Creative Spotlight: Sophie Beckingham on creative expression and identity
‘I can’t escape being that ridiculous art kid that’s walking down King’s Parade with green hair’
Sophie Beckingham, a second year History of Art student from Jesus, has loved art and creativity since she was a child, a part of her life in which, she confesses, her creative experiments meant she was “always covered in sellotape.” Ouch, sounds painful.
Since then, she has left the tape behind, but has continued to develop in her art, making her own clothes, doing amazingly detailed makeup, oil painting, and even graphic design, a new interest of hers that has led to Sophie becoming the National Creative Director for the The 93% Club.
The Tab Cambridge spoke to Sophie about her childhood creative influences, her love for the expressive power of fashion and makeup, and the positive impact art has had on her life.
‘Always making things and asking questions’
Sophie grew up making and creating, and always loved it: “In a kind of cringey way, since I could hold a pencil, I’ve always been painting. I was always the kid that got to skip PE to make posters! I can’t remember a time when art hasn’t been a big part of my life.”
As a child, she loved to experiment, and she thinks that’s where her current passion for creativity has come from: “I’ve always liked creating things and seeing how things worked. I was always covered in sellotape as a child, always making things and asking questions, so I think it’s that kind of curiosity that led to this.”
‘I hit a point in about Year 8 when I realised I wanted to wear weird things’
Sophie really enjoys making her own clothes, and it’s something she’s been doing for a while now: “I hit a point in about Year 8 when I realised I wanted to wear weird things, and none of the shops stocked the weird things I wanted to wear.
“I’m a fashion nerd as well and so seeing mainly McQueen and Molly Goddard’s big dramatic gowns, I thought, ‘I want to wear those but I don’t have three grand to spend so [I’ll see] if I can make it myself!’ I like dramatic clothing and making it myself.”
That love for theatricality is something she enjoys about doing makeup too: “It’s like my green hair, it just feels like what should be on my face and so I like having something dramatic for people to look at.”
She talks about her relationship with makeup whilst growing up: “I used to really hate makeup and never wore it and then wore awful makeup in high school. Then once I got to sixth form and had the freedom to put weird things on my face, it’s just progressively got more and more dramatic and experimental.
“It’s just another creative avenue, it’s just like painting but on my face so it’s quite fun.”
‘A new thing that I’m enjoying and exploring’
Although Sophie has always been a painter – “I love oil paint, I’m a complete paint nerd!” – she has recently been trying out different artistic media, one of which is graphic design: “In the last 6-9 months, I’ve been doing loads of graphic design work for different societies at Cambridge, which I’ve never done before and had no clue what I was doing. I think that’s a cool avenue I’m trying to explore more now.”
She has been involved with some really amazing projects: “I do work for some arts festivals, like John Hughes Art Festival, I do the graphics for them at the minute. [I also work with] The 93% Club […] as their National Creative Director so their whole image is kind of my thing, which has kind of just come out of nowhere in the last 6 months! […] That’s a new thing that I’m enjoying and exploring.”
‘It’s kind of about imagining an ideal of how I’d like people to dress and the world to look as well through creativity’
Sophie talks about how her creativity is closely tied to her identity: “I can’t really escape being that ridiculous art kid that’s walking down King’s Parade with green hair!”
For her, it’s about expression, and having a way to relax: “I feel like it’s a kind of escape. If I’ve not created something for a few days, I feel a bit of an itch. It is a kind of outlet. As much as I love my degree, writing essays gets a bit tedious so having a creative outlet to go to is quite important to me.”
With lockdown, Sophie has had much more time to spend on these creative outlets and has really enjoyed showcasing what she’s produced on her Instagram account, which she started around a year ago. Something Sophie has particularly enjoyed about creating art in lockdown is having time to return to her original passion, painting: “I had more time to paint because I couldn’t see anyone.
“After having left A-Levels, where you were told how to form a project, being in a space where it was now up to me what I was painting, and having time to think about that, and what I wanted to do, and how I was going to fill my time up, was definitely a big thing. There’s paintings all around my house, my floor is covered!”
She talks about what creativity means for her: “It’s kind of about imagining an ideal of how I’d like people to dress and the world to look as well through creativity.”
‘There’s so many different societies and interesting people’
Sophie spoke to The Tab about how she feels really artistically inspired by the flourishing creative communities at Cambridge: “I think Cambridge is amazing. […] With the art scene and all the zines, there’s so many different societies and interesting people. It’s such an academic environment so it’s really nice to see loads of people pushing for creativity.”
She tried out costume design for theatre for the first time at Cambridge, and she loves how the creative scene at Cambridge has prompted her to try out new things like that: “There’s so much to get involved with that I think that’s just heightened what I already was beforehand and allowed more room for exploration.”
‘[I want] to have this avenue separate from what I might do as a career’
We also spoke about the pressure sometimes present nowadays for people to monetise their creative hobbies and make them into a small business: “My friend Flora makes corsets (she’ll like that shoutout!) and she’s made a full-on business selling these corsets. They’re all amazing and completely unique to her and she’d just be making these anyway.”
She really sees the value of these kinds of creative businesses but it’s just not something she wants for herself currently: “I sell some paintings but I don’t make paintings to sell. Part of me feels like maybe I should take it more seriously and make it into a business but a lot of me just doesn’t want to and wants to have this avenue separate from what I might do as a career, to have for myself, and not everything needs to be a commodity.”
“If that’s what you want to do and that’s what fits, then that’s fine! I kind of see myself in retirement or something painting and selling things, but right now, I don’t want to do that.”
‘I’d like to work behind the scenes making the art world a more sustainable place’
When leaving sixth form, Sophie chose not to go and study fashion design as she originally intended, deciding “that’s not for me and I would not survive!”. However, although she’s no longer looking to be a designer, Sophie would still like to be involved in fashion in future: “I’d quite like to work in fashion sustainability.
“There’s this really cool Centre for Sustainable Fashion who work on remodelling the fashion industry in order to make it a sustainable business because at the moment, it’s the second biggest polluter or something. I’d like to work behind the scenes making the art world a more sustainable place.”
Accessibility in the creative industries is also something important to her, and in future, she’d like to make it “easier for creatives of any background to come in and thrive”: “At the moment, it tends to be that you have to have a certain level of privilege in order to be able to get unpaid internships, live in London, and get to the place where you’re going to be majorly successful.”
Sophie is looking forward to continuing to explore new creative interests: “I want to get more into graphic design and experiment more with that. I’m just starting to get into moving image and doing some cool animations – I’ve done one but I’d like to do more!”
Sewing, designing and painting her way into 2021. Sounds like a well-spent lockdown to me.
You can see more of Sophie’s work on Instagram (@sophie.beckingham and @sophiebeckingham.art).
If you’re a creative from the University of Cambridge and you would like to be featured in the Creative Spotlight column, please email The Tab Cambridge at [email protected].
Featured image credit: Sophie Beckingham