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Body positivity promoting, self-starting and sassy as anything.
You’ve probably heard of Sophie Tea or seen her artwork pop up on your Instagram explore page. She is the epitome of the millennial artist, with over 200k followers on Instagram creating her paintings in seconds.
She’s been painting bright, glittering nudes for almost four years now and her works sell for between £2.00 and £8,500 – and yet she still manages to make her paintings relevant, mainstream and accessible to everyone with her laid-back , friendly and, frankly, fun approach to life.
This summer, she threw open the doors of her first-ever must-see gallery on Carnaby Street thanks to its striking pink exterior, and hosted a catwalk event where more than 100 women of all shapes and sizes walked around naked and proud.
She’s having a moment and so naturally we wanted to pin her down to learn more about her movement and what’s in the pipeline. Keep reading.
Meet Sophie Tea: ‘I knew I had to live a creative life’
Born in Wolverhampton and raised in Birmingham, as Sophie puts it, she comes from ‘all-bloody-over’. She says she always wanted to be an artist – ‘but never thought it was possible’, having been ‘imprinted on her’ from an early age that it was a hobby.
She studied business at university and landed a postgraduate job as a consultant in London – but a trip to India the summer for that job would change her life forever. “I literally found myself,” she explains. “I remember seeing a graffiti wall in a hostel and asking if I could paint in exchange for a few nights’ stay – I was running out of money at this point,” she says. “The hostel owner agreed, and it was honestly one of the most pivotal moments of my life,” she continues.
“I just have” knew I had to lead a creative life,” she says. “I decided I’d rather be happy and poor – hence Sophie Tea Art was born.”
Then she painted her very first nude photo – or ‘nudie’ as she calls them. So why a nude? “I’ve always been fascinated by the female form, even though I didn’t have the best relationship with my own body,” she says. “I remember searching the internet for naked women to paint and only found porn, which was not the atmosphere I wanted. So I asked my Instagram followers to send me a nude photo – in the name of art.”
She woke up the next day with over 1,000 nudes in her DMs. “I was shocked, humbled and determined to paint the incredible women who entrusted me with their nudes,” she explains.
Did she know that her nudes would boost her career as they have? (She has an almost cult-like worldwide following of women from all over the world who visit Sophie’s shows and buy her art – she’s thought to be at least a multimillionaire at the age of just 27). Short answer: yes, she did.
The power of the naked form
“I recognized the power of the nude quite early – mainly because of the effect it had on me,‘ she thinks. “The best thing about receiving photos was that each of them had a personal story about why they thought it was so important to share. I had some lighthearted comments: ‘I would never send my boyfriend a nude photo, but here’s one for you, Sophie!’.
“One I will never forget was a photo of someone who recently had a double mastectomy. She said: ‘Unfortunately my mother passed away two months ago from breast cancer and I would like my image to be part of your nude project to honor her’.
“It was really moving. It was an honor to hear these stories and I wanted to play a small part in making women feel a little bit better about themselves through artwork and celebrating the female body.”
While at first glance you might write her paintings off as a fundamental celebration of the feminine form, they are much more than that. They are powerful, eye-catching and also quite emotional – you only need to see one of her shows, which is where Sophie is voluntarily painted ‘nude’ and walked the catwalk naked to celebrate all the different versions of their bodies, to to understand why her art is so powerful, and why it touches so many different women. But why Sophie’s art, and not other similar nudes?
“I think my work appeals to so many people because it’s real,” she says. “It fascinates real women and real stories that women can relate to. The relationship we have with our own bodies is one of the most complex, intimate and powerful things.”
That’s where the nudes come in. “Our nudes have been so brave and strong in getting naked to show the world that they are different and beautiful,” she explains. “That takes courage. I think people connect with the work and the nudes because they see themselves in the work; and typically in the media their form has not been portrayed before,” she continues.
She mentions that she herself struggles with a negative body image – so does her art answer this? In short, yes and no. “I used to tuck my bra into soccer socks at school because I hated how small my breasts were,” she says. “I’m still waiting for a growth spurt at 28, but I know I’m not going to die if they never grow,” she jokes. “I’m learning to love and accept myself more through my work and through the nudes.”
Having naked women as a subject for so long has been a very cathartic process for the artist. “But I mainly focus my energy on children and teenagers – that’s where most physical hang-ups arise, right? Imagine a sixteen-year-old girl who worries about how she looks and finds my art on Instagram. It teaches her that her body is beautiful,” explains Sophie.
Making art accessible to everyone
She loves doing things differently and making sure her art is accessible to everyone – which may seem hard to believe for a multimillionaire. But Sophie’s path is different from that of a traditional artist – she has paved her own path in a number of ways.
“We are not represented by any gallery,” she explains. “At Sophie Tea Art, we also allow people to invest in works of art in installments, which is quite rare. We take a £100 deposit and send the pieces straight away – we’ve really built a business based on trust.”
“My clients are expected to make their monthly payment, no interest payments and I get to produce a high quality artwork. Many people have told me over the years that I will not be able to maintain this relationship of trust as the brand grows. I beg to differ – three years after we offered this service, we have thousands of live installments with less than 1% of people canceling. I love it.”
What’s next for the artist? Well, that’s a secret – but there’s a new project in the pipeline that she’s sharing all her excitement about.
Quick round of fire:
An artist who has always inspired you?
Your favorite quote
“A day or day one.”
Something that will get you out of bed in the morning
Coffee. I’m really starting to look forward to my morning coffee at 3pm the day before.
Your favorite Instagram account
One piece of advice you would give to a fan struggling with negative body image
Watch one of our Nudie Livestream events. Everyone is so different and you are perfect just the way you are!