Fashion To Fast Paced Street Artist: Sophi Odling
Sophi Odling is a multi-talented street artist and muralist from Sydney, Australia, who has been flexing her skills on the street art scene since 2016.
After a fruitful career in fashion, Sophi took the leap to pursue her artistic dreams where she discovered a love for painting murals. In just three years, Sophi has travelled to America, Central America and Asia as an artist for festivals and commissions. She has been painting walls all over Sydney, and she is headed to Brisbane soon to paint for the Brisbane Street Art Festival.
As Sophi tells us on the Street Art Unearthed podcast, she is someone that is completely non-stop once she gets going. This is pretty damn evident when you begin to look at all she has accomplished in just a few short years.
Sophi is someone we are confident will be filling walls around the world for a long time. It was a pleasure to have her on the podcast, listen to her experiences over the last few years and get some advice from her for other artists on how to create without letting external influences cramp your style.
Check out the podcast with Sophi below, or read on for excerpts from our conversation.
Keeping Busy Through COVID
I was pretty lucky. Doing what we do with street art, it’s pretty self-isolating. So I was actually already doing a massive project before COVID happened, and I continued to work on that through the heaviest part of COVID. I was able to paint my way through.
I did a really big one in Alexandria. That took five weeks — a pretty good amount of time to spend up in a lift with no one around.
COVID has actually given me a bit of a break, which is nice. It’s forced me to slow down a bit.
Me as a personality, I throw myself into my work, and I’m non-stop when I get going.
Artistic Education to Fashion Career
I was in fashion from 2000 for 14 years, and I was always an artist.
I majored in Art in high school, I studied at COFA (now UNSW Art & Design) in Paddington, and I majored in Painting. But when I finished my degree, I wasn’t really ready to be an artist full time. I wanted to develop skills in learning how to run a business. I’d also casually started working in fashion while I was studying and that was really something that attracted me, so I just started going down that path and worked my way up in the fashion houses pretty quickly, and developed as well. I loved it.
I worked for different Australian fashion houses in the operations side and the National Retail Management side, so I learned a lot about business and different facets of how it all works. While I was doing that, I still needed a creative outlet, so I was painting a little bit on canvas, and I had an accessories label that I launched while living in Tokyo in 2009. Which I then brought home to Australia and continued to produce for three or four years. They were handbags and men’s overnight bags.
The design aspect was something that really interested me, so I did that, and then from that, I also started to develop my own prints for linings and stuff. That was very much on the side.
I had my first bub, Hunter, in 2014. When I had her, it was life-changing. The fashion industry is pretty intense. You’re very dedicated to it, and you work a lot of intense hours. She just became a priority for me, so I took a break and my husband, who is so amazing, suggested that maybe this is the time that I can focus on my art, and so I did that.
In 2016 I decided to give it a year and throw everything I could into it. Now here we are.
2016 was the year for me where I really had to figure out what my style was. It’s one of the most frustrating things because everyone is always like “you’ve got to have a distinctive style, that’s who you’ll be” and at that point I hadn’t been creating that much, so it was really challenging to step away from a commercial approach and actually just really bring out the creativity.
Finding Artistic Flow
I got a studio in St Peters, which was great, and then I went and did an artist residency in Chiang Mai. Being a mum and having a child, it’s very hard to have a lot of time to really give all of your attention to creative development. When you have a little kid, you might have an hour here and there, so that artist residency gave me a lot of flow. While I was there, they had a wall there, and I wanted to paint it and have a play, and that’s kind of when I decided I want to paint walls.
This particular residency was linked with a school in the countryside in Chiang Mai. There was an educational aspect where I had to do some workshops with the kids, and then there was the development side where I could develop whatever work I wanted to. I did some canvas works, and then I did the mural there, which was also a collaboration with the art students.
I walked away from there, completely refreshed. It was exactly what I needed to clear my head from everyday life and figure out where I wanted to go.
Developing a Style
Because it’s only been a few years, you can see that my style isn’t the same. The only constant is the vibrant colours that I use. The development has been quite skill-based. For example, the first mural that I did was in Bondi, and that was done with all housepaint and brush, and it took me ten days in 40-degree heat. It was intense.
