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The Dark Side of Instagram Art (And Twitch)

The Forest Gate by Gavin Gray Valentine

The Forest Gate by Gavin Gray Valentine

Most of us are familiar with the typical envy and self loathing that comes from social media, but what if I told you social media can have an even more detrimental impact - it could be sabotaging your art. How is this possible? Let’s look at what is happening and how we can avoid it.

Instagram

Advice you often hear about Instagram is to post often, engage, and you will build a following. While this is sometimes true, why does it often feel like you’re yelling into a void hoping for those precious followers to find you. Like all platforms we can look at the demographics and see what is likely to succeed. Here’s a quick list of Instagram stats:

  • 71% of young adults (ages 18–24) used Instagram in 2018 (source)

  • 68% of Instagram users are female. (source)

Here’s a few others stats of note:

  • Photos showing faces get 38% more Likes than photos not showing faces. (source)

  • Images with a high amount of negative space generate 29% more Likes than those with minimal negative space. (source)

If we look at these stats we might get an idea of what kind of art might perform best on Instagram - Faces, negative space, and subject matter that resonates with 18 - 24 year old women. So, let’s take a quick look at the top posts of the most popular art hashtags on Instagram:

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popular art hashtags on Instagram taken 5/13/2019

The results are pretty telling - faces, negative space, young women. At this point you might be thinking, we’ve cracked the code! All you need to do is pump out a bunch of portraits of women with no backgrounds and you’re good to go - and that is where the problem lies, unless the art you want to make fits these parameters. It’s easy to pay too much attention to your likes and follower count and change your work to better fit what a generic Instagram audience is looking for. Instagram creates a feedback loop - art that is popular gets more likes and engagement which drives artists to create more popular art. Let me be clear here, I’m not saying that if the art that is true and honest to you happens to fit into these parameters that it is any lesser, that just means you are at a distinct advantage on Instagram.

Instagram creates a feedback loop - art that is popular gets more likes and engagement which drives artists to create more popular art.

So, what do we do about it? First, though it’s easier said than done, we have to stop worrying about our likes and followers. The idea that having a large social media following will solve all your problems is false. There’s much more involved than just numbers in turning that audience into a sustainable income. A high converting audience of 10k might be more effective than a low converting audience of 100k. What is a much better use of our time is focusing on finding that smaller audience that loves our work, rather than a large audience of those who simply like it and keep scrolling. Alright smarty-pants, how do we find that smaller audience of people who love our work? Well, there isn’t going to be a perfect answer, but here’s a few things that will help:

Use specific hashtags

Instead of tagging your work with #art or #artoftheday, focus on tags that are closer in relation to the subject matter of your art. For example, I am from the Pacific Northwest and the landscapes of this area inspire my art, so I utilize hashtags like #pnwart hoping to connect with others who love this area as I do.

Cross promote with other artists

Instagram stories are a great place to cross promote. This can be as easy as both of you sharing a single story promoting each others work or one that calls on lots of artists to share everyone’s work they like.

#Drawthisinyourstyle is the best cross promotion hashtag currently happening on Instagram. Timing is important, but it’s a great way to get your art in front of a larger audience of people who might like it. My advice is don’t do all of these, do only the ones that fit with the type of art you want to make and if you have the time to spare.

Advertise

Many artists see advertising on Instagram as taboo, I’ve heard things like those followers aren’t real or once you pay for it Instagram will manipulate your account so you will always have to pay. I can tell you these rumors are false. During my first Patreon promotion I decided that get myself from 5,000 followers on Instagram to 10,000 followers to unlock the extra call to action features. It cost me around $150 to get the 5,000 followers through a profile promotion ad.

[Advertising] is likely our most powerful tool moving forward.

To be clear, this is an ad run on Instagram, not buying followers from one of those shady sites. They are all real people who engaged with the ad to follow me and continue to engage with my new posts. The best part about it is that you can create a much more specific target audience than you can with hashtags and get access to users who don’t browse hashtags. However, what I will say is that I’ve seen lots of varying levels of success with advertising. My suggestion would be to experiment with targeting and find what works for you, because this is likely our most powerful tool moving forward.

 
The Mountains Are Calling by Gavin Gray Valentine

The Mountains Are Calling by Gavin Gray Valentine

 

Twitch

In my previous article I wrote about why artists should live-stream on Twitch. While I stand behind those statements, I didn’t talk about reasons you might not want to live-stream. After a few months of live-streaming I started to notice its impact on my work. Here’s what I found:

Feeling like you’re was always “on”

I am someone who is drained by social interaction. That doesn’t mean I’m anti-social, it simply means I need time to recharge after a social event. I was finding myself socially drained by live-streaming the same way a convention is socially draining for me. Once convention season started I quickly felt a huge lack of energy for live-streaming. This won’t be a problem for some artists, but it was for me.

Lack of attention to detail

While live-streaming your attention is divided between your art and your audience and if you’re focused on building your audience you have to engage. There were quite a few times that I would work for an hour or more only to realize later that I had drawn something sub-par.

Audience influence

Whether you can help it or not you will be influenced by people in your live-stream chat. It didn’t happen often, but there were times when I second guessed a decision I had made about a piece because my immediate Twitch audience had responded negatively. This can easily erode the trust you have built in yourself to make artwork that is original and challenging to an audience.

Building an audience is vastly important to your longevity as an independent artist. We must be careful to curate an audience that responds to the work that is honest to ourselves and not merely following trends. It is possible that your audience is hard to find on Instagram or other social media and it will take you more time and effort to find them. But doing so will result in a much more engaged and dedicated audience that will follow you for years to come. An audience that follows you because you are the only one who can make the type of art they want is much more valuable than a bigger number on your profile.


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Gavin Gray Valentine is an independent artist from Portland, Oregon. His work brings the whimsical and sometimes unsettling creatures of Elsewhere to life.

You can see his work at www.ggvart.com or follow him on Instagram @gavin_gray_valentine