Meet the artists online who are attracting millions of YouTube viewers

The video may have killed the radio star, but it’s doing wonders for a select group of visual artists using YouTube to build brands and businesses. Although it’s unlikely that someone in the art class category will be next PewDiePie Where Markiplarartists on YouTube produce high-quality programs that help everyone, from children to amateurs to other professionals, to improve in their art, and generate hundreds of millions of views.

I had the opportunity to meet two of the most successful artists in this category, YouTube pioneer Mark Crilley and artist/entrepreneur Stan “Proko” Prokopenkowho have each succeeded in their own way in building giant audiences and advancing their creative pursuits by teaching YouTubers to draw.

The former statesman. Author and illustrator Marc Crilley was among the first professional artists to post on YouTube, putting up his first video in March 2007 to promote a recently released work titled Miki Falls. In an early clip, he showed himself drawing one of the characters and discussing his technique, and traffic skyrocketed. He decided to focus on promotion and instruction, producing weekly how-to videos that showcase his manga-style illustrations and techniques (Japanese comic books).

The short, informal, and simple videos typically feature Crilley describing his process via unscripted conversation while the camera holds a tight shot of his pencil and paper, with only occasional edits and sped up footage.

This explainer video by Mark Crilley has received over 24.4 million views and 134,000 likes.

When YouTube first started promoting user-generated content, Crilley was sometimes featured on the front page, rocketing his views and subscribers into the hundreds of thousands. He was one of the first recruits to YouTube’s Partner Program. “I thought the invite was a scam when I first got the email,” Crilley said, but he quickly discovered the revenue was “significant.”

In 2010, he leveraged his YouTube audience and online reputation to land an art instruction manual titled Mastering manga released, which became the basis for a lucrative and successful series. He still generates income on YouTube, but says publishing is his main business.

Crilley’s YouTube channel has garnered over 313 million views and over 2.5 million subscribers, according to the SocialBlade metrics site, which ranked it among the top 700 YouTube channels overall. Crilley says most of those numbers are from the 2009-2013 period when he was posting more frequently and had more of a following for him, though he remains active and popular with his fans.

The young prodigy. Stan Prokopenko (“Proko” to his fans), a classically trained artist with a wry approach and a natural gift for teaching, only arrived on YouTube in 2012. Nevertheless, his Proko TV channel is on course to hit half a million subscribers, and his 143 posts since 2012, totaling over 23 million total views, puts him on par with his more prolific and older peers on a view-per-view basis. video.

Unlike most other top YouTube art channels, ProkoTV offers polished, scripted 7-8 minute segments that include animation, professional camera work, and editing. They’re great fun to watch, but don’t skimp on the technical details, drills, and critiques that learners need to improve.

Prokopenko, now 30, studied his craft at Watts Workshop, where he also taught for several years. His videos offer step-by-step, systematic guidance on everything from gesture to expression to detailed anatomy, and appeal to all ages and levels of learners.

Want your designs to look like this? YouTube can help you. Image by Stan Prokopenko.

He said he started posting videos showing his method of making portraits on his blog and found that his readers couldn’t get enough of them. Eventually, he compiled a DVD with the videos and started using YouTube as a channel to promote merchandise sales.

YouTubers immediately embraced Proko’s humorous approach and rigorous technique. His views and subscriptions grew rapidly, earning him ad revenue to supplement DVD and premium course sales.

From fine art to a fine business. Recognizing that growing his business depended on delivering a high-quality product, he hired additional production resources: first an editor, then an animator, then others. Today his company has 12 employees, with plans to add more on-camera instructors and a full range of art classes.

Despite its booming audience online, Prokopenko says YouTube’s ad revenue alone isn’t enough to pay the bills. In fact, payouts have gone from $4 per thousand views in previous years to $1 per thousand views today, due to the increase in content and fewer advertisers placing “pre- roll”.

These days, Prokopenko says he earns nearly forty times his monthly YouTube take selling the premium version of his art lessons and other merchandise, but the free online videos are the entry point for the most customers. He said he couldn’t wait to see how

expands its video program in the future.

The expanding palette. Between Crilley’s laid-back “YouTube 1.0” style and Prokopenko’s strategic business development, there are plenty of other enjoyable and informative channels. Here are some more popular favorites.

  • Australian cartoonist Jazza is one of the most popular and prolific art YouTubers these days, holding court over his Drawing with Jazza channel on everything from basic techniques to reviews of software and art equipment. His 573 (!) videos since 2012 have racked up over 45 million views and 658,000 subscribers.
  • Another great personality is Baylee Jae, including over 200 videos – mostly “watch me draw some fun stuff!” variety – have garnered over 57 million views since 2011.
  • If you are interested in learning how to do production artwork for video games and movies (machines, characters, landscapes, urban environments, etc.), there is Scott Robertson’s SRD Channel.
  • Matthew Archambault, an instructor at the School of Visual Arts in New York, posts how-to videos interspersed with enthusiastic tours through the sketchbooks of his ridiculously talented students at DrawingTutorialsOnline

Shirley K. Rosa