Interview with Sophie Blackall

31 May 2010

I had the wonderful opportunity to interview the very talented Sophie Blackall. Her spontanous, expressive illustration style is what I particulary love so much, plus the fact that there is always an entire story behind every creation. Her blog illustrates stories about so called "Missed Connections" between random people, strangers reaching out to other strangers on the strength of a glance, a smile, ... These are inspired from the Missed Connections on Craigslist. The fantasy and illustrative translation behind each one of them is just brilliant!

Do you remember your first drawing and what it was? Do you also remember how old you were?

The first specific drawing I remember was in kindergarten. It was a painting of a goose and I was thrilled with the effect of white paint on blue paper. But I didn't realise you had to let each layer dry before painting onto it and the goose ened up with a big dribbly black eye. I don't think mine was the only dribbly-eyed goose in the class, but I remember clearly the frustration of seeing something in my head and not being able to reproduce it on the page.

Three versions of a record cover for Tom McRae, "King of Cards".

How would you describe your creative process?

One of the sketches made for a story on eco weddings for the New York Times.

These days I have so many projects on the go that I'm constantly thinking about work. For me the composition and sketch stage takes the longest and requires the most thought. When you illustrate a children's book for instance, you have to be architect, clothing designer, landscape artist and town planner. You have to decide the period, whether the characters are human, animal or something other. Often some of this information is supplied in the manuscript, but it is still quite an undertaking.

I begin with a color character study, and make all those big decisions, including palette, first. Then I sketch the dummy in pencil, send the drawings off for feedback from editors and art directors. The painting is the fun part. I become completely immersed in whichever world I'm painting...I've done books set in 5th century China, 1950s America, and Victorian England, with people, wild boars, monsters and snails.

Editorial jobs are always a much quicker process. You have a story to illustrate, you come up with a few ideas, the editor chooses one, (often your least favourite!), and you paint it.

For me the composition and sketch stage takes the longest and requires the most thought.

If you could choose a dream project that you would love to work on, what would it be?

I would love to illustrate Moby Dick. When I have a spare year. I also dream of designing a theatre set. The Wind in the Willows would be fun.

Sophie Blackall in front of her wall of image scraps

Describe how a typical working day is like for you.

I work from home and I've just moved, so at the moment I'm dividing my time between actual work and unpacking boxes. One of the first things I did was to put up my wall of image scraps...postcards and snippets of pictures I've collected over the years and which I stare at for inspiration.

Most illustrators will agree I think, if you choose to do this for a living you have to be prepared to work really, really hard. I work most nights and most weekends. But I tell myself, I'd probably be doing it anyway, paid or unpaid. I feel very lucky to do what I love best.

Flower Face

What do you do to recharge your creative batteries?

I live in New York, so I only have to step out the door to see amazing, odd, curious, wonderful, bizarre, inspiring things. I like to just wander the city, but there are such fantastic museums to explore as well. And there's nothing like getting lost in a second hand bookshop for a few hours. Or trawling the flea markets. Or dipping into Chinatown. When all that fails, I try Paris.


  1. 1 Carmen 31 May 2010

    Great Interview Veerle. I am now absolutely hooked!! I plan to visit Sophie’ site regularly. Her illustrations are so captivating!

  2. 2 Lisa 31 May 2010

    Love it. I love the concept of illustrating these little stories and seeing how Sophie translates them!

  3. 3 Auré 01 Jun 2010

    Thanks for this interview Veerle. I didn’t know Sophie Blackall and it was a really good discovery. It’s always very interesting to know how the artist work and find inspiration.

    PS : I love the look’n feel of this article ...

  4. 4 Greg 03 Jun 2010

    Wow, Veerle.
    1st : nice article, great inspiration
    2nd: love the way you custom styled this article = custom fonts in the article AND the navbar
    Love your attention to detail. That inspires me the most

  5. 5 Anton Calleeuw 10 Jun 2010

    I didn’t know her as an illustrator but I definitely fell in love with the work I saw here. She’s extraordinary! Lovely post Veerle! Looking forward to more.

  6. 6 Jeff McCarthy 18 Jun 2010

    Great Interview, like Sophie says, New York is a great place for all kinds of inspiration.

  7. 7 Pat Gold 21 Jun 2010

    Fab Interview, Love the illustration of the wedding on a tandem. As a tandem…I actually use a tandem, but didn’t dare on my wedding day as its a bit old and oily! Thanks again.P