Drawing Tutorials

Circle Line Art School

How I Build A Business Around YouTube Through Online Drawing Courses.

Drawing Tutorials
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October 3, 2020

Who are you and what kind of content do you create?

My name is Tom McPherson. I live in Cambridge, a straight line north of London. I graduated from Central St. Martins School of Art, London, with a Fine Arts degree. After some time oil painting and teaching art, I started my YouTube channel Circle Line Art School to draw, focusing on pencil drawing and perspective. I make a new drawing challenge every week and just passed the 400th edition. I have been lucky to gain over 1.8 million fantastic subscribers and over 150 million views, but I never thought anyone would watch when I started, I just made what I wanted to make, what I enjoyed.  

When I was thinking about what to call my channel, I remembered how I commuted across London on the Tube, the subway. One of the Tube lines I used was called the Circle Line. If you stayed on it, you would make a circle around London. I would often draw the people I saw on the Tube, so I thought it would be the right name. I wanted to make an online art school, help encourage more people to draw. For me, there has been a gradual process from being part-time to a full-time creator. I have been self-employed throughout, teaching art and selling paintings. So it has been a matter of balance between different projects. I plan, draw, produce, and edit all of the content on my YouTube channel.

Let’s go down memory lane, tell us your backstory!

I moved here in Cambridge in 1997. It is a beautiful place, with some fantastic architecture. I have always made art; drawing has been a lifelong passion. I also enjoy teaching very much. So I started a business teaching children the creative arts, a wide range of projects from drawing and painting to sculpture and model making. I worked like this and grew the business over time.

I love to learn new things and experiment with a series of 30-day challenges, inspired by the Matt Cutts Ted Talk: Try something new for 30 days. Every 30 days, I would start a new creative project. I would write a book of illustrated poems or start an online art shop or make a painting a day for 30 days. I then decided to give myself the challenge of creating a YouTube drawing channel. I just used what I had. The only time I had to work on the project was during nighttime. I drew a series of 3D letters and filmed the drawings with my compact digital camera on movie mode. I did not know how to focus the camera, and then I asked my daughters to play some music on our upright piano to use for the videos. They were under eight years old and had no lessons, but it was a sound pleasing to my ears, so I used it.

I enjoyed the process of creating mini-films and drawing, and so I decided to commit to making a new drawing challenge every week. I did this in October 2013. Once I start something, as long as I keep learning, I am happy to keep going. And so that is what I did.

How do you brainstorm ideas for your content and your advice in getting the creative juice flowing?

Visual ideas are always popping into my head. I try to capture them by drawing just a few quick lines straight away before I forget them. I also keep a list of ideas that I could use for my drawing challenges. And nowadays, I get plenty of requests too. Once I have an idea for a drawing, it is best to draw it out straight away, as I think the idea just develops by itself. I have found it useful to think of the title and the thumbnail simultaneously, as I consider the idea. All three elements need to work together. 

What are the tools and platforms you use to help with your brand?

For my video editing, I use Premiere Pro. I only use a fraction of what it can do, but I taught myself what I need to know and stick with it. I use a Canon EOS 700D for filming. It has a video viewer that can swivel at an angle to see it while drawing. I have a stand-up drawing table with the camera on a tripod above the drawing surface.  For sound, I use a Blue Yeti USB mic, super quality. And to edit sound, I use Adobe Audition. I like to learn and teach myself, it takes time, but I find it works best. Apart from YouTube, I have an Instagram account that I like. However, I liked it more when it was just square photos in a grid. I also have a Facebook and Pinterest platform for my brand.

Branding is essential when building anything. I try to use my pencil logo in a circle and my brand name, Circle Line Art School, whenever possible. Over time I have come to understand what my brand stands for, creating inspiring drawing content that is clear and actionable, and I wish to reflect that in all that I do.

What were your fears starting out? How did you handle it? 

When I think about my first video efforts, I had no fears and no expectations. I was just having fun, being creative, and learning as I went along. It took a while, maybe three months, for the first video to get 1K views. Now a new video will get 1K comments within the first 20 minutes. So that I don’t stop being creative, I make sure that I add at least one experimental video every month. I do look at the numbers and analytics, but they do not overly influence me. I aim to make consistent content that is creative and improving over time. The numbers will take care of themselves.

