Interview with body positivity artist, Isabelle Sophia (Part Two)
In the second part of our exclusive interview with Isabelle Sophia, we’re shifting gears and focusing squarely on the artist’s fabulous body positive creations! During our conversation, we find out why Issy is intent on creating more representative art, the ways her commissions are helping people feel good about themselves, the reactions to her work both online and in person, and more!
Last week, we kicked off our special interview with Isabelle by discussing some of her early beginnings as an artist, before shifting gears and moving onto the topics of sex and sexuality, the challenges Issy faced growing up in the Middle East, and the reasons why attending a naked party and opening her mind up to naturist experiences have helped shaped Issy’s philosophy and outlook on life (if you missed it first time around, click here).
Today, in part two, we’re getting to find out how all this comes together and translates onto the canvas, and Issy provides some really fascinating insight into her working process along with the goals and objectives that her incredible art seeks to achieve. We won’t spoil too much, but her desire to create better representation seems to be a big driving force behind her work at present, and we’re really excited to see where this leads to in the future.
Considering the nature of Issy’s art and the nudity element that features so prominently, once we had completed our interview, we headed over to the nearby Stockwood Nature Reserve where Issy bravely participated in our latest nude body positivity photoshoot! The artist is very keen to practice what she preaches, and the images from the day – which you’ll find sprinkled around both parts of this special interview – really demonstrate just how comfortable Issy feels in her own skin, and they’re undoubtedly one of the finest examples of joyful nudity we could have asked for.
Issy and I were overwhelmed by the positive reaction we received to part one of our feature last week (with both the images and the interview itself receiving some really great feedback), and I’d like to say a big thank you to Isabelle not only for her involvement on the day, but for her enthusiasm throughout this special collaboration and all her help with piecing this together. I feel very fortunate to be able to feature such an incredibly talented, body confident artist here on the pages on Britain Uncovered, and it was a real treat having her involved!
Without any further ado, let’s get stuck into the conversation and pick up where we left off!
Britain Uncovered: When you first opened your art account on Instagram you went by the name ‘Inanna Creative’ – but at the end of August, you officially rebranded yourself as 'Isabelle Sophia Art'. How did the Inanna name come about to begin with, and what prompted you to change things up a little over a month ago?
Isabelle: Inanna was a bad-ass Mesopotamian goddess who was the goddess of sex, love and political warfare – and I just thought this was really fitting. I do think that my work as a feminist and my activism in my daily life has really fuelled all my art, and I think it’s all intertwined with politics too. I’m not going to get into all of it, but I just felt it was really fitting! Inanna represented sexuality, but also intimacy and love, and I just found her to be a really powerful female figure.
At the time, I had been creating quite a lot of digital art, and I thought I’d just set up an Etsy and start selling a few of my digital prints and things like that. But my partner knew I’d been doing quite a lot of paintings and said, “I don’t know why you’re just selling your digital stuff, you should do more painting for it too,” and he actually got me my easel and encouraged me to do more.
I started doing more painting and kept the name on, despite people reaching out to me thinking it was pronounced a different way [“In-anna”, as opposed to the correct “In-arna”]. Overall, it was fine for those who reached out wanting paintings who already knew me; but for people who didn’t know me, I just wanted to take a little bit more ownership of it, and actually have a name that I can continue painting under that’s entirely mine.
Britain Uncovered: It’s been great looking around and seeing all your art dotted around the house whilst we’ve been speaking, and I’m sure much of this will be available at your stall when you’re participating in the M32 Flea Market at the weekend! I saw via your Instagram feed that you also had a stand here back in April too – have you attended quite a few of these now?
Isabelle: The one in April was actually the first one I did, and having just done art through an online platform, it was really nice to suddenly see and identify with the people that were enjoying my art, and I loved it. It was a little market stall in Easton, which is a particularly open, liberal space in Bristol, and really inclusive, and I think there’s a certain type of person that lives there. So it’s definitely a bit of a bubble, but I was just at my stall and families were walking past and kids were saying “Oh look, butts”, and the parents were like, “Look, there’s boobies too”! It was just this really wholesome interaction.
Britain Uncovered: Through Instagram we’re so used to seeing this type of empowering, nude artwork, but at a public market like the M32 I'm sure there are people walking by who aren’t at all familiar with this type of art, and there must be a real mix of reactions! But it’s reassuring to hear that the feedback has been mostly positive?
Isabelle: I think people that approach me want more erotic art, and I’m all about embracing our sexualities and us as sexual beings, but that’s not what I want my platform to be. I want it to be proud and desexualising to an extent, but I don’t want it to be completely non-sexual – I want it to be sexual on the terms of whomever’s body it is. I want people to feel ‘empowered objectification’ in a way, and for them to be able to objectify their bodies on their own terms.
