Whoever said doodling during class is counterproductive hasn't met Jody Steel.
The senior visual and media arts major's drawings have been making headlines since last year. But it was just recently that her sketch of Breaking Bad's Walter White went viral on imgur.com, boasting a whopping 54,000 views. What makes Steele's work so noteworthy? Perhaps her preferred palette: her own legs.
Hailing from Hollywood, Florida, Steel said she has been drawing since she was a child. Having no formal training up until high school, Steel is self-taught and attributes her creativity to her mother, who she said allowed her to explore different forms of art at a young age.
"I didn't take any art classes until I was in high school," said Steel. "I feel that practice is much more important."
Although she said she has explored several different realms of art, Steel admits her original career aspiration was to become a painter. However, it wasn't until she arrived at Emerson that she began using her legs as a canvas.
"I would be actively engaging and writing notes in class with no space to draw because of the tiny desks,” she said. “I looked down and saw my legs and knew I could draw on skin already, since I had drawn on my friends in high school."
Surprisingly enough, Steel’s professors said they were not at all bothered by her artistic ventures during class time. Professor Cynthia Miller, who taught Steel in her Making Monsters course, said she noticed Steel’s drawing right away.
"In a class of twenty or so people, it was easy to see what every student was doing, said Miller.
Miller also expressed her fascination with Steel’s work.
“I found that she actually processed the material better while she drew,” said Miller. “So I made a deal with her–as long as she kept her grades up, she could draw."
Steel's professors weren't the only ones who took notice of her leg designs. Donnie Welch, a classmate of Steel's observed, her sketching during RA orientation.
"During training sessions, I noticed Jody was constantly working on her art. Her sketches were always amazing," said the senior writing, literature, and publishing major.
The leg sketching process isn't as arduous as one might think, according to Steel. She said a typical piece usually takes about 45 minutes to an hour and rubs off easily in the shower.
“Skin is a fun medium to work with because it’s flexible,” said Steel. “Plus, I’m white like paper, so it works out.”
As for her influences, Steel credits her own personal experiences and her penchant for film and television as inspirations.
“I admire artists like Salvador Dalî and Banksy,” said Steel. “But my main inspirations come from traveling, the environment I’m in, and personal experience.”
Steel said her hobbies and interests in different mediums reflect in her style.
“I also want to do concept work and production for film, and that’s definitely translated into my artwork,” she said.
All of Steel’s leg art is produced using only thin-tipped Pilot pens and a hefty amount of hand-eye coordination, she said. Some of the subjects she’s sketched include actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt, musician Thom Yorke, famed villain Freddy Kreuger, and, most notably, Breaking Bad’s Walter White.
“It wasn’t until recently that I got recognition for the Walter White sketch, because originally my name wasn’t printed on it,” said Steel. “It was amazing to finally get the credit.”
Steel said she draws mainly for herself, but that will most likely change due to the media attention she’s received. Recently, Steel’s art has been featured on major news outlets such as CNN, the New York Daily News, the Boston Globe, and the Guardian.
The recognition has already paid off, she said, as several companies from around the world have contacted her asking for company designs and logos. In addition, Steel said she has also been offered a tattoo apprenticeship.
Steel said she’s grateful for having so many directions she can choose from, since many artists take years to get their big break.
“I have options, which is lucky for a young artist,” she said. “I don’t limit myself.”
As for her future aspirations, Steel said she hopes to continue with concept art, and production design, and will embrace any opportunities that might come her way.
Steel said she has already worked on several student thesis films as a production designer, concept artist, set dresser, makeup artist, writer, editor, and director. Most recently, she was hired by Miller as an illustrator for Steaming into a Victorian Future: A Steampunk Anthology, which was awarded a pop culture prize.
“[Steel’s] art is very flexible, and although she’s multi-talented, I’d love to see her continue with illustration,” said Miller. “The work she contributed to my book [A Steampunk Anthology] was fantastic.”
Steel’s advice for aspiring artists is a lot less complex than her intricate thigh portraits. “Have faith in yourself,” she said.
“Confidence is key,” said Steel. “Don’t get discouraged by other artists, only encouraged.”