We had the good fortune of connecting with Sophie Mo and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Sophie, what is the most important factor behind your success?
I think it was mostly my desire to gain both financial and creative independence and my work ethic – which is an outcome of said desire. I always try to tap into different things and grow myself in multiple disciplines, it keeps me mentally stimulated, as well as oftentimes times I find those various experiences can interact with each other quite well! Or at least affect each other, like taking a source from one media and incorporating it in another, or taking inspiration from one piece and letting it influence something completely different. I try and research my sources as much as I possibly can within the given time frame, and study every brief I get.
Another thing, and as cliche as it sounds, one of the key factors is just being nice and respectful. Kindness and consideration will always take you further places than ignorance and arrogance ever will. Keeping a positive working environment and good communication has really helped build so many connections, and gain regular clients – both in illustration work and tattooing. Success sometimes can be a poison for one’s ego, so I always try to be aware of that and be grateful for every opportunity I get.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I try really hard not to compare myself to others and it is still something I haven’t quite managed to fully get away from – for me it isn’t about how to separate myself from everyone else, but how to produce quality work and do something that in this day and age is somehow different I guess. Everything’s been invented, but I try to give it my own spin. I want people to look at a project and think ‘hey, it must be Sophie!’, even if the subject of my work has been done (either tattooed or drawn) a million times before. Which, admittedly, it probably has.
I pride myself in my work ethic, but it is also my biggest enemy. I determine my self-worth by my productivity a lot more than I should. I was doubted by teachers in school and university a lot, so have always had that little bit of extra willpower to prove to people that I could actually sustain a living by being an artist. I’m quite a greedy person when it comes to work and really struggle to say no to things, or they seem too exciting to turn down! Although sometimes that would include projects that would take up time that I could invest in myself and my progress, find ways for things to be a bit more challenging. Sticking with what’s familiar and is financially comfortable can be really inviting, but I try not to do it as much anymore – but it did take time to get to the point where I can allow myself to be selective. I’m still learning to navigate my way around this in a healthy way.
I don’t really think I have a particularly ‘special’ story – I’m a kid who felt like an outcast growing up, and found being creative and expressing it through drawing to be the closest to having a sense of peace and comfort. Most artists I’ve met had a similar experience. I’m doing my very best to make the hard work pay off after being told so many times that there isn’t a way to sustain a living being an artist full-time.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Ahh I love giving people little London tours! I’ve lived here for about ten years, and about seven of those in Hackney, East London, and it really is a place to be and/or visit if you’re ever in town!
One of my all-time favourite dive bar Blondies would pretty much always come first, so I’d go there for a margarita to start with, followed by a trip to Viktor Wynd’s Museum of Curiosities – the weirdest place ever, I love it. Stuff there ranges from some incredible taxidermy and lots of macabre bits to Russell Brand’s pubes (yes, you read that correctly). I love bringing people there, it’s always a little bit of a ‘what the..’. And it has a great absinthe bar, which is handy so you can sit down and ‘unpack’ all the things you just saw.
I would also try and take them to a gig, so many great independent venues around. Some of my personal favourites in this area are The Shacklewell Arms, MOTH Club, The Lexington, The Victoria, The Sebright Arms. Most of these are also just great pubs and would make up for a fun little crawl!
Food wise, My Neighbours the Dumplings is one of my favourite places to eat ever, you can probably guess the theme from its name, and it has the cutest decor. Brilliant Corners in Dalston is great (asian fusion), as well as Del 74 (tacos and margarita jugs!). My friends over at From The Ashes are based in Hackney Wick – they make the best pork doughnuts. I did their logo so always nice to show that off to friends who visit! If you like fried chicken, look no further than Coqfighter (they have multiple sites across the city). Me and Troy, one of its founders, used to be housemates when I was at uni, and boys had started their business by doing pop-ups in pubs across East London. Always brings me joy to see how far they’ve come, and how good that fried chicken still is (they also have a great vegan burger option).
Satan’s Whiskers, Happiness Forgets, or High Water for cocktails! Satan’s Whiskers is probably my all-time favourite.
If that’s your thing, get tattooed while you’re in town. So much talent in London! And so many tattooers that have been influential (if not detrimental) to the industry over the last couple of decades in itself are still working in the city. And plenty of younger/newer artists! A lot of them would probably require to pre-book rather than try and get something on a whim, so that’s something to have in mind. I’d really recommend looking into Parliament (of course), Old Habits, Dharma, The Circle, Aura Ninety Four, Sang Bleu, Red Point Tattoo, Seven Doors, Only Here For You, Yours Truly London, Frith St Tattoo, Good Times. There are so many great ones – this is only a fraction, but you can find lots more through Instagram or just a quick google.
Culture wise – endless museums! Try and catch one of the Tate Late events if you can, but also definitely pay the museum in itself a visit. The National Gallery, V&A, Saatchi Gallery, Royal Academy of Arts. Most of them are central so easy to try and get a couple in one day.
Honestly, I could keep going with this list for paragraphs on end, I love food and a good pub/bar hang so much, and East London is the best place for it. You also get to meet so many fun people! I met some of my now closest friends just from my locals, nights out at gigs and getting tattooed.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
So many! Firstly, a person who gave me the platform that I have and the space to let myself grow that is Palriament Tattoo, Nicola Mary Wyatt, I would have not been here if it wasn’t for her giving me the opportunity. She also has her own clothing brand which half my closet consists of called Mary Wyatt London. Everyone I work with at Parliament and people who let me work in their shops and learn while doing so (Tooth and Talon in Manchester, Oath Breaker in Kent, and hopefully many more to come).
I love collaborating with people and creating cool stuff together, so big shoutout goes to one of my favourite bands Saint Agnes whose merch I’ve worked on a couple of times, and who had one of my artworks as their background/banner drop on Download Pilot’s festival’s main stage! That was crazy to see. Me and those guys always hype each other up.
My first and one of my favourite and probably most impactful projects I worked on up to date is contributing my artwork to redecorating Andaz Hotel in London through Conran and Partners. It is an architecture and interior design practice (an excellent one), and they looked after me so well. That project gave me such a strong start in my early career, couldn’t thank them enough – especially Tina Norden, who brought me on board. Fun fact: I met her when I worked at a coffee shop while still being at uni, she and her partner were regulars and we always had such great chats. One day I showed her my work and this happened. Imagine if I was a grumpy waitress! That hotel re-vamp and my name had online coverage and has been mentioned in Harpers Bazaar, Wallpaper*, and so many more. Mad.
Also Little White Lies, a movie magazine I used to work for – it was my very first job within a media agency (TCO London), and it feels like that’s what really pushed me further. I got to do my first magazine cover with them last year, which definitely has been a huge tick off my check box. I have also designed and illustrated my first book whilst working there!
Big shoutout goes to Michael Fordham, who has been guiding me through many things throughout my design journey over years, and I couldn’t thank him enough for the opportunities and his mentorship. He was an editorial and creative lead at TCO, and even after we both have left the agency he’s been up to some really great stuff.
photos of me are by Derek Bremner