Sophie Blackall Illustration

Drawings and Snippets and Breaking News, (but more snippets than breaking news).

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Reading in Rwanda

I am proud to share some of the work we did in Rwanda in the beginning of the year. These illustrations form a guide for teachers who are introducing picture books to their students for the very first time. The guide explains things those of us who grew up with books take for granted, like how to engage children by asking them questions about the story, how to look at illustrations alongside text, and literally how to turn the pages and hold the books facing the class, so kids can see the pictures.
The Rwandan Children's Book Initiative, a project of Save the Children, provides locally made wooden cupboards stocked with books and colorful mats for children to sit on. The initiative supports local writers, illustrators and publishers to produce quality books in English and Kinyarwanda, the native language. It's a wonderful thing.
Here are some of the illustrations. The whole guide can be downloaded as a PDF here.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

My Father and James Lee Byars

 There is an exhibition on view right now at MoMA PS1, James Lee Byars: 1/2 an Autobiography.
My father, Simon Blackall knew Byars when they both lived in Kyoto in the mid 1960s. He photographed some of Byars's conceptual, ephemeral, performance pieces for posterity; photographs which are now part of MoMA's collection. My father and step-mother are briefly in New York so we made a field trip to PS1 which was quite wonderful.

 Simon wrote about this very piece on our blog, where I am slowly illustrating his adventures.
You can read the whole story here.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

A Baby Tree Grows at Books of Wonder

This is what I was doing yesterday and for about three days before that, and when I say, "I", I mean pretty much my entire family, who I roped in one way or another to help make and install a Baby Tree in the window at Books of Wonder.

 While I was putting finishing touches to the tree, my patient and tireless step-mother Diane painted gorgeous leaves.

My daughter Olive painted flower calyces and darted nimbly in and out of the window, and the chaps offered moral support.
Diane is not giving me the familiar Australian gesture here, but rather asking how many holes to punch to hang the cloud.
And that is a gluestick, not a cigarette.
The window will be on display for two weeks or so. I would love it if people visiting the store deposited their babies in the window while they shopped, but that probably won't be happening.

If you are an independent bookseller reading this, and are interested in a Baby Tree or Sapling or Stalk for your window, this is not an impossibility.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Author Illustrator Blog Tour... excuses, excuses

Dear Internet,
I know I promised you (and Carin Berger) I would post answers to five questions on a Virtual Author Illustrator Blog Tour on this blog by Monday, but as you can see, I didn't.
Instead I cut out a lot of pieces of frisket.
And I did very neat cardboard recycling.
I picked these flowers in a meadow and sent them in a virtual sort of way to my mother who is having surgery in Australia.
I fell in love with this postcard of Stonehenge; the marks on the grass reminded me of the marks on a sperm whale.

 And while I was thinking about sperm whales I found this picture of a model of Moby Dick which was apparently at the London Zoo in 1955.
While I was thinking of Moby Dick (I'm pretty much always thinking of Moby Dick), I did a painting of Ahab and the Whale for the Housing Works Moby Dick Marathon NYC fundraiser, which could be yours by simply clicking the link and forking out $200.
The rest of the time I was hard at work finishing one book, (A Fine Dessert, written by Emily Jenkins) well nearly finishing (if I'd finished, I'd have been able to answer the blog questions),
and drawing and researching and drawing and researching for another one, (Finding Winnie, written by Lindsay Mattick) both of which are consuming my hours and filling my head with beautiful, complicated, puzzling, thrilling details.

And visiting the folk at Union Square Cafe, who are celebrating 30 years as a farm-to-table institution and who have asked four illustrators to mark this important occasion with postcards, one for each season. Those four are Milton Glaser, Maira Kalman, me and Roz Chast. I'm completely in awe of all of them. (You can pick up the postcards at the restaurant!)

 And because I'm some sort of idiot I suggested making an enormous Baby Tree to install in the window at Books of Wonder next week, so I have giant half painted babies at my feet right now.

So I'm very sorry I didn't answer any of the following blogtour questions,

(1.what am i currently working on?

2. how does my work differ from others of its genre?

3. why do i write what i write?

4. how does my individual writing/illustrating process work?

5. who are the two author/illustrators that you are passing the interview to?

and I didn't necessarily mean to make this a girls' club, but I have handed the baton to the wonderful Dasha Tolkstikova and Lauren Castillo, both of whom have really beautiful new books out now or nearly!

Friday, May 2, 2014

The Baby Tree Winners!

