Minnesota high school senior goes viral with TikTok drawing tutorials

“I’m clearly not an art teacher; I’m just a high-schooler who’s passionate about art," Hartley Bauer said. Her actual high school art teacher begs to differ.

Denfeld art student creates viral TikTok tutorials
Hartley Bauer, of Duluth, talks about sharing instructional art tutorials via the social media platform TikTok on Jan. 12.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

DULUTH — Hartley Bauer’s bedroom is a mini-art gallery.

Save for posters from “Stranger Things,” Minecraft and Five Nights At Freddy’s, the Duluth teen’s walls are covered with work she made: an intricately illustrated graphic novel page, a drawing of an astronaut with planets and fish orbiting their helmet, a painting of a skeleton and a life-like violet-colored rose.

If you want to draw like Bauer, she can teach you, like she has hundreds of thousands of others.

Like many teens, Denfeld High School senior started using TikTok, a video-focused social networking platform, following the trends of the moment and checking out dancing and music clips. Last year, she drew a girl in a cyberpunk outfit. She turned that into a mini-tutorial.

Now, Bauer’s account, @hartexists, has 173,000 followers and nearly 3 million likes.


From her bedroom, Bauer has created and posted tutorials on how to shade and how to draw eyes, noses, lips. Her hand tutorial has 1.9 million views; her face tutorial, 1.2 million.

“I’m clearly not an art teacher, I’m just a high schooler who’s passionate about art,” she said.

John Hoban begs to differ.

“I told her this year, ‘I don’t think I can help you anymore. You’re beyond where we’re at now,’” the Denfeld High School art teacher said. “I run those classes like a college class. She exceeds every expectation.”

Hoban described her work as “otherworldly.”

Denfeld art student creates viral TikTok tutorials
Hartley Bauer, of Duluth, demonstrates how she uses her phone to make videos while drawing Jan. 12.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

To know I’m that artist for other people, inspiring them in the same way other artists inspired me as a kid, is so special.
Hartley Bauer

Everything she does is technically great, and there is a lot of meaning behind every artistic decision, which is difficult for people to do, he said.

Hoban heard about Bauer’s TikTok popularity from another student. While he didn’t have an account, he looked it up.


“It’s college-level stuff, and she’s doing it on her own,” he said.

Bauer beams with knowledge and personality on TikTok.

In an early video, her thumb snags wet ink on her page. A higher-volume soundbite, “Here’s me, smudging the shoe,” cuts into her step-by-step directions.

In another clip, Bauer breaks down how to start with simplified shapes of the body: “I like to think of feet as their own shape that swivels at the ankle.

"As you can see: swivel swivel,” she says, cutting to her own angling socked foot.

Denfeld art student creates viral TikTok tutorials
An assortment of pens and markers used by Hartley Bauer, seen in her work area.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

“Can you tell what my favorite color is yet?” she asks while adding highlights to a purple-skinned woman in another video.

She said her tutorials are easy enough for beginners to follow, and at the same time, there are enough tricks for experienced artists to find some value, too.

Comments on her videos run the gamut — in a couple of languages — from how to draw a side profile, to the type of camera she uses for the mini-Polaroids she uses for reference shots.


Denfeld art student creates viral TikTok tutorials
Artist Hartley Bauer, of Duluth, pages through one of her sketchbooks Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022, in Duluth.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

People have approached her about using her work in tattoos and offered to pay for her creative contribution.

While she’s researching what other artists are doing, this isn’t about money for her.

“The pandemic was a depressing time for so many people. This account was the No. 1 thing keeping me from falling into a slump because it motivated me to keep creating,” she said.

So many share that this work is a guide to take up or improve their craft.

“To know I’m that artist for other people, inspiring them in the same way other artists inspired me as a kid, is so special,” Bauer added.

A friend of mine told me I need to get an agent for my daughter. … That’s how I found out.
Shane Bauer

Her viral popularity has been a little disorienting, especially because it’s a sacred activity she often does solo.

“Someone like me, who was never really popular in school, is suddenly being seen for their talents, while at the same time, no one really knows about this," she said.

Bauer keeps this mostly under wraps, even from her housemates.


“A friend of mine told me I need to get an agent for my daughter. … That’s how I found out,” Shane Bauer recalled.

When he saw her online work, he wasn’t surprised at his daughter’s growing skill; she’d sold and commissioned art before this.

“Hartley is way beyond what I could do at her age. I would never go anywhere close to the level of detail and talent that she has,” her father, a former graphic designer, said.

Denfeld art student creates viral TikTok tutorials
A page in a sketchbook belonging to Hartley Bauer.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

New to TikTok, he said he was pleased to see she is using it in a productive way.

Bauer starts by doodling on index cards. When she’s ready to move to her sketchbook, she’ll draw with one hand, record on her phone from the other.

Sometimes, she rigs her phone to her chest.

“I don’t put a lot of effort into fancy recording technology like that," she said. "If the phone’s all I need, then that’s all I need.

A detailed sketch shows single rooms hovering in the sky and attached by skywalks with large windows
Hartley Bauer drew three-point perspective drawing from her ninth grade art class with John Hoban. The Denfeld High School teacher scanned her assignment and uses it as an example in his lectures, he said.
Contributed / Hartley Bauer

“This one’s doing just fine even with cracks and getting a little outdated,” she said.


She captures parts of the process in sections, edits clips on a phone app, adds transitions and music and posts her finished product during high-engagement times of day.

While she pays attention to metrics, she tries not to get sucked into the well of TikTok.

She stays off SnapChat and, for the most part, Instagram. She can’t imagine making longer videos on YouTube, but that could be an option in the future.

For now, Bauer is writing essays and filling out college applications. She's interested in pursuing illustration in college.

Bauer sees her TikTok account as a possible reference for what lies ahead. Maybe that’s selling prints, expanding her account or making an instructional booklet of her work. (As per requests.)

Denfeld art student creates viral TikTok tutorials
The work area that Hartley Bauer, of Duluth, uses to create art tutorial videos.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

Tucked away in her upstairs bedroom, Bauer sat among her colored pencils, a dead iPad and a fresh sketch page, ready for her next move. Her curly hair resting on her shoulders, Bauer balanced her foot on a large rainbow-colored bounce ball as she talked about her love of snowboarding, the unworthy substitute of skateboarding and the creativity of Minecraft.

When people hear about video games, they think they’re bad for you, but many are really meaningful and emotional, she said.

“If I could help create a game that leaves an impact on someone like some games have left on me, that would make my whole life," Bauer said. "Full circle, back to my childhood.”


Denfeld art student creates viral TikTok tutorials
Art supplies used by artist Hartley Bauer.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

Melinda Lavine is an award-winning, multidisciplinary journalist with 16 years professional experience. She joined the Duluth News Tribune in 2014, and today, she writes about the heartbeat of our community: the people.

Melinda grew up in central North Dakota, a first-generation American and the daughter of a military dad.

She earned bachelors degrees in English and Communications from the University of North Dakota in 2006, and started her career at the Grand Forks (N.D.) Herald that summer. She helped launch the Herald's features section, as the editor, before moving north to do the same at the DNT.

Contact her: 218-723-5346,
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