Can You Be A Successful Artist Without Social Media?
November 14, 2023
Today’s blog post is aimed at our artist followers and is almost a continuation of my previous blog post about social media. Since our Instagram hacking and our decision to delete of all of our social media, a question has been rumbling around my head – Can You Be A Successful Artist Without Social Media?
Successfully selling your artwork as an artist without social media is indeed possible, however in today’s modern world it can be challenging. While social media offers an efficient means of connecting with fellow artists and businesses, managing any social media platform these days seems to be a skill in itself.
Instagram has cleverly lured visual artists to it as a primary tool for self-promotion. It was once seen as the perfect place to sell and promote artwork. However, is this still the case? I am beginning to ask myself, is participation on social platforms a necessity for every artist to achieve success? I have been looking into it. The image below shows a screenshot of our once happy account. Wasn’t it pretty!
Starting out in the Mid 90’s
When we started our business back in the mid 90’s there was no such thing as social media. Most people didn’t have computers in their homes, let alone the internet. We are often emailed by artists asking advice about how we started and I always say, it was a very different time back then. It’s so much easier these days with the invention of social media.. But am I right? Is it really easier?
In the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, if we wanted to get in touch with prospective clients, we had the option of advertising in pet magazines, we put up posters in vets and pet shops. We did game fairs and spoke to gallery owners, we drew children’s portraits at holiday camps and advertised our pet portraits locally. It worked! It certainly was a different time though. Were we successful at it. Yes, for those early days I think we were. It took a while, but we got there and it is possible. Continue reading for my top tips!
So how can you be successful without Social Media?
Make a Website
If you are starting out, or even if you are established, a website is a must. It’s a great place to direct people to see your work. It is possible to create a very simple website for a relatively cheap price. You can even make a website on a mobile phone if thats all you have access to.
I make our websites using Dreamweaver and rent it per year. I’m only using it as that’s what I have used from the early 2000’s. I learnt the old school way with designing from scratch and creating HTML code.
These days you don’t have to do that. With the likes of WordPress, Squarespace or Wix, they make it so easy for you. You can have a page up and running within half an hour and if you opt for the WordPress option, it is completely free.
The bonus of having your own website over social media is that you are not beholden to a platform and its algorithms. You have complete control. You know that your images will be seen, rather than just hoping that they will come up in peoples news feeds.
If you are thinking… thats too difficult, I could never do that… most people should be able to find a website builder that they can use and learn. There will always be tutorials out there to help you on YouTube – something we didn’t have when we started, as there was no YouTube!!
Search Engine Optimisation and your Website
I can almost hear some of you saying, if I make a website it’s never going to get listed. It will! It just takes time and the sooner you get it out there, the quicker it will get into Google. Optimising your website is a must and SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) is a huge subject. There are websites, YouTube videos, blogs.. literally an endless supply of information about the subject. A great place to start is with Neil Patel. Have a look at his SEO for beginners. If this is something my readers might be interested in, let me know for future blog posts.
The other thing I really love are blogs. Blogs started becoming popular very early in the internet age and haven’t really wained as such. Even though social media has taken peoples attention, I think blogs will always be popular.
Again, blogs are free and easy to set up on a variety of places. I have an artist friend who has just set one up on Substack. It’s also something that could be monetised. Of course Blogger, WordPress or even Wix offer free blogging. There are so many places that you can start a blog for free. This means you can show your artwork, chat about your work and gain regular subscribers.
Work In Progress Blog
We started our blog in 2005, we had it mainly to show our work in progress photos. We used to have a lot more time to take photos of the artwork in stages and post on there for clients to see. It was great, clients loved it. These days, with more responsibilities in our lives, we only send photos via email if the client request it. But for those of you who are starting out and have time to dedicate to this, it’s a must! It means that people will subscribe and keep coming back to see your work and what you are doing on that day or week.
Once you have your blog under way, make sure you allow people to subscribe to your blog. When you have a new post they will be alerted or emailed. You can do this easily in your blogging software or using a website like MailChimp.
You need to be consistent though. If you are going to start a blog, keep at it. If you don’t post for a few months, prospective clients could think you have given up and moved onto something new.
Sell and Promote Locally
You might think that being online is the only place that you can sell your work and having a wider audience is the only way to get to your target market. But I would encourage you to take a look at your local community. You might be surprised what resources there are. If you are a pet portrait artist you will have access to plenty of people with pets. There are vets, kennels, dog walkers, pet shops – all where you can introduce yourself and find a way to promote yourself with them.
Take a look at any local galleries. It might seem an old school way of doing things, but that’s where artists always sold their artwork. You can find plenty of gallery style shops these days that might be able to help promote you. Most also sell prints and cards so that might be also an outlet for your work.
Our first local show circa 1998!! We were called Red Kite Studios and did all genres of artwork.
Network With Local Artists
If you are starting out, there may well be established artists around you. Ask them if you can chat about how they started. They may well be able to give you plenty of tips of how to advertise in your local area. Also what has worked for them and what hasn’t. Even if they aren’t in your field, it could be interesting to meet with them, you just never know what things you might glean. Do your research and get out there!
If you have networked with other artists and found one or a group of artists that you get on with, why not create an art based podcast. You could discuss all things art, including interviewing other artists. This could be aired as audio, plus you could film it for YouTube. There are plenty of places to publish your podcast too on various platforms, including Google Podcasts, Spotify, and Apple Podcasts.
