With body paint art and a camera, she draws in millions of views.
Every time Jody Steel doodles, she creates a time-lapse video of her work and pops it onto Facebook. She typically gets about 20,000 likes from her 2.7 million Facebook fans. These aren’t your typical doodles. The 22-year-old artist hailing from Hollywood, Florida, who now resides in Hollywood, California, draws on people, though she’s not a tattoo artist. Steel has hundreds of markers and hundreds of pens, and she uses these plus body paint art (the body paint is reserved for faces) — to create 3D pictures of anything from Thor to an ice queen, using the human body as her canvas. The average drawing takes Steel 40 minutes to do but can take as short as 20 minutes or, for a detailed drawing like the one she did of the Sistine Chapel, as long as 80 minutes.
Steel has become an internet sensation, and just about every single post of hers goes viral the instant she puts it online.
“Walter White’s logo on my leg went viral first,” Steel says, of her 2013 photo of the Breaking Bad star that she drew on her thigh that garnered over a half million views on the photo-sharing site Imgur. “That was the first one. They kind of all go viral now — at least 500,000 views or more.”
Steel always wanted to be an artist, but she never realized that it could happen so quickly, that she could have such a huge fan base in such a short period of time.
“The earliest memories that I have are kids asking me to draw for them,” Steel says. “That was my way to make friends.”
She took a painting class once but, Steel says, she was pretty much self-taught, imitating her favorite artists.
Steel starting sketching on people in high school, filming it and airing it on a TV segment every week.
At Emerson College in Boston, she started doing more three-dimensional pieces, and this is when Steel began getting more attention.
“I can’t claim to be the first who did body art, but I hadn’t seen it done before.”
– Jody Steel
Courtesy of Jody Steel
“I got a lot of publicity in college,” Steel said. “I can’t claim to be the first who did body art, but I hadn’t seen it done before.”
It’s unclear when this body paint art trend started, but Steel appears to be the first to take it to this level, thanks to social media.
“Social media is the whole reason why I am where I am,” Steel says. “My gallery, I guess, is the internet.”
While her art ends up on the internet, it starts in her semi-rigged studio in her garage, which she shares with her boyfriend, Caleb Pritchett — who also is the lucky recipient of the majority of the body paint art.
Steel declines the many requests to draw on most other people for now.
“I don’t think it works the same way for other fields — if you’re an actor, you don’t get people to ask you to come act for me,” she says. “I get a message a minute: ‘Can you come draw on me?’”
She says she may do a fan art competition, but for now Steel doesn’t take commission requests because there are too many to fulfill.
Steel recently began collaborating with corporate and film companies to create time-lapse videos of body paint art for branding purposes.
But the majority of her work is done with her boyfriend, creating art that she thinks of on a whim, usually the same day of the drawing.
Steel met Pritchett on OkCupid, drawn in by the photo of his puppy, which he used as his profile picture.
He was the one who suggested that Steel start drawing the bigger images on his body.
“When I first suggested that she could draw on me, I thought it would be cool, like a temporary tattoo,” Pritchett says. “It’s like a really long, slow back scratch — the clock with the octopus on it was the best one.”
“It’s like a really long, slow back scratch.”
– Caleb Pritchett
As soon as she finishes making each video, Pritchett races to the shower to wash off the drawing.
“It really doesn’t take too long if you do it right after, but she started using a new black marker which looks amazing, but it really takes some scrubbing,” Pritchett says.
With a good loofah, it takes 10 minutes max to wash off a drawing if it’s done immediately, before the ink settles. But if it really settles into the skin, it could take a few days to wash away.
Sometimes, however, Pritchett doesn’t have the heart to wash away the drawing so quickly.
“Every now and then, she’ll do an awesome one on my chest that I’ll keep for a day to pretend I have an awesome tattoo,” Pritchett says.
Once, Steel did a steampunk heart over Pritchett’s heart, and he wore a button-down shirt to work. He unbuttoned his shirt, and his co-workers were impressed with what they assumed was a tattoo.
“Every now and then, she’ll do an awesome one on my chest that I’ll keep for a day to pretend I have an awesome tattoo.”
– Caleb Pritchett
“Now I could have as many tattoos as I want,” Pritchett says.
The body paint art changes biweekly, but it may not go on forever.
Steel says she’s always loved art, but she has also always wanted to be a film director, specifically focusing on either films heavy in dialect, like Fargo or The Big Lebowski, or docustyle films.
Now that she has a fan base, she’s closer to becoming a director.
“I have an audience, which is the hardest part of making films,” Steel says. “I can say, ‘I just did this film— go watch this.’”
Film directing is the end goal, but Steel says, she doesn’t know if she’ll ever move on from her body paint art completely.
“It’s a huge part of my life right now,” she says.