Welcome to Creators on the Rise, where we find and profile breakout creators who are in the midst of extraordinary growth. Today’s installment is brought to you by VidSummit.
Smitesh Mistry never meant to become a teacher.
He’s loved art for as long as he can remember, and went from acrylics and oils in high school to digital illustration in college. Then, after college, he parlayed those illustration skills into graphic design. That’s a freelance-heavy industry where getting a job can hinge on how impressive your portfolio is–and, as a new grad just starting to find his way in the industry, Mistry didn’t have one. So, he went back to more fine art and painting, honing his style and then transforming it to make graphic design elements like logos, document headers, and other branding.
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He began posting his work to Instagram, where, to his surprise, people–not just potential employers–began to pay attention.
“There’s a few posts I did that got traction and there was questions on there saying, ‘It’d be good to know how you did this,’ ‘Please post as a tutorial,'” he says.
Those comments encouraged him to switch from making static posts to making full timelapses of the art he was making in Procreate. Eventually, he realized people could benefit from more than those short clips.
That’s when he went to Skillshare.
He’s now one of the platform’s top teachers, Skillshare tells Tubefilter. He’s the fifth most watched teacher across all niches, and his most popular class, a beginning course for aspiring graphic designers, has been taken by more than 8,300 students.
Mistry just debuted his next class–this one about the ever more contentious use of generative programs like ChatGPT and Adobe Firefly. He says he knows there are ethical issues in the AI boom, but wants artists to be aware of the programs that are out there, and how they can be used.
We’ll let him tell you the rest below.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Tubefilter: I’d like to start with background from you and where you grew up and how you originally got into art and illustration.
Smitesh Mistry: Sure. I grew up in a city called Manchester. It’s the north of the U.K. In high school, I think since the age of about 13, 14, I’ve always been drawing and painting the traditional way, with acrylic paint, oil paints. Illustration for me really started after I graduated. I graduated in 2016, and then I was going through a slight career shift from the course that I studied at university to when I got my first job.
A lot of it was upskilling because at university I studied product design, but then after consideration, I wanted to go more into graphic design illustration. I spent some time creating a portfolio, upskilling, learning the industry. Then I started my page on Instagram 2018, so two years after graduating. Initially, was to land a job, it was to show employees or employers that I was creating outside of my job and stuff.
Initially, it started as that and then I realized there was an audience for it. I switched the page to creating content. Then since that many things, I’ve exchanged or I’ve worked in three or four different companies, upskilled in graphic design, illustration, and videography. Then recently, start of this year, I left my job to go freelance.
Tubefilter: Tell me more about the decision to take your art to Instagram.
Smitesh Mistry: I mentioned initially I created the page to appeal to employers, showing that I create outside of just my graphic design. I was doing a lot of say documents, logos, that type of work. Then I did want to show that I do offer a wider range of skills such as the illustration. Initially, it started off by me just using the skills that I acquired during my younger years, ages like say 13 to about 18, just before I went to uni. I was doing a lot of fine art and painting.
I did learn those skills previously. Then after graduating when I was trying to upskill, I did come across digital illustration and using the iPads and I invested in an iPad. Then just started posting again to show employers that I’m creating. Then there’s a few posts I did that got traction and there was questions on there saying, “It’d be good to know how you did this.” “Please post as a tutorial.” After slowly seeing there was an audience that was gaining towards my work, then I switched the angle in which I approached social media and then started creating content that was both valuable educationally, like showing my process videos so other people, other creatives can learn from my process. Then also trying to make it entertaining through the use of the process videos, but then later switching to a more dynamic video style using transitions and masks and stuff like that.
Tubefilter: I saw your Skillshare courses cover a lot of foundational aspects across various creative pursuits. When you’re making a course, take me through how long it takes you, and how you approach designing a course from beginning to end.
Smitesh Mistry: I think with my course, as you mentioned, I am covering a wide area of the creative industry, but really focusing on the core foundations and the basics before you can build upon that. I think that comes from me expressing myself in a way that wishing I had these videos when I started because I did spend a lot of time on social media platforms like Skillshare or the ones like say YouTube, and trying to learn all the basics whether it’s dissecting a piece of work and trying to figure out how they did this or books and videos online.
