Over the years I’ve developed a modest following on a few social networking sites that have translated into real results for me, in the form of freelance projects and sales of prints from my shop, Cuddlefish Press. Two of these stand out as the most positive and productive use of my marketing time and efforts. I wanted to share a bit about how and why I use them, and how and why they work for me, so that other illustrators might consider adding them to their toolkits as well.
Dribbble is simply a “Show and Tell for Designers.” It’s a curated (invite-only) site that allows users to share small (400 by 300 px) thumbnails of pieces and projects they’re working on. Over time users build up a secondary portfolio of process work and detail shots that highlight the nice little elements they labor over so endlessly (but that many people may never notice when looking at a completed piece or design).
Dribbble is primarily targeted at designers so illustrators seem to be a minority of the site’s users. I’ve found this to be to my advantage. Often it feels like illustrators are mostly talking to other illustrators online, especially when it comes to matters of art process. Dribbble opens up the conversation to include other creatives and, most importantly, creatives who are in a position to hire illustrators. My Dribbble account has generated a dozen or more freelance jobs since I joined in 2011. (I do subscribe to Dribbble Pro, which makes it easy for potential clients to contact you from within the site and includes some additional account bells & whistles, like advanced stats. For $20 a year, it’s more than worth it.) These jobs have mostly involved character design or the creation of images for websites, a favorite example being my branding illustration project for Helio.io. Below are a sampling of shots from my Dribbble account, starting with one from Helios:
It is true that, in order to reap the benefits of Dribbble, you must first create a “prospect” account and be “drafted” by another “player” (user), and that can be difficult. Last year Dribbble co-founder Dan Cederholm reported that the site had 25,000 users and 60,000 prospects waiting for invitations. I’m sure the numbers have multiplied since that time. But I do have a handful of Dribbble invites available and am happy to consider requests from really talented illustration folks who’d like to give it a try.
Some other tips for making Dribbble work to your advantage:
- Put yourself in front of other players by posting quality work as often as possible;
- Follow and interact with those whose work you appreciate;
- Follow and interact with those you’d like to work with;
- Tag your work thoughtfully and strategically;
- Post the kind of work you want to be hired to do;
- Upgrade to Dribbble Pro.
Because of the Dribbble user demographic that I mentioned above, I imagine an account will be most fruitful for illustrators able and willing to do character and branding illustration work and perhaps even more so for those who also create icons and logos.
I am most active on Instagram, sharing process work just about every day I’m illustrating. Where Dribbble is great for sharing the digital stages of the illustration process and completed work, Instagram allows me to share the time-intensive sketching and inking portions of my process with ease. My Instagram feed has close to 2000 posts; most are of doodles, drawings and prints in the early stages of their creation process, and these don’t really appear anywhere else (even here on the blog). Last month my Instagram account surpassed 1000 followers—perhaps not so significant in the realm of Instagram fame, but not terrible for a small-time illustrator.
I find my Instagram followers to be some of the most engaged, supportive, genuine and curious people I interact with online. And though I’m not sure whether the account has resulted in any freelance gigs, I’m certain it’s increased awareness of and sales from my print shop. I encourage illustrators who derive secondary income from prints and products to take advantage of Instagram’s potential to reach wider audiences interested in handmade and artist-produced goods. And in order to maintain those audiences’ interest, keep your Instagram feed well-curated and relevant. If you must post dozens of shots of lattes, succulents and your dog, consider maintaining a separate account for your personal use. People who follow artists want to see, primarily, art.
A selection of my Instagram posts of pencil, ink, gouache and print work:
Ok, I admit that I sometimes deviate from my own rules and post something like:
But I try my best not to overdo it. Think of Instagram, and your other social media accounts, as valuable marketing tools. As a freelancer and an artist, every opportunity to share visual content is an opportunity to get hired, cultivate a customer or attract a fan. Not to mention to get advice, form alliances and even develop friendships with other creatives around the world. My illustration career was launched and is maintained by these tools and connections and I can’t imagine where I’d be without them.