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Wayland art teacher hits 1 million followers on TikTok
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Wayland art teacher hits 1 million followers on TikTok

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Wayland Academy art teacher Justin Behm works in his art studio on Thursday. Behm recently hit 1 million followers on TikTok with his ceramics-based account.

Beaver Dam’s latest TikTok celeb just notched a major milestone.

Justin Behm, an art teacher at Wayland Academy, runs a TikTok account devoted to his ceramic art out of his studio. After more than a year of posting, going viral and building a community on the app, Behm received his one millionth follower last weekend.

Behm knew it was coming, he said from his studio Thursday, “but it was definitely surreal.”

A typical video on his account, @justinbehm, features Behm sitting at his pottery wheel as his voice sounds over cuts of him creating a new piece. He tells stories about his life, his family, his art and so on. He is known for making series of videos where he makes pieces with themes like astrological signs and Disney characters.

“Right now I’m just going with the flow, and it just feels really good to use TikTok as a virtual gallery space,” Behm said. “I can make things and then it’s immediately seen.”

Behm first downloaded TikTok last year as a joke per the recommendation of his students. He then decided that he wanted to start putting himself and his artwork out there and originally thought he would use YouTube. However, he has an intense schedule between teaching, supervising students in the dorms and doing photography for Wayland, and TikTok’s shortform video ended up being a better fit.

He looked up tips for how to build a following and found that finding a niche (in his case pottery and art), posting consistently and going live are crucial. He started posting twice a day in the summer of 2020.

Behm’s first video to go viral was one he had saved in Snapchat of a coral sculpture, and it quickly hit 100,000 views. Before that, he would get up to 5,000, which was still exciting, but he said he will never forget the first one that truly hit.

“I remember standing in my parents’ garage watching the views go up and I was like, ‘Oh my god, this is the one,’” Behm said.

Behm has built a large community and fanbase on TikTok as well. He said that he will often receive curious comments from users who notice that he was born without a right hand, and his fans will often fill in the details for them before he can respond. He also engages with his fans about what they would like to see with future projects.

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“It’s just wild,” Behm said. “I never imagined that would happen.”

Behm plans videos a few days out and has found that the pressure to post has gone down with his larger following. He looks for ideas that would initiate engagement like story times, interesting transitions and series. He said his Disney series is what really made the channel take off.

Beaver Dam woman stitches a following to promote her crochet dreams

Behm’s students are among those who discovered his account.

“They found it and started commenting. It went on somebody’s Snapchat story and just evolved,” he said. “Now, the kids are very invested. When I hit a million, I was getting Teams messages and emails. They were pumped. They’ve been incredibly supportive.”

Behm said that his friends are supportive too, but the kids have an intimate knowledge of TikTok and really get it because they’re on it so much. He is now getting recognized in public, like by the checker at the grocery store, and recently did an ad campaign with Bose. It’s all hard to wrap his head around, Behm said.

One of the keys to TikTok’s success as an app has been its “for you page,” which curates videos to users based on their particular interests using an algorithm. No one’s for you page is alike. Behm’s own feed focuses on art, of course, as well as cats and food.

He has been able to connected with other artists through TikTok and built a tight-knit, supportive group of friends to collaborate and help each other through the ebbs and flows of creating.

Behm hopes to continue doing series on TikTok and crowdsource for gallery shows, a dream of his. As for those who want to get started on TikTok, Behm says to “just do it.”

“It was really scary before I started making videos. It is really daunting to put yourself out there in a meaningful way,” he said. “You feel so vulnerable or you can feel so vulnerable. I think the only way to get over that is just to do it.”

Behm is from Beaver Dam and pursued art after taking ceramics classes in high school through the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point to his current gig at Wayland, where he has been for six years. He said he fell in love from the first time he touched clay.

Beaver Dam has another famous TikToker, Sarah Csiacsek, who built a following with her crochet videos.

Follow Chris Higgins on Twitter @chris_higgins_ or contact him at 920-356-6751 and chiggins@wiscnews.com.

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