Sophie Blackall Illustration

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

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Day 1 in Kinshasa

Today was my first day in Africa and I am struggling to file away all the images from the streets of Kinshasa. If I had been able to make pictures on the spot, this is what I would have chosen to draw:

The blue and yellow dented vans crammed full of passengers, patterned fabrics and brown limbs squished against the windows, men hanging off the sides and the roofs.

The men and women and children carrying all manner of things on their heads: cardboard flats of eggs, basins of baguettes, giant bags of ice, bowls of oranges and limes, trays of bananas, a stack of blue chairs.

The women in their fantastic dresses, tending vegetable gardens in a tiny strip next to the rubble and the barbed wire and the high walls of military compounds.

The young women with malaria-feverish babies in the hospital for mothers and infants, nursing under mosquito nets.

The broken down alleyways of rubble and stagnant puddles and threadbare chickens pecking at piles of garbage and planks propped over creeks of sewerage, and picking their way elegantly through it all, women in ruffles and bustles and bodices and nipped waists in cloth the colors of parrots.


Street photography is forbidden in the city, but when we visited the hospital for mothers and babies, some of the mothers were kind enough to let me photograph them. Today we head into the field, to Bas Congo. I'll be out of touch for a few days.




Monday, May 28, 2012


One snowy morning in early February, I was sitting on a runway in Cincinnati, Ohio, waiting for the plane to be de-iced before take off, checking emails on my phone. Amongst the mundane messages one leapt out: from Christine McNab of the Measles and Rubella Initiative, the subject line read, "Proposal to travel to the DR Congo/ Illustrate." Through this small device in my hand, I was whisked from the icy Mid-West to Africa, to communities devastated by measles, to children dying in the thousands from this preventable disease. The proposal was very compelling, to visit these communities to talk with families and the immunization workers who travel across the country, often on foot, to distribute the vaccine. And then to draw. To create posters and maybe a book and a video, to communicate the toll of measles and show the ways we can prevent deaths and eliminate this disease.

I could barely wait to get back to New York so that I could say yes. In spite of reading terrible news every day from Central Africa, and in spite of my father's thoughtful links to reports of Congolese plane crashes, there were three insistent reasons to go: 1. I have never been to Africa. 2. I can hear all the news and all the statistics about measles, I can read that 380 children die a day, and yet, as I wave my own healthy children off to school in the morning, I can't possibly imagine the truth of this until I see it. 3. I love my work. I love making pictures that encourage children to turn pages or that cheer up subway commuters, but I've never worked on pictures which might conceivably save lives.

Throughout the past months of conversation and planning, Christine has sent me updates on her work with the Measles Initiative. She has told me about health workers in Nepal who climb mountains to reach remote villages, and immunization campaigns in Myanmar, where the children sit patiently in the shade with circles of bark paste on their faces to cool the skin. Inspired by her beautiful photographs, and because I was itching to get started on this project, I painted this image of a newly vaccinated family.

I have just arrived in Kinshasa and will post pictures and stories from the project on this blog. You can find out more about the Measles Initiative here.





Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Exhibition at the Brooklyn Public Library

From now until August 24th, I have an exhibition at the Central Branch of the Brooklyn Public Library. There are original illustrations and sketches including work from The Crows of Pearblossom, Edwin Speaks Up, Spinster Goose, Wombat Walkabout and the Ivy Bean series. Additional artwork
from Ruby’s Wish, Big Red Lollipop, Pecan Pie Baby, Are You Awake? and many others will also be on display, along with bits and pieces of ephemera collected in the process of making books. There are also some secret messages, some personal revelations and an arrangement of things universally accepted as "exciting". This all takes place in the Youth Wing.
Over in the lobby gallery to the right of the library near the language section, I have original paintings from the project, Drawn From My Father's Adventures, and materials from the making of the MTA subway poster.
There will be an opening on June 7th from 6-8pm and I'll be talking about ink and gruel and Kathmandu (amongst other things) at 7:30pm. Please come!

Friday, May 11, 2012

National Doodle Day

As part of Neurofibromatosis Awareness month, I have drawn a doodle which is being auctioned on eBay, along with doodles by famous types like Meryl Streep and Henry Winkler and either Starsky or Hutch and that guy from the X-Files. The Doodles are available for auction on eBay from May 10th - 20th. and you can bid on mine by clicking on the image above. Please. Right now it's going for five bucks which is just embarrassing. I mean Meryl Streep's is hovering around $300, Rowan Atkinson's is at a respectable $100, The Fonz is inching up at $11.37, but Joan Rivers and I are rock bottom.
From the NF website: "These doodles have a very important aim: the funds they raise will benefit NF, Inc. Network, an organization dedicated to providing support to individuals and families affected by neurofibromatosis (NF).
Neurofibromatosis is a genetic disorder that affects one in every 2,500 births. NF is more common than Cystic Fibrosis, Muscular Dystrophy and Huntington's Disease combined. Funds raised from the Doodle Day auction will go to support education, advocacy, coalitions, and research for treatments and a cure."
To learn more about NF, please visit

For more information about National Doodle Day, email

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Anatomical Drawing at the Observatory

This past weekend my daughter and I took a class at Observatory, one of my favorite places in Brooklyn. It wasn't the Anthropomorphic Mouse Taxidermy Class, because I had already taken that one, and it wasn't Organization and Productivity for Creative/Artsy Types, with Oliver Burkeman of the Guardian, because I was too disorganized to put that in my calendar, it was Comparative Anatomy: Animals and the Fundamentals of Drawing with my good friend and excellent teacher, Chris Muller.
I am one those apologetic self-taught artists, constantly surprised when something I draw actually vaguely looks like the thing it's meant to resemble. This class was brilliant. I'm not going to start drawing accurately, (I can hear your collective two or three sighs of either relief or disappointment), but it's useful to know that most people are eight times the height of their head. And that all mammals have seven neck bones. (Or was it eight?)
We also went to draw at the Museum of Natural History, and I sat on a little, floral, (borrowed) folding stool.

I know there are way too many teeth. But isn't he adorably eager to please?

This may look like a lumpy suit, but is, in fact, a skeleton.