When he first put brush to paper in, the man behind reddit’s infamous “Sh*tty Watercolour” paintings couldn’t possibly have known what he was getting himself into. But now he’s reaping the rewards of his hard work. And after a cheeky tweet to Aston Martin, those rewards just got a whole lot bigger – not to mention even more hilarious.
Hector Janse van Rensburg, better known online as “Sh*tty Watercolour”, hails from England, where he currently studies philosophy, politics and economics at the University of York. And, at just 23 years old, his talents clearly extend well beyond his age.
Back in 2012, after being rejected by his preferred university, Rensburg began painting using watercolors. Turning his attentions to art was meant to be a creative means of fighting off boredom and the blues, but he soon found that he lacked inspiration.
As a member of the online community reddit, however, Rensburg quickly realized that all the inspiration he needed was right in front of him. Indeed, the various and eclectic nature of other users’ posts, comments and even their user names was all he needed to dive right in.
And so Rensburg created an account, naming it “Sh*tty Watercolour”. He then began posting paintings of dubious quality in response to the discussions already ongoing on reddit. And it wasn’t long before his notoriety on the site grew.
Indeed, the reaction from reddit’s many users was phenomenal. In turn, Rensburg continued posting more and more watercolors to the site. And over time his paintings slowly began improving, to the point that the first part of his account name became something of a misnomer.
While Rensburg’s true identity remained a mystery for the first couple of years, as he posted to reddit and interacted with fan sites anonymously. He eventually revealed all to entertainment website Mashable in 2014. “Perhaps I just ruined any remaining mystery surrounding the guy that – inexplicably – decided one day to paint thousands of subpar paintings on the internet,” he said.
Rensburg’s popularity had ballooned to such an extent that even reddit’s general manager, Erik Martin, piled on the praise. Martin told Wired magazine in 2012, “The really great thing about things like Sh*tty Watercolour is [the posts are] unexpected… It’s one of the nice sort of gems that make comments worth exploring in reddit.”
Five years after he first began his watercolor journey, Rensburg is still posting new content to reddit regularly. But he’s now also illustrating for York University, had his portrait of Barack Obama featured on the former President’s very own Tumblr page, and has a Wikipedia page dedicated to him.
Rensburg says he takes inspiration from Quentin Blake, the artist famous for illustrating Roald Dahl’s work. Ironically enough, Blake is the man many assumed to be behind the “Sh*tty Watercolour” pseudonym, before Rensburg revealed his true identity. “Truth be told, I don’t like most paintings – my own included – so it’s quite rare to find things I actually enjoy,” he told university news website The Tab.
Rensburg has since extended his portfolio beyond reddit, launching platforms on Twitter, Tumblr and even YouTube. And in May 2017 a seemingly innocuous tweet landed him some very generous freebies. Indeed, he posted what was apparently just a simple picture of himself in the bath, with a bottle of Radox bath gel in the background.
The accompanying text read: “Despite the alluring exploration of the male form combined with a strong brand placement, this is not a sponsored tweet.” And yet, even with his perhaps ironic insistence on impartiality, Radox nevertheless reached out to Rensburg via direct message – and promised to send him a box of the brand’s goodies.
And when they actually showed up, Rensburg made sure to repay the favor by tweeting another photo; a re-creation of the first self-portrait shot, with the original single bottle joined by a row of his new Radox goodies. Sensing he was maybe onto something big, Rensburg decided to go for broke.
Clearly having a brainwave, he proceeded to post another follow-up photo – again, featuring himself in an almost identical pose in the bath. But this time Rensburg had propped up a hand-drawn picture of an Aston Martin in the background, emphasizing the “big vrooms.”
And even though that tweet may have seemed more than a little ambitious, Radox quickly handed off to Aston Martin – and the motor manufacturer actually posted a reply. Indeed, the luxury brand went ahead and offered Rensburg a free car, albeit with “slightly smaller vrooms.”
As it turned out, the vrooms were significantly smaller – it was, in fact, a toy car. But Rensburg had nevertheless still managed to swing a free ride from Aston Martin, and nobody can take that fact away from him.
Other Twitter users responded enthusiatically to Rensburg’s genius tweets. Indeed, he posted the engagement statistics for the original self-portrait, including more than 9 million impressions and no less than 75,000 retweets.
One user, Harry Harris, dryly told Rensburg: “[I] can’t believe you’re a shill for big bubble.” Another, using the handle Lucía, wrote: “Haven’t opened both eyes yet and you already made me laugh, thank you.”
Unsurprisingly, Rensburg isn’t oblivious to the notoriety and success his paintings have brought him, even beyond the scope of free bath products and toy cars. “Ultimately ‘Sh*tty Watercolour’ was the best thing that has happened to me, and I want it to stay for as long as people will have me,” he told Mashable. “Even if people get bored of me tomorrow, it has been an amazing experience.”
Based on how long he’s been around so far, however, it seems increasingly unlikely that anyone will get weary of Rensburg’s work any time soon. Indeed, he has plenty of corporate commissions and even a couple of book deals sketched out. Although quite how any of that measures up to taking delivery of a free Aston Martin – no matter what scale – can only be determined by the artist himself.