For my friends who have come home, you may have noticed two posters on the wall. These are illustrations which I fell completely in love with when I saw them. I love them enough to read the lines when I am just sitting and staring at the wall. I like them enough to tell stories about them to other friends. And to gift framed posters to my best friend just because she casually mentioned a year back that she thought they were nice.
These are posters of two normal situations. One where a pretty girl is sitting on the top of a flight of stairs, surrounded by little Asian kids. There is a piece of cake next to her and a scrabble N tile tattooed on her arm. The poster has an inscription which makes it stand out…
The second one is mainly for the inscription again. It shows two neighbours who share a common wall. And just with that picture and those few lines, Sophie Blackall – the artist behind these posters – makes it apparent that girl wants to be with her neighbour.
If you look it up on Google, you will find many other, with girls on swan bikes, with men in the laundry, in the library, bookshop, supermarket, Brooklyn bridge. They are all there. They are Missed Connections – aptly named because the stories are about chance meetings with strangers. You know, that feeling when you see someone on the road and wish you could talk to them. Just say hi, or say that you like something about them? This is her interpretation of those fleeting moments.
So I thought I should talk to her. And I did. And I found out how and why Missed Connections happened.
It all started with Craigslist’s Missed Connection listings. When Sophie saw the page, she was not looking for someone she had met momentarily. However, she was hooked on to the stories of people who had shared a moment with a stranger and wanted to reach out to them. In her own words, she felt it was treasure trove of material and as she read through the listings, images started forming in her head.
Sophie is an editorial illustrator and illustrator of children’s books. Having worked for several years on children’s books, she decided to take a break, be more grown-uppish and do a personal project. When the Craigslist Missed Connection came in front of her, she knew she could do a lot with this.
“In an effort to make myself actually commit to the project, I decided to do a drawing a day, and post them on a blog. This was my goal: Every day hundreds of strangers reach out to other strangers on the strength of a glance, a smile or a blue hat. Their messages have the lifespan of a butterfly. I’m trying to pin a few of them down,” she said.
Like most of us, she also changed her plans with time, the drawing a day goal became a drawing a week. But at the same time, every additional blog post would fetch her new audiences. She was surprised, she says, unexpected as the response was. It began with emails from people who had seen someone and wanted to be featured, then from people across the globe, Italy and Argentina, South Africa and Israel.
“Magazines asked for interviews. The New York Times called. And regular people wrote begging me to help them find their lost loves. They told me my pictures had made their day, had pulled them out of a funk, had put a spark back in their marriage. Had given them hope. Hope in kindness and intimacy between strangers, hope in finding their own true loves. Hope of connecting. Because for all the hopelessness in writing and posting a Missed Connection, for all the “You probably won’t read this” and “This is a shot in the dark,” there’s a 15-watt bulb of hope dimly glowing in each message.”
Her drawings and illustrations finally got published as a book ‘ Missed Connections, Love, Lost and Found’ by Workman in 2011. The same book was named one of the Best Art and Design Books of 2011 on brainpickings.org – the same bright yellow website I check almost every day to read something which will make me smile, or at the very least, think.
Sophie has also designed the MTA Arts for Transit poster. A beautifully detailed poster of a subway train, with regular and unassuming characters sitting inside. There are people standing, there are slight romances brewing, there is even a bear-costumed guy (someone who also features in another of her posters). And if one notices closely there is an identical poster inside the poster. Like Deja-Vu. Or the-box-inside-a-box-inside-a-box theory. So then the viewer becomes a part of the poster, as the subject.
It is perhaps this that draws me to her illustrations. The details, the expectation that each time I see her painting, I will discover something new, the hope that someday I will have a missed connection for myself.
You can see her other work here. Choosing this because she did this in Uttar Pradesh, India. I am biased. Slightly.