Sophie Grillet talks in soft tones while her smile, in broad strokes, is filled with joyous colors. She has a pleasant personality that warms up the room.
But where the Ann Arbor artist really jumps off the canvas is in her creativity, whether she is using a paint brush to create pictures born at that moment accessing only her emotions and imagination or with a pencil as she gives life to imaginative and oftentimes pointed cartoons.
“I come from England, obviously,” she says, the “obviously” being her British accent. “I was born in Cambridge and grew up there and then moved to London shortly before I went to college.”
Grillet’s husband was working for Ford and travelled to Michigan for work when the couple decided to relocate to the states in 1996. “We decided then that the only place we could conceivably live was Ann Arbor,” she says. “He’s long since left Ford but we are still here.”
To understand Grillet’s artistic side, a trip back across the pond is required.
A graduate of the University of Brighton College of Art in the UK, Grillet was a cartoonist for books, magazines and national newspapers including such prominent publications as The Guardian, The Observer and the London Evening Standard. Yes, she would ride the tube in the morning and look over and see a fellow passenger reading her cartoon in some of London’s largest newspapers.
Grillet also studied at the Central St Martins School of Art in London.
“I could draw from a very young age,” she says. “In fact, I remember being around 4 or 5 years old saying I wanted to be an artist or an author. I started doing cartooning in college and got a part-time job. The good thing about London at the time was there were so many publishers of various kinds and hundreds of magazines and newspapers. I could see several people in a day and they were so nice where if they couldn’t use my work they would suggest I go see someone they knew that might so it was relatively easy.”
One of the reasons it was easy was because Grillet was highly skilled at her craft even at such a young age and became quite successful and in demand along the banks of the River Thames.
“I was doing everything from trade magazines to language learning books to national newspapers,” she says. “It was a lot of fun. I really enjoyed it. It was very exciting because there were times I did a cartoon in the morning and it would be on the street by noon.”
Grillet also kept learning and growing both as a person and as an artist. Soon after graduating in Visual Communication with honors, she chose to fill a knowledge gap in physics and mathematics, which she then studied with the Open University in the UK.
When Grillet and her husband moved to Ann Arbor, she had a toddler in the stroller and another baby on the way. So with not having the connections in the US and trying to raise a family, Grillet hit the pause button on her career but certainly not her passion of creating magical and oftentimes important pieces of works.
“I started doing more fine art, doing painting and sculpture and photography and things like that,” she said, while still doing some freelance work for British publications. “I’ve been going back into cartooning a little bit more lately which is a lot of fun.”
She is experienced and knowledgeable in traditional, modern and contemporary art. Her preferred media include painting in oils and acrylics; sculpture in stone, metal and clay; pastel, drawings, and photography. Much of her work is abstract, but it is always about something, and often has interesting and thoughtful titles. She also likes to experiment with all kinds of media from aluminum to yarn.
Having insatiable curiosity, Grillet is always attempting to integrate her interests in art, social justice, emotion, ecology, science, and math, but the journey has just begun. Her work reflects on “the tragedy of our love of natural beauty and our haste to destroy it.”
She also is a big believer in not only sharing her skills as an artist and her knowledge and experiences with others but also feels a connection to the community, giving back often and with great pleasure. It’s this special side of her that is another gift which goes beyond the strokes everyone gets to see in her work. Her ability to share is as unique as her ability to create.
A trained Docent at the University of Michigan Museum of Art, Grillet volunteers leading guided tours for kids, students, adults and adults with memory loss through the “Meet Me at UMMA” program, in which she is a founding member. She also has been involved at UMMA with special programs for Autistic kids and for summer math programs for Ypsilanti schools, as well as creating workshops for the family art-making program.
Her willingness to share her talents and promote the arts in the community is greatly appreciated around town.
“Sophie Grillet has done every variety of docent volunteer work, and we are recruiting for docents now and would love to have many applicants like Sophie,” says Pam Reister, UMMA’s Curator for Museum Teaching and Learning. “She started working with school tours, joined the Meet Me at UMMA program – which hosts people with memory loss – loves doing university tours, especially physics, an area she studied herself, and is always ready with brilliant hands-on ideas for special summer programs.”
Recently, Grillet has become involved in teaching in a new art workshop program for refugees hosted by Jewish Family Services in Ann Arbor.
She also is the organizer for Westside Art Hop, a twice-yearly local art walk in Ann Arbor. Now in its sixth year, the event has gone from 12 artists to over 40.
All of the images on this page are the Copyright of the artist