I offered to draw people. Then 5000 people said yes.
“Right, Who’s next.”
Over the last few days, I’ve said this line to myself hundreds of times. I’ve scrolled through name after name, studied bios, examined photographs, and then I’ve put pen to paper and started drawing a seemingly endless stream of stick figures.
But first, let’s briefly go back to a magical time called...
I’ve been on Twitter since about 2009.
Early on I didn’t really utilise it properly, but eventually I stopped linking my Tumblr posts (hey, it was 2009) and started actually using it: Putting things out there, trying to be funny, responding to others, joining in and generally just engaging in a back-and-forth with my 85 followers.
That did the trick for the next six years or so, and my following slowly grew to around 900. Not that I was intentionally building followers; I was just connecting with other people over architecture, or a design, or cycling and generally the place became a little note passing community that had slowly grown. ‘Check out this link’, ‘enjoy this joke’, ‘have you seen this?’
Lovely stuff. Old Twitter. Those halcyon days…
Then some time in late 2015, I started an Instagram. It got relatively big. There’s a very long winded explanation of that here that you do not need to read…
I’m still working out the best way to answer this question.medium.com
...so I’ll catch you up: Long story short, I suddenly ended up with a LOT of Instagram followers, which meant over the next three years my Twitter following grew on the back of that.
Of course, around the same time things were changing on Twitter, and not for the better.
The abuse, the trolls, the bots, and some deeper cultural issues had grown exponentially and severely undermined that previously joyous place. This change is well documented, and you’ve no doubt read multiple articles discussing the demise and impending doom. In short, Twitter now resembles some kind of mad-max’esque hellscape, with dazed users wandering the desolate expanse reminiscing and yearning for those better times, now long gone and seemingly never to return.
Anyway. I think that brings us up to speed.
…or more specifically to last Friday, by which point my following was sitting at around 9850 people. It had been there for months too, but was now slowly climbing towards that nice neat 10k milestone.
I’d seen other people post things in the past, along the lines of, “so close to 10k” (or something like that), at which point a bunch of their followers would retweet them saying things like “Go follow x, she’s amazing”.
This is Good Twitter. This is users giving props to other users, sharing around the love, and usually receiving thanks in return. It’s a really nice thing. There should be more of it.
I wanted to do something similar to mark the impending milestone. Not so much to garner more followers, but rather to create a little celebration and somehow involve the accounts within my orbit.
So, at 10:09 am, with not a lot else planned for the next hour, I wrote and posted the following.
I figured it might get a few retweets. 20? 30? and I’d draw those people and it would be fun, and I’d get back to work.
The first few retweets rolled in…
I got busy drawing.
Within the first ten minutes the tweet at been retweeted 30 times…
As the retweets began accumulating I realised I need to do multiple people in the same tweet to streamline my process…
By about 10:39 am, just 20 minutes in, I’d managed to draw 14 people.
Meanwhile the retweets had gone completely out of control…
By 11:15 am there was 313 retweets.
I opted to nap.
Then I went and had some lunch.
When I returned…
…there were over 700 retweets. What to do?
The best and most obvious course of action would perhaps have been to delete the tweet and pretend none of this had ever happened, but then again it was the Friday of the Easter long-weekend and to be honest, I didn’t have anything better to do (plus I’d had a few wines at lunch so continuing on just seemed to make sense…).
By this stage, the drawings were getting even more crowded as I desperately tried to streamline my process…
And so I kept going…
By 8:00 pm I drew Nicola, my 100th person.
…and two hours after that, a full 12 hours since I’d started, I was done for the day with the likenesses of 121 people down on paper.
Meanwhile, the list of people left to draw was still growing…
By the next day, the retweets had grown to 2500… or so.
I can’t actually remember. Whatever the case, I knew two things, the first: This was now a near impossible task and secondly: I wasn’t going to stop.
I figured a nice 7:00 am start would mean I could hit the ground running and get a whole lot more done.
However, by 9:00 am the drawings were beginning to become a little more elaborate…
I’d started to realise that peoples likenesses weren’t going to be enough and so had began reading their twitter bios, checking some of their photos and generally trying to fit as much information about them as possible into their drawings…
Here above was Stuart who liked ‘gin and chemistry’ while Aliyah listed her profession as graphic designer, so I put the logo from her header image in there.
While this was certainly seeming to please everyone, is was subsequently resulting in more retweets, while the drawings were taking longer and longer to research and draw.
But hell, I was now at over 3000 retweets and a (comparatively low) 136 drawings in.
