· By John Frazier
Spartan Spotlight: Sophie McTear, Graphic Designer and Illustrator
In anticipation of Surprises' debut release Natural Disaster, Spartan Records caught up with graphic designer / illustrator Sophie McTear to discuss the album’s stunning artwork. Below McTear walks us through the creative process, shares behind-the-scenes illustrations, discusses sources of inspiration, and even shares a playlist! Enjoy.
How did you, Brooks, and Spartan Records connect?
Spartan reached out to me on Halloween (spooky, awesome omen!) about a new record they were putting out. John, the owner and CEO of Spartan Records, told me he loved my illustrations and was working on releasing something with a band called SURPRISES. I was super interested, and from there our email creative process started to evolve!
How did the creative direction for the artwork evolve? Was there a defined vision going into the project or was it something that evolved organically?
John of Spartan and Brooks of SURPRISES had the perfect mix of a clear direction and vision they had in mind as well as the clear intention that they would like me to stay true to my style and my artistic vision. Personally, that balance helps me so much. Too much direction can become micromanagement, and not enough direction can be a bit daunting. I think that the direction that John and Brooks brought to the table helped me to evolve my idea and vision within my artistic style organically. We talked about a sort of “Where’s Waldo?” look, which really inspired my vision for the record cover art. It was so fun to add pinches of chaos, and little “Easter Eggs” that I’m hoping listeners enjoy.
How would you describe your creative process?
I think I tend to have spurts of creativity and motivation. I like working with a client’s vision, powering through a sketch, and working from there. I’m definitely more of a sprinter than a marathon-er, or whatever that old saying is. I like to start something and finish something, so breaking the process into tangible goals really helps me. It was really fun to work with Spartan Records and SURPRISES on not only the big picture of the artistic vision and direction they were aiming for for the album, but also working on lots of different components of the package! It was exciting to be able to work on single covers, buttons, interior layouts, and more. It really exercised my ability to work on different types of projects within one central vision. I honestly really love hearing feedback from people that I’m working with, especially when it comes to something so personal like an album (especially a debut album!). This is their baby, and I want my art to translate perfectly to their vision, as well as my own personal vision.
Did the “Natural Disaster” concept resonate with you in any way?
Definitely. I’m constantly panicking about the state of our climate, our planet, and my role within the universe! I thought it was fun to bring a bit of comedy into something so dark. I liked that about Brooks’ lyrics too. They made me laugh, but they made me think too!
How does music inspire your design work?
I think music inspires a lot of what I do. There’s not a day in memory that I haven’t listened to music. I’ve been playing music since I was six years old, so music has always been huge for me (I play violin, and now I also play synth and sing). When I got a bit older I started to get into the DIY scene, emo and punk, and a lot of that really got to me. I felt like I could really connect to it. Especially when I am creating something for a band or a musician, I am definitely inspired by the music itself. I take time to listen to the music while I’m creating, and I think that’s part of why the art for this album has really worked with both my vision, SURPRISES’ vision, and Spartan’s vision. (Oh, and by the way, I’ve had “Natural Disaster” stuck in my head all day. Thanks, Brooks!)
Talk about your style, specifically the hand drawn “doodle” aesthetic — is this something you’ve always done?
I think that my style is constantly redeveloping itself, sometimes because of external factors (i.e. when I bought myself an iPad Pro, my style completely changed! Previously I had only been illustrating using graphic shapes because the only tool I had was my laptop’s mousepad), and sometimes because of internal factors. Sometimes I just want to try something new! In the past sixth months or so I’ve really invested myself into my artwork and my personal business and I’m so glad that I have! I think even within that amount of time my style has evolved. As far as the doodle style goes, I’m not sure it’s something I always advertised, but I think that I’m embracing it more. I find that when I am more candid and a bit less polished, people seem to love the emotion that I can express. I think we can all relate to the silliness and simplicity that doodles offer. I was definitely a doodler in school growing up, so it’s funny to think that this college dropout is earning some money for the things I used to get scolded for growing up.
What else inspires you as an artist / designer?
I’m definitely inspired by color in general, creating palettes, seeing beautiful color combinations in my everyday life. I recently moved to Tucson, Arizona (well, almost two years ago), and I’m very inspired by the nature I’m surrounded by… the mountains, the sunsets, the monsoons. I’m also really inspired by the other amazing artists that live in this city, the great friends and relationships I’ve formed. I also love graphic novels and comics, specifically ones through more “indie” publishers like Image Comics or Dark Horse Comics. I also love horror movies, and I like to think that a lot of my art has a sort of whimsical, fun approach to it combined with some darker and sometimes creepy themes.
Do you have a favorite individual illustration within the artwork?
I am really proud of the illustration that I did of Brooks! I’m honestly just beginning to get into portraits of people, so I was very stoked about how the portrait of him came out. I loved the icy blue colors we were working with. Originally this actually wasn’t even on our radar, but after seeing a portrait I had drawn of an awesome drag performer online, John suggested I try illustrating Brooks. I’m so glad he suggested that because it was one of my favorite parts of the whole series. I also really enjoyed the entire record covers, front and back. I really liked the back of the cover because of the colors I was able to use (lots of purples, electric greens, and oranges). I also incorporated aliens and a demon, so that’s pretty damn cool.
Are there any other particular projects, past or present, that you are especially proud of?
Honestly this probably sounds cheesy, but I am so proud of this project! I feel like I know John and Brooks and I have literally only ever communicated with them via email and social media. I am really proud of this team for putting this altogether. It makes me really excited to see my work on the pieces that I’ve helped create, but also to see my handwriting on music videos and promotional pieces. (Should I make a font?! I’m thinking about it.) Personally, I’m also really proud of myself for putting my all into my freelance business and my online store especially because I’ve been battling with chronic sicknesses these past four months or so. I’ve been working on putting my artwork out there, especially in Tucson, and I’m really glad I have, because I have met so many amazingly talented artists, musicians, and people here.
What else should folks know about you?
I guess just that I am always happy to hear about new freelance projects, especially for other musicians, artists, and LGBTQ+ folks! I am available on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Dribbble, and email at email@example.com. Talk to me about a project you’re excited about, or just like, your cats or something!