For me, the way I approach these classes is creating videos that I wish I had when I was starting off. Say someone who is maybe coming from a creative industry or maybe not, and having them or giving them a video in which they can watch and take part in the class project which will help them get a better understanding of the foundations. A lot of people try to learn one-off skills, whether it’s, “Oh, let me learn how to illustrate this for my child’s birthday party or let me illustrate this for a client,” before learning the basics which help them better understand what they’re creating.
Also, it can transfer across into different creative industries, whether that’s graphic design, illustration, and even videography. I’m currently working on a new course at the moment, which is again building the foundations of the wider aspect of the creative industry. Helping them build transferable skills rather than very specific niches, which I feel other platforms or videos do very well.
I was focusing a lot on creating videos which provide a lot more value for students. Then with regards to the process of making a class. That’s how I initially come up with the idea or the concept thinking of ways in which I can create a value-packed lesson, which is transferrable rather than just a specific project. Initially, it starts off with the idea and then I go into the planning. A lot of it is based on what I’ve learned. Trying to figure out how I learned it, whether it’s three, four years ago.
Trying to dissect my process of what allowed me to learn this, what helped, what projects, what activities, and demonstrations. Then ordering it in a way which stacks on each other. The skill they’ll learn in the first lesson can still be applied in the class project rather than learning each thing separately and then letting them decide how they want to bring it together. They can vary. Especially that scripting can vary from a couple of weeks, just to make sure everything’s there.
The information, demonstrations, any materials, and stuff I need to buy in order to help communicate the message. Then it goes into the production which generally takes about two to three days to record. Then it’s a good I’d say about two to three weeks of editing. Making sure all the script is nice and clear. A little bit of audio processing to make it crisp. Then adding in add-ons, whether it’s animations, text on top.
Again, all to help communicate the message because my whole thing is some people may learn visually, some people may learn by doing. For me, it’s a matter of creating a class which incorporates all of them. Depending on no matter what type of student comes, they can still gain value from my lessons.
Tubefilter: That’s very difficult to do in videos.
Smitesh Mistry: I think my partner was saying that I weirdly pick things up quick and I’m good at teaching them. Apart from the creative industry, I’ve learned how to play a few instruments. I’ve cut my own hair for two years now. There’s random things like this. I can pick it up, but then in order for me to pick it up, I have to break it down into such small segments. Just by doing this, it’s easy for me to translate that into a class.
Tubefilter: What makes you so passionate about teaching other people?
Smitesh Mistry: For me, it’s two things. Firstly, I like creating videos that I wish I had. My whole philosophy is I’ve gained or I’ve had the chance to, and the time to learn and acquire these skills which I’ve used professionally. Then again there’s no point in me holding these. Apart from using it for say, client work or online social media, it’s a way of me giving back to the community and other creatives who are passionate and want to learn but don’t necessarily know where to start. For me, it’s like I enjoy giving back because it’s not about me having these skills, and not being able to share them or help other people along with their journey.
Tubefilter: Skillshare mentioned to us that you’re one of their top teachers. Was there a particular Skillshare class that took off? Or was it just from the very first one you began building an audience?
Smitesh Mistry: My first class was released in 2020 during lockdown. That’s when I released my first class. Initially, it was slow. I’d say I got about 100, 200 students within the first six months.
Tubefilter: Still, that’s decent.
Smitesh Mistry: I think a lot of that was it was aided by my social media presence at the time. I think I was on about 40, 50 thousand followers on Instagram. A few of them did come across. Then I feel the class which helped my following grow was the graphic design class because that was my first class that I taught the basics of animation. That was me still trying to understand what students need. Then with my graphic design one, allowed me to, that’s what I was talking about, incorporating all, whether it’s project files, the way that I’m teaching, animations on top, demonstrations, giving them everything.
I feel that in itself was the, not the key, but a big factor into why that class appealed to a greater audience. It wasn’t just targeting creatives, the things that I teach in there. It could be beneficial for, say, anyone who’s not creative, who wants to maybe put their wedding invites together or a parent who wants to create a poster for their child’s birthday party. It was breaking it down to the basics where someone who’s never touched or read or watched anything creative could come at the end of the class with knowledge on creating stuff.
Tubefilter: Got you. Then your next class is about AI. Can you take me into that a little bit?
