“The response has been amazing,” Blackall says. She believes that the fascination with Missed Connections and her illustrations has to do with the fact that “?anything could happen on your morning commute — people’s lives can be changed in a heartbeat.”
She started the blog as a personal project, making a commitment to post one illustration a week.
“Before I knew it, I had 50 followers; complete strangers responding and writing messages. And then it just kind of grew and grew and grew.”
Blackall isn’t aware of any couples who have actually gotten together because of her artwork, but she has been contacted by a handful of the subjects she’s illustrated. The man from “We Shared a Bear Suit” sent her a picture of himself in the actual bear suit he donned at the party where he met an intriguing woman. “The real bear suit was completely different than what I drew,” says Blackall. “It was like a bright-yellow Winnie the Pooh bear. I was like, that’s not right!”
“Scrabble Tattoo on Roof” depicts a pink-haired young woman with the letter “N” tattooed on her arm being sought by a m4w (man for woman).
“That one kind of drew all these responses for some reason,” says Blackall. She received an e-mail from a man who knew the girl with the tattoo, and then e-mails from two girls who said they were at the party that night. “Then, ages later, this man e-mails me who is a photographer, and they had tracked this girl down. I guess she was very distinctive because of her Scrabble tattoo. They immediately knew who she was, and they reconstructed a photograph of the real girl sitting with her real friends around her on a rooftop with a pink wig — which I made up because I had no idea what she looked like. They reconstructed the artificial version of the real party, which is so weird I can’t even wrap my head around it.”
While many couples who have gotten together on Missed Connections have asked Blackall to illustrate the ad that helped them find each other, she says that doing so really doesn’t appeal to her.
“While I’m very happy for them that they found each other, it doesn’t interest me as much as the kind of unknown story, the half-finished little fragment,” she says.
And although she only illustrates Missed Connections from New York, she says that there is something universal about the idea. “I know they have the same thing going on in London and Sydney, and I’m sure in tons of places around the world,” she says.
As her project has grown, Blackall has become a sort of cultural anthropologist, albeit in an urban jungle. “When I go on the subway now, of course I see everything through this lens, and I said to somebody I feel a little bit like David Attenborough,” she says. “If you sit really quietly and really still, you can almost see the furtive glances and the people summing each other up and trying to crane to see what the others are reading or what they’re listening to on their iPods.”
Blackall sees the subway as an alternate reality — not unlike the environment one finds on a cross-country flight. “Everybody’s [there] for a while, and you’re not doing anything else. You’re not walking and keeping an eye on where you’re going.
“I think that people like reading these messages because it gives them confidence that their fellow travelers are having these kinds of thoughts about each other and that they’re noticing details. When you leave the house in the morning and you stick a hair clip in, you don’t think that anyone will care. It’s nice to think when we’re all rushing around that there are these little moments when people actually stop and look about.”