I definitely didn’t want to do that again, so I wanted to learn how to use spray paint.
My next wall was painting with some other artists in Marrickville, and I just kept learning and learning. A lot of my earlier murals and street art is pretty geometric, and that is based on my skill set. Over the years I’ve learned to use cans a lot better, and I’ve been able to do different types of detailing with that.
When I see vacant walls, that’s really exciting. Painting with cans feels great and is a lot of fun to play with.
I got invited to paint on Kensington Street, Chippendale, as part of the Chinese New Year, and that was where I got to meet a lot of other artists who really helped me develop my skills. It was great. It was the first group of artists I got to meet since taking the steps in this direction.
Momentum and Learning Curves
I was introduced to Stayfly Sydney, which is a community that supports female artists of all backgrounds and skills: from street art to music. They’re awesome. Iresh, who runs it, she is great at introducing artists to opportunities and collaborations, so that is where things started to roll and I got to meet people and play.
Things just started to pop up. I did a lot of commission work and commercial work.
I did this thing which was a part of Vivid Sydney in Chatswood. It was pushing the boundaries for me. The artwork was set across this set of stairs, and it was pretty big — maybe 20–30 metres long. The challenge was that it was stairs and the application… they wanted me to create them as paste-ups. So I had to spray paint these giant 2-metre artworks and then slice them up and then apply them to the front of the stairs using wheat paste, which I’d never done before.
It was a lot of hard work, sweat and tears that went into it. I was happy with the end result, and I learnt a lot from that process.
I think learning curves are in the creative process and also dealing with clients and council and everyone’s expectations of you as an artist. I’ve taken out of that experience and really know my boundaries now of what is worth doing.
Travelling is great. I’ve always been a traveller anyway but to be able to draw inspiration from that and be able to go and contribute creatively to areas on my travels is amazing. It’s ideal, really.
I usually go by myself. When I went to Nicaragua, I took the family. I was pregnant at that time. We went through America and Nicaragua with Hunter, and it was so good, she even helped me paint a little bit.
That was in the first year, in 2017, and this guy had contacted me through Instagram, and I thought “it sounds a bit sketchy, I don’t know…” but then he emailed me, and I checked his stuff out. He was a Canadian guy who set up a little surf hotel in Nicaragua, and he was flying between Canada and there setting it up.
After a lot of umming and ahhing I bit the bullet, decided to go and left four days after that decision was made. It was the best. I’m so glad I did it. It was such a great experience. We were there for two weeks, and the guy had vacated this place for me to paint as I wanted to paint over those weeks. That was fun.
Social media has been amazing for exposure. I get a lot of enquiries through Instagram. Nothing as random as that one but I do get a lot of work through it.
Creating on Canvas
I did a solo show in 2018. It was a month before my second child, Phoenix, was born. Nothing like a deadline! I created about 18–20 pieces, and I was in an extremely maternal stage.
It was a lot of portraits. Again, it was skill-based at the time. I wanted to use spray paint on canvas and really experiment with that. I wanted to bring what I had learnt by painting walls onto canvas.
I did a lot of stencil work and a lot of portraits, and it was called Kingdom Builders, and it was based on all these little human beings and all of these great things that they could be.
I’ve started, over the past few weeks, doing some canvas works. I hadn’t done any since then. My style has changed a lot, and I have so many ideas in my head that I’ve always wanted to experiment with, and I’m starting to do that in the studio.
I would say my style has now crossed between abstract and photorealism and I am really looking at the balance of that and the direction that I want to balance that.
My last couple of murals reflect that, and I want to take it a lot deeper.
Advice to Other Artists
The thing that I found that worked best for me, not only for my street art but also my label: there are a lot of different opinions out there, and it can make it very confusing for you and your creative process when people have a lot of input… My advice is always to go with your vision and what feels right for you. I get the best results and the best reactions when I apply that to my work.
You can get confused when you have a lot of noise and opinions coming in. If you can stay true to yourself, I find the rewards come best.
Written using excerpts from the latest podcast with Sophi Odling.
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