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’Leg art’ alumna performing at TED-X

Jody Steel

Jody Steel '14 continues to gain notoriety for her extraordinary body art. She first became known in 2013 when illustrations of TV characters she drew on her legs went viral. (Courtesy Photo)

It was nearly two years ago when Jody Steel ’14 got a leg up when it came to her viral “leg art,” and now she is making huge strides—getting attention on Buzzfeed and performing a live drawing at a TED Talks event in Culver City, California, on June 13.

“I’m so thankful,” Steel said. “It was really unexpected.”

In the fall of 2013, Steel’s compelling portraits of movie and television characters, which she drew on her legs with a Pilot pen, gained international media attention shortly after an interview with Emerson College Today, when her drawing of Breaking Bad character Walter White went viral on Reddit.

Walter White - Jody Steel illustration

Steel is now producing time-lapse videos that show her creating her body art, which gain thousands of views at a time on social media. She works with fellow alumnus Chris Madson ’14, who synchronizes electronic music to the videos.

What Life Is Like As A Viral Artist

Posted by BuzzFeed IRL on Saturday, May 30, 2015

The Visual and Media Arts major moved to Los Angeles shortly after graduation and began working for Illusion Industries, a company that creates special effects makeup for movies.

In the meantime, she continued to draw on her body, as well as the bodies of others—often in her neighbor’s apartment—to grow her craft.

Steel’s work went viral for a second time this past February, when a popular blogger posted a body art picture she made of a Walking Dead character.

“Since then, it’s been a conscious effort to keep the momentum going,” she said. “I’m still riding a wave.”

Over the past four months, the number of Steel’s Facebook followers has jumped from 50,000 to 258,000.

Steel stopped working full-time for Illusion and now works as a freelance artist. She said she has done artwork for numerous advertising and special effects studios, and gets “hundreds of emails a day” offering her work—everything from portraits to sketches and tattoos.

“At any point, I can open my inbox and randomly pick one [job offer], which is crazy as an artist,” she said. “On a regular basis, I’ll get probably hundreds of Facebook messages a day asking for individual personal projects from people, especially since I’ve gone viral.”

Steel is trying to strike a balance between doing work for personal and corporate clients. For the film studios, she often sketches storyboards or art for posters.

“I see the importance of having those names and building a portfolio,” she said.

Steel, a native of Hollywood, Florida, said her art has evolved over the past two years from traditional-style portraits to images that involve three-dimensional elements or gore.

On June 13, Steel will perform a live drawing—using a person as a canvas—at the TED-X conference in Culver City, where she will draw a logo for the talk’s “ideas in motion” theme that will be filmed, edited, presented to the audience, and posted online.

“One of the big comments I get is that I’m really gifted, and that’s a funny thing to say,” Steel said. “I just liked drawing as a kid and spent every day of my life working on it.”

Steel regularly drew while sitting in class since she was a child. She also credits her encouraging mother, who let her draw on her bedroom walls.

“I remember, very specifically, that a guidance counselor in high school told me I should focus on more realistic goals” other than art, Steel said. “If my mom wasn’t there, I maybe would have listened to that.”

Steel said she regularly gets Facebook messages from children between the ages of 8 and 16 years old.

“That’s probably the biggest takeaway I’m getting from all of this,” she said. “That’s very special for me.”

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