Women have had their bodies objectified time and time again by society and have grown up feeling like sexual objects, so it’s great being able to create naked art in a desexualised environment and for the model to be able to say, “That is my body, that is really beautiful and if I want that to be objectified then that can be done on my own terms.” I do get people reach out who want paintings for their partners, so there’s obviously the potential for there to be a sexual nature to it, but just because that interaction between the painting, the partner and themselves is perhaps a sexual interaction, it doesn’t make the painting inherently sexual.
What I don’t like is when people approach me and think that just because I paint naked women, it’s erotica.
Britain Uncovered: The perception from the viewer towards this type of art is such an important element, but several body positivity artists I’ve spoken with have explained to me that, due to the nature of their art, they often receive unsolicited and inappropriate messages about their work – and many viewers will assume that this style of art is an invitation to send lewd and sexually-charged messages to the artists, making all kinds of assumptions. Is this something that you have experienced also?
Isabelle: It’s been very positive so far, and I follow a lot of accounts that do feature erotic art and I think it’s beautiful. But I think it’s disgusting that people are reaching out to these amazing artists just because they’re creating this sexual space, and they think that’s an invitation to send abuse or sexual comments; and it’s really just abuse. It’s not nice and is totally unwarranted.
I love open conversations around sex and sexuality, but I think by making my art desexualised, it has allowed the people I’ve done commissions for to feel very comfortable. A lot of the time I’m just a stranger to them, and we’ll have a phone call and they will send their photos over, and just by saying to them, “This is a totally desexualised space, I just want you to see your body through somebody else’s eyes”, the process is really, really fun. And I always say, “There’s no rush, take the photo at your own pace, and you can change it if you’d like to. Just sit down with yourself, really enjoy the process of taking the photos, find one that you love and send it my way.” I think that in itself is really cathartic.
I remember creating a painting for a friend of a friend, and when she received it, she sent me a little video of her opening it and she was in tears. She said to me, “I’ve never appreciated my body in that way, and seeing your concept or idea/representation of it was just so beautiful.” She told me that it was a reminder to just be nicer to herself.
Britain Uncovered: It’s amazing how powerful that can be, people seeing themselves in art. On the surface it’s a relatively simple concept, but the actual meaning behind it and what people can taken out of it can make a real and long-lasting impact and prove a very emotional experience. Is the majority of your art commission-based?
Isabelle: Yes, quite a lot of it. I’ve done a few off my own back and featured myself and my friends – but a lot of it is commission-based because simply receiving a photograph of a person that they really love is, in itself, something that really helps my art. The ones that I’ve made where I feel a little bit less passionate about perfectly relaying that image into a painting are still nice pieces, but they’re not my favourites. Commissions have always been my favourites, and I enjoy the whole process from start to finish.
Britain Uncovered: One of the pieces of yours that we really like is Alien Goddess! We were wondering what inspired it, and if you’d be able to share some details about your creative process for this painting?
Isabelle: Alien Goddess was quite an experimental piece actually – and it’s actually one that I don’t like that much!
Britain Uncovered: Oh no, really?!
Isabelle: It’s not that I don’t like it, but I think out of all of the others, it was a very different style to what I usually do.
I had my final exams over the summer, so I had quite a lull in my painting and had to take a bit of a break to focus on studying – and when I got back into it I created this really, really big canvas piece, which I donated to a raffle with an organisation called Dolce Vita, which creates inclusive, queer spaces for techno artists to come and play.
They reached out and were hosting a raffle to raise money for the trans organisation, Not A Phase, and they asked if I would donate a painting. It was the first one I had done since stopping for exams, and I was like, “Of course I will”! So I took out the biggest canvas I had in my cupboard, and I did something really different to what I usually do, and it felt so good just to put paint to canvas and let my mind go a little bit crazy – it was a lot more abstract than some of my other pieces had been. And then I decided that I wanted to continue being a little more experimental, so I had a day of messing around, and Alien Goddess is the product of that. I’m glad you liked it!
Britain Uncovered: What was it about Alien Goddess that you weren’t so keen on?
Isabelle: I don’t know what it was. I think you do put a lot of pressure on yourself when you’re creating a piece, because you have an expectation of how it’s going to turn out, and sometimes when it doesn’t meet those expectations, you can spin it to be, “Oh well, it wasn’t really what I wanted”, but it’s usually months later you look back on it and think that it wasn’t anywhere near as bad as you thought it was at the time!
I’ve definitely done that with a few pieces I’ve reflected on, and have come to realise that I actually really liked that one bit I was being so meticulous over at the time (that I just felt like I couldn’t get right) – but actually it all comes together. And you have to teach yourself to stop at some point, because when you’re painting, you can just nitpick for hours and hours, and you just have to teach yourself to stop, because you’re not making a great deal of difference, you’re just feeding your own insecurities. So you just have to stop, and what I usually find is I sleep on it, I let the colours settle into the canvas or the page and let it all dry up, and I usually sit and have coffee the next morning and look at it and think, “Oh actually, I’ve created something pretty beautiful and I was just getting stuck in a loop”.
