Story by MARY ELLEN THOMPSON
Photography by JOHN WOLLWERTH
Sophie Kittredge’s artistic talents fly across the boards: artist, illustrator, author. Her creations are colorful, exquisitely detailed, often whimsical, and always cheerful. Sophie finds and illustrates the very fine points that most of us don’t even notice. From Valentine chocolate boxes to card games, portraits, posters, books, maps, and inside front covers of coffee table books (Where Every Breath Is A Prayer; Fazendas -The Great Houses and Plantations of Brazil; At Home in Bali) Sophie’s sense of style as well as her innate good nature shine through.
A Beaufort girl-by-choice, Sophie loves the nature, climate and beauty of the Lowcountry; she says emphatically “Although I loved New York when I got there, now I love not being in a city!” She enjoys boating, kayaking, bicycling and walking on the beach. “There is a nest of Great Blue Herons on the property where we live and I love to watch them.”
Her mother, Betty, has been her mentor and her motivator. “My mother inspired me; when I was about ten, I started painting portraits and landscapes. I took art classes in high school and my mother encouraged me to go on to art school.” So, to art school Sophie went, for a first year at West Surrey College of Art in England where she took her foundation course with plans to pursue fine art, then she went on to Harrow College of Art in Northwest London where she graduated with a B.A. in Illustration. Why the switch from fine art to illustration? “I thought it would be easier to make a living doing illustration, and it would be easier to be motivated.” Sophie stayed in England and worked in London after “I knocked on doors and finally got jobs working for a couple of publishers illustrating books.” Her first co-illustration in print was William the Wizard written by Patricia Cleveland-Kent.
After one particularly grisly rainy London winter, Sophie decided to take herself to New York City. “I really didn’t know New York at all
but I had two friends who were there. I lived in a basement apartment and I got to know the city. I started out in graphics at Abbeville Press where I pasted up books by hand. Early on I mostly illustrated maps. Eventually I got work in some animation studios. I painted huge backdrops for 3D animation; I painted so many skies that I became known as the ‘Sky Lady!’” She did work for MTV, Disney and Saturday Night Live, among others. “It was sort of an itinerant work force, moving from one studio to the next, and it was lots of fun – I got paid to paint all day so I liked it.” She also spent a year working as an art director for a small NYC ad agency that “Specialized in marine/boating equipment and made ads for all the major boating and fishing magazines. I was originally hired to illustrate a series of ads for Furuno Radar. Then the art director left so I became art director; it was fun being in a fast paced agency – lots of tight magazine deadlines, etc. The most interesting part was that I was on the other side of the table, illustrators were knocking on my door!”
Born in Paris, where her dad, Kit, was in the U. S. Foreign Service, Sophie’s life was full of travel and adventure. With two other daughters, Annette and Clare, the Kittredges moved from France to Saigon, Vietnam when Sophie was two. She remembers that she want to kindergarten in a bicycle driven rickshaw and the school was without walls. When Sophie was five, they went to Tokyo, Japan where they lived, spending summers in a traditional Japanese house on a farm. Five years later, Israel was the next stop. Sophie remembers working on a kibbutz one summer, “It was hard work! I’d get up at 4 a.m. to pick pears, then we would all sit down to a big breakfast and then go back to work until noon. I picked a lot of pears, and cotton. The kibbutz was on the Lebanese border right by no man’s land, so that was kind of strange.” Sophie went to French schools until she was thirteen and then to American schools; when she was sixteen the family went to Washington DC and Sophie went to boarding school for her last two years of high school in Rome, Italy. “I lived with an Italian contessa, no English or French was spoken in her house so it was a great way to learn Italian. Rome was a lot of fun!”
During those years, the family would spend most of their summers at their house in Normandy, France. Every other summer they would come to the States to visit relatives. In France their house was a renovated old sheep hut with no electricity, running water, or road until 1968. They had kerosene lanterns and bicycled to their cousin’s house for drinking water. The contrast to that was distinct when the girls came to the US, “We got to watch television and eat hamburgers!” Sophie remembers sitting on the cliffs in Normandy with her sister Annette and painting on bits of plywood, or cardboard with her oil paints. “We’d swat flies and think what fun it was to be ‘plein air’ painters.” All three girls were artistically talented. Annette went to art school in England where she became a potter and then got a doctorate in French literature. Clare went to graphics school in Paris before changing her focus to writing and journalism. Their parents took them to museums in every city they visited and although he enjoys art, Sophie’s father is especially interested in many different types of music, from Bach to Otis Redding, whereas Betty Kittredge is also an artist herself.
After her dad retired, he and her mother moved to Beaufort via New Hampshire; first to Dataw Island then to Lucy Creek. So after visiting for holidays for many years, Sophie decided to trade life, after twenty five years in the big city, for something a little more relaxing, and moved to Beaufort. She remembers one of those Christmas visits when she had created the backgrounds for a Beavis and Butthead movie, she took her parents to the theater here and they were all thrilled to see her name listed in the credits on the big screen!
So in November 2006, Sophie packed up her belongings, her beloved dog Joe, and came to embrace what she thought would be the simpler life. Soon after she got here, her friend Katrina Bolton introduced her to a tall handsome Canadian architect, and in January of 2008 Sophie and David Murray were married in a simple outside ceremony on the grounds of a local plantation where the couple now reside.
Sophie’s favorite subjects may be dogs – hers, mine, yours, ours. When she was growing up, her family always had dogs – mostly Dachshunds and mutts; it was easy to travel with dogs internationally when you had a diplomatic passport! She says that she resisted, for the longest time, getting a dog when she lived in New York, but after 9/11 “I went to a shelter in Jersey City because I thought there would be so many dogs that needed homes and that’s where I found Joe.” Sophie has self-published two books about her dogs Joe and Rusty. She says: “My favorite projects have been my own books, Shayan’s Tale and Riki’s Tale, because they’re about animals I loved. They took time to write, design and illustrate.”
Just published, Sophie illustrated The Lonely Penguin’s Blog which is a book about a real life story of an Emperor Penguin who improbably showed up in New Zealand. Her illustrations for the book, she says, are “quite realistic and expressive, not cartoony. Since the school children saw the penguin on television, he had to be reasonably realistic. I was given the layout for the book and I submitted different sketches. It was fun to do the research.”
Enviably pretty, talented, and multi-lingual, Sophie happily anticipates and welcomes creative challenges. “I love it when my agent throws new stuff to me like the card games, the Valentines candy boxes, and posters. I got used to doing a variety of new styles in animation and I became a chameleon style-wise. I think it’s much more amusing and challenging to try different styles and projects.”
For more information and to see examples of Sophie’s work, go to: www.sophiekittredge.com.