A Sketchbook of Sweden

In April this year I spent 10 days in Sweden. My design work is largely influenced by Scandinavia so I went equipped with a sketchbook and some fat crayons for scribbling, doodling and observing my surroundings. I chose the details from each day which gave me a slice of Swedish life: a hidden museum, a fancy dress party,  a Volvo engulfed by a snow drift, a journey by train to beyond the Arctic Circle.

What follows is a selection of pages from my sketch book, a mixture of messy sketches and more polished studies.

01_Plane Window

Our adventure began above the clouds. At 4.00 pm local time we broke through and began our descent towards Stockholm Arlanda airport. We saw a carpet of pine and fir trees patterned with the white lines of frozen rivers and the occasional cabin.

02_Sofia Kyrka

Swedish houses are at once functional and beautiful, a key Scandinavian design principle. Many are coated with red oxidised paint to protect against the elements. Some are painted the orange of a Spring sunset, the ice blue of the lake. This is Sofia Kyrka in Södermalm. The green rooftops remind me of the forest.

03_Gamla Stan_Horse

The island of Gamla Stan (the old town) is a labyrinth of narrow, cobbled streets which spark curiosity and intrigue. My favourite discovery was a museum of wooden horses on Stortoget, hidden behind the back door of a gift shop. The owner’s husband introduced himself as Thord. He was an expert on antique Dala Horses and Steampunk, respectively. This is a page from my sketchbook, images and text overlapping and interacting to relate the anecdote.


04_Urban Deli

Urban Deli is a buzzing restaurant in trendy SoFo, home to Steig Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy.

The smiling waitress added our names to a wall-mounted roll of paper – the ever increasing waiting list for a table. The menu was printed on brown paper with pleasing typography, and the food was similar to Cardiff’s Madame Fromage. The line of hanging glasses was a scene of calm in the midst of the bar noise, a blend sing-song Swedish, clinks and laughter.


Djurgården is the greenest of Stockholm’s islands. It is home to the open museum Skansen, galleries and the Vasa warship. It is alive with birds and bicycles, paths that take you through miles of birch trees and bushes, and a cafe in the orangerie that sells a tempting array of teas and cakes. We explored the whole island and felt refreshed.


06_Train Window

We left Stockholm behind sat aboard the sleeper train bound for Narvik, in the very north of Norway. One of my favourite things was standing at the back window watching the landscape change and disappear behind us. Moving north the fir on the trees became sparser at the roots and the snow cover thickened.


07_Archway trees

The sun went down, the sun came up and we were over 1000km north of Stockholm. Here, in Boden, the trees had taken on a new shape from the weight of the snow, some smaller trunks creating perfect archways. The train didn’t stop often, and each time it did I poked my nose out of the door. The air was clear and cold.


We reached the arctic. Beside some houses were snowdrifts that reached over the roofs of old Volvos. They looked like they were hibernating.

09_House and Ski Slope

In Kiruna we stayed in a little converted loft in a photographer’s house. While Matt cooked a hearty stew I sat by the window, sketchbook open, scanning the dusky sky for a flicker of the Aurora. This mustard-yellow house caught my eye, the old mine and ski slope glowing pink in the distance.

10_Dog Sled

Although it was late in the season, we took a sled trip across frozen lake Kaperasjärvi, with 2 metres of ice still solid below our tracks. When we stopped at a little hut to warm up by the fire, the dogs rested. As soon as we sat on the sled again, they were pulling and yapping at their harnesses, ready to run. Our guide was Yan, originally from Slovakia who had moved to Kiruna to work with the dogs. He told us stories of people who compete and race the dogs, the longest race being 1000 kilometres nearly the length of the country.


The mountains surrounding Kiruna are the home and work of Lapland’s indigenous Sami people, who’s best known industry is the herding and marking of reindeer. This livelihood is reserved by the Swedish government for the Samis, and much is currently being done to promote their culture and language as a protected indigenous people. Our host in Kiruna made an insightful documentary about a Sami family, which can be viewed here. The traditional costume (Gákti) is colourful. The varying patterns and colours are place and family specific. Drawn here are some pattern examples, and a quote, copied from a display at the Sami cultural centre in Kiruna.

12_Kiruna Mine

Kiruna is a city on the edge of an inevitable transformation. It was brought into existence by the founder of the Iron Ore mine which is now the largest in the world. The train tracks have moved since the industry expanded and by 2030, work will have begun to relocate the entire city. It is like something out of a science fiction novel, but also very real for the residents. Neighbourhoods will be pieced together differently and social links will change. It was interesting travelling here from Wales where mining has shaped the cultural identity and history in a different way. This drawing shows the new mine at work and the houses that won’t be standing there for much longer.

13_Sweden sketchbook 011

Soon it was time to leave the snow drifts behind, and as we moved south the sun set sooner, casting an orange glow across the tree trunks. We saw three moose in the distance.

In Uppsala, two wheels are better than four, and our lovely host family lent us their bikes. For centuries Uppsala has been a thriving university town, home to explorers, botanists, philosophers and writers. A river surges through it like a new idea let loose. We visited all the second hand shops, saw flamboyant window displays, an anatomical theatre and a bustling flea market.

This image is a montage of bikes sketched in Stockholm and Uppsala.

14_group of bikes

As I leaf back through the pages, I revisit these moments, sights and experiences. For me, there is something about a drawing that is more evocative than a photograph. As I make the marks I’m present in the scene, rather than stepping back and viewing it from behind a lense. This sketchbook and its excerpts from here are a portal to the Sweden I visited. I hope you one day have the chance to visit, and feel as inspired as I did.

You can see more of Sarah’s work here

All images copyright Sarah Edmonds