I think you have to have fun in what you are doing to keep going and keep learning. I still really enjoy making the videos, just as much as when I started. My audience has organically grown, and I get over 4K comments a month, it is a very positive acknowledgment of what I am creating.

How did you build your brand to where it is now, take us through your process.

Once I had my brand logo and name, I made sure I gained the copyright to ensure I could build my brand. I have been posting a new YouTube drawing challenge every Saturday for over five years. This consistency has been great in building my brand. I have never used any funds for this project, apart from some software and hardware and some art materials. YouTube does not focus on its algorithm at a channel level. It is all about watch time for video content. I remember when I saw that some of my videos were gaining over 100% watch time, and it took me a while to realise that some people were replaying parts of the video to get the drawing just right, therefore getting 120% watch time. And then they might watch a second video of mine afterward. As long as the viewer stays on the Youtube platform, that will help my video, if my video was the first video the viewer watched.

I have joined the YouTube Creator Programme, which has helped me understand how the platform works, how it is changing, and how I can grow my channel. It has been fun to go to the YouTube studio in London and meet other creators. Almost all of my video content is evergreen, meaning that, after the launch spike, there is an ongoing level of interest. I made videos with a few thousand views in the first weeks, but over a few years, I reached several million views and counting. And then there are a few videos that have spiked. There was an anamorphic drawing of a building that peaked in Indonesia for some reason. It has now gained over 14 million views. And then some other videos that just chug along. I always try to produce the very best content and let the numbers do what they do.

For someone who wants to get into content creation, what is your advice?

The only reason, I think, to make online content is if you have something to say, share, and something that others would find interesting and of value. Each piece of content should be exactly as long as it needs to be, not a second longer. Generally, I would say no one is interested in you when you are starting.

People are interested in their problems and interests, so try to give value to your potential audience.

But don’t provide value to everyone, because then no one will feel special. Find who your natural audience is and give a great deal to them. Make them feel special. Find content that you love to explore and are good at learning. I just love to draw and to teach and to make videos. When time is short, the computer is playing up, and I am not sure what to do, I just keep going, because I have a real passion for what I do. If you don't know what your love for creativity is, experiment. Try a series of 30-day challenges! Don’t be someone else; take the time to be yourself; it is much more enjoyable!

How did you finally commit to X platform rather than your regular day job?

I was already self-employed when I started making my YouTube channel. Over time, I found ways to build a business around YouTube. The primary way I do this is by making online drawing courses. My first course was “How To Draw From Scratch,” and it has been successful. I have two more drawing courses launching this year, 2020, “Drawing From Home,” and “Advanced Architecture.” I have always thought it is best to have multiple income streams, particularly when self-employed.

Tell us your best milestones in being a content creator.

I think milestones are significant for me to acknowledge, as the journey is ongoing, and it takes a great deal of effort to do anything. Here are a few of my key YouTube milestones:

  • Started weekly YouTube videos November 2013
  • Worked with Warner Bros on Fantastic Beasts video October 2016
  • 750,000 subscribers reached May 2018
  • Got 1,000,000 subscribers October 2018
  • First video with over 10 million views November 2018
  • 100,000,000 total views reached January 2019
  • Collaboration with Google Arts & Culture June 2020

What are your marketing strategies to grow your brand?

I have just focused on making better content and posting regularly, once a week without a gap. Everything else is a distraction or should be seen as a separate project. My brand has grown organically through the content I have made. 

How do you handle brand deals and sponsorships? 

I receive many great offers for brand deals, but I tend to say no to almost all. Many brands just look at the channel numbers, not the content or the viewers. I have had some exciting offers, which I have accepted. Some of the projects I have said yes to include working with Warner Bros several times, Ovation TV in the USA, the BBC in the UK, Wix.com, Google Labs and Google Arts & Culture. Some of these projects have included payment, but the driving force for me has been exciting projects. YouTube is a lot of work, but it is an entertaining thing to do. I think the brand I am building is my brand, Circle Line Art School. I am building a business around my YouTube content, mainly through online drawing courses.

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