Greenpoint Gazette

Katie Sokoler, Color Me Katie

BY Talisa Chang

Katie Sokoler’s first memory is of the kindness of a stranger. On her first plane trip with her father, she began to panic when the plane started to take off—her father was in the bathroom and she thought he was still in the airport. A lady seated nearby came over and calmed her down, giving her a knitting demonstration. “I’m so thankful for that woman,” Sokoler said. “She was my first memory.”
It’s a fitting one for Sokoler, a 22-year-old FIT graduate, Rockland native, and now Greenpoint-based freelance photographer, street artist, and blogger, whose blog, Colormekatie.blogspot.com, has gained well over 2,000 readers since she started it in October.

“I get a lot of inspiration from [my readers]. I like hearing other people’s stories and things about their life. I get a lot of emails. They are long and personal, people tell me about family problems and relationship problems and they talk about how my blog has actually helped them smile again. It’s the most flattering thing. It gives me hope that there are good people too. In New York you can sometimes forget that people can be nice. There are days when people yell at you and they’re mean and I come home and there are people who talk to me and they’re all so supportive, it feels like family.”

In a city famous for its fast pace and anonymity, Sokoler’s work—positive, kind, engaging, and colorful (much like the artist)—has drawn the adoration of fans both locally and internationally, her most recent one being Martha Stewart, who will feature Sokoler on her show in September.

As a photography student at FIT, Sokoler worried about finding her place in a fashion-centered, competitive world that emphasized photoshopping out flaws and warned students that success would be unlikely.

“You learn in fashion school that you have to be serious and dramatic,” Sokoler said. “Oh the pain of life! And I was like, I don’t want be in pain. I want to make happy images that make people feel good. I thought I wasn’t going to find my place in photography, and then I realized I should just make my own little section of it. I love doing crafty things and I love making things, so I found a way to combine craft and photography. I didn’t want to work with models because I didn’t want to create fake things. I wanted to work with real people. I discovered street art. I thought making things in public places would be fun.”

Sokoler’s work first gained popularity when other sites, including Glamour.com, featured her thesis project, the Brooklyn Thought Bubbles. Sokoler placed photographs such as hearts, cupcakes, and dancing ladies in paper thought bubbles and put them up around Brooklyn. She waited for strangers to walk under them and snapped serendipitous shots, which she then posted to her blog. In another project, she cut out life-sized silhouettes of people doing playful things—dancing, juggling, holding balloons—and extended the feet out onto the pavement, again waiting for people to walk by and line up with her art at the right moment.

“I would hang out all day and just wait for the right person to walk by,” Sokoler said. “I thought this is so fun! Because you don’t know what you’re going to get. There’s an excitement. I don’t like planning out photo shoots. I don’t want to call models and lighting people. I just want to go and be like, ‘What’s going to happen?’”

Sokoler’s blog posts, which feature her street art and photographs, receive dozens of enthusiastic comments from readers who have fallen in love with her colorful, fun posts, such as pet portraits, pictures of people around the neighborhood, and little tidbits about her cat, Moo, her family, and her assignments for Gothamist and ImprovEverywhere, companies for whom she is a regular photographer.

“Seeing color is refreshing,” Sokoler said. “All my photos are colorful. I think color has a lot to do with how you feel. Seeing something colorful makes you feel better.”

“Coloring your food makes your day a lot more fun!” One of her posts reads, with pictures of spaghetti and cupcakes that she’s dyed yellow, blue, red, and green. “Just don’t try it on eggs,” she warns, with a picture of un-appetizing colorful fried eggs. Her posts may be silly, but at the heart of all of them is a sense of unwavering positivity and love of life. She engages her readers with questions—“What does your Christmas tree look like?” she asks when she makes a post about ornaments she’s made. Her street art, too, is all about engagement—getting people to be aware of their space and hopefully getting them to smile, too.

“Here, people are so distanced from each other. I’m trying to break through that barrier,” Sokoler said. “People are walking to work and they’re in their heads and I want to take them out. They see a thought bubble and its silly and maybe they’ll notice someone walking by at the right moment. Hopefully it will make them smile and get out of their head. When you’re not just thinking about yourself and you care about strangers. I feel like that is such an important thing because we’re not really strangers. We all live together.”

Katie has been living in Greenpoint for a year and a half, and in the spirit of her blog and artist ethos, she’s made sure to engage with the community here on a daily basis. Sitting at the McGlorick dog park, she smiled as familiar faces, both human and canine, walked by. “This is my favorite dog ever. His name is bear. The big one,” she said as we sat on a bench. “He’s so cute! He is the best.”

“I love Greenpoint!” she said. “I don’t know what I don’t love. In Williamsburg, everyone’s kind of the same age as me. I’m 22 years old but I don’t look at it like that, I like to be around people of all ages. I like Greenpoint because there are lots of kids and lots of older people. It’s a whole different culture. It’s really interesting to be around. I like this best out of all the places I’ve lived. I’ve lived in Manhattan and I’ve lived in Park Slope. There’s something really cozy about here—it feels like home. It feels like family.”

While she is finding a community locally here in Greenpoint, her blog and the online community that embraces it has given her the power to do what she wants, professionally and artistically.

“I think blogging is so important,” Sokoler said. “In school we were taught the best way to get yourself out there is to make a portfolio. This big book that you mail to people. And I was like, that is so ancient. That is not working! The best thing right now is blogging because you do something and people pass it along.”

Sokoler is fairly new to the blogging world, and she finds herself negotiating her private and public life. “When I wanted to be a photographer I thought I would be kind of behind the scenes,” she said. “But it kind of flipped. Now people are interested in me and what I’m doing. It’s new, it’s strange. I never know how to balance it exactly. I don’t want people to look at me and be like ‘Oh, she’s just some girl playing with her cat’ or something silly. But I think you can be professional and personal with people, and I think it’s moving into that. Now, with all these websites like Facebook and Twitter, it is personal.”

Given her rapid rise to success and thousands of loyal supporters, it’s unlikely that anyone would perceive Sokoler as ‘some girl playing with her cat’—unless she’s taking Moo out for a sunny day at McGlorick Park. See what she’s up to at colormekatie.blogspot.com, or see more of her work at colormekatie.com. And if you see her in Greenpoint, say hello—she’s your neighbor.

In fact, regarding her Greenpoint neighbors, Sokoler had this to say: “I leave little presents around all the time, little surprises. Keep your eyes open.”

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