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Social Media Tips for Visual Artists

Your website is an archive.

Think of your website as a file cabinet which houses a career retrospective of you as an artist. In the context of your website,  your artwork is presented in a polished, formal context that shows the scope of your studio practice. Content on your website should be heavily curated, and provide an overall look at your artwork. Less is always more on a website, so aim for quality content over quantity. 

A website isn’t a place for interaction or the day-to-day. Once your website is set up, updates can be done once every few months, usually when you have a major professional development you want to add to your CV, or when you complete a body of work. 

The audience for your website is quite different than your audience for social media. Another artist who is casually looking for inspiration is more likely to visit your social media accounts. A gallery director who might be considering you for an exhibition will probably check both, but is likely to start with your website since their interest in your artwork is in a more formal setting.

Tips on websites for artists

Social media is where the party is.

Social media is where people go to see what you did last week, and to find out about what’s coming up. It’s where you’ll see visible traffic, and have the chance to interact with your audience. 

Tailor your social media.

The way you use social media, your choice of platform(s) your content, etc. all has to be customized to your studio practice. An installation artist will have a different social media strategy than a photographer. A sculptor might have a solo exhibition only once every 3 years, so they may want to emphasize their works in progress in the studio.

Social media is always changing.

One of the challenges of social media is to stay on top of what is current. For example, Twitter used to only allow 140 characters per tweet, and recently changed to 240 characters per tweet.

A decade ago, a Facebook page would have been a good idea for visual artists. Today, Facebook is no longer the most effective platform for the vast majority of visual artists. Right now, Instagram is by far the biggest bang for your buck if you are a visual artist. Perhaps in 10 years Instagram will get replaced by another platform.

On top of that, social media platforms are always changing and adding new features. Snapchat was the first platform to introduce “Stories,” which are images and video that disappear after 24 hours. Soon afterwards, both Facebook and Instagram implemented the exact same feature.

Social media takes time (years).

There is a common misconception that just because something is on a phone or computer, it must be really fast.  Nothing could be further from the truth. Setting up and maintaining a social media following requires serious hours and focus, you’ll be amazed how many hours and thought you’ll need to pour into this to get results. 

Being an artist is a completely different skill than social media, having good artwork has nothing to do with how effective your social media skills are!

Don’t expect to set up an Instagram account and to have 3,000 followers by the end of the week. Why aren’t you getting any followers?  Chances are, you’re not interacting enough on social media, and therefore your account is not visible enough to others.  (scroll to the bottom for info on the importance of interaction) 

Building a following takes time and an ongoing effort on a long term basis.

Social media is a potted plant, don’t water little or too often.

Aim for posting to social media a minimum of once a week. If you post too infrequently, people will forget about you.  If you post too often, say, 3 posts a day on Instagram, people are quickly annoyed and will unfollow you.

Ask the Art Prof: RISD Adjunct Professor Clara Lieu

Who is your audience?

Figure out who you are trying to reach with social media. Curators, art educators, art dealers, gallery directors, buyers, journalists, artist colleagues, art educators? Your social media strategy will vary tremendously depending on who you want to reach, 

Tip: curators generally do not have public social media profiles and they never attend local open studios events.  In fact, they are trying to stay as far away from the general population of artists.  They are hiding in a solid steel bunker in a far away foreign country, hoping that you never discover their secret location.

Choose your platform based on age demographic of your audience, and their profession.

In general, certain age demographics and professions tend to use specific platforms.  People ages 40 and up tend to use Pinterest, Facebook, and Twitter. People ages 30 and below use Instagram and Snapchat. People ages 30-40 is a mix. 

For example, if you are a high school art educator, your audience might be teenagers, in which case Facebook is not as relevant. If you are an elementary school art teacher, and you want to share your lesson plans, Pinterest could be a good platform to use. The most effective way to get in touch with a journalist if you can’t find their email (which is likely) is to interact with them on Twitter.

Your content format determines which platform is best.

Pick your platform based on the type of artwork you make. If you work in video, you’ll want to let people preview your videos on Instagram in order to pull them to your website and to your YouTube channel. (Instagram limits videos to 1 minute)  If you don’t work in video, don’t even bother with YouTube.

Don’t bother with a blog unless 1) you are an excellent writer 2) you have a specialized topic that you can write endlessly about that you are an expert in and 3) can write thoughtful, high quality posts at least once a week on a long term basis.  For most artists, a blog is not necessary.

Zoe Schlacter, Visual Artist

Content: short and sweet.

Most people view social media on a phone, and boy do they scroll fast. Distill your content to the essentials. Writing long winded posts risks people not reading the post at all.  There’s a reason why TLDR exists! (“Too Long Didn’t Read.”)

Look at the difference between version #1 and version #2:

#1
Hey guys! I’m so totally excited, I have this new body of work that I’ve been working on really hard for the past year, and this new gallery in town, Gallery Smith will be doing a solo show for me!  The opening reception is going to be really fun, snacks, drinks, even a band will be there.  Would love to see all of you there, the reception is next Tuesday from 6-9pm, would be so great to see all of you!  Hope to see you there!!!

