Combining laughter, learning, and YouTube
Local artist receives more than 1 million views a month
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.