Spartaco’s career spans over 25 years and across multiple creative fields, including animation, multimedia, video games, commercials, mobile games, graphic design, web development and conceptual art. After working for big studios for many years he chose to use that experience to set up on his own and he now runs a successful freelance illustration and animation business.
We caught up with Spartaco to learn more about his work, the inspirations behind his quirky character designs and why Affinity Designer has become his go-to app for illustration work.
Tell us a little bit about your history as an artist and an animator.
I have been able to draw since I was young and knew that art was going to be in my future. Like many, I grew up with a love of cartoons and much of my influence comes from those old school shows. I feel the same, albeit older, when it comes to work and I’ve been fortunate and extremely good with my timing in being part of projects, companies and groups that are creating really fun and exciting work. It’s always been about art and what I can make today—learning, experiencing, diving into projects, working long hours, months on end, just to keep expanding that toolkit of knowledge.
What led you to go freelance?
Freelance has been interesting, fun, hard, challenging and always evolving since I started. I used to work for big studios and at the time the systems of how they approach work and projects began to change. After surviving some layoffs, the work was still coming in and I wanted to work on different projects and have more control. Since then, it’s been a wild ride, constantly hustling and changing tactics with the times. But working at home, having the flexibility and control over what you work on and the pay has been a rewarding experience for me.
Tell us about the work you do now and what a typical working day looks like.
Most of my days revolve around drawing. I have a lot of projects that I’ve put aside over time and others in development, so I try to work on the projects that most interest me and will push the boundaries of my work. Most of my work now centres on illustrations of some sort or character creation, story development and mainly, bringing projects to life.
How do you come up with fresh ideas for your illustrations? What inspires your characters?
I love this subject. There’s so much to be said about how it all works and what inspires me. I just enjoy the act of creating something that doesn’t exist either from a sketch, from a written word or just an idea. I really focus on creating my work and pushing myself to do things differently. My ideas come from being versatile and flexible in looking at all kinds of art, sculpture, and paintings. I try to build upon it, revisiting concepts and characters I have already developed just to see what might grow from those original ideas. You need to give them some room to breathe, create more of a team or group of characters and see what happens.
Can you explain a little about your creative process? Do you start by sketching on paper first or is everything done digitally?
Paper, paper, paper. Almost all of my work starts on paper in some form, whether it’s a sketch on a piece of scrap or really rough thumbnails on xerox paper, everything starts on paper. I love working digitally and have done a ton of work that started digitally and was done entirely on the computer, but I still like the vibe and feel of a pencil, pen, brush, inks, whatever in my hands. I tend to draw fast and try to be as expressive as possible with this phase, no rules, just jumping in.
“I still like the vibe and feel of a pencil, pen, brush, inks, whatever in my hands. I tend to draw fast and try to be as expressive as possible with this phase, no rules, just jumping in.”
How did you first hear about Affinity and what inspired you to give Affinity Designer a try?
I first heard about it from a friend who got me the software as a gift. I’m always looking for new ways to develop faster, easier and different methods of creating my work and Affinity really gave me that. It took what I already knew but streamlined it, flipped it all over and presented itself to me in this new, more efficient way of looking at art creation. I am still learning and trying to see what and where I can push the software to do what I am thinking. It’s my go-to software now and I’m constantly trying to incorporate more of my past projects into Affinity.
“I’m always looking for new ways to develop faster, easier and different methods of creating my work and Affinity really gave me that. It took what I already knew but streamlined it, flipped it all over and presented itself to me in this new, more efficient way of looking at art creation.”
What tools/features do you enjoy using most?
You probably hear all kinds of responses to this question and there are many tools but truly, I have to say, I enjoy the Erase White Paper function. I was amazed when I discovered it and after many tests I ran on my work, still was blown away by how simply it works. And with the non-permanent nature of how Affinity deals with changes on layers and just everything overall, it’s really easy to adjust my art and have full control. Dealing with eliminating paper and background noise has been an issue and such a huge time waster for me for as long as I have been an artist. No program until Affinity has really dealt with the paper issue in a real way so I appreciate the love.
