The world of online video is a medley of every possible genre, topic or corner of interest. Comedy, daily vlogging, cooking tutorials, studying tools, true crime, animation, video games, storytelling — videos catering to these and more proliferate on YouTube and other online video platforms. For every type of video in this internet-sphere, there is someone out there to consume and enjoy it. This has opened the door for businesses to take a stab at online video as a means of promotion and growth. Proko is one such success story.

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Proko
Subscribers: 1,443,290
Uploads: 336
Video Views: 77,766,045
Channel Type: Education
User created: Feb 22nd, 2012

Stan Prokopenko, founder of Proko, is one of the many people using online video to share their craft. And he’s made a successful business out of it on YouTube and beyond. We had the pleasure of chatting with Stan to learn how he uses YouTube to support his larger art instruction business.

In the beginning

Ever since he was old enough to pick up a crayon, Stan has pursued a passion in art. Little did he know that by his early 30s, he would be teaching millions of artists how to develop their own drawing abilities through YouTube. 

When Stan was about 13, a family friend noticed his growing passion and talent in art and began teaching Stan how to paint. From there, Stan started taking animation in high school and took up classes at a local art school. There he learned art techniques at an adult level. It soon became clear to him that he was meant to teach art to his own students. After five or six years of taking classes at his local art school, he started teaching there himself.

Bringing his passion to YouTube

Not long after finding a career in teaching art classes in his hometown, Stan realized he wanted to use his experience in teaching to promote himself and his work online. “That’s when blogging was really big. YouTube was just starting to get big, but most people online were writing blog posts, like article form,” Stan explains. At the time, he found a small audience on his blog, where he shared detailed tutorials on drawing.

Eventually, when YouTube was just starting to take off, Stan saw his window for more growth and took the opportunity. The YouTube channel “Proko” was born. At first, the channel featured his original blog posts translated into video format, but he quickly moved onto new content. Proko gained attention and promotion from more popular artists online, bringing significant traffic to Stan’s content. 

If you’re just starting our in your drawing practice, look for Stan’s more basic videos like this one.

The channel quickly boosted his business’s popularity. Far beyond Stan’s initial expectations, within 24 hours of his first video, he had accumulated about 1,000 subscribers. “I had a little bit of a following from my blog posts,” Stan recalls. “I had maybe like a thousand at the time. But a lot of those people just happened to be big artists who did have a big following.”

Those artists sharing his first tutorial and promoting Stan brought more and more people to Proko. His videos proved to be more successful than simply posting on his blog, and YouTube became a main source of traffic to Stan’s work as an art teacher. “It really surprised me how it took off so quickly.”

How YouTube fits into the Proko business model

While YouTube advertising does provide some income, it is not Stan’s primary source of revenue. Using his growing popularity on YouTube, he directs traffic to his website. There he offers premium versions of the tutorials found on his channel with a course fee. These function as more complete, detailed courses of each “sampler” tutorial video found on the Proko YouTube channel. These lessons are for artists who are more serious about investing money into their career. 

For Stan, “YouTube functions as a social network,” with the purpose of “driving traffic to my website, which is where my business is.” That’s where he can make a commission from his premium online classes. As his channel increases in views and subscribers, his success on YouTube will correlate with further success in his business. “My most ambitious things that I focus on aren’t really YouTube related — they’re all things I’m launching on my website,” he tells us.

Screenshot from Draftsmen podcast
In addition to learning-based videos, the Proko YouTube channel also features more casual topical videos and podcast episodes featuring master artists.

The production process

In terms of what actually goes into making a Proko video, there is a meticulous process for Stan and his team. His channel features two distinct types of videos: courses and topical. The entirely free, less rigid topical videos are mostly meant to bring viewers to the channel. They cover subjects that many people will be interested in. These typically take much less time and premeditation than the course videos.

