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December 11, 2023 —

Love What You Do: Isabelle Norman Sällström of Isa Form

Living and breathing creativity from early childhood, Isabelle Norman Sällström creates playful and thoughtful designs and illustrations from her home studio in the beautiful far north of Sweden
Swedish illustrator Isabelle Norman Sällström of Isa Form with plant print
Playful print tea towels from swedish illustror Isa Form
Sine Fleet - contributingeditor of 91 Magazine
Sine Fleet
91 Magazine contributing editor,

Photography

Simon Eliasson
Photographer,
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Hi Isabelle, how would you describe Isa Form?

Isa Form is a design studio located in northern Sweden that I have been running for nearly 18 years. I create a variety of products, ranging from posters to graphic patterned cushion covers, with a significant emphasis on playful, fun, and humorous interior design. Additionally, I work as a freelancer, primarily specialising in illustration and pattern design.

Swedish illustrator Isabelle Norman Sällström of Isa Form with playful children's nature print

What inspired you to set up your business, and how did you develop it?

In 2006, during my parental leave from a design position at an advertising agency, I started a blog a relatively novel concept at the time. In my blog I drew a lot of everyday illustrations that described parenthood and it was through that that it started popping up questions if I sold my illustrations. Simultaneously, I began receiving commission requests, which leaned more towards interior design rather than traditional marketing. So then and there, when my son Theo was six months old, I started my company.

How did your career begin?

One of my early projects involved designing a porcelain service for More of Scandinavia, a collaboration that featured chef Markus Samuelsson. The aim was to create an exquisite dining experience with fine table service for kids. Additionally, I had the opportunity to work with other companies within the kids and interior area.

Parallel to my freelance assignments, I established an online store where I curated a collection of posters and children’s prints. Reflecting on the design landscape of eighteen years ago, it was markedly gendered, offering a limited selection dominated by princesses and car posters. This traditional gendering prompted my desire for change and reshaping the narrative. It was during this period that I worked from the basement of my sixties house, which served as both a storage space for my posters and the creative hub where I built my studio.

Swedish illustrator Isa Form's playful prints

Where do you find creative inspiration?

I am a lifeenjoyer and find inspiration in everything from music, a long walk in the forest with my colleague (a nine year old dog named Bosse), good food, my children, a boat trip in the archipelago, or by scrolling through the Instagram feed. I get inspiration from just about everything. Sometimes, my inspiration comes in the middle of the night and then it’s just a matter of jumping on the train.

How would you describe your style?

Playful, humorous, whimsical, simple, and colourfulthese elements have defined my artistic style since I was 12. Back then, I used to label my illustrated characters as rubber people, characterised by their whimsical, disproportionate features and limbs that twisted and turned. I’ve never been a fan of realistic perfection; I prefer a bit of care-free imperfection to bring joy to people.

Swedish illustrator Isa Form's playful woman and dog print

Swedish illustrator Isa Form's playful tote bag print

Are there themes or influences that run through your work?

I enjoy sketching people and characters, and that’s usually where I end up when I sit down to sketch. However, the allure of 1950s design has always been strong for me, both in interior decoration and design. This is where I find a lot of my inspiration. I love working with geometric shapes, a limited colour palette, and bold, contrasting design. Additionally, I aim to make a positive impact by bringing joy to people through my art. Celebrating differences and fostering inclusivity in my designs are also important aspects for me.

Tell us about your creative process

I embrace the chaos of my creative mind – a popcorn brain always juggling a thousand ideas. It might be something I share with many fellow creative souls. My creative process is dynamic and unfolds uniquely each time. Whether I’m immersed in one project, inspiration strikes like a lightning bolt, and I eagerly follow where my emotions lead. It can be a rollercoaster where I can love and critique my work within the same day.

Swedish illustrator Isa Form's playful hanging print

How did you first discover your love for what you do?

I grew up with an interior design shop in our garage. My dad worked nights as a blacksmith and turned the candlestick sketches my sister and I drew into real things. Being part of a super-creative family where creativity was a bigger deal than getting the highest grades in maths really shaped who I am. I’ve always liked expressing myself through words and art, and for a while, I thought about becoming a journalist.

When I was eight, my dad brought home a computer. That’s where I found the program Paint, and it sparked my interest in digital art. Eventually, I started drawing in Photoshop. I sold my first logo at fifteen, and from that point on, I got pretty clear about what I wanted to do when I grew up.