Smitesh Mistry: Yes. Like I mentioned, the next class is about AI. I think this is quite an important topic, especially for creatives to confront because I feel initially when something new comes out, there are two audiences, the people who are for it and the people who are against it. I feel that the creatives who try to stay away from it or avoid it as much as possible will be the ones who got left behind. In that class, I run through how I use it in my creative flow, but then also stress the importance of how you can use it as a tool rather than a replacement. Just like how you’d use Photoshop or Illustrator, you’re purely using it as a tool to get to your final outcome.
In the class, I thought it was important to create a class about this just to inform or for creatives to get an introduction into a safe and moral way of using AI without potentially stepping on other creative toes or feeling like they’re not creating anymore. It’s using it as a tool rather than a replacement. I stress that in the class too.
Tubefilter: What types of programs do you recommend they use?
Smitesh Mistry: The two that I use and are the two that I use mainly and run through in the class is ChatGPT and Adobe Firefly. ChatGPT to use for brainstorming. The equivalent of that is almost a group discussion or a group meeting discussing a creative brief. I like to use it to bounce ideas back and forth. Then once I’ve generated my idea, or I’ve used the suggestions which I’ve prompted it with later on in my process when I’m creating thumbnails and sketches, I like to use Adobe Firefly.
Instead of spending hours searching for reference images before I create my illustrations, I just generate my own reference images, whether it’s characters in certain positions, color combinations, anything like that. It just speeds up my workflow rather than wasting time just scrolling through Google and Pinterest looking for the perfect reference image, whether it’s lighting competition or just body postures.
Tubefilter: I know you mentioned that you’re trying to approach this in an ethical way and that you have ethical concerns, but both Firefly and ChatGPT have questionable origins with where they’ve gotten their data from, their source data. The things they’re generating are based on data that was acquired not necessarily consensually from the internet or from artists who didn’t want their works used by Photoshop. What are your feelings on the ethical concerns about the origins of data the AI programs are using?
Smitesh Mistry: That’s one thing that I was talking about. It’s there is that side of people generating images and just purely using them, literally imitating or copying those, which is where my boundary is drawn. As in that’s not right because like I said, you don’t know where they’re coming from, whose work, or whose toes they’re stepping on. That’s where I’m like, “You can’t do that.” As no one knows where they’ve come from. The way that I like to approach it is, say if you see an artist’s work, whether it’s on their website, their social media, Pinterest, or any other form, people can use that as inspiration. Whether they like the way in which they blended colors together or the composition of certain characters. The way I use it is images that are generated purely using them for inspiration and not imitation.
I feel that’s key when approaching it. Like I mentioned, the images that I generate purely for reference images. Say, for example, the illustration that I cover in the class requiring an illustration about breaking through creative block, and the idea generated from ChatGPT, I run the students through the first question I ask. The good thing about ChatGPT because it does remember previous conversations, you can build upon it like you’re having a conversation. We start by asking it, “Give me ideas on a character experience in creative block.” Then it gives a list of ideas. Then after that, we build upon that. “We like idea 2, can you give me five more points about this?” Then you’re purely taking it from just a description and then from that, I show the students how I interpreted that. I’m not copying it exactly how it is.
I’m then using that idea and then applying my style, my thinking, my process to that. Then with the Adobe Firefly, I run through how the idea is a character walking up a hill with these creative supplies, the hill representing the struggle, and then the environment representing the busyness, also inspiration. Then I run students through how I’ve got the reference images, what I search to get that and then how I’m extracting inspiration from that. Students who take the class, they’ll realize that “Oh, he’s not even copying.” I purely take the posture of the character and then apply my own style to that.
Tubefilter: So for you, if it’s part of a workflow and not the final product…
Smitesh Mistry: Oh, yes, definitely. People are using that for the final output. That’s where I’m like, “That’s the boundary for me. That’s unethical to me.”
Tubefilter: Got you. You have a very distinctive illustration style. AI is a threat for people, especially with those distinct styles, that somebody could feed your art into one of these programs. I know it’s putting a lot of artists out of jobs and it’s just an overall concern for people who are using programs for their final products.
Smitesh Mistry: Now, I feel definitely it is wrong when people are doing that, but then again, because at the moment it’s quite new, there’s no rules or regulations about stuff like that. It is a little difficult, hence why I thought the class would be beneficial for artists to understand that they’re not being replaced. Even then, I still feel there’s going to be a curve of some sort where it’s going to be heavily adopted and then it’s going to go back to the people want people.
Tubefilter: So even if artists are coming into this course, maybe some of them are heavily anti-AI, you feel it would still be helpful for them to understand the way these programs work, even if they don’t want to use them?