I don’t really consider YouTube as social media as such so it’s a good one to include. If you have the time (as video making is time consuming), you might like to show your artwork, demonstrate techniques, do a studio tour etc. It might be a better place to promote your work. Particularly if you have thought about teaching art or passing on your skills to other artists.
Open Your Own Online Shop
If you are fairly established and have some artwork ready to sell, why not open your own online shop. Prints, cards, calendars, originals. You can use websites like Shopify, plus there are plenty of services that can print and send your prints for you, including Shopify itself. If you want to read an in-depth blog post about print on demand, head over to Michael Essek’s website to read more about this. He is definitely the man in the know.
Really Want to Work with Someone Specific…..
Get in contact direct! This is probably more applicable for other art genres than pet portrait artists, but why not contact companies or businesses directly? Find out if there is any chance of working with them. It is highly unlikely you will be just discovered by them, but if you really want to work with a particular company, the only way forward is to get your portfolio or website in tip top shape and ask!
There are always a multitude of art competitions available to enter. Depending on the type of artist you are, there is usually one or two per year within your field. The David Sheppard Wildlife Artists of the Year competition comes to mind for wildlife artists. The V&A Museum do two competitions per year for illustrators. The Artists and Illustrators magazine do yearly competitions. Have a Google for art competitions as they could be good exposure for you.
Want your Artwork in Publications?
Over the years we have been featured in various magazines for dogs and pets. We have been interviewed and have been asked to write our own articles. It makes for good content for them and us. If you want to be featured in a magazine… don’t wait for them to come to you!
Write your article… find a good angle, accompany it with some work and send it off to a few to see what happens. This could be excellent exposure for you and you can give them a direct link to your website to publish too. You can then blog about being in the magazine. It all makes great content.
Try to aim for repeat custom. The joy of having customers return for multiple commissions is the best feeling. Build a rapport with your clients, create the best artwork you possibly can… hopefully in a timely manner and present it well. This can only lead to clients coming back to you time and time again. The photo below shows a number of commissions Nicholas has created for a family in the USA over the years. The paintings are displayed in their beautiful stairwell.
Don’t Rely on Social Media!
Since our instagram account was hacked, (read this if you want to find out the full story – ‘Why we are not on social media any longer‘) I have heard so many similar stories from other successful artists. In one fell swoop their accounts were gone. Like mine, their accounts were hacked, but some even received ransom demands. When the demands were not paid, their accounts were deleted. This must be absolutely devastating, especially if your followers were in the multiple thousands.
Considering the amount of time artists invest on Instagram—choosing what to post, arranging content, writing engaging captions, generating hashtags, responding to posts and analysing how many likes on each post and why…. it becomes evident that a significant amount of time and energy is dedicated to a platform that, in one fell swoop, gets wiped from existence.
Nicholas and myself have always tried made sure we have plenty of ways to access clients. I think this is key. If you do have all of the socials…make sure you cast your net wide and don’t rely on just one place to gain work.
The Loss of 4 Thousand Followers..
I have also been trying to work out whether the loss of our 4 thousand followers will affect us. My conclusion is – no. From what I have read since researching this, numbers of followers really doesn’t mean very much at all in our field.
Instagram’s algorithms decide what you see. They choose the posts they think would be of most value to you. If you are following a few hundred people, in the times that you sit and scroll…. it is unlikely you will see every new post for each of the people you follow. Not forgetting the insane amount of adverts and suggested posts that come up in your feed in between. So when were we being seen? Probably not all that much by the majority of our followers.
Different Genres of Artists
During my time of research, my artist friend sent me this video to watch. Absolutely mind blowing. Dee is a surface pattern designer creating and making beautiful products for sale in her online shop. Similar to many artists, she has an instagram account to promote her work. However… it damaged her ability in getting work. Please give it a listen.
Social Media and Mental Health
We all know that too much time spent on our phones and on social median can be detrimental to our mental health. The constant buzz of notifications can really knock you out of the creative ‘zone’. Especially when you have to then sit and reply to messages and posts.
When we see other artists artwork, we can sometimes think.. ‘Ooh thats so good’, ‘wow I couldn’t do that’, ‘I could never paint that good’, ‘they are so much better than me’… ‘why am I bothering’….. Or my own personal favourite.. ‘Wow their artwork is incredible, they look so amazing sitting with their painting in perfect clothes, makeup, nails.. how do they do it and how do they find the time to do it?’
We must learn not to compare ourselves with others this way. We are all individuals, we are all unique and we are all on our own personal journey.
I have read a lot of articles over the last week and it seems many artists share this view. Once they stop social media, they find their productivity time increases. Plus they make art for themselves and not for Instagram or for the likes or numbers.
In conclusion: Can You Be A Successful Artist Without Social Media? Absolutely!
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have any social media accounts, by all means go for it. But from my point of view, don’t rely on them. Limit your time on them, turn your notifications to silent and most of all don’t think it means you will be ‘found’. I believe you have to do the leg work yourself for that. (Unless you are really lucky of course!)
Create your website and keep it updated and alive.
Use newsletters and blogging to your advantage.
Explore opportunities to sell your art both online and offline.
Network with local artists and chat to artists online too.
Try not to rely on one marketing strategy.
If you found my blog post helpful, why not share it with your fellow artist friends. Maybe they have been having social media issues and would love to discuss it with you.
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