Social media artist Sophie Tea sits down with Body+Soul to discuss her art, being a successful female entrepreneur and body confidence.
It’s very difficult not to thoroughly enjoy chatting with the powerhouse behind Sophie Tea Art, Sophie Terry.
Vivacious, down-to-earth and god damn successful, she sat down with Body+Soul to give us a little insight into what it’s like to be a global art sensation known for her nude paintings – which glorify the female body in its every form.
“I always, always wanted to be an artist ever since I was little at school,” she laughs. “But I feel like even from such a young age, your art teachers would be like – it’s a great hobby but you can’t make a living off it.”
Following this advice, Sophie was on a one track trajectory to boring corporate-land after university before fate intervened. A life that would have been a world away from the colourful, creative one she leads now.
“In my third year [of a Business degree at university] I worked for GSK, which is one of the best marketing placements you could get. And to be honest I was just so f**king shit at it. I was so bad. I was clever but I just so bad in an office…it just didn’t translate,” she says.
A graduation hat and plane journey later and Sophie was off for an interim trip to ‘find herself’ before starting the corporate graduate scheme she had lined up.
Out of money in the middle of her India trip, she asked the owner of the hostel she was staying at if she could paint something for their graffiti walls in exchange for board.
“He was like, yeah alright. So I painted this multicolored cow. I’m not joking, I was like, ‘this is what I need to do with my life’,” she explains.
Finding her calling, she quit her graduate scheme, and started painting for family and friends, getting commissions off social media. For those unfamiliar with the art world, generally you need to get a gallery to stock your work and they offer you 50% of the profits to sell it.
“Straight away I was like – I don’t think you need to do a business degree to know that that is just bullshit,” she says.
“I was approaching galleries…and it was just rejection after rejection. Kind of obviously, because I had no posh school experience. It is still unfortunately, quite an elitist world.”
“And then I just set up an Instagram account and decided I could just take control of it myself, with my cash and employ a team internally. Obviously that took like years and years, but it’s just been through social [media].”
A star-and-glitter covered boost
In 2017, when her best friend Jenna Meek (now the owner of SHRINE) asked her to work some festivals with her in America, Sophie was straight on board.
The team were behind the viral ‘glitter boobs’ trend which took Coachella by storm and has since been a festival favourite.
“I think the overarching thing here is women supporting women and girl power. Yes, it was her business. I did it with her, but she made sure I was properly tagged and credited like every single piece of content,” Sophie explains.
“It did help to be honest. It got me from a few thousand followers to twenty thousand followers in a very short amount of time. And having that early on and also because I didn’t come from any background, with no prestige or anything [was helpful].”
However, going viral for painting glitter boobs at a festival is also a little unorthodox in the traditional trajectory of an artist.
“I will say the transition to people believing in me as a proper artist was extended by a year. I was young. You just use what you’ve got in front of you, and that was that at that time.”
Having painted real-life boobs, Sophie started painting nudes, this time on canvas. Her muse, at first, was a little – shocking.
“I actually was like, oh, I’ll just go to the internet and type in ‘naked women’. All these pornographic images kept coming up. I was like, no, this is not the vibe. You can be naked and not sexual.”
She decided to do a call out to her followers (which was a lot less then, than it is now) and overnight she had over 1,000 submissions.
“A thousand images, like all these naked women, all my followers, in my inbox. I was like – Instagram is going to shut down my account,” she jokes.
“The best thing about it and it’s still the same, is that every single picture, even though I didn’t ask for it came with a story of why they thought it was so important for them to share”.
“Some of them jokey like, oh, ‘I’ve never sent my boyfriend a nude but here’s one for you’. But I remember this one…this woman had a double mastectomy and she sent me a picture of it and said ‘my mom passed away from breast cancer two months ago and I just had this operation. I’d love it to be part of the campaign somehow’. So, like, really deep raw, emotional stuff.”
“And that was from the get go. I just knew that even with the relationship that I had with my body, it was helping me already, and I was just like, you know what? I’ve got to keep going.”
Confidence in numbers
Now an icon for celebrating women’s bodies of all shapes and sizes, it’s been a very personal journey for Sophie.
“I’ve never had a great relationship with my body, as a young kid. I have always stuck football socks up my bra,” she admits.
“Actually the glitter boobs was a very personal, crazy thing to do. Even my mom was like ‘Sophie! What the hell! You hate your boobs! You’ve been talking about getting a boob job since you were 5 years old’. So, yeah, that whole kind of acceptance piece is definitely massive and personal for me.”
Bombarded with a certain look all over social media, it’s a blessing and a relief when one of Sophie’s artworks comes up on your feed – rainbow-painted, bold, strong women – no matter what size, shape or colour the muse is.
When asked if there was something she loved or had learnt about women’s bodies after seeing so many in their raw form – she said it was the stretch marks.
“Well, to be honest, I’ve noticed something about stretch marks on women. I’ve always had them and been very self-conscious about them, but I haven’t really seen them in the media. Personally for me, even just looking at the pictures, it’s been an amazing experience. Like oh my God, 90 percent of these girls have them.”
It’s a really wonderful reminder that ‘normal’ isn’t the 1% or airbrushed photos we see online.
Sophie is proud of the bravery of the thousands of women who’ve submitted their nude photos to her inbox, and believes that art is one of the best mediums to celebrate women in their rawest form because it takes away the overly sexualized nature of women’s bodies we see in the way they’re usually presented.
“I think art is the perfect platform because you can be cheeky with it. Like the stuff that I’ve got away with that I would never get away with if I worked at a big business.”
“A few of my images, get taken down on social media, but very few. When I first started painting women the first three paintings of nude women were taken down. I was like, oh God, I’ve got all these amazing ideas and I really want to make a small difference in some way, but it’s not going to work and they’re going to keep getting taken down.”
“But overall, like not a lot of our stuff gets taken down now and I think that’s because I’m an artist. It’s not about being sexual, is about acceptance.”
A body-confidence trailblazer, Sophie’s art has certainly hit a nerve with women around the world.
Her drops sell out in under 30 minutes, and 1 piece of artwork has been sold every 3 hours across the globe, earnings of $9,000,000+ in the last 12 months.
It’s safe to say that she’s gone from bored corporate graduate, to poor world traveler and come out the other side as a successful, pioneering artist and business woman who has created the perfect space to respect and celebrate women’s bodies and improve all of our confidence in the process.
More power to you sister.