Sophie Blackall: Gothic Illustrations for Young Readers


Photo by Austin McAllister

This Australian transplant had been for years an illustrator well-regarded for her work in children’s books and magazines, but in 2011 she received major crossover success with Missed Connections, a book that began as a blog where she shared drawings inspired by real Craigslist posts. “It’s funny that this project—begun on a whim—was the one that took off,” she tells us. “It was seen by people all over the world and has led to some amazing things, not least the work I’ve been doing with the Measles and Rubella Initiative in Congo and India, and the subway poster for the MTA.”

She’s still illustrating books for young readers: The 9 Lives of Alexander Baddenfield, written by John Bemelmans Marciano (of Madeline fame, see p. 36), comes out on October 3 and features more of her distinctive Gothic style. “My strongest influence is probably trade illustration from the 19th century,” she says, “but Edward Gorey and Maurice Sendak taught me how to take that aesthetic and make it contemporary and funny.” Her sense of humor extends to her personal life; she used to live in Carroll Gardens, but now? “I live in what we’re calling the Barclays Center Greater Car Park.”

Which neighborhood do you live in?
I live in what we’re now calling the Barclay Center Greater Car Park. I used to be in Carroll Gardens/Cobble Hill and I miss running into friends every time I stepped onto the block, but I love our new leafy neighborhood and all the restaurants, and the trains, the trains! It’s an embarrassment of riches after the F.


Your Missed Connections work seemed particularly popular; has that success affected you at all? Opened new doors professionally? 
The response to the Missed Connections blog was unexpected and incredible. It was seen by people all over the world and has led to some amazing things, not least the work I’ve been doing with the Measles and Rubella Initiative in Congo and India, and the subway poster for the MTA. It’s funny that this project—begun on a whim—was the one which took off.


You have a very distinct aesthetic; who are some of your strongest influences, and how did they influence you?
My strongest influence is probably trade illustration from the 19th century, but Edward Gorey and Maurice Sendak taught me how to take that aesthetic and make it contemporary and funny . I am a big E.H. Shepard fan; he was able to imbue so few lines with so much character. Winsor McKay is another hero and recently I’ve rediscovered Alice and Martin Provenson, whose work seems as fresh as ever. I am also constantly inspired and influenced by John [Bemelmans Marciano] and our other studio mates, Brian Floca, Eddie Hemingway and Sergio Ruzzier. I feel very lucky to work alongside them.  

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