The millennial entrepreneur who helped launch the ‘glitter boobs’ phenomenon is now a successful artist selling work on Instagram.
Sophie Tea, 26, of Manchester, became an online sensation in 2017 after a photos of her posing at Coachella with glitter, gems and jewels stuck across her bare chest went viral.
At the time she was being commissioned to paint animals but after the glitter boob snap blew up Sophie saw her followers – and art business – boom.
Her work, which typically costs between £400 and £2,000, is now snapped up within seconds of being posted on Instagram and Sophie has made £15,000 in the last two days alone.
She now has her sights set on growing her reach, and is on track to turnover £1million this year.
Sophie Tea, 26, of Manchester, became an online sensation in 2017 after a photos (pictured) of her posing at Coachella with glitter scattered across her bare chest went viral. She is now a successful artist who has made thousands selling her paintings through Instagram
Sophie’s work, which typically costs between £400 and £2,000, is now snapped up within seconds of being posted on Instagram and she has made £15,000 in the last two days alone. Pictured, the artist strikes a pose in front of a solo exhibition of her work in August 2018
Though she says she’s always loved art, the 26 year old said that she was convinced she couldn’t have a career as an artist as she wouldn’t make any money. Pictured, Sophie juggling paint pots and supplies in her studio
Sophie, pictured in her studio, is set to hit a turnover of £1million in the next 12 months
Sophie graduated with a degree in Business Management from Birmingham Aston University in 2016 and was due to start a prestigious graduate scheme as an analytical consultant in the autumn.
However while travelling in India that summer she was struck by the realisation that she wanted to become an artist instead.
Speaking to FEMAIL, Sophie, who has 51,000 followers, explained art had been her favourite subject in school but she gave it up after her GCSEs.
‘I also had a brain and I was pushed into thinking you shouldn’t be an artist because you won’t make any money,’ she said.
That summer in India Sophie, then aged 22, offered to paint a mural for a hostel in exchange for a free stay.
‘It was the first time I had painted in like six years,’ Sophie continued. ‘I painted a huge colorful cow mural as they’re holy in India.’
It was at that moment that she decided to quit the graduate scheme she was due to start in less than two weeks, and abandon her plans to move to London to pursue a career in art.
A trip to Coachella ended up being a turning point in Sophie’s career, as a topless photo of her covered in glitter went viral, with Ellen DeGeneres’s featuring it on her show
‘I phoned my dad and said,”do you mind if I move home to become an artist?” I think at first my parents were a bit shocked, but they were so supportive.’
When she returned from India and moved in with her parents, Sophie uploaded a photo of the colorful cow mural onto Facebook. Friends and family quickly responded asking her to paint their pets.
‘Someone would ask me to paint a blue dog, that kind of thing. I made a bit of a name for myself painting these colourful animals, because it was a bit of a niche.’
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 she flew to New York for a meeting with a potential investor but they encouraged her to pursue art herself.
Love Island star Camilla Thurlow and Sophie with her original paintings, which she began painting in 2016. The Love Island star has championed Sophie’s work
When terrorists attacked the Ariana Grande concert in Sophie’s hometown of Manchester, the artist wanted to raise money to support the victims. She created a bee that attracted the attention of Grande’s publicist, who asked if it could be embroidered on a jacket for the star
‘They gave me the confidence to go for it, so I scrapped the app and decided to become an artist,’ Sophie said.
She started Googling art studios while in a New York airport and, as soon as she landed in London, took a taxi to the first one on the list
‘I took the tiniest art studio in Wimbledon Art Studio. There are over 200 other artists in the building – and I’m the youngest by about 10 years.
‘I was already building my business through social media, so I just continued there. I’m able to self promote more than a gallery could through social media. I’m always gradually increasing my prices and working to capacity.’
Because Sophie doesn’t work with galleries – who can take a 50 per cent commission and often represent multiple artists – she was able to keep 100 per cent of money made from her paintings and reinvest it into her business.
