And That’s The Tea: Being An Artist In The Modern World
Within the changing world are artists looking to break through the mould.
Sophie Tea is not your average artist. Her career does not fit the tradition of painting pictures, sending them to art galleries and hoping for the best. Today, it’s all about self-publishing and self-promoting, and we’ve sat down with Sophie Tea to uncover this new reality.
When did you realise that you wanted to turn your passion for art into a career?
I made the decision to pursue a creative career whilst travelling in India. I was travelling after university and running out of money. I stayed at a hostel with graffiti on the wall so I asked the manager if I could paint in return for a free stay. He said yes and it’s still one of my happiest moments. It was within the week that I had emailed my graduate scheme, where I was due to start as a consultant, to decline their offer and start my career as an artist. I made huge sacrifices, particularly in my initial year. For a start, my entire friendship group had got high flying jobs in the city and I couldn’t afford to live in London, so I had to do that dreaded thing and move back home to Manchester with my parents. After moving back to London six months later, I rented a box room that I couldn’t even stretch my arms out in. And I was literally on a diet of biscuits and cereal. I’m now glad I went through this period as I’d never had an income from anything else other than my art. I feel proud to say I did it completely off my own back.
Was Instagram your immediate online source to sell your artwork from, or did you try other platforms like Etsy?
To start with, I used Facebook because at the time Instagram was still relatively new and initially catered for a younger audience. However, social media has been where I’ve received 90% of my business. I trialled Etsy with no success, likewise Not on The High Street and I also approached galleries. On the back of that, it was an absolute no brainer to stick to what I was good at, which was social media.
How did you spark the idea of Tinder for Art?
When I did my first painting in India, I posted the artwork on Facebook. When I woke up the next morning I could not believe the number of comments I’d received from friends and family. They had no idea I could paint but also wanted to commission me for a piece for their own home. It was pretty soon I recognised that there was a huge untapped demand for original art that didn’t sit in galleries. I had the idea to build an app where artists could upload and sell their work on a social network. Avoiding the 50% commission deduction.
What obstacles did you encounter when developing the art app?
The biggest obstacle was raising capital to get the app off the ground. I applied for an incubator programme which is basically a graduate scheme for first-time entrepreneurs. You get mentorship and access to funding. The application process was long but I managed to get to the final stage. I was in front of a panel of investors and they were quizzing me on my motives for building an app. In response, I explained how I was just so passionate about painting and the art industry and I wanted to help artists make a living. It was a confronting moment when one of the investors asked me ‘Why don’t you just become an artist?’. Two weeks later, I received an email explaining I had been rejected from the scheme with the advice ‘Try being an artist for a year if it doesn’t work we’ll give you the investment.’
What inspires you most to create your artwork?
Travel inspires me the most when creating. I’m always looking for ways to push my work to the next level. Being on the move and exploring new places is where I think of my ideas. My recent abstracts are inspired by aerial views. When I’m on the plane, I always move to the window seat so I can take photos of the ground. I then bring these shots to my studio and use them to inspire my composition and colour palette.
When did you know you had achieved becoming a successful artist?
Oh god, I don’t think I’m at the stage yet where I have made it. I think it’s in my nature to always want more. I will say that a standout moment for me was recently when we had a solo exhibition in London, Chocolate. We had close to 1,000 people walk through the door within the five hours we were open. I took myself off to the toilet and reflected that people were here to see my artwork. It was a special moment that I feel very proud of and will never forget.
Which artwork has been the most difficult to part with and why?
I am not precious about a single piece of my artwork leaving the door. I recognise that in order for me to grow as an artist or a person and build a bigger team my artwork needs to sell. It’s nothing but a pleasure to part with a piece because it means that it’s going to be in someone’s home for life and what an honour that is.
What tips or words of advice would you give someone starting their online business?
My advice to someone setting up a business is that you just need to press go. There is never going to be a better set of circumstances that create a more perfect situation for you to set up a business. It’s never going to be the right time, you’re never going to have enough money and you’re always going to have social obligations. If you’re passionate about something then the time is now.
Feature Image: Sophie Tea