Britain Uncovered: Would you be able to share with us which of your other pieces you are particularly proud of?
Isabelle: I’ve done some really beautiful commissions recently, although one I found a little bit challenging actually. Sometimes I have days where I get a photo and I’m able to sketch it out and it paints up perfectly, and I don’t have to think too much about it and it just comes out of me. And then I have days where it’s a little bit more stunted and I can’t quite get it right. I was feeling that way about this particular piece, but then it all came together and I loved the colours on it, and I just thought it was so beautiful.
The other day I did my first mastectomy piece, which I also thought was really beautiful. I want to create more stuff like that, so I felt really, really empowered about those two pieces: a) because I knew I found them really challenging and I persevered with it, and b) because I have always wanted to create more representative art. But I do think because I’m quite commissioned-based, as much as I want to be really representative, just as it stands, the people that have reached out for commissions probably are still a little more conventionally beautiful (if we’re going to think about these conventional beauty standards, which we don’t like).
So I think it’s really important that I try, in my own space and time when I’m not doing commission-based work, to balance things out and create things really representationally. I’ve wanted to paint up some beautiful mastectomy bodies for a while. I’m going to look at painting up a mastectomy reconstruction scene, and things like that.
Britain Uncovered: And those types of pieces can be so helpful to people going through those kind of things. People who have operations and cancer treatments find it really reassuring to see themselves represented in paintings during such a difficult time, and helps them accept the changes their bodies are going through, and I think that’s a really positive thing. If anything, that’s possibly the most important thing that this type of art can do for someone. It can be really comforting, so a nice area to go into with your art.
Isabelle: I agree! It sounds silly, but I’ve got a long list of things I want to do with my art and with the pieces that I do outside of my commissions, such as doing pieces that have better breast representation or better chest representation. But I also did a piece years ago of a naked lady with her stoma bag, and that was a really important piece. I did it as one of my projects through med school and definitely want to do a bit more like that.
I don’t know if you follow Hannah Witton – she’s a sex educator with a podcast who does a lot around sexuality and disability, and she herself has a stoma bag and has done quite a few semi-nude photoshoots and things like that. I think she was another big driver for focusing on what your body has done for you, because for her, she was living with this really chronic and debilitating condition, which was totally alleviated by having this operation and having a stoma bag put in place. Her body can do so much now and she’s so grateful for that. While many people perceive the stoma bag as, “Oh, that must have ruined your life, that must be so awful for you”, Hannah says, “No, it’s the best thing that I ever did, because I got my life back and I’m able to move and be this beautiful, sexual person that I want to be, because I’m not sick anymore.”
So for her that was a really positive experience, and I’ve spoken to a lot of patients that I’ve seen with stoma bags and I’ve always asked, “How was it after your operation? How did you feel? Was it a difficult thing for you, was it a relief”? And overwhelmingly the response that I get from patients is that they were so relieved and it has changed their lives. People who have these stoma bags generally have a positive outlook, so it’s more about educating the wider audience through better representation to show that this is a positive thing and a lot more common than we realise. Somebody who has a stoma bag can be just as sexy as someone without!
Britain Uncovered: And I think that helps inspire people who don’t have these types of conditions too, because if they think, “Well if someone who has had a significant operation like that can see themselves as sexy and be confident and happy with their bodies”.. it makes everyone appreciate what they have even more I think.
Isabelle: I agree.
Britain Uncovered: As an artist who is frequently active on social media, do you feel pressure with Instagram to constantly have to keep pumping out new content? Sadly, it feels as though posts can be quickly lost in the shuffle due to the nature of the platform, so do you feel the pressure to constantly have to stay ahead of the game – and if so, is that detrimental to the art you make?
Isabelle: I go back and forth on this, because it usually depends on how much free time I have. At the moment I’m working from home, which means I have a lot more time to do all those little things around social media.
But when I’m in the hospital, I’m just exhausted! Getting home and trying to stomach enough energy to do a really beautiful painting, let alone trying to think about having to photograph it and video it – and I have to photograph things for my own portfolio anyway – that in itself is exhausting! In addition to photographing it, I have to think of content for it, and thinking about when’s going to be a good time to post. I do most of my work in the morning; I’ll just wake up early, take the dog out and crack on with things and then start doing my actual work a little bit later on. It’s a beautiful way to start the day, but you can’t post something at 9am because nobody’s going to see it!
