How I Use Instagram to Sell More Art
When I first started posting my art on Instagram my only intent was to keep myself accountable and more consistent. After a few months, however, I started getting people asking me if my art was for sale and even asking if I sold prints of certain pieces. It’s been 6 years since I started my Instagram account and I’ve slowly started to figure out how to sell more art using that platform. Because it took me so long to really figure out what I was doing I thought I’d share with you the methods I’ve developed to selling my art on Instagram.
Like I said above, I started using Instagram because I needed something to motivate and remind me to keep making art. Life was chaotic and busy and since I wasn’t in art school any longer I found it easy to go weeks without picking up a pencil or paint brush. But in the beginning I still wasn’t posting very regularly. I’d post 3-4 times in one day, then I wouldn’t post again for about a week. Thankfully, that was in the early days of Instagram so I was still able to slowly build a following. And as I would post more art I started getting people asking me if my art was for sale. That was a huge motivator for me to keep making art and posting more! I feel like I was able to find my style and I started to share my progress photos instead of just the finished piece. Sharing more of the ‘behind-the-scenes’ has definitely helped me to connect more with my followers and gave them an insight into how my art is created.
You’ll hear a lot of different advice on how often you should post and what time of day is best, but honestly I just try to post at least 3-5 times a week. There are some weeks where I’m busy having art scanned and editing products for my website (or I’m out of town), so I don’t necessarily have any new art to share; those are the weeks that I really try to use Instagram Stories to share some fun insight into my life (like my cat, Tiffany DeCluade). Not only does this give you a chance to connect with your followers on a more personal and intimate level, but it’s also a good way to share pictures or videos that won’t look good in your actual Instagram Feed. So use the stories to share those images and moments that you wouldn’t necessarily share in your profile. This is also great because it takes some of the pressure off if you don’t have anything meaningful to share that day.
Take Good Pictures
This one has taken me a long time to figure out. And I will say that it’s not detrimental to your Instagram life to have super high quality, consistent photos. But it does help. If you’re like me and you’re horrible at taking pictures and editing photos then just be patient with yourself. I know I’m bad at it, and that’s why I have to keep practicing.
I’ve never had a really nice phone, so phone photography isn’t something I can rely on. Because of this, I’ve started using my DSLR camera to photograph my works-in-progress and I edit those photos in Lightroom using presets I bought from Sorelle Amore. You can download her Lightroom presets here for about $25.
Most photographers have started to put together presets, so find someone who’s aesthetic matches your own and start playing around with your editing style. And, if you don’t know, Lightroom presets are just a series of editing styles that you can quickly apply to your photos. After you apply the preset you can still go in and adjust the settings, but it takes a lot of the initial work out of the editing process and also helps you to have a really consistent theme to your photography. If you already have an editing style, you can save your own presets to speed up the process moving forward.
And, if your phone does take nice photos you can always use the Lightroom app with all of your presets installed. Just make sure you download the Lightroom CC program and upload your presets there so it connects to your mobile app (Lightroom Classic CC is for your desktop only).
One last thing: I’ve started cropping my photos to a 4:5 or 8:10 aspect ratio (vertically, not horizontally). This takes up the most space on the screen when people are scrolling through their feed and makes it harder for them to miss your post. I don’t always love this aspect ratio, but I’ve simply started planning my photo composition to fit it. You can always save the original photo and post it on your other social media channels or website, but for Instagram try to always use 4:5 or 8:10 aspect ratio.
Hashtags are important also because they help your pictures to be found by people who aren’t following you already. Try to use between 5-20 hashtags (people will argue over how many to use, so experiment to see what works for you). When I look for hashtags to use, I try not to use overly-popular ones. For example #art is used so often that it will be easy for your post to get lost. I try to use hashtags that have around 500K or less uses, like #watercolorartist. These are popular enough to get searched, but not so popular that the thousands of people who use the same hashtag will bury your post. Just remember that this isn’t a hard-rule; I use really popular hashtags sometimes and really obscure hashtags othertimes (like #art or #shaylenereynolds). But in general you want to make sure you make your posts easy to discover.
Tagging Your Photos
Another way to get discovered on Instagram is to tag your photos. I always geo-tag/location tag my pictures with the city I’m in. Now, I strongly believe in ‘Internet Safety’ so I use general location tags like ‘Dallas, TX’ instead of my specific county/bureau or the exact apartment complex that I live in. And, if I’m someplace cool that I want to share I just make sure not to post that picture with the location until after I’ve already left. Location tagging has connected me with some amazing local artists and creators as well as local buyers, so I highly recommend using this feature when you post your work!
I also like to tag brands that I love to use when they appear in a post. These don’t necessarily have to be art-related. I’ve tagged coffee shops and clothing brands before because I love their products. One fun example of this being beneficial is that I had my favorite coffee company from back home, Kaladi Brothers Coffee, reach out to me to collaborate. I’ve also tagged a tea company in Bend, Oregon that I enjoy, Metolius Tea, and had one of my followers purchase from them. Remember that social media is always a give-and-take. Try not to do everything for self-gain; promote and highlight other creators because you genuinely care about them and want to see them succeed. People have done this for me and when you’re a small business/artist, it really does mean so much.
