TikTok and how to use it for illustration success

Image: Digital Arts with art by Tooty McNooty

Tooty McNooty, James Lewis and Adam Salisbury on bringing art to TikTok.

With Instagram doing its best to throttle visibility, more and more digital artists wanting to jump ship to another platform find themselves at a loose end. Twitter was an increasingly popular choice, until the little blue bird began to heavily compress images, whilst Facebook continues its steady decline into a graveyard for artistic exposure.

A surprising option though comes in the form of an app best known for music and skits, closer to the dearly departed Vine rather than something like ArtStation. We're of course talking about much-talked about app of the moment TikTok; less talked about though is how some illustrators are finding a fanbase on the platform through an interesting symbiosis of sound and vision.

Before downloading the app though we encourage you to get advice from some popular TikTokkers on how they harnessed the medium in their favour, and why they've left the likes of Instagram by the wayside in their quest for recognition.

Better than The 'Gram?

UK artist Adam Salisbury (below) is known on the app for time-lapse videos of his mural creations, soundtracked by the latest hits for a bit of mood-setting. A traditional artist, then, but whose success relies on digital reach; for Adam, it's all about the app's algorithm.

"I feel like the TikTok algorithm works well at distributing your content to the right people consistently, something that's really important when developing a community of like-minded people," he explains.

Bournemouth-based Lulu McGregor – aka Tooty McNooty on TikTok, creator of the blue dancer loop further above – agrees on the community aspect, finding it abuzz with trends and bandwagons to get involved with.

"Most of my animations are inspired by TikTok trends and creators that come and go constantly," she explains.

Sound and vision

TikTok is known as a music app; indeed, in original form it was known as Musical.ly, based around lip synching and Vine-like comedy loops. Creators like Cardiff lettering artist James Lewis though turn to music simply to add a little drama to their time lapses. 

"Music sets the tone for a piece of video content and relates to the viewer on an emotional level.

"On the app you can pair your video with music that the viewer already knows and loves in a way that would probably get a copyright strike on other platforms," he continues.

"My most viewed video (above) involves me creating an art piece by applying a few hundred pounds worth of 23ct gold leaf to a custom made-Stop sign. The accompanying song choice was Devil Eyes by Hippie Sabotage, a trending song at the time which includes the lyrics 'Let’s just go and see the world and just show them, What it really means to live life golden'.

"The tone of the music and lyrics syncs up perfectly with the video and as a result it amassed 27,000,000 views. With a different song choice, or none at all, I doubt it would have been seen by so many people."

Image above/below: Digital Arts with art by Tooty McNooty


Artists who dabble in making music on the side though don't need to feel pressured into jumping on the latest big hits; big names like Mr Doodle often add their own compositions to creations, and James himself creatively got around paying homage to Stranger Things without having access to the original theme. Turns out not every piece of music made by man is available on TikTok after all. 

Artists working with music, musicians working with artists

The mega-popular Tooty McNooty found her viral break animating for the Tobi Lou track Baby Buff; one year later, 21-year-old Lulu has been tapped to create official Snoop Dogg animations (below) and boasts a fanbase of over two million followers.

Interestingly, the artist was on-board with the app just as it launched and jumped from illustration to animation solely because of her early experiments, moving sketches around in Photoshop to audio she'd come across on the app.

"I like to scout for silly ironic sounds as they’re perfect for funny videos," she elaborates. "If the track isn’t popular, I try to come up with an idea for it that goes along with that audio.

"If the track is popular and has been used by lots of people beforehand, I like to parody the trend by attempting the trend differently."

"Each video is different, it all relies heavily on the idea I have for the video, the complexity of the animation and how long the audio is," Lulu explains. "To produce an animation around 15 seconds (the length of an average TikTok video) could take from less than a day to a couple of days to make.

"As my animation skills get better, the easier it is to make a TikTok animation, but since I have to balance my university life too, it still takes that amount of time, unfortunately."

Lulu makes most of her animations on an iPad Pro using FlipaClip for animation, Procreate for detailed drawings and VideoLeap for video editing.

"I consider these apps as a 'Holy Trio' and right now I'm teaching myself ToonBoom, After Effects and Blender on my Wacom Cintiq so I can create better projects in the future."

With Procreate impressively making animation less of a chore in its forthcoming update, it should be easier for Lulu and other digital artists to get their characters moving and grooving.

Getting tip top with TikTok

After getting the animation and artistry sorted, what next for building up a solid following on TikTok? Is it all about keeping up with the latest sounds, or wearing yourself out chasing memes and shitposts?

"Just do it," advises Adam. "Don’t think, just act; watch others, analyse and take notes, upload a short video and add music.

"Get yourself out there, as everyone starts somewhere. It took me about two to four months to get a good amount of knowledge on how the app works."

Trends and Trolls

"If you are new to the app I highly suggest looking at the kind of content that is being pushed out on TikTok and add some of those elements into your creative input when making videos," Lulu advises. "Remember not to rely too much on them, however; try and implement some of your thoughts and interests into your creations, too."

"Another thing to keep in mind is that any platform comes with its fair share of users and their thoughts; sometimes it's positive and motivating and other times it’s mixed and confusing. You’ll find that most of your feedback relies on the comment section of your videos, so spend your time reading them and getting used to your audience.

"You will sometimes come across a crude comment that will bother you in some way; I like to keep an open mind with my feedback and respond to comments with constructive criticism or positive messages. Never try to respond to rude comments!"

Tok in Progress

"One of the biggest realisations I had about growing a social media following came from a friend’s comment really early on in my creative journey," adds James when I ask him how artists can make it big on TT.

"I showed him a piece of digital art I created and much to my disappointment he didn’t give much of a response. In an effort to gain some validation from this failed attempt at showing off, I remembered that I had screen recorded the process of me creating the piece, so I showed that to him.

"Much to my surprise he said the process was a piece of art on its own, and I could tell he appreciated the final artwork a lot more.

"I learned back then that by showcasing your process as transparently as possible it invites the viewer into your world, and inspires them so much more than just showing them a final piece of art. As such, I’ve been doing this ever since."

Read next: Tips on making animated characters dance realistically

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