Steel has been drawing for as long as she can remember, and started doodling on herself during class in high school.
“I didn’t want to draw all over my notes,” Steel told INSIDER. “So the next available canvas was me.”
She started getting serious attention for her body art during her first year at Emerson College back in 2011.
“I noticed she was sketching during class — usually a no-no — but her work was so good, as were her grades,” Cynthia Miller, one of Steel’s teachers, told Emerson’s news site. “We just made a deal for her to show me what she’d done at the end of each class.” Miller then recruited Steel to illustrate her award-winning anthology, “Steaming Into a Victorian Future,” in 2012.
But it wasn’t until 2013, when Steel posted a photo of her portrait of Walter White from “Breaking Bad” that her social media status skyrocketed.
Her canvas? Her thigh.
The photo received over half a million views on the photo-sharing website Imgur. Steel continued to post photos of her body art, and received loads of media attention from outlets including CNN, Huffington Post, and the Steve Harvey Show.
Fans started messaging her on Facebook asking about her artwork. Steel, who majored in film, thought it would be a great idea to start recording her process. Now, she creates time-lapse videos of her artwork, and ends each video with her signature wink.
“[Body art] is kind of a niche that people haven’t explored,” Steel said.
While her videos didn’t perform particularly well at first, they started picking up speed after being reblogged about six months ago, and now her Facebook videos have hundreds of thousands of views. Since February, she’s gone from around 11,000 Facebook followers to half a million and counting.
But growing her social media presence was not based on luck. Steel strategically creates art based on popular culture, fan requests, and collaborations with other influential people. Examples include artwork inspired by “The Walking Dead,” “Superman,” “Batman,” “Mad Max,” and more.
But Steel says her abstract drawings are her favourite. “If I had to choose, they would all be super weird,” she joked.
So far, her success is paying off, and Steel has a management team of three, including a YouTube agent. While she had previously worked at a special effects studio, she is now focusing on her artwork full-time, primarily earning money through YouTube and donations on Patreon, a crowdfunding site for artists.
She plans to move into traditional filmmaking for YouTube in the near future in addition to her art videos, and is hopeful that her fans will continue to show their support.
“It’s crazy how people start to become invested in who you are as a person,” she said.
Story and editing by Alana Yzola