If you’re like me, you’ve had dozens of filled sketchbooks laying around your room since you were seven years old. And maybe you’ve always felt an itch at the back of your brain that yearns to bring those sketches outside of the page. But, if you truly are like me, the thought of sharing your art publicly and professionally is absolutely terrifying.
I’ve spent the last year trying to figure out how to do art “for real”. What does this mean? I honestly still have no idea. I feel like a lot of young women especially have difficulty owning their work, and becoming comfortable publicizing and selling it without fear of being called “braggy”. This was my concern: How am I supposed to share my work online in a genuine way, not tainted by the general standard of Instagram perfection? What if people think it’s conceited? What if no one follows me? What if people think it’s stupid?
Well, as someone who has taken the “professional art” leap, I can officially command of those self-doubting voices in your head to shut up. Sharing a vulnerable part of yourself, such as your artwork, is a brave and admirable act. Humans are attracted to genuine self-expression, and your work is no exception! I know that the task of “professionalizing” your art can seem incredibly daunting. But never fear! Here are a few simple steps that you can take to transfer your artistic dreams from your page to the whole world.
Make an Art Instagram
The big leap. For me, this was the scariest, most difficult part. However, developing a new Instagram is way easier than it sounds. First, click your profile and then select “Log in or Create New Account”. I recommend creating a business Instagram account. You can do this for free, and it allows you to track your page’s analytics and easily market your work.
Once you’ve chosen a username, preferably something that uses your name and maybe a descriptor of your work (like yourname.Illustration or yourname.Designs etc.), write a bio that gives a general description of yourself and your art. I included a picture of a digital art profile I really admire. @jadepurplebrown’s page is a great example of a simple bio that characterizes herself and her art. If you have a website or any other work online, be sure to include that link in your bio as well!
Create Story Highlights
Instagram story highlights are an easy way to market your work, as they’re the first things a user will see when they click on your profile. If you make multiple types of art, you can use story highlights to categorize them neatly and alert the public that you have different types of work available.
I included an example from Be Fernandez, another illustrator that I greatly admire. She has neatly organized her work so that it is easy for users to see her process and look through purchasable items. You can also include links to online shops to market your work easily through highlights.
Woohoo! It’s the moment we’ve been waiting for. I recommend just putting a few pieces into your feed at once, so people will have something to look at when they click your page. You have free reign to curate whatever page appearance you want, but don’t worry if you don’t have a perfectly cohesive aesthetic yet. This will definitely develop more over time. Post what you consider to be your best work you have compiled thus far. Lead with your best foot forward! The world is ready to see what you can do.
Use (lots of) Hashtags
This will be SO helpful when you’re trying to connect with fellow artists online. If you use a fair amount of hashtags, you will gain followers much more easily than if you try the “follow 1000 people and see if they follow me back” technique, although I still recommend following fellow artists you find and admire.
Hashtags may vary depending on what kind of art you create, but here are some suggestions: #illustratorsoninstagram #womenofillustration #feministart #artinspiration #artformentalhealth #musiciansoninstagram #artistsoninstagram #femaleartist #drawing #digitalart #digitalillustration #illustrationartists #graphicdesign #design #femaledesigner #mentalhealthawareness #pastel #cute #comic #graphicdesigncentral
If you don’t want this block of tags to crowd your captions, you can always copy and paste five dots (or whatever symbol you want) to push your tags far below the words of your caption:
Put Art Up for Sale / Charge Commission
First things first, different methods of marketing work for different people. However, it is very helpful to use Instagram business tools to advertise andmarket your pieces through Instagram stories or posts. A great way to clearly put work up for sale is to have a “For Sale” IG story highlight, which lists the pieces you’re selling and their prices. If you already have a professional website, good for you! Web services like SquareSpace or Wix offer business plans, under which you can take orders and easily ship them with the help of the web service.
If Instagram marketing isn’t enough for you, other online marketplaces like Etsy, Depop, Threadless, and Society6 are popular places for independent artists to easily sell pieces. Each of these sites have different instructions on how to create vendor accounts, but each one is very simple and streamlined for your experience. Also, don’t worry too much about shipping logistics - these sites assist in shipping a ton. Etsy even prints work for you if you get an order, so all you have to do is upload a jpeg and boom! You’re professional.
Pricing artwork can be tricky, and feel kinda gross sometimes to an artist. So, it’s good to create an hourly base rate for yourself that you can always turn to if people ask to buy a print or to hire you for commissioned work. $10-$12 an hour is what I set when I was beginning to sell my pieces. So, if I spent six hours on a piece I would roughly charge $60. This can vary depending on your audience. Remember that your emotional and artistic worth has incredible value that people will be willing to pay for.
Value Yourself & Take Time to Breathe
I got my first “clients” by simply asking my friends if they would pay for a portrait of themselves. They paid my $5 each. Then, I posted these portraits on Instagram, and got DM’s requesting portraits and all kinds of commission-based work from strangers. The second I put myself out there, things began to change, and I know they will for you too. Start by simply reaching out to your close friends and family, so it will be most comfortable for you!
Putting yourself out there can be stressful AF! Take time to be proud of what you’ve created. Think about other people/artists online that you admire. Why do you admire them? Because they are genuinely themselves online, and they share work that is meaningful to them. What’s going to stop people from feeling that way about you? Nothing!
All it takes for you to be an artist is for you to call yourself one. If you just take a few small steps to put your work out there, you will be blown away from the support of peers and even strangers, who have taken the same leap.
Remember that this is your work, and your business! No one’s telling you that you need to post something every day. If you look at this “professionalization” project as a fun extracurricular adventure, I promise it will be incredibly enjoyable and rewarding, emotionally and financially!
Whew! We made it. Of course there are so many other things you can do to market your artwork, like making a professional website, and submitting work for festivals, museums, etc. But once you take these first simple steps, these other big objectives will feel much less intimidating, and opportunities will reveal themselves to you. So, I encourage you to make the same leap that I did and start valuing your own work on the level that you value others.