Com­bin­ing laugh­ter, learn­ing, and YouTube

Lo­cal artist re­ceives more than 1 mil­lion views a month

The Hamilton Spectator - - GO - EMMA REILLY

Steve New­berry doesn’t look like your av­er­age YouTube star.

The Hamil­ton artist, an­i­ma­tor, and en­tre­pre­neur has more of a laid-back Leonard Co­hen vibe than a Justin Bieber aura about him.

But there’s one thing New­berry and the Biebs have in com­mon: they both got their start thanks to YouTube videos.

New­berry, 40, started mak­ing ed­u­ca­tional videos for kids about four years ago as a pas­sion project. Today, his YouTube chan­nel, Scratch Gar­den, re­ceives more than 1 mil­lion views a month and has more than 48,000 sub­scribers.

New­berry’s Scratch Gar­den videos of­fer hu­mor­ous lessons cov­er­ing ev­ery­thing from syl­la­bles to count­ing to the dif­fer­ent parts of the head. New­berry’s ir­rev­er­ent sense of hu­mour is ap­peal­ing to adults and kids alike — some­thing he ap­pre­ci­ates as a dad of two young chil­dren.

“There’s a lot of kids’ mu­sic on YouTube and a lot of kid-cen­tred an­i­ma­tion that, as a par­ent, just an­noys me,” he said.

“I ba­si­cally cre­ate adult mu­sic with kid lyrics, and com­bine that with my own sense of hu­mour, which is a lit­tle bit out there,” he said. “The peo­ple that get it, get it.”

His YouTube videos were also the ge­n­e­sis of his first book: an ode to punc­tu­a­tion called “Semi­colons, Cupcakes, and Cu­cum­bers.” It came about af­ter an edi­tor from In­no­va­tion Press watched a Scratch Gar­den video with her daugh­ter and of­fered New­berry a deal.

The book fol­lows the story of four friends: Pe­riod, Ques­tion Mark, Ex­cla­ma­tion Point, and Comma. Each one has a con­flict­ing idea of how they should spend the day un­til the hero of the story — Semi­colon — shows them how to work to­gether.

The book has the same feel as New­berry’s YouTube videos — a fun les­son wrapped up in an en­gag­ing story. (In fact, New­berry down­loaded the en­tire Grade 1 and Grade 2 cur­ricu­lum to mine for ma­te­rial for Scratch Gar­den video). “It’s just com­bin­ing my love of laugh­ter and learn­ing,” he said.

New­berry has man­aged to ac­com­plish writ­ing a chil­dren’s’ book and post­ing Scratch Gar­den videos while bal­anc­ing his fam­ily life (his wife, Seema Narula, is one of the driv­ing forces be­hind the on­line arts and cul­ture mag­a­zine The In­let) and work­ing a day job.

For the past six years, New­berry has run an an­i­ma­tion com­pany Topic Sim­ple, which is aimed at cre­at­ing videos for busi­nesses that want to tell their story through an­i­ma­tion. His clients have in­cluded the City of Hamil­ton, World Vi­sion, and a range of cor­po­rate clients.

His pas­sion for ex­plana­tory an­i­ma­tion started about 12 years ago, when he did a one-year post­grad­u­ate de­gree in New Me­dia De­sign at Cen­ten­nial Col­lege.

Dur­ing his stud­ies, he landed an in­tern­ship at TVO where he worked on ex­plana­tory an­i­ma­tions for what he calls “very bor­ing po­lit­i­cal sub­jects.” That po­si­tion even­tu­ally blos­somed into work at TVO kids — an ex­pe­ri­ence that prompted him to start Scratch Gar­den in his spare time.

“When­ever I had ex­tra time or I was wait­ing on a client from a cor­po­rate an­i­ma­tion job, I would do this YouTube stuff,” he said.

With the launch of his new book, he’s set him­self an am­bi­tious goal of post­ing one Scratch Gar­den video a week. He’s done nine videos in 10 weeks and has hired a part-time an­i­ma­tor to keep up the pace.

“I’m ap­proach­ing 50,000 sub­scribers, which is pretty de­cent,” he said. “We’ll just see where it goes from there.”

Steve New­berry is a Hamil­ton artist, dad, and an­i­ma­tor. He’s also a YouTube star whose chan­nel of ed­u­ca­tional kids’ videos re­ceives 1 mil­lion plays per month.

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