However, don’t be obnoxious and over-tag a business or person. I’ve done that before and they got annoyed and made it so I couldn’t tag them every day. It’s embarrassing to admit, but I’m writing this to help you avoid my mistakes and get a jump-start on the things that took me forever to learn. So yea… don’t be annoying, haha.
Posting pictures of myself was really difficult for me. I mean, it takes about 100+ selfies before I get one I can actually use, haha. And that’s a lot of time. Then, by the time I’ve finished editing that picture and I post it… I decide I don’t like it anymore and I’m sick of looking at myself.
Quick Feminist Rant:
Now, I just want to clarify… I don’t think I’m ugly and I’m not weirdly self-conscience; I just don’t like getting unsolicited messages from strange men on the internet (which, all of us ladies knows is what happens when we post a picture of ourselves). I also don’t want people to think that I’m full of myself because I post pictures of my face… women get judged really harshly about their intentions/appearances and I want my account to be about my art, not about me. I’m just throwing this out there because I don’t believe women should have to say/act like they think they’re ugly. There are women who are more beautiful then me and I’m not jealous, I just think “Wow! She’s beautiful!” and get on with my day. We’re all beautiful and it doesn’t mean you’re arrogant or vain just because you’re happy with how you look. I have flaws, but at the end of the day it’s whatever. I like my face and I’m not trying to make everyone think I’m pretty nor am I trying to act like I think I’m ugly… I’ll be unrecognizable in 60 years so I want to appreciate my youth and honestly, why does it even matter?
Anyway! I wanted people to focus on my art and if they liked it I wanted them to be able to appreciate what I created and hopefully purchase it. However I noticed that the images I posted that I was in got a lot more engagement. It’s definitely a psychological aspect of humans to relate more and engage with other humans. So I’ve started trying to post more pictures of me either working on my art or just regular, mundane posts on the weekend where I’m editing photos, doing laundry, or cooking food. People relate to people, and adding that human element to your posts will help your followers feel more connected to you.
I’ve seen this work on myself. I’ve purchased from artists who I love. However, I’m on a tight budget and I don’t part with my money easily. The thing that made me decide to make a purchase, beyond the fact that the art they created is beautiful, was that I felt like I knew the person. Watching the process of the art and reading how it was made and seeing the artist himself/herself made me decide that the artwork was meaningful enough for me to buy. It might feel awkward, but think of it like you’re posting for your friends. Because that’s what your core followers become as you get to know them.
Reply to Everyone
I check Instagram several times a day. Especially after I’ve posted a photo. I actually stay on Instagram for about 20-30 minutes after I post to make sure that I reply to all the comments and DM’s (direct messages) that I get. Unfortunately, Instagram no longer notifies you of comments left on older posts. So I find it increasingly important to try to respond as quickly as possible.
Another thing I try to do when replying to comments is to use the person’s real name when responding. If I don’t recognize the username, I’ll go to their profile to see if they have their first name listed. What I like about this is that you get to know your followers as real people. They aren’t just random accounts and they aren’t just a number to you. You feel more connected to them, and they feel like you actually took the time to get to know them.
I always try to get to know my followers on a real-person basis, and I believe this makes a huge difference in how they interact with you. I know for myself, if someone responds to my comment or message and says ‘Shaylene’ in their response it makes me feel happy and even excited that they know my name. It sounds silly, but it’s what makes you see your followers as real people and keeps you from getting too caught up in the ‘numbers’.
And when you’re on someone’s profile searching for their name, look at their account! Like and comment on their pictures and if they’re posting things that inspire you then follow them. I’ll say it again: it’s not all about you. Social media is supposed to be ‘social’. I’ve heard a lot of people complain that they hate social media, and I believe that’s because it can easily become ‘me’ focused. Remember to love on and encourage others and support the people who inspire you without taking into account how many followers they have.
How to Write Engaging Captions
Captions are hard! I love to read long captions from accounts that I follow, so I’ve started trying to be more open and insightful with what I share. This can be hard because I often struggle with what to say. I want people to be able to interpret my art in a way that’s meaningful to them, and not necessarily the way I interpret it. However I think it can happen both ways. There are pieces of art that I see that resignate deeply, and when I read what the artist has to say it can be surprising because that’s not how I interpret it. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t still connect with that piece of art.
So, if I’m struggling with a certain part of the painting, I’ll say so. And if I’m having fun with a certain part, I’ll say so! It’s also a good exercise in articulating the feelings I have when creating a piece. The thing I love about creating artwork is that it helps me to experience and express feelings that I normally wouldn’t feel comfortable sharing. We all have those deep, personal feelings; and sharing those feelings can be difficult. But creating art can be just like when you listen to a song that evokes an emotion in you. Maybe you wouldn’t talk about those feelings or put words to them, but it’s comforting when you have an outlet that allows you to experience them.
