London Artist Makes a $1 Million + on Instagram

  • Published on:
    May 15, 2019
  • Reading time by:
    6 minutes
London Artist Makes a $1 Million + on Instagram sophie tea art

Sophie Tea shot to fame in 2017 after photos of her posing at Coachella with glitter, gems, and jewels stuck across her bare chest went viral. The 26-year-old artist managed to go from barely a cent to her name to creating a million dollar brand all through the power of social media.

Sophie graduated with a degree in Business Management from Aston University, Birmingham in 2016 and was due to start a prestigious graduate scheme as an analytical consultant in the autumn. However, while traveling in India in the summer of 2016 she was struck by the realisation that she wanted to become an artist instead. 

‘’I was travelling in India in the summer and I had run out of money. I was staying at a hostel in Jaipur with loads of graffiti on the wall so I asked the manager if I could paint in return for a free stay. He said yes and I painted a rainbow Cow (sacred in India). Honestly, I was so blown away with how good it was and how great it made me feel I knew that I needed to pursue a creative life.’’

Sophie posted the picture she painted on Facebook and it got a tons of likes and that’s when she began to get enquiries from friends and family about painting custom pieces of art, following on the animal theme. Social media is still the tool Sophie uses to push customers to her website to buy. 

However, Sophie remained unconvinced she could make money as an artist. She quickly noticed a gap in the market for people who wanted to buy art through social media but would never go into a gallery as it would be too intimidating and came up with the idea for an app that would connect buyers directly with artists. In early 2017 Sophie had a meeting with a potential investor but they encouraged her to pursue art herself. 

One of the interviewers said “Why don’t you just be an artist then? You’ve got all these figures, you’ve got a certain amount of commissions.” It was the first time she’d been validated by someone she really respected.

We all know becoming an artist means giving up a lot and starting from zero. For the first 18 months Sophie lived in a damp room where she couldn’t stretch her arms out in it was that small! She ate biscuits and shopped in the reduced section ONLY. Sophie would prioritise her passion over anything even over food!

Initially Sophie shared a studio space where she spent 15 hours a day, 7 days a week. She still works those hours but with 4 studios across London and Sydney. Sophie has always reinvested every single penny back into the business. She never minded being skint, She knew it was only temporary and she has enjoyed the graft to get to where she am today.

‘’I often get asked ‘do you make a living as an artist?’  by new people I meet. I don’t mind at all. I’m trying to shift the perception that just because you live a creative life, it doesn’t mean you are poor. When people ask me it means I need to work harder at changing peoples view. As I did not go to a prestigious art school, nor am I affiliated with a gallery. I am an outcast in the art world but I love it because I have zero obligation to do anything by the book. My biggest critics come from the art industry itself. I’m determined to break the old model where galleries take 50% commission and disrupt the industry. I’m completely independent as I hire by own team of 5 and we get to dictate how we run our business and spend our money.’’

Sophie is hosting her very first SOLO show in New York, TODAY, yes that’s right! For one night only and she would love to see you at her show ‘CELL OUT’ where she will present a collection of her abstract works. Click here to get your free tickets!

First of all, how did you get so far to make a million + from sharing your artwork on Instagram?

I produce work 16 hours a day, 7 days a week. As soon as I have completed a piece I post it to Instagram with its name, price, size and material. The first person to comment on the piece on Instagram will have the opportunity to buy it. I sometimes get as many as 40 comments in the first few seconds to buy a piece of work.

Can you tell us about the process of making your work

It is SUCH a fun process, meaning I get absolutely COVERED in paint everyday. I create large abstracts using acrylic paint, pouring medium, alcohol and silicon oil. I use a heat gun to manipulate the markings on the canvas. It’s a very physical and spontaneous work.

What piece of your artwork would you like to be remembered for?

I don’t think I’m yet to create the piece I want to be remembered for. I’m on a artistic journey and I always like my most recent work the most as it’s a reflection of how far I’ve come. 

Have you ever had a moment when you questioned your career entirely?

I go through, what I call ‘what am I doing with my life’ phases on a daily basis. Being an artist is so isolating and so much has to be sacrificed to do it well. Those moments of doubt only last until I push myself to get back to painting again. Then the feelings of love flood back reminding me WHY I took the risk.

How long have you been creating art before it has become your income and job? & What have you learned from this?

From the very first time I decided I wanted to be an artist in NYC back in 2016, was the time it became my sole income – though albeit a very small one! I think this has been one of the keys to my rapid success. I have assigned my entire life to persuade art from that moment. The very first studio I had was £112 a month and I shared it with another artist. She hated me as we were meant to share the space but I was there 15 hours a day!

The room I rented in London was damp and I couldn’t stretch my arms out in it. I’ve made huge sacrifices on my journey but the most important thing I’ve learned is that absolute focus on one specific goal is how to make a career out of art. No distractions, no excuses. Produce within your means to start with and build up from there.

For the artists and creatives, what are the rules to become radically successful as an artist?

I am completely ignorant to the traditional rules of the art world. This has been a deliberate choice because I’d prefer to do what I feel is right, rather than what an archaic industry says is right. 

I know many artists are afraid of posting their art without watermarks or covering it with pencils, but I’ve noticed you don’t do this. Have you had any issues in the past with people stealing your artwork? Do you think large watermarks can ruin the Instagram experience for your fans?

I never post watermarks. I operate in a trust arena. With my customers, with my suppliers and with fellow artists. Even if people are not buying into my work, I consider their online experience part of the impact of what I’m trying to create with my art. I do not want to diminish that experience by disturbing the images to protect them from fraud. The way I look at it, I would like to be at a point in my career where I can reach so many people, that if someone did decided to replicate my work, then people would know. This has already started to happen. 

Do you find that London’s culture inspires or influences your art?

Absolutely. London’s culture is fast-paced, vibrant, and diverse. I take inspiration from the places, the people, the personalities of each area that translates into my art and in turn the way I do business. 

As artists, it can be hard to post content that doesn’t come across as promotional. How do you get around this?

I’m very vocal about money and the fact that I’m running a business so for my brand, I rarely get comments about my posts being too promotional. I also believe that because I share every step of the process, not only the art they can buy, my followers feel involved in my art and my journey, even if they don’t want to buy anything. 

What’s next for you?

I’m having my first solo art show ‘Cell Out’ in NYC this week and I can’t wait. After that, I plan to continue to travel and exhibit around the world. The next medium I would like to explore is pencil sketches of women. 

Inspired? Don’t miss Sophie’s very first SOLO show today (May 15th) in New York! She would love to see you at her show ‘CELL OUT’ where she will present a collection of her abstract works. Click here to get your free tickets!

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