Sophie Blackall Illustration

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

Monday, April 20, 2015

A Fine Dessert - Part 8

A Fine Dessert is out in the world and I've been so happy to hear about families making blackberry fool together and about teachers constructing exciting lessons – which end with dessert. I've had great fun helping kids whip cream with a whole variety of vintage whisks and Skyping with a class in Texas who had rented a museum-in-a-truck with period kitchen gadgets and clothing so they could immerse themselves in each of the centuries. There are some wonderfully inspired teachers and librarians out there. Case in point.
And if you've followed my posts about researching and illustrating this book, you know I went to some lengths to get it right. So you will imagine how I've been feeling a tad crestfallen ever since reading this really lovely, thoughtful blogpost, which gently points out the following:
"If I had to be absolutely nit-picky, the one qualm I have is at the end, when the modern family in San Diego is enjoying the dessert outside. One of the kids is chasing a firefly and, if I'm not mistaken, fireflies are very rare west of Kansas (and those that do make Southern California its habitat aren't luminescent as adults). But that's hardly enough distraction to take away from the book."
As I said to Yucaree, the author of the blog, in the last spread of the book where the dessert is shared by family, friends and neighbors, I wanted to emphasize and celebrate all the subtle social shifts which have occurred throughout the centuries. I wanted to bring the feast outside under the stars, and to have diverse friends surrounding the table. And I wanted to hark back to the slave boy in 1810 whose role it was to fan the diners, by showing a corresponding boy in 2010 – happy and free in the moment, being a child. And coming from Australia, where we don't have fireflies, I find them so magical and delightful and it seemed like just the thing.

It didn't occur to me that they don't exist in California.
Hanging my head in shame, I confessed this to my ever supportive studio mates. At 3:30pm every second Monday, we share anachronisms and anomalies, typos and tears. Not really, but we may as well. Enter my hero, Sergio Ruzzier!
A little internet sleuthing and Sergio has come up with evidence of at least one firefly spotted in California in May in 2010.And there's video footage on youtube of fireflies in CA. Rare but not impossible.


Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Censorship and The Baby Tree

It has come to my attention that some elementary school libraries have removed their copies of The Baby Tree from shelves out of concern that the information about where babies come from is inappropriate for children to read on their own.
I believe that if a child is old enough to read The Baby Tree on his or her own, and curious enough to continue to read beyond the end of the story to the back matter – which contains answers to further questions about where babies come from – then that child has a right to the information. There is nothing salacious or untrue in the book, and the answers to the most common questions children ask about reproduction are given in a simple and straightforward way.
As the author Ellis W. Whiting wrote in the introduction to his 1933 book, The Story of Life (designed to be read to children of four or five and for older children to read themselves), “It is important that the first picture of sex knowledge which passes through the ‘lens’ into the child mind is a correct one” and if the correct information is not available, that picture will be readily supplied from another source, “the half-informed, misled playmate.”
The story of The Baby Tree is essentially a child’s quest for information. I believe children who are eager to read about their world should be rewarded with honest, thoughtful books.

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.