Here are the names which were pulled just now from the paper bag. If you see the baby name you entered, send an email (with Baby Tree as the subject line) to with your mailing address, the name you want inscribed on your baby print, and which number baby you would like. I realize there were a few Mayas, but you're all winners!
Thank you everyone for entering and for the all kind words about the book.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Baby Tree

My new book, The Baby Tree (in which a small boy finds out where babies come from) goes out into the world today, May 1st. To celebrate, I am giving away ten prizes! Each winner will receive a packet of Baby Tree Seeds (see packet for planting directions) and a 5x7" signed, archival print of one of the 8 individual babies seen below. (The numbers won't appear on the actual print.) Unlike in real life, you will be able to choose your baby.
Leave a comment with a baby's name to enter. Winners will be drawn randomly at sunset, and announced tomorrow.
Oh and you can buy the book now too! 

Monday, March 31, 2014

A Bologna Painting

Eighty percent of our studio went to Bologna last week for the international Children's Book Fair. Sergio Ruzzier's work was selected for the Illustrators' Exhibition, and I had several pieces from The Mighty Lalouche in an exhibition of Sports in Children's Book at the Museo Civico Archeologico. I have been meaning to go for years; when publishing people talk about Bologna they go all misty-eyed... mostly, I think, remembering the food.
It was a heady few days. 1200 exhibitors from 75 countries showcased thousands and thousands of children's books; enough to make your head explode. Tiny books and enormous books; paper mechanics and production qualities to make you weep. The sheer volume made me feel simultaneously inspired and exhausted. But mostly inspired.
And then there was the city itself: pyramids of purple artichokes and clusters of mediaeval churches, trailing wisteria and parading graduates wearing laurel wreaths, waving bottles of prosecco and their dissertations. Yesterday, before getting back to real work, I made a rainy, jetlaggy Bologna painting.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Kids. Hats.

On my walk to the studio each morning I pass two middle, five elementary and three pre-schools, and cross paths with about a hundred kids. On a day like today, which is aspiring to reach 25 degrees, most of those kids are wearing hats. And of those hats, an astounding number have eyes, ears, horns, fur, beaks and teeth. I passed these three along Third Street. One was talking a mile a minute, one was conspicuously dragging heels, and one was standing stock still, despite the best efforts of a cajoling parent.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Visiting schools in Rwanda

I am back home in Brooklyn, after my brief but intense time in Rwanda, Land of a Thousand Hills. It has taken a bit of time to digest all that I saw there, not to mention the home-brewed banana beer which had, shall we say, a lasting effect.
To back track: I was visiting Rwanda as a guest of Save the Children, UK, to learn about their International Children's Book Initiative, and to produce some illustrations for them on my return. The Rwandan Children's Book Initiative is introducing books into schools where few, if any exist. They have designed sweet little wooden cupboards to hold the classroom library, and will provide mats for children to sit on while they read. They are encouraging local writers and artists and publishers to create books, and are holding workshops to help them get started.

I grew up surrounded by books. Every spare moment of my childhood was spent up a tree, reading. My father is a publisher, and I too have chosen a career making books. It's impossible to imagine my life without them. And therefore thrilling to be involved in this project which allows children to hold their first book and open the pages to new world.

My first few days were spent in Burera, up near the Ugandan border, visiting schools.
 This school was at the foot of a volcano, home to Dian Fossey's gorillas in the mist.
This is a typical classroom...
...which can get pretty crowded when everyone is present.
Girls wear blue and boys wear beige in government schools. 
And they have uniformly cropped hair.
This is one of the stocked book cupboards provided by Save the Children.

and children...
have embraced them enthusiastically.

 I took a stack of books to share, books with lots of pictures and few words, and universal-ish themes. (Thank you for your suggestions!) 

Here I am reading Sergio Ruzzier's Bear and Bee.

Teachers had left lovely ghosty drawings on blackboards.

But paper was scarce and pens and pencils even scarcer. 
I had packed accordingly: few clothes, lots and lots of art supplies.
I was itching to draw with the kids.

And so we did.

Class sizes were huge, often 60 or more kids and there was not a whole lot of room to spread out, or surfaces on which to draw, but we didn't care.

These guys at desks, I set up with a letter or number to illustrate.

We found some wall space for this bunch.

These girls and boys took to the floor...

And I moved outside with this lot.
 Others came to join in.
We were concentrating so hard, we almost didn't notice the scene growing behind us...

Back inside everyone was still busy, and I realized something incredible.

The world over...
Whether kids have drawn for years or are holding a marker for the first time...
Girls will draw girls and boys will draw cars.



 They also drew animals...

 And houses.

And they used every inch of the paper.

Some were very proud of their work.

Some were a bit shy.

But most of us were giddy with joy.

Rwanda’s brutal history lies just beneath the surface. Twenty years ago in April, an estimated 1,000,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus, men women and children, were brutally murdered.
These are some of the thousands of children who died.

 I can’t stop dwelling on details of the massacre. And I find myself going back to read more and more about those six bloody weeks, trying to make sense of it... and failing. And then I seek out this photograph from the last day in Burera. And feel very privileged to have had the opportunity to spend a few hours with these children, and hope that they will live long, happy lives without fear.

And also, perhaps, lives filled with books.