#2
Solo Show, Gallery Smith!  Opening Tues., Oct 8, 6-9pm!

Artwork Images: professional quality

Artists live and die by their photographs, poor photos will misrepresent your artwork and can be the difference between whether someone chooses to follow you or not.

Have excellent lighting

2D artwork needs to have bright, even lighting whereas 3D work should have soft, diffused shadows and minimal shadows. For 3D work, always select the background color based on the color of your piece. A grey artwork should not have a grey background. Here are tips for how to photograph 2D & 3D artwork.

Plaster Sculpture
Paper Sculpture
Plaster Figure Sculpture, Clara Lieu

Show the scale of your artwork.

Adding a hand or another reference for scale can be a great way to accurately represent the size of your artwork.

Show your works in progress.

People love seeing artworks develop over time, show a piece as it progresses over time at different stages.  Show the drips, fingerprints, and mess in your studio, it creates an intimate look into your artistic process which cane be fascinating to your audience.

Etching Ink Portrait, Clara Lieu
Beeswax sculpture casts, Clara Lieu
Lithographic crayon drawings, Clara Lieu

Photograph yourself in the studio.

Today, people want to know who the artist is. Not showing your face makes you seem anonymous and keeps your audience from connecting to you as a person.

Show your artist hands.

A great way to introduce a human element to your photos is to take close up photos of your hands, handling your materials and tools.

Deepti Menon
Lauryn Welch
Eloise Sherrid
Pen Drawing, Casey Roonan
Relief Printmaking, Clara Lieu
Deepti Menon

Photos of yourself in professional contexts.

Show yourself outside of the studio: at an exhibition, giving a lecture, teaching a workshop, and more.

Images of exhibitions without people.

As artists we always joke how the opening reception is the worst time to see the artwork, this is true for photos as well.  Get some clean shots of your exhibitions that really show off the artwork installed.

Images of exhibitions with people to show scale.

Photos of the opening reception, with people present are just as important as they are another measure of scale. Avoid photos where a person’s face is very large and obvious, either crop out people’s faces or try to shoot photos that have people’s backs.  You don’t want to post a photo of someone’s face without their permission.

Clara Lieu, RISD Adjunct Professor
Clara Lieu, RISD Adjunct Professor
Clara Lieu, RISD Adjunct Professor
Bromfield Gallery Exhibition, Clara Lieu
SImmons College Exhibition, Clara Lieu
Chazan Gallery Exhibition, Clara Lieu

Interact, it’s not enough to post.

Posting is just the beginning, interact with your audience, follow other accounts and comment on their feeds.  You get what you put into it!  

Be strategic about who you choose to follow.  You may want to follow a gallery because you are interested in showing there and want to know more about what types of artists they show. Or perhaps you want to see what is trending in NYC art galleries so you follow Roberta Smith, Co-Chief Art Critic at the New York Times. You can follow other artists simply to get inspiration from their posts.

It’s good practice if you mention an artist in a social media post, or if their artwork is in a photo on your social media account to tag them if they are on social media. Same thing with organizations, if you have a show at the Cambridge Art Association, not only should you tag them, but you should tag their location as well.

People do get quite judgmental about numbers, many people do notice the ratio between the number of followers a person has vs. the number of people they are following. When you see an account for someone who has 200 followers but who follows 459 people, you will look at that person differently than a person who has 3,860 follows but who follows 50 people.

Those artists who have 598k followers, who you have never heard of before, who have terrible artwork?  Chances are they used a bot like Instagress to buy followers. So don’t believe everything you see on an Instagram account.

People notice comments above likes & follows.

Commenting is more time consuming, but it’s by far the most impactful form of interaction.  While some people can be obsessive about tracking who likes their posts, it’s an intelligent comment that will really call attention to you.

Always reply to comments.

If someone comments on your account, always reply, even if it’s a one word reply or something very simple. People want to be acknowledged when they take the time to comment on your account.

Hashtags

Use hashtags that are specific, but not too specific. Very broad hashtags like #art are pretty much useless, whereas hashtags that are super specific like #liverofsulphurpatination are not helpful either. Strike a balance and aim for hashtags like #charcoaldrawing, #lifedrawing which are broad, but also have some specificity.

You don’t need to add 50 hashtags to every text caption on Instagram. Having that many hashtags quickly can turn into an ugly, distracting block of text that can take away from your post.

Maintain a diverse feed.

Switch up your photos so you aren’t posting the exact same type of photo every day. Post a work in progress photo, followed by a photo of you working in the studio, followed by a finished artwork, followed by an exhibition image. People will be quick to unfollow you if they see that every photo is almost the same as the last.

Recommended Instagram accounts

Artist Consultations

Prof Lieu is available for 1:1 artist consultations on social media and/or websites in the Boston area on a limited basis.

To inquire, email Prof Lieu.

60 min: $300 USD

Art Critique with RISD Adjunct Professor Clara Lieu

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