How to make friends and influence people

Detail from 'The Spring Hunt', seamless pattern by Celandine

Detail from ‘The Spring Hunt’, seamless pattern by Celandine

What would you say you’re most hungry for? What do you wish you could effortlessly have more of? Talent? Time?


One struggle every artist knows too well is the constant battle to be noticed. The digital age has opened up a world of possibilities for artists, but it has also removed all barriers to entry. This means that there are legions of us now, a whole ocean of artwork constantly swelling up in waves, and each droplet trying to reach an interested audience.

When you first start, you may be a little shy about sharing your work. What if someone says something bad about it? Worse, what if no one says anything at all? With time, though, the need for an audience wins out and you start showing some pieces, tentatively. Probably captioned with self-deprecating lines like ‘just some rubbish thing I scribbled up’. Eventually you realize that showing your work is as much of an integral part of being an artist as actually making the work, and from that moment the game is on.

We can pretend that popularity doesn’t matter, but we’re all counting our stats. How many new fans this week, how many followers? Why did that last pic get only seven likes? Why are all the comments from my friends?

Artists crave attention, making art is just one half a conversation we’re trying to have with the world, and the response of the audience makes that conversation complete. You don’t want to be talking to yourself. But we’re often at a loss how to reach out most effectively. Once we’ve set up all the social media profiles we can handle (and probably a few we’ll end up never using, because let’s be real, how many profiles can one person realistically fill with content?), we do our best to post, tag, pin, and blog consistently, in the hope that the bat signal we’re sending up at the moon will shine brightly enough to attract Our People – our ideal fans, supporters, and clients. Progress is invariably painfully slow, and we always wonder if we’re doing the right things, and if we’re doing enough of them.

Here are a few things I’ve concluded through my Social Media Struggle so far.

1. MAKE GREAT WORK. Obviously, it’s better to be good than to be bad. This is not what I mean, though. Each of us is at a different point of our artistic capacity arc, and each of those points – even the beginning ones, while you still kind of suck – has its own value and charm. What I mean by ‘make great work’ is ‘make the best work you can possibly make at this moment’. Sometimes I’m tempted to rush a piece so I can post it on Facebook a day sooner, since I feel it’s been too long since I’ve put up something new. Sometimes I try to take some shortcuts because I feel I spend too much time on each piece. Every single time, the response to those pieces is noticeably lower. People who love and follow my work know when I’m not at the top of my game.  The fact that there even are people who love and follow my work – even if there were just three of them – means that I owe it to them to do my very best. I need to keep my side of the conversation interesting, if I want to hear theirs.

2. LEAVE COMMENTS. We all have our Art Crushes, great artists we admire, and wish we could reach out to them and get their recognition, support or advice. But even though reaching out has become super-easy, reaching out in a non-invasive, non-creepy and non-demanding way is really tough. My solution – leave comments. Hitting the ‘like’ button takes a split-second, and it means next to nothing. If you see someone else’s work and it moves you in some way, tell them. Don’t just say ‘Lovely!!’ Tell them something only you could tell them – why it speaks to you, which part struck you in particular, what did it remind you of. Ask them a question about the piece, give them a chance to talk about it. Buy a print and tell them how you felt when it arrived, show them a photo of where you framed it. In every single interaction, ask yourself ‘if someone said this to me, how would I feel?’ Don’t introduce yourself to someone by asking for a favor. Just talk to people when you feel you have something to say to them, about them. You’ll be surprised at the great friendships you’ll build over time – and the networking opportunities that will come from these connections. Side benefit 🙂

3. BE FEARLESS. You’d love to be featured on a popular blog but you’re sure they’d turn you down? Ask anyway. If you can’t imagine yourself writing to them and saying ‘Hi, I love your blog and I was wondering if you’d be interested in featuring my artwork?’, you can always be super sly about it and write in asking them a question or sharing some positive thoughts on one of their recent posts, and then add nonchalantly after that ‘By the way I’m also an artist, here is a link to my portfolio.’ If even that seems too brazen (you delicate butterfly, you!), you can simply attach prominent portfolio and social media links to your email signature. That way you’re not even mentioning it to them specifically – it just sits there, in the bottom of each mail you send, in case someone cares. Of course it won’t work every time, but I got some amazing exposure using these coy tactics.

4. DON’T WASTE CHANCES. Does this sound familiar? Someone reached out to you and asked you to do an interview; you totally meant to get back to them but then things happened and you just forgot. It was only a newbie blog with a small readership, no biggie, right? Someone asked you how much you’d charge to design a piece for them; you wanted to think it over first, and ended up not even writing back. Ehh, they didn’t sound serious about it anyway. Probably no great loss. But you’ll never know where each chance leads unless you TAKE IT! Yes, a lot of these will be a waste of time. But your professionalism lies in your treatment of those who reach out to you as an art professional – all of them. Replying to comments people leave on your Facebook page will make them feel appreciated. Giving an interview for a tiny blog with three regular readers will give you practice in answering interview questions in an engaging way. Replying professionally to all commission inquiries – even those you immediately know you won’t accept – will help you build confidence in listing your terms and fees. And in the end, you just never know – sometimes an opportunity is bigger than it looks. Gotta kiss a few frogs if you want to find that prince.

Basically all of these are saying the same thing – keep your side of the conversation flowing. Make it easy for people to talk to you, and the right people will take that chance.

What do you do to increase your reach? What do you think you should do more of? Found any great tricks for gaining exposure? Share in the comments! 

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2 thoughts on “How to make friends and influence people

  1. Great advise! It took me a while before I started showing people my work and even now I second guess myself at times. The more you do it the easier it becomes =) Thanks for the great tips!

    • Glad you found them useful, Sareka! Yeah I think we all have that initial shyness about showing work, for some it takes longer to wear off than for others. But one thing is definite – nobody has ever become successful by hiding what they’re good at. Gotta show it loud and proud 🙂 It does become easier with time.

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