Want to grow your YouTube following? YouTube expert Seventh Voyage shows us how he uses Envato Elements to create incredible digital art and connect with his online community.
Seventh Voyage – AKA Jeff Kepler – is a talented digital artist and YouTube pro living out of Colorado. Specializing in photo manipulation and 3D surrealist art, he shares his mesmerizing creations and impressive Photoshop and Blendr skills via his YouTube Channel and Instagram account – injecting his fun, playful personality into everything he creates.
After giving up on YouTube back in 2019 due to a lack of direction, Jeff is now back with a clear vision, fuelled by his passion for art as well as creating and sharing engaging, high-quality content – and it’s really starting to take off!
We picked the brain of this digital artist and YouTube expert to learn his top tips for up-and-coming creators, where he gets his content ideas, and find out how he uses Envato to create his impressive work.
How did you get started on YouTube?
I’ve been creative for as long as I can remember. Most of my jobs out of college required some form of video editing, and I even worked as a motion graphics designer for several years. In 2019, I decided to take a stab at YouTube, however I didn’t really have a clear vision of what I wanted to do with the channel so I stopped after my second video. Fast forward a couple years and I started getting the urge to create videos and Youtube content again – but this time I’ve been much more focused.
I have a bunch of different series I want to do, and a very well thought out roadmap for what I’d like the channel to accomplish. It’s a bit difficult to do while having a full time job, along with all the other responsibilities that come with being an adult, but I’m working on pumping out more content!
Your following is growing so quickly! How do you drive an audience?
I attribute a lot of it to luck and timing. When I got into posting photo manipulations, most of them were pretty simple – a lot of dinosaur and monster-related imagery using just a few stock photos – but they were insanely well received. Some of my earliest posts were getting 4k to 6k likes – one of them even got 11k, which was absurd at the time when I only had a couple of hundred followers.
Early on I was looking for hashtags, and accidentally used one which entered my work into a Photoshop Instagram challenge. I won and my piece was featured on the Photoshop Instagram page. That was a pretty big deal at the time and really helped get some more eyes on my work.
It was hard to not notice the amount of people enjoying what I was doing, so I took it as a sign to keep going, push myself to learn more, improve, and attempt harder pieces.
Tell us about your Behind the Layers series! What inspired you to create it?
The idea for Behind the Layers actually came from the movie Shrek. I was watching the scene where Shrek is telling Donkey about how Ogres are like onions because they have layers – as soon as I heard that a light bulb went off, and Behind the Layers was born!
The main purpose of the series is to dissect both my new and old work, but in a different way than just straight up tutorials and speed edits. There’s no shortage of both of those types of videos on Youtube, and if I’ve learned anything from successful channels, it’s that you need to do something different.
Which other artists inspire you?
In the Photoshop world, Phase Runner, BennyProductions, Max Asabin, Jeff Chapman, and Sand Flake are huge inspirations for me. Phase Runner is amazing at seeing things in stock images that others don’t see, and he uses that skill to create incredible photo manipulations. Benny is the perfect blend of skill and entertainment – he could make a video on watching paint dry and I’d watch it. He also has an enormous audience, so it’s really nice how he features other artists and gives them exposure.
If we step out of the photo manipulation world, I’m a big fan of artists who design alternative movie posters. People like Matt Ferguson, Steven Luros Holliday, Aleksey Rico, Josh Beamish, Sam Gilbey, Nick Charge, JC Richards, Laurent Durieux and so many more. They are so skilled not only in their technical abilities, but also in the concepts that they come up with.
How do you create videos for YouTube? Walk us through your creative process.
I start off by creating a skeleton of the steps I took to create the piece. Once I have that, I’ll draft a script including an intro, a setup section, and a closing. I’ll look at it for a few days, make changes, then once I feel it’s in a good place, I add in a few lame jokes and it’s action time!
When it comes to recording the video, I set up my recording stuff, do as many takes as I need, and then start editing it together. Once I have that, I’ll screen record the creation process from my files. This could be anything from turning layers on and off to digital painting, 3D modeling and so on. I then splice those clips together with the corresponding audio in Adobe Premiere Pro, take it to After Effects to add any motion graphics, and then it’s ready for YouTube!
What programs do you use to create your work?
I mostly use Photoshop and Blender. Sometimes the piece is more Photoshop heavy, sometimes it is more Blender heavy – it just depends on what I feel will give the best result.
As for my setup, I have a PC that I use strictly for 3D work. Once the 3D portion is done, I take it over to my Mac for the Photoshop portion and finalization of the piece. I do 75% of the work using a mouse, and then when I need to start painting in more detail, I’ll go over to my iPad or Cintiq.
You’ve got some of the most creative advertising we’ve seen! How do you go about integrating sponsorships and ads into your videos?
I think doing something different helps retain viewership during that part of the video. I feel like when people are getting hit with a sponsor in a video, they tend to zone out or skip forward. If you can create a funny or interesting way to talk about that sponsor, it helps. It’s also just another way for me to try to be creative. For example when I did my video on the Scream poster, I made it seem like Ghostface was calling me and telling the viewers about the sponsor of the video! I’m a big fan of trying to tie the ad into the video theme to make it as seamless and enjoyable as possible for the viewers.
What types of Envato items do you use the most?
My favorite part about Envato Elements is actually the fonts. I’m a HUGE typography nerd, so much so that I’ll be out with friends and see a sign and be like, “that’s ITC Avant Garde Gothic Bold Pro!”
Most commercial designs require typography, so being able to work with fonts and choose ones that work well together is a really good skill to have. I literally got hired at my first job out of college because the creative director told me, “your design work is great and you know how to use type, and it’s hard to find designers who can do both.”
