Sophie Blackall, illustrator at large

Sophie Blackall, illustrator at large
Photo by Stephanie Keith

Australian-born, Brooklyn-based illustrator Sophie Blackall is renowned for illustrations that tug at heartstrings. Subway commuters are likely to have seen her 2012-poster for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Arts for Transit Program, which managed to make a subway scene straight out of central casting, complete with a man in a bear suit sitting next to an Orthodox Jewish senior, sad. Blackall also illustrated the “Ivy and Bean” children’s book series by author Annie Barrows. The books revolve around Ivy and Bean, two seven-year-olds with a penchant for misadventure. The paper caught up with Blackall just before the release of the 10th and final book in the series.

Samantha Lim: Were you and Annie Barrows chummy prior to working together or did working on “Ivy & Bean’ bring you together?

Sophie Blackall: Annie Barrows was a mystery to me before Ivy and Bean. Annie and I and our editor, Victoria Rock, all had seven-year-old daughters when we began working together. Our daughters are now sixteen, but Ivy and Bean are still seven.

SL: With Annie based in San Diego and you living here in Brooklyn, did working on the series involve flying back and forth? Or was communication chiefly virtual?

SB: I wish there had been more flying back and forth, but no, we relied on email. In fact, I didn’t meet Annie in person until about book five, but we already knew we were cut from the same cloth. Slightly ragged cloth with noticeable stains.

SL: Ivy and Bean’s antics can really tickle any reader’s funny bone. What are a few amusing things you’ve spotted children doing?

SB: I could tell you some of the un-amusing things I’ve spotted my own children doing, but this morning was the first day back to school and on my way to the studio I saw a) a small boy walking to school backwards with his eyes closed (signaling some reluctance perhaps?), b) a toddler trailing a pet deflated balloon on a string (which was actually more heartbreaking than amusing) and c) a stout little girl with a tutu tucked firmly into her pants (which gave her an unflattering but hilarious silhouette.)

SL: What is a favorite haunt in Brooklyn that stirs your creativity?

SB: I love Brooklyn. I love where I live (Flatbush). I love the Gowanus where my studio is. I love watching dogs and games and kites and picnics in Prospect Park, and parades and bathers and thrill seekers at Coney Island, but I find myself most inspired watching people sitting on the subway.

SL: While Ivy and Bean come to life in two-dimensional graphics, the characters in your book, “The Mighty Lalouche” are three-dimensional. With regards to the latter book, I love how you managed to maintain your signature style while giving the illustrations a fresh breath of air. Do you deem it important for illustrators to mix things up?

SB: I’m always eager to try new things. I think you have to do the old thing for a while first, before you go mixing things up — and there will always be people who wish you were still doing the old thing. Maintaining a “signature style” in different media is important though. I’m really happy when kids recognize my work for adults. I think most artists are restless to some degree, but perhaps I’m more restless than most. I want to do everything: drawing and painting and collage and sculpture and embroidery… If only there were more hours in the day.

SL: Do you carry a sketch pad in your handbag when you’re on the go?

SB: Yes!

SL: One fun thing about following your work is seeking out the whale hidden in each picture. What sparked your love for these watery behemoths?

SB: I am obsessed with “Moby Dick.” Melville mentions a whale excavated long ago in the Tuileries Gardens in Paris, so I painted a tiny whale on the spot when I visited. Don’t tell the authorities.

Meet “Ivy and Bean” Illustrator Sophie Blackall at The BookMarke Shoppe [8415 Third Ave. between 84th and 85th streets in Bay Ridge, (718) 833–5115, www.bookmarkshoppe.com]. Saturday, September 28, 11am.

Child star: Illustrator and artist Sophie Blackall celebrates the release of the 10th book in the “Ivy and Bean” children's series with an event at Bay Ridge's Bookmarke Shoppe on Sept. 28.
Photo by Stephanie Keith