Book Review: Missed Connections

Missed Connections: Love, Lost & Found by Sophie Blackall

There are a lot of blogs turning book these days. By far, one of happiest leaps from digital back to paper is Sophie Blackall’s Missed Connections. Maybe you aren’t familiar with her illustrations for the Ivy & Bean chapter book series I’m always raving about like a crazy too-old-to-care-so-much preson, or have no reason to be aware of her penchant for drawing wild boars in plaid shorts, but if you haven’t seen her work pinned, tumbled, or tweeted somewhere down the line… you must not be very good at the internet. Mine is just one of many, many blogged odes to her series of watercolor illustrations depicting various love (mis)connections from the Craigslist’s personals page of the same name.

On the pages of the New York City Craigslist, city dwellers post short descriptive messages to The Ones that Got Away following brief, spark-filled encounters in bookstores, at parties, on rooftops and inside subway cars, in half-hopes of getting a response. These micro tales of love lost and found, as the Missed Connections book subtitle reads, are the subject of Blackall’s art. As words on a page, the posts offer commiseration, hope, relatability and, above all else, voyeuristic amusement. In Sophie Blackall’s clever and playful illustrations, though, could-have-been should-have-been couples somehow become more real even as she paints their situations more whimsically and definitely more romantically than reality tends to play out.

More whimsical

More clever

More romantic

You can see most of these images online already though, right? So why by the book? Well, because it’s book, number one. And we all know that books are better. But if that answer wasn’t so obvious to you, here’s a less rhetorical one: The layout is simple an elegant. The left page is blank, except for the text of the original Craigslist post. The right page features a 7.5″ x 5.75″ full color reproduction to pour over. It’s a clean layout that really highlights the story and the work. And you also want Blackall’s sweet and funny introduction because she’s a well spoken woman. And best of all, you get to share it with your friends. I put my copy down for just second and my husband Ben immediately snatched it away and wouldn’t give it back without flipping through several more images. It’s captivating. And if like me, you love the work but can’t decide which of the 38 prints available in her Etsy shop is most right for your apartment walls, you can own all 56 images for only $13.95. Seriously. $13.95. I’m confident that Missed Connections would be the one art book on your coffee table that everyone actually wants to look at. That’s why.

Personally, my eyeballs aren’t up for lingering over anything for too long on the computer. With the book and the easy chronology it affords sitting in one’s lap, I made a fun connection I hadn’t noticed on the blog. On page 31 you see “Nose Bleed on the F”. Then, on page 71 you come across “Bonsai Girl” wearing the same polka dot dress. And those elbow patches. Then, the final illustration. The accompanying text simply reads “I can’t believe I found you”. Makes me wonder if one of the stories was from a couple Blackall actually heard from that had found each other (in her introduction she says that this has happened on a few occasions). A bit of mystery that makes me want to pour over the illustrations some more in search of further connections.

In the book’s introduction Blackall shares the “golden rule”, the secret to much of her success, and certainly the reason for this book’s existence:

If you like doing something, find a way to call it work.

Blackall, more regularly a fantastic children’s illustrator, found material for the grown up art project she had been itching to make in the personal pages and ran with it. She’s said that people are her favorite subject matter and it’s not surprising. She draws her characters with great energy and detail. Even in scenes packed full of people, each is fully and uniquely realized, down to the pattern of their socks. The pleasure she takes in figuring out who her characters are, what their style is, why they dress the way they do, and where they’re headed is obvious and it gives us viewers the same voyeuristic pleasure found in the personals. And — seque alert — found on, say, a subway car. It’s no wonder the MTA invited Blackall to create a poster for the recently revealed New York MTA Arts for Transit program. As stated on her blog:

The same sorts of things which attracted me to Missed Connections, I find on the train: subtle interactions, eccentricity, beauty, sorrow, secrets, kindness, generosity, excellent hairdos. Every sort of person imaginable and unimaginable.

A couple weeks ago Etsy Tv shared an excellent video spotlighting the MTA project and I was nothing short of downright giddy to see it. If you’re a Sophie Blackall fan, the video gives further insight into her process and it’s a delight to see her at work and getting inspired. And if her work is new to you, well, I can’t think of a better, more upbeat introduction.

Handmade Portraits: Sophie Blackall from Etsy on Vimeo.

Also worth checking out: Drawn From My Father’s Adventures, her latest story blog project.


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