Creatives in Conversation: Learn more about Sophie Mazzaro's versatile approach to making the world a more colorful place.
In the fashion-forward game of customization, there truly is no shortage of possibility. This realm is where esteemed visual artist Sophie Mazzaro has found her stride, putting her distinctively vibrant and endlessly versatile touch on every unconventional canvas in her path, regardless of if it's a wall, sneaker, jacket, or most recently, a basketball.
The Berlin-born, Los Angeles-based artist got her start at an early age, finding herself captivated by the creative freedom a paintbrush could provide, especially in regard to shaping her identity as an individual. As a self-taught artist, Sophie realized early on how important discipline is to perfecting one's craft. Making a point to apply herself every single day to her art has certainly paid off, with Sophie now able to dedicate her time to pursuing her passion full-time as a self-employed artist.
Sophie's ever-evolving career has led her to collaborating with an array of reputed brands, including Complex, Red Bull, Pizza Hut and the NBA, to name a few. Her work draws inspiration from the colorful world around her, often taking references from pop culture, graffiti, fashion, sneaker culture and travel. Whether she's focusing on adapting her talents to meet the challenge of painting on a sneaker or filling a 10-foot wall, her attention to detail and application of color consistently shines through. Given her wide range, Sophie's art journey is naturally filled with a diverse range of different projects, helping keep both her and her growing audience inspired and engaged.
Recently, Sophie graciously lent her talents in the live-painting sphere to give a pair of DropLabs EP 01 the coveted Mazzaro touch, showcasing how closely intertwined technology, art, reinvention and creativity can be. We took a moment to chat more with Sophie, as she recovers from a recent car accident, to learn more about her day-to-day career as a visual artist, how she got her start and what her advice is to fellow creatives.
What do you do for a living?
I finally do art full time. I paint custom sneakers and I also do large scale murals for companies or for brand activations. I've worked with Red Bull, Pizza Hut, Art Basel, Steve Aoki, the NBA just now for SXSW, which unfortunately got canceled, but I still did the project. I worked with SX last year as well and since I went to high school in Austin that’s just a homerun to work in your old town with all my friends from high school coming by to see me paint. A bunch of cool brands, and I do stuff for them when they have the launch of something new coming up, or live painting like I did with DropLabs. That's basically what I do.
Were you always interested in art growing up as a kid? How did you get into it?
I was born and raised in Berlin and I moved to LA when I was 19 by myself. I've been doing art or drawing since I was six years old. I've literally been doing it my whole life. It's like whenever people talk about how you can be good at anything if you put in the 10,000 hours; for me, I'm sure it's more than several hundred thousand over the years because I draw every single day almost. It's just something I never gave up. It was a different time when I grew up, and I didn't have a smartphone until I was 19. So all I had in Germany was drawing as a kid.
Did you go to art school or are you self-taught?
I never went to school for it. It's all self-taught. I did my first drawing copying someone else's artwork. It was a tiger that this German artist drew for me and I love that little watercolor drawing and then I copied it until I was able to draw it by myself. And then just sort of drawing my own things. But I never went to school for it. I never wanted to major in art or anything.
What inspired you to work on sneakers and creating customizable pieces?
My first pair I did when I was still living in Germany. I was probably 15 or 16, and over there, we get the sneakers after they're released in the U.S. It'd cost me a lot of my pocket money at the time to order them from the U.S., and I wore them to school and a girl that I didn't really like had the same shoes as me. I didn't want to send my pair back and pay for shipping again just to get other ones, so I drew on them. And then someone bought them off me for totally cheap; I went home in socks and was so excited.
People really like custom stuff. My angle on it is that I want stuff that nobody else has. It's not even about 'I need to paint on these shoes;' I just want something different that nobody else wears, or it to be a situation where they don't know I got the item from H&M or Zara. That was an issue back in the day; everyone was always dressed the same in my school. It was really boring. That's how I started making these things, such as jackets and shoes just for myself. And then once I moved to LA, I really noticed that people here have way more sense of style and fashion and they're real sneakerheads. They really appreciate it over here.
As a creative, what do you do to get into your zone? What's the environment like when you create your best work?
I have a lot of good ideas at the gym, weirdly. It's my hour to myself. And that's what makes it so hard with the accident because I can't go to the gym. I'm kind of going up the walls because I need that outlet of not thinking and just listening to music, or not listening to anything, to have ideas. And now I'm cooped up at home and it's really annoying me [Laughs]. Also, traveling is big for me. I always traveled a lot, even when I was little, and I apply those ideas I get from traveling, especially for color palettes for new projects. I would say traveling and going to the gym are my top two.
