Artist Sophie Kipner On the Unique Intimacy of Drawing Without Looking

From by Carly Zinderman
Artist Sophie Kipner On the Unique Intimacy of Drawing Without Looking

The intention behind Sophie Kipner’s DONTLIFTUPDONTLOOKDOWN series is not to create caricatures of the subjects, but to instead capture their essence. Her pieces are an abstract reinterpretation of whomever she is looking at, whether it is a pop icon, a family member or animals. Since Kipner doesn’t lift the pen or look down at the paper during her initial sketch, she’s able to fully absorb and see her subjects for what they are instead of what they are supposed to be.

In such a busy world, it’s refreshing to be able to stop and really look at someone and in that moment, capture a distinct feeling without being caught up in their literal representation. Kipner is able to see something beyond facial features to tell a different story about her subjects. This method has proven much more evocative than conventional portraiture and is just one reason why her commissions are displayed in recording studios, homes and restaurants across the United Kingdom, Jamaica, India, Australia and the United States. To help us gain a deeper understanding of her work, Kipner took some time to chat with us about her process, what inspires her and how she came to work with actor Michael Cera.

JustLuxe: How did you start working as an artist?

Sophie Kipner: My dad had this character he’d always draw whenever he had the chance, like at those restaurants with the white paper-covered tables and a basket of crayons to color with while you waited for your food. I’d see him draw it and start figuring out my own, just to keep up and be a part of it. And then, it just stuck. It really did become my own. I remember taking a lot of art classes as a kid after school, specifically painting and drawing courses, which laid a healthy foundation for exploring other media as I got older.

Throughout the years, though, my art became more intermittent as I focused on writing. About six years ago though, I went on a first date…that consisted of drawing games. Specifically, drawing freeze frames of Saved by the Bell episodes. Something about it, maybe his reaction or my own, I’m not terribly sure, made it all fun again. It reignited the itch, the satisfaction in that immediate release you get when you create art, that purge of creativity, and I had a taste for it again. It’s like not thinking you’re hungry until you walk past a bakery, and then all of a sudden you’re starving. Shortly after, I had booked a solo show at PÄS Gallery + Studio during the Fullerton Art Walk and was participating in other group shows around the Los Angeles area.

Sophie KipnerPhoto Credit: KKGasPerales

JL: Who are your main influences?

SK: I am a lover of Egon Schiele, Modigliani, Basquiat, Picasso of course, as well as contemporary photographers like Derek Ridgers, whose work really inspires me. It’s all in the faces. I love a good face.

JL: You write as well as paint; how do you combine the two?

SK: There’s a natural crossover between the two, not only because I could start illustrating my own stories, but also because painting and writing both tell stories, just in varying ways. I started illustrating my own pieces about five years ago, at first for author Amy Ephron’s wonderful food-related magazine called One For The Table, and then illustrating a short story I wrote called The Gymnast that was published in a literary journal for humor called Kugelmass. It’s exciting to be able to tell a story with both pictures and words; though sometimes it’s best to leave just one to tell it.

art,artist,Sophie KipnerPhoto Credit: Sophie Kipner

JL: Tell me a bit about the Hunnamum project?  

SK: I hosted a web series for a few years on Channel 101 called Everything, created by Danny Jelinek and Jason Whetzell. Every month, I’d look forward to jumping in their car, driving around LA and shooting these interstitial clips that glued the show together. Each episode featured three new filmmakers…and their work in 45-second clips. I’m a terrible actress, but luckily I was just lip-syncing! It was through that community that I met Michael Cera, who had seen the show because one of his friends from Arrested Development was in an episode. He’d seen my art and asked if we could collaborate on a project, combining my art with his songs, and that’s how Hunnamum came about. I didn’t know how to animate but thankfully [friend] Kate Freund is a great filmmaker and editor, and she helped us put it all together.

art,artist,Sophie KipnerPhoto Credit: Sophie Kipner


SK: It started with a dinner party. I had assigned myself the task of becoming a better cook and began having small dinner parties at my flat when I was living in London. One night, I thought it would be fun to use some of the supplies in my cabinet to play an art game around the table, something that wasn’t centered around how good someone was at drawing (like Pictionary), because then it becomes about how skilled of a drawer you are, rather than playing and being in the moment. There were two friends of mine who were just meeting that evening, and I knew they were interested in each other but just a bit shy. I wanted to give them a reason to really look at each other, so I told everyone we had to draw the person across from us without lifting the pen or looking down. Not only would it level the playing field, since no one was allowed to look (and therefore, no one was any better or more skilled than another), it would also be a wonderful excuse to stare at someone without being creepy!

art,artist,Sophie KipnerPhoto Credit: Sophie Kipner

SK: It fast became a game of musical chairs, each of us moving around the table until we had drawn every person. Before we knew it, it was 4 a.m. and all that was left were remnants of gravy, empty bottles of wine, a dwindling fire and a pile of drawings that made us roar with laughter. It was so fun that it became a bit of a tradition. When I returned home to California, I found myself drawing that way all the time and added…shading, contour and paint. I think that is what made it different. The more I did, the more I fell in love with how it made me feel, because that initial process was so liberating. It put me entirely in the moment in order to create. I started posting my work on social media and that’s when it became a real series, with commissions coming in and a gallery show lined up at Ca’Dario Gallery in Santa Barbara during Art Walk.

art,artist,Sophie KipnerPhoto Credit: Sophie Kipner

JL: How would you define the process? 

SK: The coolest thing about DONTLIFTUPDONTLOOKDOWN is that it takes that internal, insecure, risk-averse editor out of the equation. As I don’t lift my pen or look down at the paper while I’m drawing, I’m able to really connect with what I see rather than what I think I’m supposed to be seeing. It’s very freeing to create that way. It reminds me of how old painters and writers would describe the muse coming into the room. When there’s a muse, it takes the ‘you’ out of it, so if it sucks, it’s not your fault entirely, you can tell yourself you’re not terrible. But if it’s amazing, you also can’t let it go to your head because it wasn’t all you. It makes the process of creating art almost spiritual. One time I did a portrait for someone who was going through a rough time, being physically split between living in two places (without my knowing). I ended up drawing him with two almost separate heads without realizing it until afterwards.

art,artist,Sophie KipnerPhoto Credit: Sophie Kipner

JL: Where do you see your career going in the next few years?

SK: I’d feel very lucky to be able to continue with this series, as well as exploring future ones with shows and commissions to keep it evolving and expanding, living as both an artist and a writer. I’d like to do coloring books for adults, get my novel published, and collaborate with other artists and companies.

JL: Do you have any upcoming shows or exhibits?

SK: A piece is currently in the window of a gallery in Brentwood [called] Fast Frames Gallery and Framers. I’m also planning a show in Malibu [in] early 2016.

art,artist,Sophie KipnerPhoto Credit: Sophie Kipner