• Image about Sophie Blackall
Art by sophie blackall

Intrigued by the ads that strangers posted in the Missed Connections section of Craigslist, New York–based artist Sophie Blackall began capturing their “shot in the dark” appeal in illustrations that eventually landed her a cult following.

Urban legend has it that the first subway car on any given train in New York is the hook-up car. That means if you’re riding in the front car on the MTA, you’re looking to make a love connection. But if any of the typical commuters you see riding the rails during rush hour have anything even remotely romantic on their mind, you’d never know it. People unfold newspapers, jockey for seats, play their iPods too loudly, shout passages from the Bible, clip their nails and even eat chicken — but no one seems to be interacting. Well, at least not on the surface.

Missed Connections — 19th-Century Style

These ads from the New York Herald show that even though the language was a bit more Victorian, not much has changed in 100-plus years when it comes to the search for love.

If the young lady wearing the pink dress, spotted fur cape and muff, had light hair, light complexion and blue eyes, who was in company with a lady dressed in black, that I passed about 5 o’clock on Friday evening in South Seventh Street, between First and Second, Williamsburg, L.I., will address a line to Waldo, Williamsburg Post Office, she will make the acquaintance of a fine young man. Jan. 19, 1862

A young lady of 18, wealthy, pretty and agreeable, wants a husband. Not finding any one of her acquaintance who suits her, she has concluded to take this method of discovering one. The happy gentleman must be wealthy, stylish, handsome and fascinating. None other need apply. Address within three days, giving name and full particulars, and enclosing carte de visite, Carrie Howard, Station D, New York. June 5, 1863

Liederkranz Ball — Beautiful young girl with rosy cheeks and bright blue eyes under black mask and laughs like a siren: wore wine-colored satin domino, pearl headdress and jewelry; white camellias; waltzed like a fairy with tall Spanish gentleman; gentleman of high social reputation asks the liberty of an honorable introduction. Address Strictly Honorable, Herald uptown office. Feb. 16, 1879

The Missed Connections section of Craigslist is a testament to the notion that even the most jaded New Yorkers are actually sizing one another up, flirting (if ever so subtly) and taking notice of the most intimate details about their fellow passengers. Recent postings on the popular website include “59th St. station 1:30” and “Brunette on the L Train.” And although these descriptions could apply to a wide variety of people (wait a minute — I was on the L train at the same station this man is writing about — could I be the brunette he noticed?), artist Sophie Blackall (www.sophieblackall.com) prefers the postings that are a bit more specific. Since 2009, she’s been illustrating the Missed Connections notices on her blog, ?MissedConnectionsNY.blogspot.com.

“It’s usually the subject line that jumps out at me and makes me want to click and read the message,” she explains. “It could be something like a physical description that immediately suggests an image, like ‘Furry Arms in Morning Lecture.’ … You can’t not click on that one. [But] some are just so generic that you wonder if that person really had that missed connection or if they’re just hoping to kind of scoop with their net and see who responds.”

Some of her illustrations are downright comical (“Hipster Chick Who Passed Gas on A-Train”), while others are strikingly poetic (“When I Put Your Coat Collar Up to Protect You from the Cold”) and even slightly subversive (“You Left Your Coat Here Last Winter”). A 40-year-old Brooklynite and a native Australian, ?Blackall is a busy illustrator of children’s books who was looking for a more “grown-up” mode of artistic expression when she stumbled upon the idea of Missed Connections.

“One day I was on the subway, and it was peak hour, and it was completely packed. There was some fellow — a handsome chap — squeezed next to me, and it was that state where you’re not quite sure where your limbs end and the other person’s begin. He got off, and then he looked through the window at me and mouthed something, and I didn’t know what he said. I turned to the girl next to me and I said, ‘What did he say?’ and she said ‘Missed Connections.’ I had no idea what this was. When I got home, I Googled it, and then I just lost the next two hours, reading voraciously. They were so seductive, and kind of fascinating and addictive. I completely forgot to ever look and see if that particular guy sent me a message, but it was irrelevant. I was just drawn into this whole world, and it was an immediate thought — I need to make pictures of these.”

To Blackall’s surprise, her blog attracted a loyal following, and before long, The New York Times took notice. In September, a book of her illustrations, titled Missed Connections: Love, Lost & Found, will be published by Workman Publishing, and her prints are hot sellers on Etsy.com, an online marketplace for handmade goods.