“It celebrates two British passions – drinking tea and getting tattoos!”: Sophie Jonas-Hill on winning License This! with Tea for Tattoo

To find out more about the origins of Tea for Tattoo and where the award-winning brand is looking to go, we put the kettle on and sat down with Sophie.

The winners of the 2021 Kelvyn Gardner License This! competition were revealed at last week’s Brand Licensing Europe show.

Winning the Brand & Design category was Sophie Jonas-Hill’s Tea for Tattoo, a brand blending the style of traditional blue and white ceramics with the aesthetic of old school tattoos.

To find out more about the origins of Tea for Tattoo and where the award-winning brand is looking to go, we put the kettle on and sat down with Sophie.

Sophie Jonas-Hill, Tea for Tattoo

Hi Sophie! Was great to watch your presentation at Brand Licensing Europe last week and huge congrats on the License This! win. For anyone not there, talk us through your brand, Tea for Tattoo?
Thank you, I still can’t quite believe it! Tea for tattoo is a glorious mash-up of modern and vintage; it’s a series of hand drawn illustrations inspired by blue and white delftware which celebrate two British passions – drinking tea and getting tattoos!

Where did the idea to mash these two areas together come from?
It really all comes from my illustration work; I was studying an MA in illustration, and my preferred way of drawing was using pen and ink on tracing paper, a tradition passed down from my father, an old school architect. I kept thinking that the images I was creating looked like a glazed ceramic surface, especially when I drew on them with a dip pen, so I was creating images using this technique, featuring patterns often used on hand painted delftware.

At the same time as this, my best friend turned 50, and I wanted to create a present for her that brought together our shared history of having a huge amount of fun – and our present state of being grown-ups – so I thought I could get a tea service made for her using these hand drawn images of skulls and tattoos… I confess we are a pair of old goths at heart!

The end result was funny – that mix of dark, tattoo images with cosy hand painted ceramics – but at the same time they were beautiful pieces and loads of people asked to get their own pieces. I thought there was more to mine here, so I kept on drawing ideas that combined tattoo images with the delftware patterns, based around slogans that connected both, and the idea for the whole range took shape.

Sophie Jonas-Hill, Tea for Tattoo

Great stuff. And the style is beautiful. Why do you think ceramics and tattoo art work well together?
I had a thought the other day; tattooing is one of the most easily accessible analogue art forms, and one that will probably always remain literally ‘hands on’ – as in one that people from many walks of life get to experience first-hand.

Traditional ceramics were created in the same way, with the hand application of an image, and it’s also an art form most people handle day today. Sure, we don’t often get to hold hand painted ceramics, but often the original images printed on ceramic are hand drawn, and so there seemed to be a connection.

Often ceramics are made to celebrate a special event, such as a coronation or a Christening, and so are tattoos. Both have been accessible to working class people in a way other media, such as oil painting, have not. A gifted artist could make a good living from leaving school as a ceramics painter, without the expense of art collage. I think they have a shared history, which is why they sit so well together.

“I think Tea for Tattoo could work on stand-alone mugs for a relatively low price point, but I’d also love to see it in a beautiful tea set.”

Yes, that’s smart; I hadn’t clocked the parallels before but you’re absolutely right. So, last week I saw you win the Brand & Design category of the Kelvyn Gardner License This! competition. What prompted you to apply?
I had all these ideas, and I saw how people really responded to them, so I felt sure I had ‘something’; what I didn’t know was how to get anyone in the wider world to take notice! A friend of mine suggested we took a stand at the event, but as I’m setting up a freelance career at the moment, I just didn’t have the cash for a stand – but then saw they were running the competition.

I really didn’t think I stood a chance, but the application form asked so many interesting questions I decided to apply to make myself think about the brand and see if I could answer them as a valuable thought exercise. Then, of course, I got side-tracked with work for a few weeks, so when I got the email saying I was through to the final I assumed it was a final of maybe 50, and I’d have to do another a pitch and get knocked out then… Then I realised that no, I was actually in the final, and I couldn’t believe it!