The subject matter for his tutorial videos is derived from his online courses, building up from basics to more advanced skills. That means the videos are “not always sexy.” Rather, it’s often material that artists need to learn to improve. He acknowledges, “It may not drive a lot of traffic, but it’s stuff that serious artists will pay for.” These videos are entirely scripted and visual-heavy. First, he and his team do extensive research on the subject before a scriptwriter begins writing the script. That alone can take several weeks. From this point, Stan edits the scripts and sends the video into production. 

Keeping it interesting

One of the central factors in production for online video is the visuals, as opposed to other formats like blogging, where the meat is in the words. “We start going through each sentence in the script, and figure out what visual is going to be on the screen,” he explains. Every sentence in the script will have a visual idea assigned to it to bring the video to life. “We have a list of all the drawings we need to do, we have a list of all the 3D animations we need to get done, you know, all the different types of visuals to create.” Then those visuals need to actually be made by various different artists, adding a few more weeks to the timeline.

All of these visuals need to be collected, organized, and overlaid with the audio script. Next, the short video needs to be distributed to YouTube and promoted on social media, the longer premium video must be uploaded to the Proko website, and the team must make thumbnails and clips to draw people into the video. Altogether, this process can take up to six weeks for just one video to make it to the public.

Proko runs on teamwork

All of this is made possible by a team of nine full-time employees at Stan’s studio, and nine freelancers who work remotely around the world. With two scriptwriters, four editors, an assistant, an intern, a wife handling finances and a selection of guest instructors, Stan is able to bring a coherent and entertaining video together.

There are different artists needed for the 3D animation, 2D animation, and models that appear in each video. It’s no wonder that the production quality on Proko is so notable. Stan recognizes this as one of the key aspects that make for a successful business through video production.

Good teaching requires clarity…

Not only is it important to Stan and his team to have high production quality, but it’s also just as important to churn out high-quality content. This is what’s needed to make a truly useful instructional video. “Clarity is huge… Information has to be organized in a very clear way,” he says. “You can’t use language that’s so advanced that people watching aren’t going to understand and use a dictionary every time they watch a video.”

The skill or knowledge level of your target audience is important to consider when scripting a lesson. According to Stan, if your audience can’t follow your jargon, they won’t be able to learn.

Production quality plays a large part in a video’s coherency and success, too. “The standards are constantly going up of what a video should look like on YouTube. 10 years ago, things shot on a phone or a crappy camera — they were fine, people would share that stuff. But now, if you watch a tutorial and it’s really boring and not edited, the sound is really bad, people are just gonna skip to the next video.” To keep viewers parked at your videos, your videos have to look and sound polished.

Screenshot demonstrating overhand grip
Proko offers comprehensive art education, starting with the basics of holding a pencil.

Some more basic advice for beginners that Stan gives is to get a good microphone before a good camera — not an intuitive choice, especially for art channels. However, Stan believes that an audience must be able to hear you clearly more than anything else. “I think good cameras are pretty easy to get now, even your phone is good enough. But then as far as sound, don’t just use the microphone on your camera or phone. It’s not that expensive to get a microphone, but it’ll increase the quality of your video by a lot.”

…and comic relief

In addition to being coherent and informative, the tutorials he produces include some comedy and lightheartedness sprinkled in. “Personally, I try to make my videos funny and entertaining to watch, because I think that people are more likely to continue watching those videos and rewatch the videos if they’re actually enjoying them… It shouldn’t feel like school. A lot of people who come to my channel or website, they’re there because they actually enjoy drawing. They’re not there because they’re in school and they have to study this stuff. Some of them might be in school, but they’re doing it because they really love drawing. It’s a passion, it’s not just a career or something. If they go to a video that feels like school, it’s not gonna match what they want. So try to make it fun.”

Stan Prokopenko with extra-large CGI eyes for comic relief
Stan understands that humor can make educational content more engaging. Viewers want to learn as well as be entertained.