And then the fact that I’m even thinking that way… I catch myself and think, “That’s so ridiculous”! Part of me just wants to ignore it and just do whatever I want, but I just know that then it’s – like you said – out on Instagram for an hour and then washed away and it’s wasted. I feel really conflicted, because it has been the platform that has given me the most outreach, and most of the sales I get through Etsy are from people who have found me on social media.
My project for the next month or so is to get a website up and running, because I’m terrified that my Instagram is going to be shut down. I just want a better platform, and one where I can set-up an email subscription list at some point. That would be the dream, and it would be good to have a safety net really.
It’s a shame that artists producing content like mine are having to think about this, because they shouldn’t have to, quite frankly. It should be a space where they feel secure, but it’s not. I see more and more artists being quite frank about this issue around content, and posting a little bit more of these ‘beautiful imperfect’ photos, and photos of their workspace when it’s all messy. When I’m painting in here, there’s crap everywhere! That’s because I’m doing loads of splattering and there’s newspaper all over the kitchen floor!
Britain Uncovered: The splats are one of the things I love about your paintings though! I often see stories from artists on Instagram where they’re asking, “To splat or not to splat”, and I always think, “Just splat away”! I think this is because Sophie Tea does it quite a lot, and I’m such a big fan of her work.
Isabelle: She’s incredible. When I decided to start doing nude art and made my Instagram account, I suddenly saw all these amazing accounts – and I realised that everyone had a really similar style that I hadn’t quite thought about doing. And it wasn’t until months later I came across Sophie Tea’s page, and I was like, “Oh my god, this is it”! And then I watched her tutorial, and looked at her feed, and she’s amazing.
Britain Uncovered: Sophie has inspired so many people we’ve interviewed, and it may have helped to have discovered her months after finding your own style – as it meant that you didn’t have that influence and could be completely open-minded about your approach. Your art is authentically your own, and I think that’s what makes it stand out.
Isabelle: Awh, thank you! I think I feel so inspired by all the amazing artists that I follow, and I think that’s a really beautiful thing that we can encourage and inspire colour use and brush technique, for instance, and I think that’s the one thing I love about the artist’s community.
Nobody thinks that someone’s going to be out there making a perfect replica of your art, because that’s not how art works. It’s so personal, and there’s no hesitation between sharing ideas and techniques with others, because what you then do with that is going to be so unique to yourself, and I think that’s a tribute to what Sophie has done with creating this tutorial. Everyone that makes these pieces of art inspired by her, they’re so different, and they’re so beautiful.
Britain Uncovered: It’s so reassuring to hear that it’s such a supportive community, and non-competitive too.
Isabelle: No, I don’t feel that at all. I get messages from people that are super supportive and really complimentary; and likewise, if there’s someone’s art I really love, I always take the time to let them know. And it’s those little things that can really drive you and your art, because it can feel quite lonely sometimes trying to create art, especially when you’re just sharing it on an online platform – because I’m not seeing how it’s received. I’m judging my self-worth on the likes and interactions I get on social media, which is so ridiculous!
Britain Uncovered: As we bring our day to a close, and having now completed the nude body positivity photoshoot portion of our day, would you say that naked photoshoots such as these – along with social nudity experiences in general – can help people who might be suffering from body confidence issues, in addition to those who might not love themselves as much as they could?
Isabelle: I definitely think they can. That said, I don’t think it works for everybody, because you don’t want to push someone to do something they’re not feeling enthused about, and then have them react by saying, “I really don’t like the result of that”, and feeling like they’ve turned inwards again and end up less confident.
As much as having a naked photoshoot, or getting a painting of you naked or going to a naked party, can be really valuable for your body confidence, it’s not going to add anything if you’re not feeling enthused about it. And I think that’s the most important thing. It’s like enthusiastic consent – you need to have an inclination to want to do it in the first place. Otherwise it’s not going to be an overwhelmingly positive experience.
But if it is something you’re interested in dabbling with, then all I can say is ‘do it’! It’s so rewarding having a moment in time when you felt so comfortable in your own skin, and whether that’s a thought or a feeling you can look back on when you’re feeling a bit low, or a photo you can look back on or a painting where you can be like, “That was a really body positive moment that I had, and the way I’m feeling right now about my body is going to pass.” It’s a nice thing to have, and a nice tool to use when you’re feeling low about yourself.
So yes, I would recommend it wholeheartedly. But I obviously feel quite enthusiastic about it, so I might be a little bit biased!
To see more of Isabelle's body positive art, head on over to her brand new website, www.isabellesophiaart.com. You can also find the artist on Instagram at @isabellesophiaart, and on Facebook by clicking here. Isabelle's fabulous naked art – including her brand new A5 commissions – is also available for purchase over at her Etsy store.
You can also watch Issy discussing pornography and surrounding topics during her recent appearance on the Coming Up For Breath podcast by clicking here.