How Instafamous Artists Crush it On Instagram & How You Can Too
Are you tired of BS advice for growing your Instagram art profile? Me too. That's why I compiled this short list of tried and true tactics that I've learned from some of the top artists on Instagram. In this piece, you'll learn the real way to go from zero to 300K+ followers the practical way.
Now, let’s get this out of the way: I’m not an artist. I’m the guy who interviews the artists. I’m the content guy; the writer; the publisher.
So, you might be asking yourself: “Ryan, why then should we trust your opinion on this topic?”
And there are two answers.
1. My girlfriend is an artist
Basically, half of my life with her consists of talking about art, selling art, or growing her art brand. I never knew all that information would come in handy one day! But here we are.
2. I already mentioned this, but I’m the guy who interviews the artists. I’m the content guy.
Brand, content, and attention are the lenses through which I see everything. That means that as I’ve scouted, observed, and spoken at length with dozens of artists in the last few months, I've looked at what they are doing through those lenses.
In short, whether or not you choose to trust me is entirely up to you. What I can tell you is that I’ve observed, time and time again, what works for artists on Instagram and what doesn’t.
Anyway, let’s get to the main course.
First, let's talk about what you publish, then we'll go over when to publish and what other activities you should be engaging in on Instagram. Here we go.
Quality vs. Quantity
“Should I post work that I don’t think is very good?” said every artist that ever opened an Instagram account. It’s a great question, so don’t fault yourself for being stuck on it as well.
First, there are two competing opinions in art marketing: Quality vs. Quantity.
The Quality people argue that you should only post your best work so that people recognize you as a “real” artist. After all, surely you wouldn’t want to put anybody off with your “bad” art. If you’re laughing right now, I’m right there with you.
The Quantity people argue that you should post as much as possible, regardless of your personal view of its quality.
Now, I don’t particularly agree with either camp entirely. As often happens, my opinion falls somewhere in the middle. But I tend toward the quantity camp. I do this for two main reasons.
You Don’t Know What’s Good and What Isn’t
As I mentioned, my girlfriend is an artist. Not the digital breed, but we'll convert her one day. ;) Still, even as a traditional artist, of course, she uses Instagram to promote her art.
And it turns out that her best-selling art and most-liked photos on Instagram are sometimes if not often, the ones she dislikes the most. I'm betting many other artists can relate.
Photo: The old piece Irina never liked that everybody wishes they could still buy.
So, what does that mean for you? It means that you aren’t a psychic. Especially if you’re at the relative beginning of your art journey, truthfully you have no idea what people will like.
That’s one key reason why you should publish everything you make, at least in the beginning, until you have a better idea of what your style and brand are.
Go back in time on your favorite artists' Instagram accounts, and you'll notice there's an exploratory period. Sometimes there's more than one as the artist transitions their style. But there's almost always a period at the beginning where they’re publishing pieces comprised of vastly different styles, mediums, and even objective quality.
That's because they are exploring. Your favorite artists know that, as an artist, you must put all your art out into the world and start gathering feedback. You must learn how your work resonates with people.
In fact, during my first artist interview for PaperLike, Klaudia Penkwit admitted that she’s still exploring even though she has over 106K Instagram followers. Here's what she said:
"I think it's really funny when people tell me that I have a style because I still really can't see it. I mean, I know I kind of do. I draw some things a certain way, but I am still feeling like I'm struggling there.”
Photo: Early posts by Klaudia Penkwit
Side note: please don't delete your old posts. Your past, "bad" art is a gift to new artists; a gift of confidence; confidence that they too could be like you one day. Keep it.
That brings me to my next point.
To Make Better Art, You Must Make More Art
We feature artists of all audience-sizes on PaperLike, but as the editor, the one thing I always look for is a body of work. Sadly, it’s just not an interesting story if you have only 30 Instagram posts on your profile. And more often than not, the artists with low volumes of work typically have the worst technique and least-developed style.
In other words, if you have any hope of improving your work, you need to practice.
Of course, that doesn’t mean you should paint or draw the exact same thing a few hundred times call it progress. You need to challenge yourself every now and again.
I think lettering artist, Stephane Lopes, put it best when we talked back in February. Stephane has 70.1K Instagram followers.
"I think this may be obvious, but I think you have to be curious. Don't be afraid to try something and to try it again and again. Try every tool that you can in every place you can so you can find what you like to work on. And when you find it, do it. People can be very effective when they are working on something they like. When you practice a lot, and you do a lot, you get better every day. So find your way by being curious."
Photo: Stephane's brilliant lettering.
Post your work when you’re on Instagram
This sounds really stupid. I mean, how obvious can I get, right?
But hear me out.
When are you on Instagram? I’m guessing it’s during your morning commute, waiting for friends at a cafe or bar, on the toilet, or while laying in bed at 2AM because you can’t sleep.
You know who else is on Instagram at those times? Literally everybody.
So, let’s end the debate here for good.
There’s no optimal time to post your art. At least not that anybody could tell you.
Instagram uses an algorithm to determine when a user sees a particular post. That algorithm takes in far too many factors for you to game it.
So all that stressing you're doing about when to post your art is a waste of time and energy. It's not worth it. Instead, use that energy to develop your technique.
Or better yet: use it on the next tactic.
Engage, engage, engage
Most of the artists I know that struggle on Instagram are struggling for this one reason: they aren’t engaging with the community.
They aren’t commenting genuinely on other artists’ work, they aren't participating in events like "draw it in your style," and, hell, they aren't even replying to their own comments.
Instead, be like Karin Newport, another fantastic lettering artist and recent interviewee for the PaperLike blog. You can definitely trust her. She’s got 292K+ Instagram followers.
“When I first started my iPad lettering journey, I was pretty much living on Instagram. I was really, really part of the community and commenting on everyone's posts. I think that's also why I got a reasonable amount of followers quite quickly. I think I got 10,000 followers in the first month. It was unbelievable.”
Photo: Even today, Karin leaves replies to as many comments as she possibly can.
Karin spent as much as 2 hours every day engaging with the community. I’d say it’s paid off.
There’s one critical caveat here. And that’s: be genuine.
We’ve all had bot comments on our profiles. Some of us have even used them.
We smell those bot comments from a mile away. Instead, be authentic. Say something worth saying. Make the person your messaging think or feel something.
Do that, and you'll see your Instagram account grow through the roof.
Okay, I get it. These tactics aren’t complicated. In fact, you’ve probably heard them all in some form before.
So my question to you is: why aren’t you doing them?
You have to stop looking for the silver bullet. Unless you were born famous, there is no silver bullet. You have to do the work (that’s the name of a great book by Stephen Pressfield in case you’re interested).
As the late Zig Ziglar used to say: “there is no elevator to success, you have to take the stairs.”