I live in a small city that most people have never heard of, and if they have it's because of drug trafficking and cartel violence. In fact, the last thing synonymous with Laredo, TX is "booming art scene", although the city is rich with cultural heritage (and our art scene ain't too shabby, either!).
But from this fairly remote city, and despite almost insurmountable odds, i've managed to extend the reach of my artwork far beyond this city (and even country). This year I'll have my first out-of-state solo-exhibition at Svper Ordinary in Denver, Co., as well as have a painting in artist Simon Birch's seminal New York installation project The 14th Factory. I have also managed consistent sales from my online store The Gray Market, and recently sold a 6ft painting to a collector in Moscow! 2 Years ago, had someone told me I'd be in this position, I'd have laughed in their face.
So...how the hell did I do it!? Well, the short answer is not overnight. I spend a LOT of time on my Instagram account, which my girlfriend (who I met on Instagram) will sourly attest to. My posts, however, are never arbitrary or whimsical. I am very intentional with each photo and caption. Over time I've collected a couple of valuable insights that I've found essential to my Insta endeavors. Here they are:
1. TELL YOUR STORY //
I started pursuing art seriously because I felt I had something to say, and odds are we share the same sentiment.
I was a heroin addict for 6 years, and I lost a brother to an overdose. I got the news when I was taking my first (and only) painting class at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, CA. With no money and no way to get home, I did the only thing I could think of: I walked back into class and finished my painting. I choked my tears back and waited until I got home. Because of my financial situation at the time I was unable to make it to his funeral. I painted my best version of his portrait that evening and held my own ceremony with a bonfire. I established a very raw and visceral relationship with painting because of this experience, and this relationship has become an integral part of the story I tell.
Your best stories will come from your experiences. But it is important to remember that this is not a contest to see who has undergone the most suffering. A good story doesn't have to be tragic, it only has to be yours. What trials or triumphs have shaped who you are? How have these experiences found their way into your work?
2. HASHTAG WISELY //
I'm going to spend a minute on this subject, so get comfy.
Let's start by finding out what exactly a hashtag is. Wikipedia defines a hashtag as
"a type of label or metadata tag used on social network...which makes it easier for users to find messages with a specific theme or content."
Think of your Instagram as a completely dark room, and hashtags as tiny flashlights. The more flashlights that surround your images, the better their visibility. But it's not just about quantity. You need to use the right hashtags. What use is having a flashlight if you point it in the wrong direction? Very often, I see people upload their artwork and use hashtags like #NotReallyInTheMoodButWhatever or #MyGrandmaWontStopMakingThatWierdNoiseWhenSheSleeps. Id be willing to bet not many people are searching that database. Relevance is key. Instagram allows for 30 hashtags, and I use them all. 28 of them are usually the same. I have a document where I have a tailored list of hashtags saved, and I just copy and paste them under each post. I've listed my 28 hashtags below so you can use them as well. But what about the remaining 2 hashtags? I usually reserve them for trending topics. For instance, when I was writing this section the hashtag #DamnDaniel was trending, so I included that in some of my posts. Was it relevant to the artwork? Not in the slightest. But in a world that has all but dissociated action from meaning, a few allowances can be forgiven.
I once had someone find my work because I used the hashtag #Mcrib when McDonalds reintroduced the McRrib in 2014. My primarily green painting immediately stood out in the sea of red imagery. The person who found it bought several drawings the next day. This stuff works.
Here is my list of hashtags. Feel free to edit and modify as you see fit.
#PicOfTheDay #PhotoOfTheDay #InstaDaily #Art #ModernArt #FineArt #OilPainting #OilOnCanvas #Artistic #InstaArt #InstaArtist #ByMe #WinsorNewton #InstaCreation #InstaGreat #InstaGood #ArtLife #ArtWork #ArtDaily #NoFilter #Painting #Creating #Making #Doing #IGArt #WIP #Love #Arte
3. LIKES ARE FREE, SO GIVE THEM FREELY //
It costs you nothing to spend 10 minutes after you post to simply scroll through images under the hashtags you use and drop some love. As mundane as it may seem to you, it can mean the entire world to someone else. I still feel warm and fuzzy when my favorite artists drop in and like or comment on my stuff. You have the power to do the same for someone else, so drop some love on the community and watch it flood back in your direction.
The occasional giveaway also works wonders!
4. BE CONSISTENT //
It's not necessary for you to post ever day. Will it help? Most definitely. You get out what you put in. But posting 2 times a week consistently is better than posting 4 times in one day and then disappearing for 3 months. People love the romantic image of an artist never leaving his studio, forever chained to his easel, producing good imagery.
Maybe you honestly don't have time to be in the studio every day. Hey, I get it! I used to work as a Nurse Aid in a nursing home bathing patients and changing diapers. Some days the last thing on my mind was touching a brush. But there are a couple of ways to make it look like you're doing "studio things", even when you're not.
- STOCK PHOTOS - Take some simple photos of your studio, tools, or self at work, save and post them on a day you can't get to the studio!
- DETAIL SHOTS - Most people won't be able to see your work in person, so give them the next best thing. Having a few detail shots handy is a great way to give people an up-close view of your work and remind them that you're thriving!
- #THROWBACKTHURSDAY, #FLASHBACKFRIDAY, #WAYBACKWEDNESDAY - Remember we left those 2 hashtags free? Here's a great time to use them! Let people see how much your work has progressed and alleviate yourself of the pressure of having to create new content.
5. Make. Good. work. //
Likes and followers do not equal success. I don't have the largest following, but I have a very loyal following. These are people who engage me in what I'm doing, ask me questions, and share my work. They do this not because of the story I'm telling or because I'm using all the right hashtags and posting detail shots. They engage, ask and share because I am producing good work that they can relate to. In the end it is always about the work.
This portion of the blog is especially difficult because the definition of "good" in art will vary from person to person. But for me this is very simple: Good art is truthful. Truthful art is a mirror. A mirror reflects.
Thank you so much for reading. If this has helped you in any way, please share. If you have any questions, get in touch!