Your presentation was brilliant; super passionate but also great at highlighting genuine brand opportunities for Tea for Tattoo. How did you find the experience?
Well, I thought I could make a video about my work and show that on the day – sort of lurking in the background – so I did that, then of course found out I had to speak live… Totally my mistake that one!

But again, it was actually good, because editing a short film together made me ‘edit’ what I wanted to say, so when it came to delivering the pitch, I was nervous but confident I knew my material. It also made me look again and again at the brand, and I kept thinking ‘this really could work, this really would be awesome’! That helped me express the passion I have about my work and the ideas behind it, and I think that’s what swung the result for me.

“The chance to open a cafe or tearoom in the Tea for Tattoo style would be amazing!”

And did you get a chance to check out the wider Brand Licensing Europe show?
My friend, the one who inspired the first tea set, proved her best friend status and came with me. She said that as she was walking up to ExCeL, she kept seeing all these interesting signs and hoardings and thinking ‘oh, I wish I was going to that show, it looks great!’ – only to find out she was!

It was amazing. You really don’t realise how the licensing industry works when you’re on the outside, and seeing all these household brands in one place was so interesting. Everyone I spoke to was friendly and supportive, and I got to speak to last year’s winner at their stand, which was great – they were very enthusiastic about how good the show had been for them. I get to have a stand there in 2022, which is so exciting!

Yes! We’ll definitely return next year to see your stand in all its glory. So, back to Tea for Tattoo, what sort of product areas do you think the brand could be a great fit for?
Well, the obvious fit is for tableware. I think it could work on stand-alone mugs for a relatively low price point, but I’d also love to see it in a beautiful tea set. I think that there’s been an increased interest in teatime tradition with the advent of Bake off and its numerous spin-offs and people like to spoil themselves with special sets and plates, not least because they double as a feature in an interior scheme.

Moving on from that, I’d love to see them reproduced on kitchen tiles; they’d look like traditional blue and white tiles until you looked again! Then of course greetings cards… I think there is pretty much no annual celebration I couldn’t design an image for, and the hand drawn quality of the images would make them the kind of cards you can frame afterwards.

I’d like to see them on accessories, such as wallets, purses and phone cases; even a range of t-shirts!

Sophie Jonas-Hill, Tea for Tattoo

All great ideas. I could also see the brand suiting real world experiences too – like a Tea for Tattoo Afternoon Tea experience!
Oh yes, that would be awesome! As it happens, I applied for the first series of Bake Off, and got through to the final selection. Though I didn’t of course make the final cut, I’ve always had an interest in baking.

I once ran a side hustle selling alcohol-soaked cupcakes in a night club, which honestly was more about getting in for free, but the chance to open a cafe or tearoom in the Tea for Tattoo style would be amazing! I do always try to visit a tearoom wherever I go, so it would be amazing to design a menu which had that fusion of tradition and cutting edge.

Or maybe we go the other way round and open a tattoo studio which specialises in blue and white china style tattoos, for a lifelong ‘Tea for Tattoo’ experience!

Why not! Let’s put it out there and see what happens! Last question before I let you go, how do you fuel your creativity?
Mostly by never stopping! I write novels too, and the best advice I had for that was ‘write, don’t think’. Sometimes I think that’s the best advice for any creative endeavour. It really doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you keep on doing it, because it’s only from doing that things can take shape. If you sit there waiting for inspiration, it will never come. It really is 99% perspiration.

I teach doodle art classes online, and what I love about them is that they are just about making marks on paper and playing with colour without judgment; they are a great way to build confidence and skill, because they remove the burden of achievement. If you don’t know what to create, there are always art challenges on Instagram and other social media, you don’t need to share them, you just need to do them!

Great advice. Sophie, this has been fun. A huge congrats again on the award win and I look forward to seeing Tea for Tattoo take off!

Stay up to date with the latest news, interviews and opinions with our weekly newsletter

Sign Up

Enter your details to receive Brands Untapped updates & news.

    This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.