Have you ever wondered how artists stay creative? Sophie Tea explains how her exercise routine helps her paint.
How times have changed. The novelty wore off, we put down the paintbrushes and now things feel pretty dark and overwhelming – it’s no real surprise if you feel like you’ve come to a creative standstill.
That’s not the case for Sophie Tea – one of the internet’s favourite artists. Though she’d been painting for years before lockdown, it was during Covid that her work began to go viral – you couldn’t scroll for seeing her signature celestial coloured paintings of the female body.
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Over the past few years, her artwork has continued to impress. She’s now opened a gallery slap bang in the centre of London on Carnaby Street and has paintings that sell for five figures. What has kept her creating exciting, insightful art through the monotony of pandemic life? Working out.
“It’s something I’ve started doing in the past few years – I think it’s maybe a part of getting older – putting more focus on looking after your body and your health. But I have found it works so much to fuel my creativity in the studio,” she says. In fact, movement has been so crucial to her she’s now an ambassador for Adidas. “I have a personal trainer so we do a lot of weight training together and I will run a lot to help improve my endurance. I like doing it first thing in the morning, and always with the promise of coffee after.”
Of course, it’s not always easy for her to maintain that routine – but when it slips, she notices the difference in her creative streak. “I always section off my artworks into eras, and as I’m closing off the body positivity and confidence era now, I’m really struggling to find what I’m going to say next as an artist and I’m putting a lot of pressure on myself.
“Do you know why I feel like I’m struggling? Because I’ve just been in London partying and out of my exercise routine. Now I’m back to Australia and a bit more grounded; I hope that it is going to fuel my next process.”
Fitness for creativity
On a basic level, Sophie says she needs that fitness level to be able to create her artwork. “A lot of my art is very physical – I work on huge canvases and I need that endurance to be able to remain productive all day. I also tend to be running around the studio and often throw paint onto canvases. In that way, exercise is just so important for me to keep on top of my game,” she explains.
Exercise for thought
Though exercise might be physical, the mental benefits of it include thought and emotional processing. Rarely can we be creative with a busy, swirling head full of distractions. That’s why Sophie uses her workouts as a time to slow down – especially after her sudden rise to fame.
“I feel like my life is so hectic and there’s so much crazy and weird stuff going on in my head all the time. I now have a team of 20 working across London and Sydney so running is the only time that I have completely to myself. I can zone out for once,” she says.
Crucially, it’s not a time she tries to think about art or force creativity. “I think about my painting and I think about my job 24/7 – I can’t get it off my mind. But when I’m exercising, that’s about me. It resets me. I am calm when I run, but then I am buzzing afterwards, so I can crash back into my work and not feel overwhelmed.”
Building a better relationship with her body
Movement has helped her be more in touch with her own body so that she can celebrate the female form that appears in most of her artwork.
“I’ve not had the best relationship with my body in the past, to be honest. I always hated my boobs and I think that body confidence has been a huge issue for me. That’s why I’ve always wanted to paint – it’s a cathartic or therapeutic activity to help me come to terms with my own negative thoughts,” she says.
Exercise has helped her work through those issues too, helping her realise that “my body is strong, and it’s not all about aesthetics”, she says. “I do it for how I feel, rather than how I look, and that’s been a huge change.”
She believes that her newfound self-love makes her a better artist – and has helped empower more women. When she decided to paint nudes, she looked up images of women online to be greeted by “porn images”. Deciding that wasn’t the realistic, relatable images of women she wanted to paint, she asked her followers if anyone would want to share their images with her.
“Overnight, I had 1,000 nude images sent to my Instagram with incredible stories about why they wanted to be featured,” she says. “It just made me realise that our bodies are our tools to help you live your best life and it was the most liberating thing. It’s why I try to make all of my art inclusive and diverse.”
The best exercise for creativity
As Sophie pointed out, a strong body means a strong mind. And that self-esteem boost can go a long way; studies show that confidence and creativity are intrinsically interlinked, so feeling strong is a great way to improve your art.
Sophie prefers running down the Australian beaches, and who wouldn’t? But a 2021 study shows that very vigorous physical activity (like running) is associated with increased markers of creativity, including fluency and originality.
The same study showed that even walking was enough to have creative benefits. In fact, any increase in daily movement leads to enhanced creativity. And it doesn’t matter where it’s done, according to a 2014 Stanford University paper that showed even treadmill walking helped people feel more inspired.
Chloe Gray is the senior writer for stylist.co.uk's fitness brand Strong Women. When she's not writing or lifting weights, she's most likely found practicing handstands, sipping a gin and tonic or eating peanut butter straight out of the jar (not all at the same time).