Smitesh Mistry: Yes. That’s definitely something I talk about as well. That’s how I did it. The best way to understand it is to asking questions that you would generally think during your process. Say, for example, I’m creating an illustration. To myself I’m thinking, “Oh, does this communicate the message I’m trying to convey?” Then I just go into this software and ask it. It almost is like a second opinion. you don’t have to take whatever information it gives you. Sometimes it may be helpful, sometimes not, but just getting familiar with how you can use it is a benefit in itself. I feel slowly you can incorporate it because it’s not even just within my creative process, I’ve applied it to other parts of my life too.
Tubefilter: I noticed you have a YouTube channel but it’s infrequently updated. I was curious if you’re planning to expand to YouTube more or try to do TikTok, or if you’re focusing mainly on these courses. Where’s your split with what you’re producing these days?
Smitesh Mistry: My split at the moment, I’m in a phase right now where I am reassessing my content because the type of content I was producing, partly to I want to create content that’s providing a high value. Applying the approach to Skillshare classes, but to shorter form content where they’re still packed with value because initially, I did grow my audience through process videos but with the nature of social media with people’s attention reducing and the type of content that people want to see, I think it’s important not to just follow trends. I feel like with trends, you do lose some of your creativity as you are just imitating with your own twist on it. I’m taking some time just to reassess my own content before I start producing but I think the main approach now is going to be education. Using my Skillshare platform to educate on deeper concepts and then using my social media like Instagram and eventually expanding to TikTok to create short-form, more bite-sized piece of content rather deep long-form content.
Tubefilter: Any plans or projects over the next year that you want to work on aside from the things that we’ve mentioned before?
Smitesh Mistry: Like I mentioned, I have upskilled in videography quite recently. I’m intrigued to combine my skills, whether the illustration and the videography together. Whether it’s making short films like one-minute, two-minute films using the illustration as a tool to help convey messages. For me right now, especially because I’ve gone freelance, it’s a matter of using my skills and combining them together in a way to help because a lot of my illustrations were message-driven so it is trying to use these separate industries more as tools rather than the actual industry itself to further communicate messages that I want to convey.
Tubefilter: What would be your No. 1 piece of advice for somebody who wants to get into creating Skillshare courses?
Smitesh Mistry: I think a big part of that is your why. Why would you want to teach? I feel like for me, being able to give back to the creative community allows me to put the effort and the depth into the classes. The best advice I give is create the class that you wish you had. Just by doing that, you’ll automatically create a class that’s for your audience rather than things that you feel would need to be in there, if that makes sense.
Tubefilter: What’s been your favorite part of existing as an artist on the internet?
Smitesh Mistry: I think for me, the ability to share my work, my messages with the world and seeing people react to it in a positive way, honestly, it is such a nice feeling being able to put a piece of work out there that you are passionate about. Seeing other people enjoy it, learn from it. I think for me, the ones who ask questions or the audience members who ask questions whether it’s how do I do a certain thing or because of this piece of work, or I relate to this message, I think it’s the reaction, which is really nice about posting online. Obviously, there are some negatives that come with that.
Tubefilter: It is the internet.
Smitesh Mistry: Yes. You can’t control that. I feel like it’s the whole the glass half full. It depends on how you look at it but I think definitely just the response, which has been really nice.
Tubefilter: Did it surprise you? I know you said originally you were posting your Instagram content and you were getting comments asking for educational help. Did it surprise you that a lot of people wanted to learn from you in the first place?
Smitesh Mistry: Yes, definitely. Initially, it was especially I’m pretty sure a lot of creatives feel imposter syndrome kicking in where it’s, “Why does someone want to learn from me?” Especially when I started posting, I was on my journey of learning too but then what helped me switch that was there’s always going to be someone a couple of steps before me who would benefit from the information that I’ve spent learning. Which is another reason why Skillshare is a great way for me to express that because again, when people ask and pay an interest, it is nice a bit to be able to share the information that I’ve learned. Initially, it was like, “Oh, why do people want to learn from me?” It was like that but then once I took it on board and ran with it I feel like I could give a lot more value.
Tubefilter: Is there anything else you want readers to know?
Smitesh Mistry: I think we covered the main parts. The main parts for me is the stressing about AI because obviously that can get lost and people can obviously have their strong opinions when things are new.
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