Oh okay, well… strap in!
I started doodling at a very young age. Peer pressure, as usual. Lots of other kids in the apartment complex liked to draw. I’m competitive by nature, so I took their talent as a personal challenge. No one warned me how addictive it was….
Fast forward 12 years later. I was starting college, and I believed that I was the best at art! I had won. I was the best artist in my entire high school. Sure, I knew I was setting the bar low, but why raise it? It wasn’t like I was gonna do it for a living or anything, everyone knew art doesn’t pay. I was focused on getting a stable career as a physical therapist assistant. It wasn’t my idea of a good time, but I was told it paid well so I figured it was my best shot.
That said, I was rubbish at college because I was way too distracted taking art classes every chance I got. Thankfully I met some other students that were passionate about pursuing art careers. They encouraged me to do the same, but I was reluctant to change my trajectory. I plunged into the PTA program, determined to make a reliable buck.
Halfway through the program I found out that one of my art buddies had landed a job at a small local video game company. I begged him to let me on as an intern, I’d even work for free! And I did. I worked full time over the summer and part time once school started again. It was my first chance to work alongside industry professionals. It was there I learned a very important lesson: I was not as good as I thought. Suddenly that bar shot way out of reach. My competitive nature took over, and I was absolutely determined to improve.
A while later I learned a second, even more important lesson. One of the senior artists at the company used to work in comics. He was damn good, and I respected him a lot. One day he was looking over my artwork, and he told me something I will never forget. “Stephen, I think you can go pro. You’ve got what it takes.” Hearing that from a professional that I looked up to changed my life. Even though I was already an artist, it was only then that I truly believed I could be a successful one. Sometimes I look back and regret that I didn’t drop out of school right then to start my art career. Most of the time I’m glad I took the path I did, because that led to streaming…
Needless to say I’ve been scribbling my whole life. Figured I wanted to go pro. Found out that going pro was not only a lot of work, but also rarely lucrative, so I waffled on that dream for many years. Decided to get a backup career to support my art addiction, but that fell through. That left me no choice but to pursue art as my primary career path.
Late 2013 I started streaming to stay motivated, figuring that if people watched me I would be forced to focus on my work. A few months later my viewers banded together to get me a plane ticket to fly across the country to ambush an art director for a big time game studio. He appreciated my guts, if not my talent, and decided to give me a shot as a contract concept artist. Thanks to Twitch I landed my first major art job. I quit my part time work and became a full time freelance artist. Been several years since and I’ve had jobs come and go, but I’ve been streaming the whole time.
My community is awesome. We mostly just chill out to relaxing game tunes, draw, talk about art and nerdy stuff, draw some more, etc. etc.
I have a loud personality and an inconvenient collection of strong opinions. However, my stream is a place where people come to relax and get work done. So between me and some of my weirder regulars there are instances of wackiness and intensity that break up the flow of chill vibes. This leads to an eclectic viewing experience. Sometimes I’m surprised by how many people seem to enjoy it!
I give live art critiques on an irregular basis. This is where you can often see the community really come together. A lot of people in the chat are really interested in becoming good artists. Since I have no requirements for the critiques I give, a lot of newcomers end up subjecting themselves to a sort of “trial by fire”. Watching the community gather around them during this initiation ritual is super cool. Some of the victims even come back!
I believe in both branding and staying true to myself. I don’t think the two are mutually exclusive.
I began establishing my brand shortly before I started streaming. I knew from past experience that I didn’t want to affect a persona or hide in anonymity. I wanted to be out there as myself, no filters or glow ups. So I started with my real name, Stephen. For the sake of spelling I shortened it to “Steve” (a diminutive I had always found distasteful but… c’est la vie.) Slapped “Sketches” on the end for the alliteration and voila; I had a super campy screen name. I honestly didn’t like it at first, but I figured it would grow on me with time, and it was my best option. It worked too. Google SteveSketches, and the top results are all me.
I began using my handle on everything, every social media account and game. It got me the traction I needed to get started. However, it took me years to make Partner. I was a small art stream and I had a lot to learn. It wasn’t until recently that my audience seriously began to grow.
The first best piece of feedback I ever got was “Steve! You should get an overlay! All the cool streamers have them!” So I did.
The second is, “Don’t ruin the tone of the stream, bro.” ...I’m still working on that one.
Oh plenty. I mentioned earlier that streaming helped me land my first major art gig. Since then I’ve made loads of contacts in the local Twitch art community, and some of those have led to even more jobs. More than that, Twitch has allowed me to rub shoulders with some serious heavy hitters in the pro art scene, and that inspires me more than anything!
Lately I’ve established a pretty solid stream schedule, which has led to the largest growth my channel has ever seen. However, that schedule is designed around setting healthy boundaries with my work. I’m a father now, and I need to save both time and energy to spend with my kids.
Nowadays I stream 4 days a week, M, T, Th, F, 8-9 hours each day. Taking Wednesdays off gives me a much needed respite from streaming so I’m fully charged to finish the week off strong. My days off involve some paperwork and social media management, but I mostly spend the time with my family. Having a weekday off helps when scheduling important errands and appointments too.
I feel like this system is the best one I’ve established so far. Trying to cram 40+ hours a week into streaming is just too backbreaking, and would lead to burnout very quickly. My schedule now has a nice ebb and flow to it: 2 days on, 1 day off, 2 days on, 2 days off, repeat. It’s good for my sanity I think!
Eh… OBS of course, and Discord to have a place for my viewers to gather and connect when I’m not streaming. I tend to keep things very simple and bare bones. I’m not about pretense, I want my stream to feel comfortable, with no demands. I feel like a lot of streamers think they need to have all the bells and whistles to get noticed. I think that just leads to getting lost in the noise. When people visit my stream they often remark on my Overlay, a simple thing I made in response to the demands of an entitled chat. Along with the Overlay, the chill music, and the cool art, it sets the tone right away: this is a chill place where we subvert the unhealthy expectations of streamer culture. We’re here to hang out and get work done, and that’s all there is to it.
The biggest and most important aspect to successful streaming is a consistent schedule during peak hours. Figure out when the most people in your language demographic are consuming media and stream during those times. Be punctual, predictable, and dependable.
No hot tubs.
More seriously, I would change the unhealthy trend towards overstreaming and overworking. A lot of people are hurting themselves by pulling long hours. Set healthy boundaries with your work.
Also Twitch, keep giving more love to Art streams! We’re just doing our best!
Well, I need to double my income, so that means re-opening my Patreon and providing more products through a personal website. It’s going to be a ton of work, but with the support of my family and viewers I know I can accomplish it! My biggest goal is to purchase a house within the next 5-10 years.