Achieving any of this within a reasonable time frame was now completely out of the window.
At this stage I realised I hadn’t really promoted any of my other work, and perhaps as a means of making myself feel better about ignoring all the other paying work I’d been avoiding, I signed up to a little site that allows people to buy users ‘coffees’ in support of their art. I sent a tweet out telling anyone that if they wanted, they could send me a coffee should they feel like supporting what was now becoming an actual thing.
Essentially, the ‘coffees’ are a pay-pal donation, but by turning the unit of currency into ‘coffees’ it makes it all feel a little less impersonal, for both the person giving support, and (as I realised) the person receiving it.
As a result, over the next few hours support in the form of ‘coffees’ came flooding in, accompanied with words of lovely words of encouragement…
“Keep the ink flowing. “
“Because your Twitter feed right now is the most fun I’ve had on Twitter in a long time. Haha. Here’s a coffee for that and drawing me :)”
“Keep up the awesome work dude “
I’ll be honest, strangers throwing money at you with kind words of support is incredibly motivating and humbling, and so of course the drawings kept coming…
Finally however, work I’d been putting off had become too much of a distraction in my periphery…
So, I took some time off and wrote this. When I returned, the drawings only got more complicated…
By the end of Day 2, I’d clocked up 189 drawings of people. The retweets (and therefor people awaiting their own drawings) had now ballooned to just over 4000.
Of course, as the well-known saying goes, “When life gives you unattainable deadlines, make GIFs”.
By now, this was turning into a bit of a routine, albeit a sisyphean one: People would retweet, I’d draw them, post them, tag them, they’d then retweet that tweet, then people would see it, find the original and the endless cycle would continue.
Interestingly (though perhaps predictably), my drawings were getting significantly better…
I’d even began laying down some rules for best results…
..and still they came, until yet again I ran out of day…
By this stage my drawings were really starting to hit their mark. If nothing was to come of this, my drawing skills would have at least improved exponentially I reasoned.
A slight issue I was having was that I’d discovered Twitter has no real way of getting a chronological list of retweets, or as it turns out, a list at all. Because of this, people were being drawn as I found them.
I’d trawl through my notifications, through comments, through the first few listed retweets that actually show up, and I’d pull people from there, I’d catch usernames when coffee donations came in, but generally, being drawn now was now more-or-less down to complete chance.
I decided to treat this as a good thing, the entire project was now essentially a fun little lottery, where entry was free (or a retweet, I guess) and the prize was a drawing.
I’d even started utilising a bit of colour…
And so, hour after hour, this is all I did. Find some users, research their profiles, draw their stick figures, take a photo, add to the thread, tag them, tweet it, repeat it.
Find, draw, tag, tweet, repeat.
Until another day would be over and I’d tally the totals and realise I was getting nowhere, but getting a lot better at drawing.
So, how many followers then?
I doubt the cynical, sceptical internet will believe me, but this whole thing was never about the followers.
I wanted to do something to mark making 10k, and this seemed like a fun little thing to do for a couple of hours. I never expected it to become something this big.
That said, I’m still trying to work out why it got as big as it did, and there’s a few theories on that...
The aforementioned cynical, sceptical internet user might point at the inherent narcissism within people, and call this whole thing just 5000 people wanting to look in the mirror, but I think that’s wrong and reductionist, and surely there’s more to it than that.
I think the world at the moment is a scary place to be, and there seems to be a bit more doom and gloom than usual, and Twitter feels like a seething mess of bots and trolls and abuse and maybe, maybe people just need some cute looking stick figures in their lives right now.
Let’s be honest: I knew within the first half an hour that I wouldn’t be able to complete this task, which normally would have been indication enough to put my pen down, to stop, to let it go.
But I kept going at it, at first ostensibly to attempt the impossible, but deep down because the whole thing made me feel good. The more I drew, the more people came, where they stood by and watched on in disbelief while giving bemused encouragement, as if cheering on Sisyphus while his boulder got bigger with every spectator.
So maybe that’s it. Maybe everyone just needed a break from it all, and little side-show to invest in.
Or maybe it’s not even that complicated, maybe stick figure drawings of people are just kinda cute. Who knows.
What I do know, is that it’s been really, really fun…
…and maybe it was me that really needed this.
As I write this, now deep into Day 4, the retweets have finally began trickling down to a manageable flow. The total number of retweets is currently at 5411, which means that with the likenesses of 315 people now down on paper, that just leaves another 5096 to go, which begs the question…
Right, who’s next?