Interview with Sophie Tea

In the year since I last saw Sophie a lot has changed. Her teeny weeny box cupboard has been upgraded to a large, spacious studio. Her modest social media following has sky-rocketed, those well-loved animals have been joined by ‘Game Girl’, a series of paintings depicting childhood icons of the 90’s such as Pikachu and Super Mario. She’s collaborated with brands such as Boohoo and LookFantastic; Ariana Grande has a jacket with her painting on the back FFS!

Sophie herself though is exactly as I remember her. Not as glitterfied as instagram might suggest but equally as striking, she greets me with the same warm hug she did the year before.

It would be easy to make a lot of assumptions about the bubbly blonde’s overnight success; she makes it look easy! but the squares don’t show the hours she puts in, the early starts, the late late evenings, the calculated approach to her social media strategy, the determination, the drive, not to mention her brain! Talent has taken her places but don’t be fooled, grafting has got Sophie to where she is just two years out of uni and don’t expect her to stop there.

We grab a cuppa whilst she explains the ‘Tea’ in Sophie Tea was simply to deflect businesses finding her online when she applied for corporate schemes, that was before the whole ‘Art thing’. We set up shop in her studio, surrounded by her glorious creations and works in progress…

SB: So where did it all begin?

ST: I had always planned to go down the business route as it seemed the sensible thing to do but after a placement year with a big Pharma business I found I just didn’t enjoy it, I just wasn’t fulfilled by it. Then, whilst travelling in India I painted a mural on the wall of a hostel in return for a free stay. It was the first time I’d painted since school and honestly? it just made me so happy! I thought, this has to be something? I called the business I was due to start with in September and told them I’d decided to pursue a more creative path.

But I still saw myself as a business-woman, I probably thought I was ‘better’ than being an artist so I took a step back. I set up an app to help artist get commissions; you could upload your pictures, talk about your inspiration and how much you charge and art buyers would swipe left or right. That went relatively well, I was funding it through painting commissions before going after investment from an incubator scheme called Ignite. I got through to the final round where a panel of investors rip apart your idea. I was like “i’m just so passionate about art! I love it so much, I’m painting to fund this app” They could see I was buzzing off my art, so I showed them and one investor was like ‘if your so excited about this then why don’t you just do it yourself?’ That was a lightbulb moment for me, it was the first time I had validation from someone who I really respected. I was convinced I’d get the scheme but they called when I was in NY to say I didn’t get it but that they thought they’d done me a favour; go after the Art!

It was at that point, painting another mural for a free stay, that I thought “let’s give this art thing a go!” I flew to London, went straight to the house I was renting (which I found on spareroom without even visiting first) and came here, to Wimbledon Art Studios (because I googled Art Studios London). I’ve been a full time artist ever since!

SB: When did you sell your first piece of art?

ST: It’s all been social media. If you go through a gallery they take 50% commission, that’s the industry standard across the UK. I knew I needed to pocket all my cash if I wanted to make a full time living out of it. I can get more exposure by posting one picture on Instagram than a gallery has footfall in a week. But also, who’s going to market myself better than me!?

My first commision came through Facebook. I set up a business page and invited all my friends to like it. I then started getting commissions through, just from friends initially and then I started looking at sponsored posts on Facebook were I could post a piece of art and then be really specific about who and what I targeted for example wedding presents, new homes and new babies. Facebook is more personal, you can write more text which may explain why more of my high value sales are from there rather than Instagram.

Last year I started selling prints of my work. That’s when it really took of for me on Instagram where the audience is younger so more likely to buy prints than original art-work.

SB: So how do you manage it all?

ST: Honestly? It’s exhausting! Instagram, it’s a game. The whole way it’s set up is to get you addicted. It got a bit obsessive to be honest. It’s difficult not to compare yourself to others. When I was travelling I was posting a lot and using the right hashtags and taking better pictures in better places. It was very time consuming but it got me more followers, it was worth it as I got the demand. I use a formula; one work in progress picture, one final image pic, one pic of me doing some crazy shit. I’m quite formulaic about it, there is a strategy there. I look at my whole feed and look at what picture would look best.

But I’m not a blogger. I’ve got a product to sell and as soon as I go too bloggery I might get more followers but they’re not going to buy. It’s important to stay focussed. Recently, I’ve slowed down posting and I’ve lost followers but it’s not all about the numbers, it’s about who’s interested in buying my art.

SB: How do you value your art?

ST: A lot of people struggle with it but for me, as my painting gets better; if there’s more behind my work; if it’s framed; if it’s really original, I find it quite easy. The biggest factor to price your work on is demand. I feel quite confident when I’ve got a rush, like I can’t physically do any more paintings right now, if you’d like one it’s going to be £1500. I’m fine for you to say no. Where as 5 months ago I’d probably do one for £500.

SB: Working alone then, who do you learn from?

ST: I honestly think the reason I’ve been so successful in a short amount of time is because I’ve had no experience of this world, I’m approaching it naively. I’m not following a certain route as there isn’t one. No artist before has got their commissions through instagram.

SB: Working for yourself, how do you manage each day?

ST: I thought I was a non-emotional person but actually not having any routine and working on my own, I’m not as stable as I thought I’d be. I spend so much time alone I’m thinking constantly and I don’t know when to stop, I don’t switch off ever. I’ll just keep going, it’s so unhealthy and I’ve got no one saying, Sophie stop. I now have a PT which gets me up in the morning and gives structure to my day. I’ve never done exercise, I’m naturally thin. But it gets me up on the morning and I feel great!

SB: So what’s next?

I always want Art to be at the heart of what I do. Every 6 months I want to do a new exhibition like Game Girl and always have the prints selling. I’ve also set up the Studio Session which is a fun, ‘brunchy’ prosecco Art class; there’s a tutor, everyone gets a canvas to take away and there’s booze involved! There’s nothing like that in the UK which is why I’ve upgraded to a bigger studio so I can facilitate it. 

It’s going to be a blessing as at the moment my brand is so ‘me’ focussed it will be nice to create something which I’m disassociated with. I’ll do the first 3-4 sessions to create a model and teach someone else how to do it. I’ve got my friends coming to trial it, they’re going to critique it and tell me how I can do better with the view to launch early 2018.

If you’re interested in a bespoke commission contact Sophie here;

Alternatively her prints can be found here – a fantastic gift for a godchild?

Tickets to her first Studio Sessions (see you there!)

 

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