Liz Cook's hands are covered in purple latex gloves as she brings the tip of her softly buzzing hot pen to a woman's shoulder. It's a March afternoon and Cook is continuing work on one of her signature "Liz Girl" tattoo designs. This one is Marie Antoinette-inspired, complete with mice and pastries resting atop the colourful queen's blue curls. As Cook draws, her husband, Cookie, stands behind the camera, filming her work and streaming it live to her over one million Facebook fans. Cookie feeds her questions as they come through in the video's comments, sent by viewers from all over the world: "What ink do you use, Liz?" "So Liz, what is your favourite type of machine?" Cook answers the queries while Cookie swivels the camera to show her eternal ink wall and the palette of colours she's set up for the day's masterpiece. Cook, 33, is the owner of the Texas-based Rebel Muse Tattoo Studio, which she opened in 2012. While she has become known throughout the Lone Star State for her high-end portrait and realism tattoos (you won't get a Sailor Jerry at Rebel Muse), it's been Facebook Live that has thrust her into the global spotlight and earned her recognition from fellow artists and interested customers who live everywhere from the U.K. to Russia and Australia.
Cook experimented with other video platforms before Facebook developed its livestreaming platform, but didn't have much luck. "Periscope came out, but I didn't really have any followers with Periscope," says Cook. In August 2015, Facebook offered Live access exclusively to public figures (mostly celebrities and athletes) before giving those with verified pages access in December 2015. At the end of January, the social network gave everyone in the U.S. with an iPhone the opportunity to stream their activities. "I thought people would be so bored watching me do a tattoo," Cook says. "But having the live interaction where people can ask questions makes it so much more fun." Facebook has now found that on average, people will watch a video over three times longer when it is live than when it's not. Depending on the day, Cook says that she tends to have anywhere from 1,000 to 5,000 viewers tuning in at any one moment. When she leaves her videos up on her Facebook page, which she will do for a short period of time after the Live show, they can rack up over 30,000 views overnight. "I had maybe 700,000 Facebook Likes before, but the Live videos pushed that number up super quick," Cooks says. Now, her page has over one million Likes. "It's crazy to make that kind of difference without even having to be on TV or anything," Cook says. "Learning to be a better Live presenter is the next evolution of being a great tattooer." The virtual fanbase has led to more in-person work, as well, which Cook attributes to the fact that people become more comfortable with the tattoo process and also get affirmation that she can deliver on a design promise. Some of the questions that Cook fields have to do with what it's like to be a woman in the tattoo industry and how to deal with some of stereotypes associated with the role, such as promiscuity. Although she says that her Live experiences are always different, her answer to those gender-related questions are always the same. "I don't focus on it — I make my reality what I want it to be," Cook says. "I could allow myself to be a victim of it or I can move on and do more badass work."