Instagram Changed How Artists Played The Game
I started selling my own art back in the 90’s, before there was any Instagram, before there was Google, before there was even the internet. All we had, were the gatekeepers running galleries and shady art dealers controlling which artists sell what.
The ability to make money as an artist was very limited.
There was no way to make money without contacts in the industry let alone knowing how to make money as an artist on your own.
I know how the game was played and and I can guarantee you – it was not in favor of artists.
Nowadays with online tools, social media and artists being more tech savvy – artists are taking a firm grip and control over our destinies.
One of the tools that has helped artists take control and taken control away from the gallery system (the middlemen gatekeepers) and taken the power away from critics and into the hands of art lovers has been Instagram.
Now, artists no longer yearn for gallery representation or the hope that someone can make their careers for them but artists now project the number of subscribers they aim to get to their profile page as they crush-it ala Gary Vee.
They have a plan on how to convert their subs into engaged fans and then paying customers while working out wonderful ways to monetize their art for all their customer segments.
This is the new golden age for artists because artists now see themselves as a brand and a business and they act like it.
The question now is not “Is it possible to make money on Instagram as an Artist?” but more “How do you make money as an artist on Instagram?”.
To make money as an artist on Instagram, we need to start an account and set up a profile.
So How Does An Artist Set Up A Profile on Instagram?
There are a few simple steps you as an artist will need to follow if you want to make money as an artist on Instagram and I will elaborate on these further down:
Your first step is to actually sign up to Instagram and start a profile. If you already have a profile with some followers then you are already ahead but chances are that profile or account you have is a personal one.
Personal Instagram accounts are fine but it is when you switch to a business profile (its free) that you will see metrics for each post. This will allow you to see how many people engage with your posts and how many see your posts.
So let’s switch from a Personal Profile to a Business Profile.
This can easily be done on the app and there is no cost associated to it. This is also required if you eventually want to run ads (it also means you will need to set up a Facebook business page as well.)
Build Your Brand
Think of you the artist as a brand and work out a way to brand your image and works. It is what I did when I decided against setting up my Instagram page and website as Joseph Colella and instead land on WastedTalentInc.
I wanted something that could be easier to remember and resonate with more people. I was right!
Work out the type of art you wish to sell and focus on a style.
The more successful artists are the ones who develop art based on a series or specific style. When your art crosses many styles and not sticking to a theme or series, it does not resonate well with art collectors.
If you wish to explore different styles, do so on the side and then post all the works done in that style as one batch.
Take Picasso for example, while his style changed over his career he did not cross styles at the same time. That is he produced artworks in a ‘blue period’ and a ‘cubist’ period and a ‘realist’ period.
You did not see him produce a work in cubist and then blue and then realist and then back again.
So stick with a style or theme in public and post these up to generate a following. If you find a style of art not working then you might want to trial different styles after posting about 10 examples in one style.
You can do this until you find a style or series of works that stick.
Here are some examples of artists who have built a successful profile on Instagram by developing a distinctive style.
Note that each style is very different, also note how they interact with their fans, the frequency of posts and quality of posts covering composition, photos etc:
- Lewis Rossignol – https://www.instagram.com/lewisrossignol/
- Najimir Chaloub – https://www.instagram.com/najimir/
- Christopher Lovell – https://www.instagram.com/lovellart/
- Veronica Cay – https://www.instagram.com/ronniecay/
Workshop your bio, don’t be afraid to change it
Chance are you have a bio or biography for your account. Chances are also high that you put very little thought into it. I know I originally did.
My first 20 or so versions of my bio were an afterthought, I was also trying to be clever and I wasn’t using it to explain who I was, what I was doing on Instagram and giving no indication as to why you should follow me.
Now I have the basics, a URL to my website, my name, the fact that I am an artist and perhaps type of artist, a link to any sites fans should know about and any other information they could relate to.
Unless you create vegan art or art about kids or puppies. There’s no need to state that you are a vegan artist mom of two fur babies. Add that to your personal Instagram account.
If you feel your bio just isn’t working then change it. It’s simple to do.
