Making paintings is often accompanied with a desire to share it with the world. This has obviously changed over the years, from churches and palaces, to Museums and Galleries (a relatively new concept actually) , to artist run attractions like Meow Wolf. The goal is generally the same. Artists make stuff, people look at it. Instagram is the most popular social media site centered around images in the world, so it’s no wonder that painters are interested in it.
Painters often struggle with starting up a new Instagram account because there’s just such an overwhelming amount of content which is constantly churned out. It’s all basically competing for the attention of eyeballs. This has lead to people to change their artwork in an attempt to fit the format of Instagram’s layout (working in squares as opposed to rectangles) . There’s also evidence that people tend to stick around on light blue and pink colors (basically colors that pop) so a lot of Instagram imagery relies on neon colors to grab and keep people’s attention. Whether you want to make content like this is up to you.
So, if you’re starting out from scratch or very few followers. The first thing is to focus on friends and people close to you. Follow these people, and like their posts. Then you need to find out who your “tribe” is. Basically what are the type of artists you want to follow you. Who are the most valuable people to have in your circle. Don’t think about numbers here, think about getting people that will actually be interesting to have in your feed. If you’re a painting Instagram account, then I’d suggest only following painters who post a lot of images of their work. You don’t want your feed to become bogged down with pictures of people eating pizza with their dog. You want to look at paintings, so make an account especially for that (making multiple accounts on Instagram is quite simple, just google it out).
If you don’t know who your tribe is. Then go to my account here and browse through the different stories which I have categorized. There’s figurative work, abstract work, landscapes, interiors, and the list goes on. On top of this, there’s also a myriad of styles to choose from on top of that. Are you interested in people that paint hyperrealistically, or people that paint crudely? Are you drawn to people who paint quickly or slowly? Street art, or Museums? All of these are factors in figuring out just what artists you want to target.
Now that you’ve figured out which artists you like, it’s time to start following the most important people that they follow. This will give you more insight into their work, and it also lets Instagram know what type of artists you’re into. So it will suggest more of this sort of content. So, go to your favorite artist’s Instagram profile, and then click and see all of the people they’re following. There’s probably a ton of them and that’s going to be a pain in the ass to sort through right? But Instagram has simplified the process by offering a “suggested” tab in the top right corner.
Now start following people that interest you. Beware, don’t just blindly follow everyone in an attempt to get follow backs. Just follow people you actually like, and would like to see more of in your daily feed. You can follow a ton of people in a short period of time, I think Instagram limits the amount of accounts followed to something like 200 an hour. Which seems nearly impossible to reach if you’re actually going to each profile and seriously looking at the art on it.
Once you’ve started following a few hundred people. Start engaging in their content in a meaninglful way. Don’t come off as a bot, everyone is well aware that Instagram is full of them. Just write a comment on a work that you like. Hell, doesn’t even have to be a comment, could just be the unicorn emoji. But the more your comment actually discusses the work, the higher chance that the artist, and other people will actually read it. So write relevant comments on work that you like, from artists you follow.
Use Instagram stories to promote the work of artists you like, and highlight these works on your profile. Basically while browsing work you’ll see the little paper airplane button underneath the image. If you click this you have the option of putting the post on your insta stories. Stories are quickly becoming the number 1 way that people are browsing Instagram. It’s hard to stop thinking about posts as being something important, but they’re becoming less important as more people begin watching Insta Stories as compared to posts. So if you see a painting that you like pop up on your feed, post it to your stories.
Do something in the text portion below your post. A lot of people just blow this off, but people actually still read and writing is a perfect way to give more info about you as an artist, what you’re thinking about, what went wrong in painting, changes you made along the way, etc. People want to know what makes artists tick beyond the image itself. Use the text in your post to give your audience something to cling on to. Write, Write, Write.
Hashtags make a bit of a difference. Studies have shown that the top Instagram posts tend to only have around 6 to 8 hashtags. So don’t go overboard and just put in a massive amount of tags on your post. Keep them relevant, and be as laser focused as you can be. For instance, #contemporarypainting is probably better and gets more engagement with a specific audience as opposed to #painting where your content is more likely to become lost in a sea of images. In this video below you can see Gary Vaynerchuk, a social media guru, and inspirational speaker making the case on how to really increase the amount of followers and engagement that you can get on Instagram. This is often done by be extremely niche oriented. With painting this is quite simple actually since there are literally different genres of painting.
Once you’ve got the ball rolling start thinking about a way to organize your posts. For me, I take a video to give people a view on the process and what it looks like creating the work, I have images of my studio and my materials to give people an idea of where it’s made, and then I have a final image of the work. I use Insta stories for personal things (dog eating ice cream) as well as to give glimpses of works in progress. You can view my account for painting here .
All in all, I think that after all is said and done, the people I know who have amassed massive Instagram followings have also been extremely good at what they do, and they’re also just good people. They talk and give visiting artist workshops, meet people and write them DMs about certain pieces (don’t be afraid to slide into the DMs of an artist you admire) , and they’re constantly moving, meeting new people, and bringing them into their circle. Do not blindly believe that more followers will equal more exposure or success. A lot of followers on Instagram are worthless, hell, a lot of them aren’t even real people. So focus on connections in real life, and then continue these connections online. In closing, feel free to watch this documentary called Press, Pause, Play. It’s basically just about how artists use social media. It’s a bit dated, but it’s still an interesting look at to how artists interact and create online audiences.