The hardest challenge any artist faces is building a following of people passionate about their work that can sustain their lifestyle of creation and self-exploration.
It can be hard to know where to start– why is no one buying commissions? Why aren’t your follower counts increasing?
We’ve written up 5 tips to help you in your journey to become a fulfilled, self-sustaining artist for growing your audience.
5. Create What Makes You Happy
When posting art, you may find yourself concerned with whether or not ‘people’ are going to like what you’re posting, and direct yourself toward only posting what you think people want.
This is a mistake. While it might seem obvious that you should draw whatever is popular at the moment to increase your reach, there is a hidden trap:
If you don’t enjoy what you are drawing, your artistic practice is unsustainable.
Your subconscious will fight back. You will procrastinate. You will feel tired all the time. You will be beset by anxiety on every side. You will avoid the thing you once loved: creating.
If the people you show your art to don’t like the subject matter, or the style, they are not your audience.
Your audience will build around what you enjoy making. Creating that which you love makes you more likely to do things, like:
- Post about your work, and show off what you’re doing.
- Talk with people about your subjectmatter
- Take risks and try new techniques to improve your skills
- Be happier with yourself, which helps others enjoy your company
Royalty (@TheRoyalGryphon on Twitter), had this to say:
There were plenty of years where I made art without much of a following, but I think what initially gave me anything of an audience was when I started drawing birds, and I did it in a way that resonated with a lot of people. Finding a subject that, at the time, wasn’t drawn that often helped spread my name through people sharing my art with others who loved that particular theme. It happened again when I began to draw snakes and other reptiles too!
When you are passionate about something, that passion can spread. It can take time, but drawing what you care about will yield better, more sustainable results in the long run as people flock to what you are doing. Carving out your own niche is essential.
4. Post Frequently and Consistently, and with Variety
Social Media is a skill in its own– a skill that can feel ephemeral and difficult to grasp. How do you get seen? How can you manage and gain followers?
Consistency is key. Social Media’s algorithms favor frequent posters.
Every user on social media is scrolling, scrolling, viewing each piece of content for a second or two, maybe less! That’s not much time to evaluate work you spent hours on.
Thankfully you don’t have to spend as much time as you think. Small things– thoughts that run through your head, WIP commissions, screenshots of your drawing program– all of these are perfect for social media.
Curation is for Galleries. Social Media is for celebrating the ephemeral, and the ephemeral has little time for editing.
Don’t worry if not all of your posts receive a response. Potential audience members may scroll by your pieces many times before they realize there’s a consistent account behind it, or before they find something they in particular enjoy from your work.
I’ve tried my hand at paid ads, and I’ve vended at a million cons it feels like, and have made countless business cards. In my opinion all of it works if it’s done correctly, but most importantly, if it’s done frequently.
If you’re going to cons, go to as many as you can that are in your target audience. And if you’re going to make ads, or open for commission work, do it on a consistent schedule.–Psychoseby
The more you post, the more you’ll understand what kind of posts your audience responds to and be able to tailor them. But always feel free to experiment– every day needs new posts, so you can feel free to toss random ideas to the wind which may not work. And reposting, so long as it’s not too frequent, is perfectly fine as well! Not everyone will have seen it the first time.
3. Bring People Along for the Story of You
You’re an artist, and your goal is to cultivate a following. If you’re successful, you will be living a dream. That’s a cool story. And you should be sharing it.
Every trip to a con, every commission, every time you discover something new, showing off your style experiments, talking about major life events, and ideas– all of these are part of your journey. Your audience wants to know about them.
Your followers are people. People care about people. You’re not a machine that spits out art. You’re a person who creates as a reflex of their being.
Your audience wants to feel connected to you. How you draw the line between sharing enough and not too much is something you will learn with practice, but you should not silo yourself off, waiting until you have something ‘good enough’ to talk about and creating days of radio silence.
Even just posting about what new food you’re drawing, what fun you’re having at an event, and what lessons you’re learning– all of these are part of the story your audience wants to hear and be a part of.
As you get to know your audience more, you’ll interact with many of them one-on-one and, in time, you’ll get to know them, too. Some will become a very important part of your life and your practice, and will become advocates for you, telling others about what you’re doing.
2. Be Positive and Pleasant
It can be easy to be brought down by difficult news. Pair this with social media’s ability to amplify anxiety, and it can be tempting to spend a lot of time airing grievances to your followers.
Obviously every artist is free to post or express themselves however they see fit, that expression is what makes us artists at our core after all, but something I see artists do that isn’t going to catch them as many new followers is negative behavior. Artists who will open for commissions, not get as many as they’d like, and then publicly be disappointed about it. People who only talk about the bad things that have happened to them. Using your account as a vent account is counter-productive if the majority of what you mention is putting yourself, or your followers, down.-Royalty (@TheRoyalGryphon on Twitter)
Your followers are who will sustain you. They will commission you, send support contributions, and talk to others about you. How you make your clients feel as they interact with you determines if they will stay and how likely they are to speak positively about you.
If you’re having trouble selling commissions– don’t assume malicious intent or thoughtless intent from others. Assume that there’s something about sales you haven’t grasped yet, and seek to learn more.
Your attitude sets the tone of your community. If it is toxic, your community will become toxic, and you will be steeped in toxicity. But if you are positive, encouraging, and helpful, you will cultivate an audience that follows that example.
1. Leverage your Community
Even if you don’t yet have much of an audience, you’re still part of the artistic community. Somewhere out there are other artists whose work you can admire and respect.
Follow your fellow artists. Talk to them. Learn from them. Befriend them. Help them. Do it because you care about what they’re doing, not because you’re making a sales pitch, and not because you want followers. If you approach the artistic community with open arms, you’ll be a happier person, and be more connected.
That’s not to say you won’t get hurt, screw up, or have challenging conversations– all of those are a natural part of being part of a group. But when this happens, learn from it, and keep an open hand and an open mind. Keeping in mind the previous tip– be positive among other artists. Be a pleasure to work with.
As you gain connections with other artists, you’ll have opportunities for collaboration, shout-outs, and the chance to learn what others have picked up from their years working in the field.
As your audience grows, create new value within it! Run events and activities with your followers. Find ways to connect them when you realize they have common interests or might be helpful to each other.
And never forget: As you learn, share what you’re learning. Someone else is just starting out, like you were, and they may be following you.