Profile | Sophie Kipner: Don’t Lift Up Don’t Look Down

The Blues Brothers

Sketch artist Sophie Kipner has a unique way of working with her subjects, she keeps her eyes on them and not the paper where she is sketching. In her new series, Don’t Lift Up Don’t Look Down, Kipner draws her subjects without lifting her pen off the canvas while keeping her eyes on the subject. Kipner’s works are not realistic drawings but emotional interpretations of her subjects. On March 5, Kipner will be showing her work at WNDO Space, Venice, CA. The exhibition will feature new pieces, including Janis Joplin, a crowd of Biggies, Tupac, Stormtrooper, Tom Waits, and the Mona Lisa, among others. Kipner speaks with Crave about her path in art.

How did you develop into becoming a portrait artist? 

I’ve always been drawn to faces, even with past works, but I believe that after spending so much time working as a writer on long form pieces in which I had to really develop and be sensitive to character, I found myself even more so drawn to faces because of their character. In London, where I was working on my book, I started doing these small dinner parties where I’d give my friends pieces of paper and we all had to draw each other without looking down or lifting the pen, similar to what teachers have you do in art school.

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I had been so focused on my writing, holding on so tightly to make that happen that I hadn’t been doing much art. Something happened with playing those games; it reignited that side of me I had temporarily let go of and because I wasn’t looking, it was incredibly freeing. I was judging myself so harshly with my stories, that something about drawing without the ability to judge myself as I went, to second-guess every stroke, was incredibly exciting. It gave me such a rush that I started drawing everyone like that, on the bus, waiting for trains, etc., always surprised and energized by the outcome.



What was the inspiration to develop a style where you do not look at the paper while you work? 

It was all from those dinner parties in London I used to host, and the fluke of asking friends to play a new game that I just made up as a fun thing to do after dinner around the table. I had no idea it would become a series, or how anyone else would respond to it at the time; It just triggered in me not only the want to draw more, but to draw without looking was almost addictive because each time it’s a surprise at the end. It’s also quite an intimate way to draw, giving the artist the need to truly look at her subject and draw what she sees, unapologetically, because not looking at what you’re doing almost takes the blame out of the outcome. Of course it’s hand-eye coordination, but it’s also heavily reliant upon feeling. It frees you to really see what’s in front of you without judgment on yourself or others. It’s quite beautiful, the rawness of it.

Mick Jagger and Keith Richards

Mick Jagger and Keith Richards

Who have been some of your favorite subjects to draw, and why?

My favorites seem to change all the time, as I like certain parts of all of them, but I recently loved drawing Tom Waits, smoking his cigarette and reading the newspaper. I think I just love Tom Waits, but I also absolutely love that photograph. A great photo is so inspiring; it’s a vibe thing I think. I love drawing Biggie as well. Again, his face has so much character and those pictures of him tell a million stories and speak to so many people and are entrenched in memories for each person looking at that same photo. I also have been doing Janis Joplin, listening to “Piece of My Heart” on full blast and on repeat in my studio as I do it. I think creating an atmosphere, with the right music playing for example, and the right photograph, really puts you in the moment and I think the outcome portrays it. It’s about trying to get in that picture. In that scene. That’s how I feel it most.

All artwork: ©Sophie Kipner

Miss Rosen is a New York-based writer, curator, and brand strategist. There is nothing she adores so much as photography and books. A small part of her wishes she had a proper library, like in the game of Clue. Then she could blaze and write soliloquies to her in and out of print loves.