How is your workspace currently set up? What technology/equipment wouldn’t you be without?
I built my own PC from scratch. It was scary in the beginning but so worth it with controlling exactly what you want and need in your desktop machine. All my equipment is key but I would say my Wacom Cintiq 22 HD is what I really couldn’t be without. Moving from a Bamboo tablet to a Cintiq made a world of difference and being able to draw on screen with all the added flexibility and so much more control has been a real treasure for me. I have my Wacom on an Ikea Bekant desk with an Epson scanner behind it and an Asus 27’ monitor to the left.
You have over 25 years of experience in the industry. Is there a favourite project that stands out that you most enjoyed working on?
Yeah, there have been many projects over time and which is my favourite is a hard one. I think Dr. Seuss was one of my favourite projects to work on though. I worked for Broderbund Software in a kids division called Living Books where we developed books into multimedia titles for children. I was part of the Seuss team and got to create, develop and envision what Geisel had in his mind. I worked on three projects there, which were very hard work but rewarding. I am proud that I got to work on artist content like that, but creatively, nothing beats working on your own work, your own ideas and passions.
Can you tell us what you’re working on right now?
I’m working on various things and I always keep my foot on that pedal of creating work. I just finished a kids colouring book called “Monstro Book of Colors”. It’s packed full of fantastical monsters and creatures that kids can make their own, to name and colour however they want. I’m working on getting it printed and some other ebooks I have made in the past might be in the pipeline too. I’m also in the process of developing more concepts for a children’s book I have been working on.
Do you feel it is important for artists to reserve time to work on self-initiated/ passion projects?
Oh yes. For sure, every artist needs that time. After working in studios for companies and just spending a lot of time on other people’s work, you need a break to revitalise yourself with your art. I think it’s a problem these days where work and money have taken over the demands of your craft and artists get lost down this hole, ending up burnt out or without spirit in their own work. You just need to make the time, cut out the things that take that time away from you creating and having balance.
What achievement in your career are you most proud of?
I would say that I got to work on very cool projects and with extremely cool people. I would say working at Nickelodeon on many amazing projects, mainly Spongebob Squarepants, was really fun. It was great to work on something that my nieces and nephews watched and really enjoyed.
“I would say working at Nickelodeon on many amazing projects, mainly Spongebob Squarepants, was really fun. It was great to work on something that my nieces and nephews watched and really enjoyed.”
What are your creative aspirations for the future? What would you like to achieve?
This is a hard one to answer since I am extremely aggressive with my work and want to do so much. I would say for sure I’d like to have a bunch of my book concepts and stories printed and out there for everyone to enjoy. An animated series that I have been working on would be my biggest achievement to finally get done. I just want to keep creating and being able to bring happiness to others and of course, resolving some questions in my work is for me, a giant reward within itself. I would also like to paint a lot more—oils and acrylics on canvas—and see what happens.
“I just want to keep creating and being able to bring happiness to others and of course, resolving some questions in my work is for me, a giant reward within itself.”
Lastly, what would be your advice for would-be artists and animators?
Ask yourself the most important question: why do I want to do this? Being an artist, no matter what your speciality might be, is a hard, hard, road. I would really sit down and analyse your work and passion for the craft. Art can’t be casual, it has to be you. You need to draw, draw, draw and draw more. Learn as much as possible, get experience anywhere you can when you are starting out but remember, it is not easy at all. You have to find what makes you different and what drives your work. Money? Fame? What? You need a ton of research and experience under your belt to really make it a career and some luck of course. If you do it, do it cause you love it. Do what you are good at and what you love. With the hard times, you just fight on and it’s about the work, money or not. Good luck. Carpe Diem!
You can see more of Spartaco’s amazing work on Dribbble, Instagram and Tumblr. His children’s colouring book Monstro Book of Colors and other art books are available to purchase on Gumroad and you can support him as a creator on Patreon.