That’s what art does. Maybe the piece you’re creating is funny or frustrating or painfully personal; you have to be able to share that so others can connect with you and feel like they’re being given an insight into your world. This was difficult for me. So start little-by-little. Not every piece you create will have this deep meaning (the piece I’m working on while I write this was inspired by a visit to Oregon. Nothing complicated or emotional, just a fun visit with some beautiful scenery of sunflowers and honey bees).
I think at the end of the day a lot of people don’t know how you come up with the art that you make, and any little clue you can give them is interesting. You don’t always have to bare your soul, but a little back-story is always insightful to others even if it isn’t interesting to you.
Give Stuff Away for Free
Ok… this one was hard for me in the beginning. I didn’t have a lot of money and it was hard for me to just give away my art. However, as I’ve started to give bloggers and other influencers my artwork to promote to their audiences I’ve seen a major increase in sales. I look up accounts who have at least 10k followers and high engagement (lots of comments on their posts) and ask them if I can send them something for free in exchange for them promoting it and tagging me. I usually give them a coupon code or discount for their followers as an added incentive.
This is so useful in getting your art in front of people who may never have discovered you otherwise. And, because the people who are promoting your work are trusted by their followers you’ll get in increase in traffic and sales on your website. I try to send out 5-10 free prints for each piece of art I create. It’s just important to contact bloggers/Instagram accounts that have an aesthetic similar to your artwork. Otherwise it’s a waste of both your time. If you don’t have the budget for it, just send out 1-2 free prints and as you get an increase in sales, try to increase your reach.
Tell People Your Art is For Sale
Self-promotion is hard. It feels weird in the beginning and you can take it personally if no one purchases from you. I found that I don’t really care what strangers think of me, but if my friends or family ask, “How did your Black Friday sale go?” and it didn’t go well… I suddenly get really uncomfortable. You just need to remember that you’re not doing this to portray something that you’re not. You’re doing it because you want to be an artist and you want your art to reach people who will love and appreciate it. If no one responds, you just haven’t found the right people yet.
So, when it comes to selling your art on Instagram just know that I have my website link in my profile, I post that my art is for sale in my finished posts, and I do a ‘swipe up to shop’ in my stories and I STILL get people messaging me asking if my art is for sale. Not everyone who wants to buy from you will see your posts. So don’t be afraid to link to your website, post prices or tell people your art is for sale. Even if no one responds, it just means the right people haven’t seen it yet. Social media is hard in the beginning because you feel like you’re talking to air sometimes; but take comfort in knowing that you’re able to learn how to do things the right way before you have too many people watching/commenting on it. And, message me if you feel discouraged. I’ve been there and I’d love to encourage and motivate you :)
But, just keep in mind that more than anything your main goal on Instagram is to connect and share. So make sure 70% of what you post is selfless sharing, and 30% is shameless promotion. If everything you post is ‘buy my art!’ you’ll turn a lot of people off and they’ll see you as a faceless brand that they can’t relate to instead of an artist creating beautiful pieces of unique art.
Don’t Have a Website? Use PayPal
This is actually one of the few things I got right from the very beginning. If someone wants to buy your artwork and you don’t yet have a website or platform to sell it from just use PayPal. Even now, if someone is interested in one of my original pieces but they can’t afford to buy it right-out I’ll send them an invoice through PayPal and tell them to take as long as they need to pay it off (you can send invoices where people can make payments instead of the full amount). When they’ve finished paying off the invoice I’ll ship them their artwork (it’s never a good idea to ship out art until it’s been paid in full).
So, if you don’t have a way to sell your art and you’re getting inquiries on Instagram try sending out invoices! It definitely helps build your confidence as a young artist and it gives you the ability to sell your art even before you’re ready to build a website.
Everything Takes Time
Lastly, just remember that social media takes time. If you aren’t paying for ads and you can’t afford to pay for promotions, just be gracious with yourself. It took me years to figure out what I was actually doing, and in that time I was slowly able to build up a following that I care deeply about and who cares about me and has invested in me. Even now, I know it will take time to get to my next goal (100k!) and I’m ok letting it take as long as it needs to.
When I started using Instagram I wasn’t trying to get famous or sell a lot of art. I honestly didn’t even care how many followers anyone had because I didn’t know it mattered. Ignorance is bliss sometimes, haha. But I love that I was able to start that way because I never felt pressured to preform; and I’ve never preformed well under pressure. My recent goal is to start doing more with YouTube, which is really difficult for me because I’m now aware of what success looks like on social media and I don’t want to embarrass myself. However I also think back to my time when I first started Instagram and I’m trying to re-capture that mindset.
Our goals need to be to share, help and inspire and anything beyond that (even money) will come with time. People can tell when you’re out for yourself and they can tell when you actually care about them. And that makes all the difference. So! I hope you can start implementing some of these tips and start to see your account grow. And I also hope that you give yourself at least a year before you expect too much. It takes time to build relationships and that’s what social media is. But once you do it can be such a powerful and amazing experience!