In social network years, DeviantArt is ancient. To paint a picture of the era it was born in, the online creative community was originally started in 2000 to share skins for media players like Winamp. But CEO Angelo Sotira, who co-founded the site when he was 19, maintains that the platform is very young, at least when you look at the age of its users and how long they’ve been making art.

Now, after its acquisition by the website-building platform Wix in 2017, the site’s perennial army-green design is being revamped with a sleek new layout called DeviantArt Eclipse. “The aim is to be DeviantArt for the next 10 years, not the past 20,” Sotira says.

In its heyday, DeviantArt was home to a tight-knit community for artists of all skills. Users could leave constructive criticism under people’s art and write messages on each others’ profiles, long before Facebook was invented. Professional artists — like the Oscar-winning director of Pixar’s Bao, Domee Shi — credit the site as the place where they got their start. “Online art communities are probably a huge reason that you’re seeing a lot more girls getting into animation and illustration,” Shi told The New York Times in an interview.


A DeviantArt Eclipse profile page.

But as social networks began taking off, users gradually started to leave for bigger platforms like Tumblr and Instagram. Artists traded the niche, art-focused community for broader networks that were easier to use and could reach more people, and visits to DeviantArt began to plummet. In 2012, DeviantArt advertised having 65 million monthly visitors. Just three years later, it would fall to 45 million, and the platform hasn’t updated the stat since.

Now DeviantArt is hoping to reclaim its place as the creative social platform for artists — and it might be the perfect time. Recently, competing sites have been struck with their own set of problems: much of Tumblr’s oddball community fled the site after a crackdown on adult content, and Instagram’s algorithms have made it harder for artists to be discovered unless they post content regularly. Platform fatigue is setting in, and artists are looking for other options.


Eclipse is rolling out to users now, and the aesthetic is decidedly more modern, available in a light or dark theme. User profiles are more customizable with rearrangeable Wix widgets and huge header photos. There are redesigned pages for deviations (what DeviantArt calls submissions) that let you choose your background to make art stand out, and expanded search functionalities that let users browse commissions, polls, and tags. Eclipse is also getting rid of third-party ads, which used to be a perk that Core members (a $5/month subscription feature that also gets users more storage and site features) paid for.

Community reaction to the redesign appears to be split. Many longtime users aren’t happy about missing features nor the buggy new interface that’s still going through growing pains; others welcome it as progress, recognizing that it’s time to move away from the dated design. It’s also been criticized as being too similar to ArtStation, another creative platform for sharing art. Sotira doesn’t seem worried, having come to expect this sort of reaction throughout the 10 versions the site has gone through in 19 years. But none of the redesigns have been as drastic as this.


Illustrator Lois van Baarle has been a DeviantArt member since 2002 and is one of the site’s most recognized artists. She’s more active these days on Instagram or Twitter, but still updates her DeviantArt occasionally. Baarle describes her experience with Eclipse as “overwhelming” so far. “[It’s] like having to learn a new platform altogether! A lot of the people who use DeviantArt are attached to the way it used to be, so I think they’ll need to attract a lot of new members in order for this huge change to catch on.”

DeviantArt’s design is something the company has debated internally for a long time. In response to a 2012 Quora post titled “Why does deviantART look so archaic/ugly?,” Sotira acknowledged that the green was a point of contention for a lot of people, but said breaking the user interface lines that longtime users were used to would “destroy habitual browsing and harm traffic patterns.” As Eclipse rolls out, Sotira plans to give users the option to return to the original layout. It’ll stay for as long as it needs to, until the majority of users warm up to the new design.


DeviantArt Classic will stay for as long as it needs to.

When big tech companies take over established creative communities, it’s often gone poorly. But Sotira believes that it makes more sense for a subscription company like Wix to acquire a site like DeviantArt, than it did for Yahoo, an advertising-backed media business, to acquire a platform like Tumblr. “I think they didn’t really realize what they were getting themselves into,” he says. Justin Maller, the platform’s chief creative officer, agrees: “I don’t think they respected its DNA. They tried to homogenize it and not celebrate what was unusual about it.”

Wix is specifically focused on helping creatives build personal websites, which has a natural connection to DeviantArt. On a recent earnings call, Wix CEO Avishai Abrahami said artists and designers tend to need multiple websites, which makes DeviantArt users “our base customers.” Eclipse’s redesigned profile pages are also meant to double as portfolio sites, and with DeviantArt dropping ads, the more professional presentation can also be used to lure in new sources of revenue, like brand partnerships.


While DeviantArt’s content policies are much less restrictive than Tumblr’s, it still has clear limitations on what can and can’t be posted, especially around sexual themes. “Moderation is one of the hardest challenges on any one of these networks,” Sotira says. Some moderation is automated, but a lot of it is flagged by the community. DeviantArt also has a somewhat increased barrier to entry, in that the process of uploading art is also an act of self-moderation. Everything posted on the site — there are about 65,000 submissions a day — is a piece of art personally created by the user. You can’t batch upload photos or just dump dozens of files at a time. Everything has to be submitted intentionally. Art has to be placed into specific categories, and if it’s mature content, it’s supposed to be flagged as such when it’s uploaded.

You have to credit DeviantArt for sticking around this long, throughout the internet’s many trends and phases. In 2019, artists have more places than ever to showcase their work, from professional portfolio sites like Behance to giant social networks like Instagram. But DeviantArt has always felt like it exists in its own space, and there’s something comforting about the fact that it’s still standing.


People knock DeviantArt for the quality of art posted on the site, but there’s a vitalness in having a space for beginner artists to grow together. Fan art, which is commonly associated with the site, is often dismissed as being amateurish, but there’s real value in it. You learn to draw by imitating, and the best art comes from the subjects you’re passionate about. In nearly two decades of attending DeviantArt meetups, Sotira says he’s seen a consistent turnout of a young audience that replenishes regularly. And Maller knows the value of having a community, having first met Sotira at a DeviantArt meetup in Australia. “Not everyone’s there to be a professional the whole time, some people are there to learn,” he says.

Sotira wrote an article for Recode a few years back titled, “Never Forget That 16-Year-Old Girls Run the Internet,” which he still believes to be true. Keeping an eye on the art that’s being uploaded to the site, and what kinds of members are rising in popularity, Sotira can get a sense of what users are into. “Teenage girls really like horses and wolves, as a baseline,” Sotira says. “In 20 years, lots of stuff has changed on the internet. That has not.”



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