Well known in typography and design circles, colour-loving creator Sophie Elinor keeps a low profile in Newcastle. You'll often find her at her home studio in Mayfield where she might be up past midnight, working for a client or herself.
Elinor's career is a joy to explore.
Born and raised in Port Stephens, the 31-year-old graduated from the University of Newcastle nearly 10 years ago. She calls herself a "type dork" on Instagram and a "Designer and Typographer" on LinkedIn. She was mentored by designer Wayne Thompson of The Australian Type Foundry, and her typography includes calligraphy, hand lettering and animation. Her style is playful, vibrant and tactile.
Living in Newcastle
She likes living in Newcastle. She finds the lifestyle allows her to be more creative.
"I think it has its ups and downs," Elinor says of deciding to stay in Newcastle. "I think this place probably suits my personality because it's self-deprecating and doesn't take itself too seriously. I feel like it aligns with just wanting to make good work with good people."
Her latest project is part of a joint exhibition opening in March at Maitland Regional Art Gallery called Saturday. The concept explores six young creatives responding to a non-commercial brief with each allocated a day of the week. Elinor's day is Friday, and her concept for this day is playtime, tapping into an untethered colourful playground where you can just create for the sake of it.
Elinor has previously worked with national and international clients like Adobe (she gave virtual tutorials) Mimco (she did custom lettering) and Rijk Zwaan (she painted a mural in Melbourne). She loves when a project comes up that aligns with her values.
Late last year Elinor was thrilled when SBS asked her to do a series of typographic animations to accompany a project they were doing for International Translation Day.
"They interviewed a series of their producers from different cultural backgrounds and asked them about a word in their language that didn't translate," Elinor says. "It's like the most perfect project for me. When I got the email in my inbox I literally ran around my house telling everyone."
Elinor created light-hearted animations for words in Hindu, Arabic, French, Spanish and Greek. For example, the Spanish word "ahorita" translates to now, five minutes from now, an hour from now or a year or more. She made each letter of the word look like a clock ticking at different rates of time.
"It was very beautiful, the people trying to explain this concept where, in their home language, it was one word but in English it required a whole paragraph. I had to condense that whole paragraph into a typographic animation," she says.
Sharing her story
Elinor loved how the translation project was all about language meeting design, which is the entire reason she loves typography and became interested in it to begin with. In 2019 she was a key note speaker at Australia's Typism conference on the Gold Coast, a three-day international type and lettering festival for designers, students, artists, calligraphers and creatives.
She thinks she was asked to speak in part because of Australia's tight-knit type community and also because her work has greatly improved since she started.
"When I look at my early work it's very embarrassing. I remember looking at it at the time and thinking 'I'm basically the world's best typographer'. I look at it now and I'm like, 'That's trash'," she says.
Elinor regularly works and tutors at the University of Newcastle and has local clients like locker company Mustard Made and The Olive Tree Market, but it's hugely important for her to find time to take on personal projects.
"A lot of the time it's learning. It's kind of a low risk place to practice a skill I'm trying to master. When you're a commercial artist you're always expressing someone else's ideas and that's really nice to help people communicate, but it's not your voice. So making my own stuff is my expression of my personality," she says.
One of her favourite personal projects was the 36 days of Type project which she believes she's put at least 230 hours into, just for this year's edition. She came up with quirky creations for the alphabet like Yellow for Y or Undoing your bra for U.
"It's an animation of an alphabet of joys which I started before the pandemic, not realising how much I would cling to it for the lightness and levity. It started in March. Most people who do it will bank up a series of things and release it day by day. I was literally making it each day," Elinor says.
Every day she tried to find a bright spot or a piece of good news to go with her letter as uncertainty swirled around her.
Of all the characters, the number nine was really special to her. She contacted Ingrid Fetell Lee who wrote the book Joyful and inspired Elinor's 2020 typography theme. Fetell Lee told Elinor the birds at the birdfeeders outside her window were bringing her a sense of the outdoors and freedom when she couldn't have those things, and Elinor created the number nine as a soothing spread of colourful animated birds gently flapping their wings.
Elinor loves taking on commissioned projects and designing custom-made words like tattoos, personal poetry or a sign on salvaged timber for a family's beloved beach house.
Her Instagram @sophie_elinor also showcases fashion pieces she's created including bedazzled jackets, shoes and flashy cursive pins which read "steminist".
"The craft stuff is what I grew up doing. Nan's a dressmaker, Mum's an art teacher, Dad's industrial arts, like metal working. Art was just always everywhere," Elinor says. "That's the world that I'm in, and it's a really nice place."
Along with the Maitland exhibition, Elinor plans to explore 3D animation more this year. It's early days, but she has a notebook full of ideas, a dazzling portfolio and many tricks up her sequined sleeves.
To keep up with Elinor visit her website at sophieelinor.com. She'll be doing "Live Lettering" on the side of Maitland Regional Art Gallery on January 22.