Swedish illustrator Isa Form's playful prints on tea towels and prints

Could you tell us about what a typical working day looks like for you?

I start my day with a large cup of coffee, getting my kids to school, and then indulging in another cup of coffee as I dive into emails and orders. The afternoons are reserved for what fuels my passion – drawing for commissions or working on new products. I often find myself back at the drawing board after dinner, with a cup of coffee of course. Coffee does wonders for my creativity.

Just recently, we made a move from our sixties-era house in the city to our seaside retreat. I’ve transformed the guest cottage into my studio, here I can draw with the view of the archipleago. I imagine this move will be a huge creativity boost for me.

Sounds perfect! Whats the ethos behind your business?

I am my business. I can be very personal in my interactions with customers and I wouldn’t want it any other way. And as I’ve mentioned before, a significant goal for me is to be inclusive in my design. I also place great importance on finding suppliers that use sustainable materials with an environmental focus. I strive to work, as much as possible, with locally produced products.

Playful print tea towels from swedish illustror Isa Form

Is there an element of your work that you love the most?

I can be a free bird. When freelancing, you have the opportunity to decline projects, if the finances allow, of course. But the clients who approach me already appreciate my design language, so collaborations usually go very smoothly. I also like that I own my time, can shape my days, and choose to work when inspiration strikes. I never have Sunday blues!

How valuable is the online community to your work?

I’m almost exclusively present on Instagram nowadays. There, I blend both my personal life and the business and it’s a very important place for inspiration and feedback from my followers. If something is to last for me in the long run, I have to find it enjoyable, and Instagram still is for me. Instagram still has more impact for my business than an advertisement or a newsletter, but I can sometimes feel stressed about not having more time to dedicate to my social channels. It’s like a friend you never get around to calling.

Playful flower prints by swedish illustror Isa Form

Working as an independent, what are the joys, and what are the challenges?

It definitely has its advantages and disadvantages. In recent years, I’ve taken on the role of a design teacher for high school students in my city. So, I combine that with running my own business. It’s incredibly enjoyable because working alone can get quite lonely, with a lot of working in pyjamas and minimal contact with the outside world. And the students give me so much. They are so ambitious and curious. How I work now is a perfect combination. Additionally, it’s nice to have a steady income, especially given the rollercoaster ride of recent years with Covid, and inflation here in Sweden. One can be quite fragile when working on creative endeavours. I often doubt myself and feel like I have a bit of a pretend job’. I still find it very difficult to accept compliments. And one single critical comment can keep me awake at nightI think it’s a typical Swedish phenomenon, and I suspect more common among us women. I don’t like that aspect of myself, but I love love love my job, and accept every challenge it brings. Sometimes I wonder if it’s possible to have this much fun and still make a living from it?

Swedish illustrator Isa Form's playful prints

Swedish illustrator Isa Form's playful family russian doll print

What’s one thing people would be surprised you do in your work?

I take on many assignments that never see the light of day publicly. Many companies choose not to reveal the designer. Almost all of the patterns I sell, I never see where they end up. It’s a shame. I wish the status of illustrators and designers would be elevated. Many are surprised to learn that I created most of the illustrations for Tepes kids toothbrushes, which are sold almost worldwide. It was a challenging task to do artwork on a tiny, tiny surface.

Before you go, do you have any creative pastimes or hobbies?

Right now, I’m in the middle of a move, so I don’t really have time for my hobbies. But I love to travel, cook delicious food, listen to music 98% of my waking hours, and I enjoy spending a lot of time walking in the forest with my dog. I’m an extroverted introvert and need a lot of alone time but also a good amount of social stimulation. I dream of taking a pottery course, travelling more, and writing a book.

QUICK-FIRE QUESTIONS

Books I love: Anything by Lucy Dillon. I love light-hearted, easily readable romantic books, preferably with dogs.

Creative Heroes: Stig Lindberg, Agathe Sorlet and Lasse Sandberg.

Shops I love: Dedicated, Rum för papper, and Pappsallon (two of them are clients of mine)

Inspirational places: I am not much of a big-city-gal, so I would say my hometown, Piteå, and Lamburträsket, a place in the middle of nowhere where I recharge my energy. And the islands in our archipelago.

Instagrammers I love: @thenordicbarnhouseproject, @kvinnatillkvinna, @ulrikeleamoormann

@isaform

shop.isa.nu

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