What surprised you the most about trying on the DropLabs shoe for the first time?
I listened to the Rolling Stones, which is my favorite band of all time, and it was so, so amazing. I can't wait to wear my DropLabs shoes while I'm drawing. I know that sounds weird, but just the way you experience the beat and the music on a totally different level is incredible. You are so immersed in it, and I have never experienced anything like it in my life.
How would you describe the DropLabs experience to someone who hadn't heard of it before?
I have tried to describe it to people, and I say it makes the music experience more real. I find it relaxing, like it's almost a whole-body experience for experiencing music. I can't wait to share that when I have my shoes with my friends who are in the music industry. I think they would absolutely love it.
What type of music do you listen to while you're painting?
The Stones are number one and then the Beatles, the Kinks, the Monkees, Frankie Valli, all those '60s era bands. My dad was in a band growing up and he showed me that type of music when I was really young, and so I've always stuck with it.
Would you say that classic rock aspect does that inspire your art as well? Or are you just drawing inspiration from all over?
Occasionally, yes. I did a cool series of my personal idols. I painted a Beatles shoe that was my most successful one I've made so far. It was for the 60th anniversary of the Abbey Road cover, so I made that on the shoes and people just loved it. I have a Mick Jagger painting that I did for myself in my living room over my couch, so sometimes it inspires it directly but the rest of it, I can't really say I have one style. I find it really hard and that's not necessarily a good thing, when just like almost every painting is really different. I draw my inspiration from everywhere and some of it is more like Frida Kahlo, and the more Latin American flowers and leaves and then some of it is skulls and some of it draws from more of the Miami vibe color-wise.
What are some recent projects you've worked on or are currently working on?
I was one of the first people to do a Kobe Bryant memorial mural, and I got a prominent wall in Venice Beach by the Venice pier. I live-painted it in front of a crowd, and it was one of the most emotional murals I had ever done. Kobe was a close friend to my closest friend, so it was kind of for him that I did it too. But in general, it gave people an outlet to grieve. People came up to me all day. Normally I paint murals quietly by myself or I listen to music. But this was one of the first times that I actually had a crowd around me all day. There were over 40 people minimum at all times when I was painting it, and they'd come up to me and they'd share their stories about Kobe and how the mural helped them cope. It was really, really beautiful and amazing and draining, to hear all that and paint at the same time. It's one of my favorite pieces that I've done.
That's incredible to be able to create an outlet for people to share their own emotions and experiences, and connect with one another in that way.
My favorite was this one girl; she was deaf and she stood in front of the mural all by herself in the middle of the night. We took a video of it and she was communicating with Kobe. It made us cry. We were a bunch of adults standing there like tearing up. I've never seen something like that.
What else have you been up to lately, or are planning for the near future?
I also did a recent project for SXSW with the NBA. I painted ten custom basketball for the G-league teams. It sucks that it got canceled, but they still liked what I did. I feel so bad for everyone. I used to live in Austin. I went to high school there and I know how that cancelation impacts the city. It's like almost $400 million dollars in revenue that SXSW brings in and most of these people, even if it's small bars or small businesses, they totally rely on this. This is their income for the year so my heart goes out to everyone.
I have a few murals lined up and collaborations with the NBA but I think we all have to wait out to see how the coronavirus further develops, since that has put a hold on all of us creatives.
Do you have any words of wisdom that have stuck with you throughout your career?
Yeah, definitely. It's something that my mom said to me when I was really young. She always said, 'Those who want it, get it.' It's really short because it's in German, and it doesn't translate that well to English, but it's basically you can't ever give up on what you want. I was so close to quitting, like I'm sure most creatives were at some point in their lives, and I had all my bags packed up more than three times in LA. I was just so over it and I said, 'I can't do this, I can't stay here. I'm gonna go back to Germany and be miserable.' But I never gave up and it wasn't easy for me, because I moved here not speaking the language and by myself. I had never been to LA before and I didn't know a single person. I just stuck it out. And so those words from my mom always stay with me.
You just can't ever give up. It's the 10-year overnight success of just pursuing the same thing. There are so many talented artists, whether that's musicians or actors or painters, and their work will never be seen. It's so competitive and so hard and at some point, they decide to give up and go into a 9 to 5. That breaks my heart more than anything. My goal will never be a certain dollar amount; it's just I want to do this for a living. I can't do anything else.
Sophie Mazzaro can be found on Instagram at @mazzaro.art.
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