrid Lindgren worked closely together and as the illustrations started to get finished Ilon showed them to Astrid and got them approved. On two separate occasions, Astrid asked Ilon to revise her illustrations, because she had a different idea of what the characters would look like. The first version of Karlsson on the Roof looked like an accountant and Ronja, the Robber’s Daughter looked like a Sami girl, Astrid thought.

Ilon has said that Astrid’s writing continually makes her see inner pictures. Ilon also draws inspiration for her illustrations from reality: the family’s own children’s room became the model for Smidge’s room, a small man in Paris eventually became Karlsson on the Roof and at Systembolaget (Swedish liquor store), there were models for Ronja’s robbers. Drawings of buildings, houses and environments have required a lot of research. For example, Ilon had to travel around and see half of Switzerland before she had a clear idea of ​​what Matt’s fort in Ronja, the Robber’s Daughter would look like.

“The meeting with Astrid Lindgren became pivotal for my life” Ilon Wikland has said several times. Wikland is the artist who has illustrated the greatest number of Astrid Lindgren’s books, including The Children of Noisy Village, Lotta on Troublemaker Street, The Brothers Lionheart, Karlsson on the Roof, Madicken, Mio, my Son, Nils Karlsson Pyssling, Ronja, the Robber’s Daughter, Seacrow Island and many more.

In the same way that Astrid Lindgren wrote for “the child within her”, Ilon often also draws for the child within her.

“The meeting with Astrid Lindgren became pivotal for my life”



The collaboration with Mark Levengood

In recent years, Ilon Wikland and Mark Levengood have collaborated several times. One of the projects includes “Peter and the Wolf”, a symphonic children’s story composed by Sergei Prokofiev. Their joint work resulted in a book but also a concert and a disc where Mark Levengood reads the story, and the music is performed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

Mark Levengood & Ilon Wikland.
Photo: Annika af Klercker / TT
Barbro Lindgren ©Anna Drvnik
Photo: Anna Drvnik


The collaboration with Barbro Lindgren

Barbro Lindgren, born in 1937, is one of Sweden’s most beloved children’s book authors with books such as ‘Loranga, Masarin och Dartanjang’. Together with Ilon Wikland, Barbro Lindgren has created the books “Potatisbarnen” and “In my Grandmother’s house” (I min farmor hus). The books are inspired by Ilon’s childhood, with illustrations by Wikland and text by Lindgren.