• Clarissa Bittes

Instagram Tips for Artists - from a marketer/artist perspective

Today I wanted to share with you some tips to strategize your social media presence as an artist, focused primarily on Instagram. These tips are mostly from research, personal experience, and my marketing background. With that said, I don’t have a big Instagram following and that is totally fine by me - you’ll understand why very soon.

When people, including artists, hear about Instagram tips, all they care is about numbers. How to get more followers, more engagement, and whatever. What most people don’t realize is how easy it is to do this today: just pay them money to show your posts to more people and voilà! Instagram is a company looking for profits, so don’t be fooled thinking that it’s easy to grow in that platform organically - that was true three years ago. If you’re just starting to take your online presence seriously now, know that it will take time, patience, and commitment to achieve your goals.

I’ve organized a list (I love lists) breaking down the most important aspects to think about when planning your Instagram life.

1. Establish a goal and the metrics to measure your goal. Examples: Do you want to get more commissions? Do you want to start receiving some free stuff? Do you want to work for a certain magazine or book publisher? Do you want to meet other artists? Notice that “increasing my followers” is not a goal. It’s a metric that can be used to measure your progress towards your goal if that is relevant. After defining a goal, think about what you’ll need to reach that goal. For example, if you’d like to get more commissions, you’ll probably want to get more eyes on your work (by potential clients, not just anyone) and more shares.

My personal goal: right now, I’m not really working towards anything beyond building my visual style. I’m finishing up school, getting ready to move across the country, and recruiting for jobs so I’m putting the least amount of energy into Instagram as possible. - Also, I don’t have plans of making a living out of it anytime soon, so I don't pressure myself.

After establishing your main goal, you can start thinking of other questions: who is my target audience? What kind of content are these people looking for? What would it take for them to make a purchase from me?

2. With these questions in mind, it’s time to start thinking about your content. Your goal is to differentiate yourself from other artists and to tell your personal story. Think of your Instagram page as your business card. Everything in it should be there for a reason and the reason is to get you closer to your goal. With that said, put your email and commission status in your bio. Also make sure your profile picture and bio are meaningful and not just some motivational quote from Pinterest - again, think of your potential client and goal (this is especially important if you want to get corporate gigs and are trying to get that creative director to hire you.)

Know this: your feed is what gets you new followers. Your stories are what keeps them with you, since less than 10% of your followers will actually see your posts.

3. Create a content calendar. Get a calendar page for the month and mark when you’re going to put posts up. I suggest at least twice a week so your profile doesn’t disappear on the depths of the algorithm. Knowing when to post is also going to help you define what to post. A lot of artists tend to only post their art, which is not the greatest thing. For one, it’s incredibly stressful to come up with new artistic content everyday, and second it’s boring to look at. I suggest (this is actually brand marketing standards) to have 3-5 major themes to focus on. Mine are art, personal life, and inspiration (btw, I just decided on these about a week ago, so don’t take my Instagram page as a perfect example of this). This is the kind of content I’d like to have within each topic:

  • Art: finished work, work in progress, drawing challenges, tutorials, drawing videos, and featured artists (this one for stories only).

  • Personal life: pictures of myself, my pets, my workspace, friends and family.

  • Inspiration: landscapes, fashion, movies, books, architecture.

I decided on these themes based on my goal of fostering a creative life and crafting a visual style that matches my personality. I also have a YouTube presence that appreciates more “behind the scenes” content, which is what the personal life theme is all about. These themes guide both stories and feed content. For the feed, I want to have about 70% of the content to be art, 20% to be myself, and 10% to be inspiration.

4. Knowing what and when to post everything, I make a little color code for my posts. A lot of times I’m planning to post finished illustrations that I haven't even worked on, so this is what I do: if I have 12 posts planned for a certain month, I create a 3x4 grid and put a color on each square to define the palette for my posts. This makes it easier for my feed to remain consistent and for me to think about my pictures and art. I have a 30 color palette that I use mostly, and highly suggest that you create a specific color palette for yourself as well - consistency is one of the pillars for a strong visual identity. See an example below with the planned versus actual version.

5. At this point you should know when to post what and why. Now, just some housekeeping: make sure all of your posts are high quality, specially pictures. If you’re posting photographs, use a limited amount of filters so they are consistent. Look at your feed with a critical eye: if a new follower just saw your profile would they quickly leave or would they want to stay?

6. After deciding on your content, also think about your captions. One of the main ways to improve your metrics on Instagram is through higher engagements, and to do that, use all available resources - captions included. I often use captions as a way to explain the process for a drawing or what’s been going on in my life at the time. Since I have both Brazilian and American audiences, I write my captions in both languages - it helps to type your captions on a computer and then text them to yourself so you don’t have to write it up on your phone. Also, don’t forget hashtags - there’s so much content out there explaining how hashtags work that I won’t spend time on it. Just a quick tip: write down the hashtags used by some of your favorite artists and use them! Mix general ones such as #characterdesign with specific ones such as #nineteenthcenturypants

7. Understand your audience as well as possible. If you have an Instagram business account you can see their gender, age, and location breakdown. It’s important to know who you’re reaching to plan what content to publish and to measure your progress. For example, if you see that a lot of people from Australia are following you, it might be nice to acknowledge that in a post about their country or engage with this audience through stories’ quizzes and such. Understanding who they are and acting on that information will help you improve engagement in the platform - which is basically the only thing that drives the algorithm. If you’d like a benchmark, know that the average engagement on Instagram is about 1.5-2.5%, so strive for over 3% engagement.

What is engagement? There are a lot of ways to calculate engagement, but this is the most common formule I’ve worked with:

engagement rate = (likes + comments) / (followers) x 100

This formula will give you different rates for each post. Within the insights tab on Instagram (if you have a business account), you can actually look at all posts and organize them in terms of higher engagement (see photo below) to see which posts are doing better.

Lastly, some random thoughts:

8. If you just care about growing your numbers as fast as possible, draw fan art, participate in drawing challenges (#DTIYS, Mermay, Inktober) and interact with influencers (basically draw their faces for free). Fan arts will get you followers who care about that particular media (so they might stop following you as soon as you post something unrelated). Influencers might share your work in their stories, which is nice and might attract new followers too. Same thing with drawing challenges. Just know that these people might not really care about you and your art and are attracted to you because of a common interest. Growing numbers for the sake of it would only matters if your goal is to get free swag, because brands do care about reach (they also really care about engagement, so you need to make sure to remain relevant to this new audience - this might force you to keep drawing Disney Princesses way beyond what you’d like to.)

9. Don’t obsess over numbers. Artists with big followings today either started very early, draw a lot of fan art (see above) or have a different background (successful YT channel, TikTok, relevant work experience, or just mind blowing art that went viral somehow).

10. Be patient. Work towards your goal as long as it’s relevant for you and don’t be afraid to change strategies. Remember that this platform is trying to get profits, so they will sometimes screw you over to force you to pay - that’s just the reality of it. If you have the bandwidth, I’d HIGHLY suggest that you actively branch out to other platforms. Try whatever seems best for you and your goal, but don’t depend only on Instagram to drive results.

11. Lastly, do the work you like to do. Don’t make art for the numbers - this will get exhausting. Also, don’t feel like you need to share everything. Social media is supposed to help, not harm. If you feel stressed out or anxious, take a break or share older work. Stay true to yourself and the people who appreciate that will find you. It’ll take time.

I hope these insights help! If you liked the post, feel free to share it with your friends.

Clarissa Bittes Illustrations

Local Charlottesville Artist

© 2023 by Clarissa Bittes. 

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