If you're an animal lover, or a lover of art on unusual canvasses (or any type of art in fact!), have we got a blog for you!
I recently spied Sophie Thurlow's wonderful paintings of animals on teabags... yes, you heard me correctly, teabags... and at that very moment I knew we had to discover more, feature Sophie's work on Somerset cool and ask her four questions we thought you'd love to know the answers to. So, sit back with a cuppa (it'd be totally rude not to, considering), learn more about these unique artworks and a little bit more about the artist behind them.
1. Sophie, can you tell us about the inspirations behind your creations?
I have a great love for art, nature, wildlife, and animals and felt if I could combine all of these it would be wonderful. I wanted to find local charities to support through my artwork. I already worked for Prickles Hedgehog Rescue so they were, not surprisingly, one of my chosen charities, but I also felt drawn to support a dog rescue charity by painting dogs. I contacted Holly Hedge Animal Sanctuary to see if we could visit the dogs and take some reference photos for a series of paintings. They kindly allowed myself and my son (a keen photographer and artist himself) to visit. Four dogs in particular really stood out to me –
mother and daughter Staffordshire Bull Terriers, both really friendly dogs, keen to be made a fuss of and always ready for a treat!
Then there was Smiler, a little pug with a truly heart-breaking expression.
Finally, there was Aslan, a high-spirited Saluki.
I enjoyed painting all four of these dogs and the two Staffie paintings were shown as part of the North Somerset Arts 20x20 exhibition, with one selling during the exhibition.
Since then, I've had commissions from pet owners for teabag portraits and through my sales, I donate a proportion back to support the wonderful work of Holly Hedge and/or Prickles Hedgehog Rescue. I donate a pet portrait commission to Holly Hedge’s regular Online Auctions, and I'm taking part in their online auction again this Christmas.
Last year, I painted a gibbon on a teabag as part of Explorers Against Extinction Sketch for Survival. I was overjoyed when it was selected to be part of the touring exhibition around the country. All proceeds from the sales were for their charity and the wonderful work they do. It was so good to know that something I had created had gone on to help wildlife in danger.
This year I've also been keeping a nature journal – my teabag art has featured within this too. My husband has been recording the sounds of nature on our walks and when I upload my journal to my Instagram page, these sounds are uploaded so you can be immersed in the sights and sounds of our walks.
2. When and why did you decide to paint on teabags and what are the challenges?
I love Lucy Dawson’s (Mac) and Cecil Aldin’s wonderful portraits of dogs and the way in which the character of each dog really comes through. The aged look of the surfaces they're drawn on really help the white highlights to pop.
I'd been experimenting with various surfaces for my art to capture this aged look, but new paper just didn’t have that same character. It was then that I discovered Ruby Silvious and her beautiful teabag art. As I researched further, I found a whole community of teabag artists out there, all over the world. This, I thought, might be a way of giving that aged quality to my paintings.
Painting on teabags does come with some challenges. Firstly, they're extremely fragile and tear very easily. Any under drawings have to be done lightly. Secondly, the colour of the tea itself can transfer into the paint, so it can alter any shade of paint applied. Finally, the nature of the teabag is incredibly absorbent so quickly sucks up any washes of paint. It usually takes quite a few layers of paint before everything seems to stabilise.
Within my teabag paintings of the rescue dogs, I incorporate gold in some form - whether that is in the label string, the background, or a stitched thread through the teabag. This is to symbolise Kintsugi, the Japanese art where broken pottery was taken and repaired with gold, making it even more beautiful than before. The gold within my paintings symbolises this and how many of the rescue dogs were broken... but by being rescued they were each given a second chance to live a whole and happy life, hopefully even better than before.
3. If you could have a cuppa with any other artist (from now or throughout history) who would it be and why?
Oh, that’s such a difficult question! There are so many I would want to choose! Can I have a tea party? If I could, I think I would start with Lucy Dawson and Cecil Aldin to chat about their love of painting dogs and to share techniques. I would invite Beatrix Potter, a great inspiration to me and whose art I have loved since a little girl. David Shepherd, who I’ve admired not only for his fabulous wildlife art but for all he has given back to conservation through his artwork. I would also invite the Pre-Raphaelites whose art is astounding and who I think would bring quite a conversation to the table. Finally, the graffiti artist Stik – his characters create such feeling with a few excellently placed lines. He brings a social conscience to his art, whilst working alongside charities and I think he would bring a contemporary conversation to the table. That would be a great tea party!
4. Tell us a secret about your artwork that no-one else knows.
Oh wow. Again, a great question. Probably my answer would be that I cannot actually drink most teas, despite using them as a canvas! I was brought up on tea from a very young age but unfortunately, I can’t seem to tolerate caffeine anymore. When you see my art, quite often the tea bags are decaf. Any other types have been enjoyed by my husband.
Ahhh, it was so lovely discovering more about Sophie and her incredible art on teabags. Rescue dogs are close to our hearts here at Somerset cool of course, so it was amazing to find out what inspired Sophie and how she helps to raise funds for two brilliant charities.
There might've been a tear in my eye with the mention of including gold in Sophie's paintings of rescue dogs, and I'd say Sophie has a heart of gold, as well as a very special creative talent.