I used Envato fonts for the poster versions of “The Ghost in the Library,” and “It Came from the Fridge.” In my recent piece, which also takes place in a Ghostbusters Universe, I made three fake VHS tapes next to the TV, which are “Attack of the Marshmallow Man”, “The GateKeeper”, and “Terror Dogs”.
The book on the table is “Tobin’s Spirit Guide”, and the beer on the table is a “Gozer Gozerian IPA” which were also both made with fonts from Envato. Pretty much all my Youtube Thumbnails, or any story post I make that requires text, uses fonts from Envato.
What are your top tips for creating high-quality digital art? How can creators stand out from the crowd?
You have to learn the fundamentals and practice. If you try to skip that phase, your work will be limited. We live in a time where too many people want “the success before the skills,” and it doesn’t really work like that.
In terms of standing out from the crowd, it’s amazing to be inspired by people – I’m inspired by a ton of artists – but I feel like sometimes people get “inspired” confused with “be exactly like.” I have seen a lot of artists go down the route of pretty much trying to replicate the work of their favorite artists, and while it’s great for learning, you can end up with work that isn’t recognisable or unique.
You need to have strong concepts that make people want to stop and say “I wish I’d thought of that.” And if there isn’t a strong concept, you really have to wow people. If you keep regurgitating the same things over and over, unless you are the best at that style or you already have a large following, you will probably have a hard time getting noticed.
What do you love most about Photoshop? Do you have any hacks, tips or tricks for the platform?
I love how much you can do without having to know a lot about the program. Once you learn the basics of Photoshop, you’re on your way to creating whatever you want. There’s a ton of ways to do the same thing in Photoshop as well, so find the methods that work best for you.
As for a handy hack, I would set up custom shortcuts for your most used tools. For example, I use the smudge tool a lot when I’m painting shadows and highlights, but the S key was set to two other tools I never really use. So I went into the settings and made S the shortcut for the smudge tool. Just knowing the shortcuts for the stuff you use often can drastically speed up your workflow.
Also, get used to saving A LOT and incrementing your file. I have lost files before, or gotten into the zone, not saved, and lost my progress. I’m pretty sure I now hit command+s every five minutes or so. If you aren’t in the habit yet, set a timer on your phone when you are working on a piece to help you develop a habit. Trust me, crashes happen, and it’s much worse when you lose hours of progress instead of a few minutes.
What do you like most about Blender and how do you use it?
I started using Blender firstly because it’s a great program to have in your toolbox, and secondly because it opens up so many possibilities. While you can do a lot in Photoshop, Blender allows you to pretty much create whatever you want, at whatever angle you want, working in a 3D space – so there really are no limits. Even if you don’t want to get heavy into 3D, you can use it to set up basic shapes and camera angles, render that out, and then start overlaying images in Photoshop. This way you have an accurate perspective and a nice guide for your work.
I love using it to create ground planes. Sometimes with stocks, the perspective just isn’t right, or you need to manipulate it a lot to get the photo to work the way you want. But with Blender, you can easily create your ground plane, get the exact perspective you want, render that out, and then take it into Photoshop. I did that for the ground plane used in the image I made for my Realistic Composite Course.
If you’re interested in learning Blender, I highly recommend the “Create a Donut” series by Blender Guru. It’s the course that most people do when they’re learning Blender, and it’s free, just like Blender!
I still prefer to use a mix of Blender and Photoshop together, I think they complement each other extremely well, and Photoshop is still my baby. I will always use it.
What have been the highlights of your career so far? Do you have any exciting creative projects coming up?
I’ve had some awesome highlights, but the best part has been the people and friends I’ve made along the way. I have friends in the design community that I’ve never met in person, and still talk to weekly, some even daily.
When my Mother Nature piece went viral, that was a really special moment for me. It was a piece I had been wanting to make for years, but just didn’t have the skills to do it. Finally after years of practice, I was able to create pretty much exactly what I saw in my head. And to see the piece be received so well was – honestly I can’t describe it. I got so many requests for prints of it that I had to start a print shop. It made about $1,000 in a month and I donated half of that to Shark Allies and One Ocean, as they are great organizations that do a ton for Sharks. I love sharks!
Being in Benny’s Edit Race was a huge honor, and getting my channel sponsored by Envato has also been a big highlight. As for upcoming projects, I have a new series that will be dropping next year on my Youtube channel. I think a lot of people are going to like it, so stay tuned and subscribe.
What do you wish you could have told yourself when you were just starting out?
I feel lucky that I started off in a time when Instagram wasn’t around. Try your best to ignore the Instagram clout, and focus on learning and creating. Hone your skills and never get complacent. Stay hungry to learn.
Also, for new designers, don’t expect to be good straight away. Nobody starts off as an expert, at least in the art world. If it was that way, everyone would be an amazing artist! Sometimes I look at my old work and cringe, so just remember that things take time and everyone moves at a different pace. Be patient. Here’s one of my first photo manipulations – I’ve certainly come a long way.
Lastly, if you’re in a creative block, step away from the computer, iPad, or whatever you’re using. Go outside, go to the gym, hang out with friends, do other stuff and eventually your mind will start craving that design process again and you’ll have a new idea in no time.
Unfortunately, we live in a world where Instagram seems to punish you if you don’t create often enough. Some of my earliest posts, when I had a few hundred followers, have more likes than some of my most recent posts where I have 65K+ followers. So don’t let instagram or any social media platform tell you what you should be doing or when you should be doing it. If you work hard, practice, and be kind to people, good things will happen.