You will come across another account and find things you love and want to implement parts. All businesses refresh their branding and bio so why not you.
Building a brand and increasing engagement on Instagram is just one of the first steps a serious artist undertakes when they start their Instagram profile page.
To build the brand and engage followers, your Instagram account will need to see fresh quality content on a regular basis. That does not mean you need to post complete works only.
I know first hand how hard it would be to churn out new works daily so I will list below some tactics that will help you achieve this while also making more money and attract new followers.
Engage and connect with similar artists on Instagram.
See what the best do and how they do it. No need to reinvent the wheel.
I have learned so much from accounts who do things a little differently. If I had not followed Chris Lovell I would never have know or thought to open the online shop for sales a few times a year.
This tactic almost always results in sold out works for Chris.
If I had never followed Lewis Rossignol I would never have thought of selling art on Etsy or self publishing a book and having it funded before the deadline using Kickstarter.
Make sure your captions tell a story about your art. As I mentioned in another post, make your art powerful by telling a story. You can do that through the art itself and through the captions.
Think of your captions as marketing copy
Engage and connect with the fans of similar artists on Instagram.
I use fan comments as a method to see what buyers want. So often you will see in comments “is this for sale?”, “do you sell prints of this?”.
And too often I see artists replying “No”.
Golden sales opportunity thrown away by a single word.
When I see comments like this I tend to ask them “what size would you buy” and “how much would you pay for this?”.
I treat these comments and interactions as my own focus group. Engaging and connecting with fans and buyers of not only your own account but other accounts is a goldmine of information.
Learn i.e. Steal ideas from others
Look at the quality of the images for the more popular posts and artists. With the examples of artists I provided earlier, take a look at the quality of their photos and information they post with each photo.
Look at what works and what doesn’t. Not all artists do things well but some do things in an amazing way. If something you copied does not work, then refine it and improve it.
If you continuously improve your process you will out perform the rest.
Become a production machine
- Make lots and lots of great art – post only the works you are proud of.
- Stick to a theme or series
- Plan your captions in advance, think of them as marketing copy
- Plan your hashtags in advance, I have an article just on this here
- Post daily
Think like a business – its the cornerstone of How To Make Money As An Artist On Instagram
Start thinking of your art’s worth and how much you want to earn from each work
Take this seriously or your fans won’t, they will see it in your account.
Businesses advertise to get the word out so do not be put off with using sponsored posts
Build your fan base (subscribers) up because buying customers are just a product of simple math – a small percentage of total fans. The more subscribers you have the higher the chance to convert them to sales.
All businesses need to process payments and now you will need to decide how you will take that money!
The simplest method is by having a Paypal account. It allows easy transfer of funds and for a small processing fee, taking credit card payments.
The next option if you have an e-commerce site set up is Stripe. Like Paypal it allows for credit card processing.
You can also set up a sale on eBay or Etsy and direct a customer there to process the payment.
Some customers are quite happy to mail a check or transfer funds via a bank transfer.
Personally, I prefer the ease of Payapl and Stripe
Now that you are making money, think about paid promotion to further your profile and increase your reach.
Many people on social media believe using sponsored posts or ads is a dirty word. The reality it most successful brands regularly increase their reach or boost their profile using a targeted marketing campaign.
I would only use this option once I have established a profile. Nothing is worse than seeing an ad for a profile and you click on it to see 3 posts by an amateur.
Sponsored posts, when done well and when targeting the correct type of buyer and audience will do wonders for your profile.
Sponsored posts do work, just don’t rely on them the entire time.
I received a lot of criticism from my own friends and fellow artists for my approach to selling art, saying that I have killed the romanticism of being an artist. Sadly, it’s no fun being a starving artist for the sake of letting someone else have a romantic idea of you.
I can tell you one thing, none sell art on a regular basis and none have been as successful as I have selling art. I am not a well known name in art but I choose not to be well known. I prefer money to fame.
I have also run brick and mortar businesses and made money for corporations outside of the art world so I do bring a breadth of knowledge to this industry that I hope will benefit you as well.