How to be a Proko guest instructor

Guest instructors play an essential role in Stan’s tutorials as they assist in teaching the drawing lessons. To choose these special guests, Stan ensures they fit fairly simple but imperative criteria:

  1. Be a talented teacher.
  2. Be a talented artist.

Whoever is demonstrating and instructing complicated skills must be able to “clearly simplify complex information to a student so they can understand it right away,” according to Stan. The simplification and organization of the content determine the accessibility of his tutorials. “Sometimes an artist is a really really good artist, so they can execute very well, but they cannot explain anything. They just assume that everybody knows what they know and they just say, ‘Watch this video, watch me draw,’ but they’re not able to articulate what they are doing.” 

After the teaching box is checked, then Stan looks at the quality of their work. “That’s the kind of like the cover. If people don’t like the cover of the book, they’re probably not gonna pick it up,” he notes. “You have to trick the audience into watching the video, and once they start watching it, you actually have to deliver good content.” 

Connecting with an audience

Other art-focused channels would benefit from understanding Stan’s business model. Offering advice to artists and teachers with similar aspirations, he recommends collaborating with other artists or YouTubers who can promote your channel and whose content you would like to promote in return. This will extend your outreach and build your audience: “It’s mutually beneficial.” To gain and sustain an audience, Stan tells us: “Be very personal; people subscribe because they like you. People watch YouTube because of the personalities on the channels most of the time. So show your personality, be yourself.”

Stan Prokopenko with a skeleton
figure drawing sketch
Stan uses YouTube to promote the deeper instructional content, such as his course on Human Anatomy for Artists.

Even on a seemingly surface level, just showing your face on camera, rather than only showing your hands creating art with a voice overlay, can allow people to connect to you in a way they otherwise would not. 

The value of consistency

Having a consistent brand has an enormous effect on the success of a business, according to Stan. “Keep your channel focused on something. Don’t be all over the place. The audience should know what to expect from your videos, so you have to think of your brand and stick with it.” Even if this means making a second channel to do a different style of video, keeping one channel for each over-arching purpose helps viewers categorize and appreciate the content to which they subscribed.

An audience should also be able to expect videos coming up on your channel. It’s important to be regular in an upload schedule. Stan shares, “I know a lot of artists who are trying to get into YouTube, but then sometimes they’ll put out three videos in a week, and then they’ll go on a break and not post videos at all for two months. And then they’ll come back and make a few more. When people don’t know when to expect your videos, they don’t get into the habit of watching your videos. So if you can be very regular with your schedule, that’s the best. If you think you can only produce two videos a month, then produce two videos a month and tell people, ‘Okay, it’s going to be every other Tuesday’ or something. It doesn’t have to be every day.”

The future of Proko

As for what’s next for Stan and Proko, he tells us to look out for an upcoming video series featuring artists he met at Comic-Con and their varied answers to specific art-related questions. “I ask a bunch of artists the same question, and I make a video for each question. So I put all the artists’ responses into one video.” There are also interviews and demonstrations coming from popular artists like Kim Jung Gi, as well as collabs and masterpiece demos with artists Stefan Baumann and Cornelia Hernes. 

Stan also reveals that he will soon be completing his anatomy course and launching a drawing basics course as his next project. “We’re going back and targeting the beginners again. We’re doing the very first drawing course that somebody would have to take,” he explains. While his YouTube channel continues to bring new viewers to his content, many of his business goals are directed toward his website, where he is working to create a “social art school” this year. This specialized experience will include lessons for sale from instructors, discussion forums, assignments, challenges, and more. He is also in the midst of working on an app with AI developers for artists to use to get personalized practical feedback on their drawings right from their phone. “I’m working with a few companies, AI developers, to develop that,” Stan says.

Fusing business and creativity

Stan is a prime example of a creator who optimized his talents and pooled them into a successful business model using an acute understanding of both the internet and video production. His journey in art and teaching can be a template and inspiration to video creators who want to make their passion into a business, and eventually, a sustainable career. The success of Proko demonstrates the impact of taking content creation step-by-step and being ambitious enough to ride the wave of online platforms to get your business rolling. 

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