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The starving artist is such a cliche, and fortunately, it might become a thing of the past. Using social media tools and platforms, visual artists have new ways to market their work and connect with buyers far and wide. And because these websites are free to use, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram are quickly becoming as important to an artist as the paintbrush and palette.
Mashable spoke with a few artists who are using social media to promote their work and who have made a sale or two by connecting with buyers online. There are also some tips for those of you looking to get it on the action.
“I’d go as far to say that I wouldn’t be doing what I am today had it not been for social media,” says animator Paul Heard, who jumped on the social bandwagon early. “Ever since I came across MySpace around 2004, I have been inspired by the possibilities such platforms can offer struggling artists like myself. Suddenly indie artists had a platform to showcase what they could do and connect directly with their audiences.”
And then MySpace was drowned out by Facebook. For Heard, this was “incredibly exciting” — he set up groups through which he’d promote and sell his artwork. One such group, for his “Artwork for Ale” project, was a forum where Heard would accept any commission for a unique painting, so long as it covered the cost of a beer. He received a few commissions, ranging from a few pounds to a couple hundred pounds.
But the painting was time-consuming, so he began to explore a new video platform: YouTube. He uploaded some animations to the website so that he could just send a link around as his portfolio. What was a spur of the moment decision ended up being a game-changer — one of Heard’s stop-frame animations was featured on the YouTube homepage, nabbing 100,000 views in a few days. Inspired by success, Heard started devoting more time to the site, steadily gaining pageviews and fans. Heard’s work has now been featured on the YouTube homepage on three occasions, they’ve amassed more than 2 million views, and he’s been able to collaborate with hundreds of artists and paint on live TV as a result of his YouTube fame. And that’s not even Heard’s coolest memory.
At one point in 2009, Heard’s hard drive was full during a freelance project, so he tweeted, asking if someone had a spare hard drive that they’d trade for a painting. No one responded, and as a last-ditch effort, he tweeted to British celebrity @StephenFry with a link to the video above, asking if he would be up for a trade. “I knew he was a huge tech lover but didn’t expect to hear anything back,” says Heard. “However, to my surprise the next morning he had replied saying we could do a deal, and asked what kind of hard-drive I needed.” They met up the next week to exchange items, and Fry offered up a brand-new Apple 2T drive. “Though, what was worth more to me, was the time he took talking about art and technology, offering his encouragement and advice to me as an independent artist,” he recalls. Without social media, Heard wouldn’t have had a chance to connect with Fry, let alone have such a high-profile celebrity tweet with him in front of millions of followers.
Heard says his exposure on these social platforms has “led to the vast majority of work” that he’s undertaken in recent years; he directs videos and animation, works at a startup social network for artists, and participates as a community artist, for which he hosts workshops and produces creative projects for people with disabilities and special needs. He also has a few projects linked to the London Olympic Games, including commissions for the Houses of Parliament and a gig as creative producer for an “interactive audio adventure” at the Sparks Will Fly Festival. Perhaps none of this would have happened, were it not for the growth of social media.
Designer Mike Kus also feels a bit indebted to social media. “For my design work, Twitter is an essential tool,” he says. “Whenever I finish a project I tweet about it, which drives traffic to my work. I nearly always get requests for new work after doing this, so I’d be at a loss without it!” Kus has been featured in Mashable once before, as one of the most-followed Instagram users, which of course snowballed into more followers. And while Kus doesn’t even consider himself a photographer, he’s amassed quite a following and has been hired by some of Britain’s top fashion labels, such as Burberry and Ted Baker, to shoot their Fashion Week shows via Instagram.
All this, from a man who says, “Taking pictures on my phone is just a hobby of mine. It’s not something I’ve done professionally at all.” While Kus is aware that social media is useful — clearly, it’s landed him a few gigs and paychecks — he admits that he’s not great at it. “I don’t leverage it as much as I should,” he says. “I always have plans to leverage it but never seem to have the time to focus on it.”
Think Outside the Box
As evidenced by Heard and Kus, it helps to be active on social media. But you can go beyond just posting a picture or a video. Artist Andre Woolery uses a “mixtape” format, seen here. His ‘Bruised Thumbs” mixtape is a collection of portraits made out of 50,000 thumbtacks that depict Jay-Z, Jimi Hendrix, President Obama and Kanye West.
“It is packaged as a ‘mixtape’ because they are typically accessible, raw output from an underground artist,” he says. Instead of posting a still image on a website that can be zoomed in on, Woolery actually curates the viewer’s consumption of his work. “The mixtape experience leverages parallax web scrolling to take the viewer through numerous details about each piece including description, inspiration, the creation process and other tidbits,” says Woolery. The mixtape can be distributed through the numerous social channels he uses, including a website, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Etsy, Instagram and Flickr.
Turn the Social Media Into Art
The Creators Project is a globetrotting art installation that’s a collaboration between Intel, Vice and the numerous artists whose work is represented. You may have heard about it during last year’s Coachella music festival, when Chris Milk created a stunning visual with glowing beach balls during the Arcade Fire set. The project uses social media to blast event information, but also to distribute videos and pictures of the exhibits, to live-tweet the events and to enhance the experience for the the art consumers.
Realizing that attendees would be tweeting and Instagramming pictures of the Creators Project exhibits, the team decided to activate an Instagram hack — all Instagram photos tagged with #creators would project onto a screen (see above), which accomplished three things: it assigned a hashtag to the event, it encouraged people to tweet and post pictures and it was an awesome exhibit in and of itself. A rep from Vice says the overall count for tweets with the #creators hashtag exceeded 4,000 at the Brooklyn exhibit alone, with an overall Twitter reach in the millions. And that was only in one city.
The Instagram hack plus videos and signage throughout the exhibit with #creators on them served as a “call to action encouraging attendees to use the hashtag throughout the event,” says the Vice rep. And it worked. “#Creators was truly an organic Twitter topic during the event weekend.”
Given that the Creators Project took over the entire DUMBO neighborhood of Brooklyn, Foursquare also came in handy. Each music and art exhibit has a personalized venue set up with the art’s title, and every location is set up to award badges. The ease of checking in and sharing with friends is instrumental in spreading awareness of the project, which helps to increase foot traffic at the exhibits.
A Few Tips From the Pros
For artists like Kus, who may not be able to find the time to build up and maintain a social media presence, there’s good news: It’s actually not that hard or time-consuming.
Alyson Stanfield, the “Art Biz Coach,” offers tips for artists who are looking to utilize social platforms. She says it takes just 15 minutes a day, and offers insights on what to do on Facebook and Twitter. Her biggest piece of advice is that the important thing to remember is that work comes first — social media is great, but it’s a waste of time if you have no art to market. “Don’t use social media during your peak productivity time,” says Stanfield. “Studio first, then business, then social time.”
Woolery devotes even more time, spending up to 10 hours a week working on social media, much of which can be done during dead time or while he’s on the go. “With different apps on my phone, it’s relatively easy to push photos and videos to fans,” he says. “For artists, I think [social media is] crucial, because people connect with your work but also want to connect with you as a person … they are going on a journey with you.” Try not to think of your art and your personal life as disparate entities — have your Twitter and Facebook feeds be a blend of your own personality and your art, which makes it easier for people to get to know you, and makes the act of social networking feel more natural.
Use your artwork as your avatar on social media platforms and be active — you never know whose interest you may pique with a tiny thumbnail of your work. “I’ve heard from two of my clients who were discovered by galleries because they left a comment on my Facebook Page,” says Stanfield.
Lastly, have fun. “If you’re not having fun, you’re doing something wrong and probably won’t be effective,” Stanfield says.
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