Oh hey — nice to meet you. I’m HarveyStewart. I’m a writer, digital artist, and robot from an alternate timeline where Donald Trump is president. I’m also one of the millions of artists selling my work on what Vogue has named the world’s most talked about art dealer — Instagram.
It’s an interesting way to think about your dad’s favourite platform for sharing his gout photos — but it’s not wrong. Previously obscure artists like Laurie Simmons, Olek and (my personal favourite person on Instagram) Annette Labedzki have all skyrocketed in fame since showcasing their work on the platform.
Given this — it’s natural for it to attract the attention of big time art dealers and under-the-radar artists. One of the most understated benefits of Instagram is the way in which it’s provided painters, photographers and sketch artists with a new platform for accessing and building a fan-base. Not long ago — an artist needed to woo critics, galleries and the art world elite before reaching the masses — but Instagram let’s us skip all of that and take our work directly to the people.
With access to audiences all over the world and from any niche, Instagram gives us the unbiased, unpretentious opinions of the masses. Without going through the channels of the art world — an artist’s body of work is free to speak for itself. We live in a world where young people are growing up and examining art on a purely visceral level — sans the bias of an analytic, classroom setting. You ever have someone tell you they don’t “get” art? The secret to getting art is understanding that there’s nothing to get.
Artists like Ellsworth Kelly who smear their canvasses with bright, saturated block colours aren’t trying to make abstract, convoluted statements about poverty in America. It’s about the spectacle. It’s about seeing colours, lines and textures play with each other in a way that they don’t in the real world. Passion for art starts with experiencing it at this intimate and non-judgemental level.
Anyway — I’m getting off-topic. What I’m getting at is that if you want to utilize the platform as an artist — here’s some advice, from one artist to another.
Post great, consistent content
This may seem obvious — but it’s not. It’s incredibly easy to get caught in the trap of posting what you think people want to see instead of what you want to post. Early on while I was posting — I was overly-analytical about which posts were the most popular, and tried to adhere to a formula in my posting. In doing this — I discovered a long-known fact about advertising: sex sells.
When I found that sexually-tinged posts were the most popular on my profile, I went with it. And after a while, I noticed that I had digitally-painted myself in a corner. I was bored of creating the same thing over and over again. Don’t get me wrong — it’s important to consistently brand your Instagram, but I think part of what makes following a person enjoyable in the long-term is watching their evolution as an artist.
When an artist posts the same thing over and over again — it stops being fun to follow them and it stops being fun to be them. You have to enjoy what you’re doing. It takes time to build a following and you’re not getting paid for it (at least not right away) — so post things you enjoy.
Do you like going to the park and taking monochromatic snapshots of retirees feeding pigeons? Great! Post more of those. My trick is to let my art evolve naturally and post content that I would enjoy seeing. Chances are if you have a keen interest in something, then other people do too.
And post often. This is important for a number of reasons. To start — it will make you evolve as an artist if you’re forced to come up with a new image a few times a week. It’s also important for the sake of maintaining a following. The more you post, the more your followers will familiarize themselves with your art and the more likely they are to continue following and supporting you.
Treat your profile as a brand
Consistency is important when it comes to how often you post on Instagram — but it’s also important when it comes to what you post on Instagram. Branding is important. Your aesthetic is important.
You will evolve as an artist — it’s natural. A good way to keep your brand on-point is to keep it personal to you. Art is representative of an artist’s life and it’s natural for your priorities to evolve. What occupies your mind the most? Space? Cats? Makes those things the themes of your art.
Build a following by embracing Instagram’s tools and culture
Hashtags feel cheap — mostly because they are. They’re free. And unless you can find a way to advertise your art that pays you — it’s the cheapest form of advertising you have.
I get it though. You’re an artist and you have integrity. Your art should speak for itself and should be exposed to the masses. But if you want to build a following, you have to forget about what should be true and focus more on what actually is.
Hashtags are a necessary evil if you want organic exposure on Instagram. Have you ever printed out some flyers advertising your upcoming event and then posted them all over your own apartment? No — of course you haven’t. But that’s what you’re doing as an artist when you don’t hashtag your posts. There’s no exposure without them.
If you’re worried about followers seeing a paragraph of keywords and thinking you’re a fame-hungry artist clinging to what little exposure they can get — trust me when I say they don’t care.
Instagram is a visually-dominant medium. People are generally scrolling passed any captions you add to your images. Captions are seen as more of an afterthought for users if they’re looking to add context to the post. If you’re really worried about looking cheap — put the hashtags a couple of lines down so they get cut up unless a user expands the caption. Instagram cuts off everything after the first three lines of your captions anyway, so rarely are people stopping to expand it.
Hashtags can help expose your art to new audiences. People explore hashtags — and generally the people that do are fans looking for cool new profiles to follow. If you’re worried about overdoing hashtags — try to be more focused with them. There are great, free tools online like Websta that will help you explore popular tags related to your work.
Use free or cheap online tools
The great thing about living in 2017 is that there’s no shortage of free or insanely cheap tools for you to use. We live in an entrepreneurial culture that connects us instantly with any audience that might be interested in what you’re posting.
Google is your friend when it comes to finding insanely cheap or free tools for you to use in your marketing. When I first started making digital art — I used a software called Affinity Photo. It’s essentially a less-expensive version of Adobe Photoshop. It can’t do everything that Photoshop does — but it can do everything that I ever knew how to do on Photoshop and that’s good enough for me.
If you’re a photographer — there’s not shortage of free photo-editing software out there. If your art falls into more of the graphic design category — think of free graphic design tools like Canvaa orBe Funky. If you need some free stock photos, consider using Burst or Pexels.
There’s even tools to help automate your Instagram interactions. It’s important to be active in the Instagram community by liking and commenting on other artists posts — but there isn’t always time for this. Consider hiring a robot like Gramista to do it for you. This is a good way to get exposure for your profile — but as a method of advertising it does have its detractors.
Network with other Instagram artists and influencers
Here’s a trick I used early on when I was trying to build my instagram following — feel free to steal it. I would message instagram influencers with more followers than me (not too many more though — remember you have to be worth their time. You won’t get a response from Beyonce — trust me I’ve tried) and offer to either collaborate with them (if they’re a fellow Instagrm artists) or draw them (if they’re an influencer).
It’s easy because Instagram influencers love good fan art and will almost always cross post stuff. If they’re someone who appeals to the same demographic as you — it’s great for getting exposure for your art.
Final Tip: Be patient
Gaining a following is a slow process and part of building that following is not being discouraged about this. It will take time to build up your profile, but if you remain consistent about it and follow a couple of guidelines — your following will come.