Like many of us, Becca Barnet wakes up each morning, grabs her phone, and opens Instagram. She scrolls through her feed, eyeing photos and videos from the accounts she follows—mostly artists and designers. “What I love about Instagram is it puts everyone on the same playing field, and you get to constantly be inundated with beautiful imagery,” Barnet tells me over the phone. “It’s very inspiring.”
A Charleston, South Carolina-based RISD grad who studied illustration, Barnet runs a creative agency that crafts custom art and design projects for businesses. Her own Instagram feed is populated with these projects, including behind-the-scenes videos, as well as the occasional hyperlapse footage of Barnet putting pencil or marker to a fresh sketchbook, filling blank pages with deft drawings.
“Sometimes, if I’m feeling dull and not creative, I will specifically go home and draw something, and I’ll film myself because I know it’ll make an interesting process video,” Barnet explains. She creates the videos not only to spur her own creativity, but also to give her followers a glimpse into her practice. In addition, though, she’s found that video content helps secure new jobs for her business.
Barnet is one of several artists who have taken to Instagram to draw—to share their skills and creative ideas with an expanding online community that has a voracious appetite for video content. (When Instagram introduced minute-long videos in March 2016, they had found that within the six months prior, “the time people spent watching video increased by more than 40 percent.”)
The trend responds in no small part to the updates Instagram has introduced to its product. Most recently, the platform launched Instagram Live, which allows users to broadcast themselves to their followers in real time. The app has become an ideal tool for artists to offer a window into their processes. And they’re able to make that content discoverable to the platform’s ever-growing community of over 600 million active users.
With the capability to create and share livestreams, 60-second videos, and Stories (a feature that allows users to share a combination of photos and videos that disappear after 24 hours), creatives have a new world of opportunity to demystify artmaking, facilitate virtual studio visits, and grow their followings. Moreover, artists can set themselves up for commissions and projects—and drawing is proving to be a ripe medium through which to accomplish this.
Artists Dan Hogman and Sam Larson have accrued large audiences for their own drawing videos. Hogman, an architect and photographer based in San Francisco, posts complex architectural sketches once a week; Larson, a freelance artist based in Portland, Oregon, posts a couple videos each week, often adding soft shading or a spray of stipples to his drawings of the natural world.
The results are strangely captivating for viewers, especially for amateurs. It’s a little bit like watching someone with a real-world superpower conjuring otherworldly scenes or figures from nothing.
“I think there is something special about seeing a hand creating, especially for things like stippling,” says Larson. “It helps show the hard work that goes into placing thousands of dots.” He values the videos as a way to show his followers the care and effort that goes into a piece, and through them, he’s attracted interest from companies wanting him to create time-lapse videos for them.
For his part, Hogman began making drawing videos because he was often asked to do online tutorials but had little time to do so. With the spare time he has each week, he films himself creating a drawing and posts it. “In some cases, all I do is a quick time-lapse of the process—one hour in 30 seconds or so—but if I have time, I compile a sequence of key moments at normal or two times the speed.”
Through the practice, he’s acquired new clients for his custom sketch videos. “My exposure leads to more commissions. So yes, these videos are a good way to show what I do, but so far, my sketches only lead to more sketches. So it’s probably fair to say that exposure in one area only leads to commissions in that exact area.”
In turn, the Instagram videos allow Hogman to learn from his own work and improve, which is also a motivating factor for Barnet. “I kind of black out when I draw,” she says. “I’m just really in it and I kind of go on autopilot. It’s really cool for me see the choices I made. It’s interesting on a personal level.”
The three artists see in the videos an opportunity to workshop their art among their followers. Hogman actively solicits constructive feedback, while Larson notes that he recently started working with watercolors, and has received helpful tips from his audience.
Barnet points out that the videos are also helpful for non-artists who are looking to learn how to draw. Even for a skilled illustrator like herself, she says, videos from other artists are a source of inspiration—and also make the act of creation more approachable.
“On the one hand, it’s showing off your talent,” she says, “but on the other hand, it’s showing off that you are human, and that you can totally screw up.”