I've become pretty obsessed with the Instagram account Badly Drawn Models, along with over 25,000 other people. The concept is exactly as simple as it sounds: Sean Ryan finds photos of models and then draws pictures of the aforementioned models, and his hand-drawn pictures aren't conventionally or technically good. The proportions are all off. Eyes aren't drawn in a straight line, neither are noses. But for some reason, I can't look away. I've found myself scrolling to the bottom of his Instagram, eager to see a new image, disappointed when there are none. So what's the appeal of Badly Drawn Models? What makes it so mesmerizing? And why am I obsessed?
The name definitely has something to do with it. When you put the modifier "badly drawn" in the title of your Instagram account, the bar for these drawings is immediately set really low. There's something about admitting straight off the bat that your pictures aren't going to be good that takes a bit of the pressure off, gives you permission to laugh a little... especially when the drawings are as bad as promised. And Ryan is quick to admit that he doesn't take it too seriously. As he explained in an interview with Dazed , "I failed my art GCSE and, at the time, that pretty much ended any aspirations of becoming 'an artist.'"
But failure in school clearly didn't stop Ryan from drawing, and for all his self-deprecation, his pictures are good enough that it's possible to figure out who you're looking at even without the source material. Models are reduced to their defining characteristics, their "looks," with Joan Smalls showing up as all cheekbone and Georgia May Jagger just big lips and gap teeth.
Looking at the two images side-by-side, source material next to drawing, is like piecing together a puzzle, trying to figure out which features have been accentuated and caricatured, and which have been reduced to blank space. Eyebrows become thick black caterpillars, crawling on cartoon faces. Wrinkles and creases and cheeks become single, sometimes well-placed lines. Foreheads and chins are elongated or compressed, depending on the face. The drawing is a distorted funhouse image of the original, and I can't stop trying to piece together what's what.
Badly Drawn Models was made for Instagram. Ryan's interest in models and fashion stemmed from the social media platform, saying in that same interview with Dazed that Instagram has "been massively influential in giving people a glimpse into models’ daily lives and allowed interactions between models and fans to occur." Instagram allows Ryan to share the images directly with the models he's drawing (his captions are often pleas to his followers, to get Sky Ferreira or Karlie Kloss to pay attention), but also to find new models to draw.
That Ryan's lampooning isn't limited to A-list Victoria's Secret Angels and beautiful celebrity's children who have blossomed into beautiful celebrities in their own right makes it clear that he's genuinely interested in finding unique faces and personalities, rather than just focusing on celebrities. The roster of models runs deep, and his gusto for a task he's set out for himself is evident.
That enthusiasm comes from all sides, though, and is another aspect of what makes Badly Drawn Models so addictive. I first heard about the account from Cailin Hill, perhaps better known on the Internet for her blog The Model Burnbook. Hill was unabashedly excited about her turn on Badly Drawn Models, reposting the picture with the Emoji-laden caption, "I have been secretly hoping for this moment for months!!!"
Many of the models drawn by Ryan, including big-names like Gemma Styles and Cara Delevingne, have reposted and shared the images, all with a tongue-in-cheek appreciation for the art. Ryan hasn't gotten any complaints from his subjects, saying, "None of the models that I’ve drawn have asked me to take their picture down or told me that they hate it, so I guess that’s a positive."
I'm an advocate for anything that makes high fashion seem less intimidating, and Badly Drawn Models definitely helps make these icons less intimidating with its sheer goofiness. Is there some greater lesson to be learned about the state of the fashion industry and modeling from this Instagram account? I don't think so. But is it totally fun to follow? Absolutely. And am I justified in being obsessed with Badly Drawn Models? Most definitely. (And if you want in on the badly drawn club, Ryan will create your own badly drawn portrait for just £100... if, you know, anyone wants to get me a gift for Christmas or something.)