But by mid-2017, Sophie was struggling, and jumping at every opportunity to grow her business.
It was then she was approached by Jenna Meek, a friend-of-a-friend who was then setting up her body jewellery brand Gypsy Shrine, now a global business with a string of A-list fans, and wanted another artist to help apply body jewels at festivals.
Sophie continued: ‘While at Coachella, we had the glitter boobs idea. We just took off our tops and put loads of glitter on our boobs. It’s actually a bit embarrassing now but my followers boomed after that.’
The Glitter Boobs picture went viral, catapulting Sophie’s followers and drawing the attention of celebrities including Ellen Degeneres.
The 26 year old, pictured in her studio, said it can depend on her mood how many paintings she’s able to produce, but she often works 15 hour days, 7 days a week
Sophie became interested in abstract art in 2017, which she says is more scalable and freeing than her original animal paintings. Pictured, Sophie surrounded by work in her studio
Weeks later, when terrorists attacked the Ariana Grande concert in Sophie’s hometown of Manchester, the artist was determined to raise money to support the victims. She painted a huge colorful bee canvas, and auctioned it off for £2,500.
The striking design drew the attention of Grande’s publicist, who asked if he could have the bee embroidered onto a jacket for the star’s birthday, further raising Sophie’s profile.
She continued selling her colorful animals through Instagram, catching the attention of Love Island star Camilla Thurlow.
Mid-way through last year Sophie began to feel restrained by the animal paintings and found she was more interested in abstract art.
So Sophie started the #100DayAbstractChallenge, which saw her post one piece of original art every day at 8pm for 100 days and said the first person to comment ‘buy’ would be able to buy it. She sold each piece for £250.
Sophie has sold over 1,000 original paintings, and has just starting the second 100 day abstract art challenge. Pictured, the artist in her studio with one of her creations
She said: ‘Obviously at first I messaged all my friends to comment on the posts to create a buzz and traction. But it snowballed so quickly and soon as I was selling paintings within seconds. I gained ten thousand followers in six months.’
On the final day of the challenge in September, Sophie claims 30 people commented on the painting within in the first two seconds of her post.
‘That’s when I decided to open a link, putting the prices up and offering the painting for 100 hours. Over 300 people signed up and ordered paintings.’
Now she has sold over 1,000 original paintings, and has just starting the second 100 day abstract art challenge.
Sophie said it depends on her mood how many paintings she’s able to produce in a day, and describes working 15 hour days 7 days a week in order to keep her business growing.
Sophie’s payment plan allows first time buyers to purchase her art at a much lower price, and pay for the pieces month by month. Though it requires a huge level of trust, Sophie says she’s never had anyone not pay. Pictured, the artist looks at two of her recent works
‘I don’t have a work-life balance at all. I don’t think switching off is a thing for anyone with a business as I’m constantly concerned and worried about things – especially because now I’m employing four staff and I have my studio.
‘Sometimes I can paint two or three pieces in a day, while other days it may be a whole week.’
The 26-year-old is also trying to attract customers around her own age by offering payment plans that allow buyers to pay in monthly installments.
Sophie says that since introducing the new payment plan, her paintings sell out within seconds and she is on course to turnover £1 million this year.
She added: ‘I’ve never had anyone not pay me. I really believe in karma, and in the three years I’ve been doing this, nobody has done anything bad to me.’
Though she’s enjoying working on abstract art at the moment, which she describes as ‘really hot’, Sophie maintains that part of what attracts her to being an artist is the ability to change and evolve.
‘As a business woman you have to jump on all opportunities. The beauty of being an artist is I could do something totally ridiculous one day and then be like “Oh well I was 22” and move on.’
‘Glitterati’ Sophie Tea’s solo art exhibition in collaboration with The Gypsy Shrine will take place on Tuesday 19th and Wednesday 20th February 2019 at White Space, Leicester Square. Please visit www.SophieTeaArt.com for more details.