How to Grow Your Audience on Instagram, Part 1


When it comes to showing your art to the world, Instagram is king. No other social media site comes close. In the first half of 2015, over 1,000,000 dollars worth of art was sold on Instagram making it the worlds fastest growing art gallery both on or offline.

In a May 2014 article, Vogue magazine called Instagram “the world’s most talked-about new art dealer”. According to the article, Instagram is “not only launching the career of under-the-radar artists, it is providing the world with an entirely new way to access art. Where artists once had to first get support of the art world elite—critics, galleries and big name collectors, which would eventually lead to museum shows—before reaching the monied masses, today artists use Instagram as their own virtual art gallery, playing both dealer and curator while their fans become critics and collectors, witnessing the creative process in real time.”

It’s a brave new world. As artists, we are no longer required to beg an art gallery to look at our portfolio, and the days of big city galleries demanding up to 60% of our sales is gone for good.

In the New World your future is in your hands and your audience is global. For the first time in history, artists have the tools they need to get their work seen and build an audience of patrons without any outside help at all. Instagram is the key – all you have to do is unlock its potential.

Every aspect of your Instagram account has the ability to either gain or lose followers for your account. In last week’s post we talked about the impact that saying negative things about your art can have on your followers. This week I’m going to show you how to set up your gallery in a way that gets more followers and keeps your existing followers coming back for more.

What Your Followers Want

When a new or existing follower spends time on your account, they are there because they are looking for something. If you regularly post your art to your account, the chances are good that art is what they’re looking for. To turn your Instagram account into an art marketing machine, you want to encourage those people who are “just looking” to become customers who are “looking to buy”. This is not as hard to do as you may think.

Look at it this way, if you’ve ever walked into a department store and a sales person approached, you probably told them you were “just looking”. But the truth of the matter is you made a point to go to that store for reason. You may be just looking but in the back of your mind you are looking for something, and if something amazing pops up, you might actually buy it. If someone arrived at your account, the chances are high that they are looking for your art, and if they see something amazing they may actually think of buying it. But to grab their attention and hold it you need to give them what they came there to see. What they are not looking for is what you had for dinner, your cat, your kids or your feet. They are there because they want to see your art, and that’s what you should be giving them. That’s ALL you should be giving them.

Optimize Your Art Marketing Machine

When working with artists to optimize their Instagram accounts, one of the big things I look for is the overall impression their photos make at first glance. Not their individual  photos but all of their photos seen together as a whole. If you think about it, when you open up your Instagram account on your phone or mobile device, the screen itself acts like a picture frame or store front display window. The first thing you see when you scroll down past the bio is a collection of your posts all together. This view is your first point of exposure to your audience. Just like a brick and mortar store front, the impression your virtual store front makes can have a huge influence on whether or not some one “enters” your “store” to browse or moves on to a store with a more enticing display.

Try this for yourself. Open up your account and scroll down past your bio. What do you see? Does the whole screen look like an amazing collection of beautiful art or are there areas that draw your attention AWAY from the art? Which photo is your eye most drawn to? Where does your eye look first? If the first thing you notice is not a photo of your art, then something is amiss. After all it is your ART account.

Let me show you what I mean. I’ve taken the liberty of creating an Instagram account to work with as I write these posts. (You can give it a follow if you like!) We will cover each section in a different post but for now let’s take a look at the “gallery” section. Our artist has made the mistake of using his art account to post up personal pictures as well. We can forgive him for this ’cause he’s not quite right if you know what I mean. When you see his account as a whole, which images stand out most?


I don’t know about you but I can’t stop looking at that weird ass cat. This is not the way an art account is supposed to be.

Your art account should showcase your art. Rows and rows of it! Someone looking at your account for the first time should be able to tell at a glance what your account is all about. If they’re looking for art and have to weed through pictures of food and feet to get it, they are not likely to look for long. Your art Instagram account should be set up so that a new viewer gets an idea of the type and quality of the art you do, and so your existing followers get lots of what they are following you for.

Making sure your art account looks like an art account may seem like a no brainer, but you’d be surprised how many artists get it wrong. Fortunately, it’s an easy fix.

When you treat your art account like your personal online art gallery and store, and pay attention to the way you display your “wares”, you create a place your followers will want to come back to over and over again. And that’s a good thing.

Let’s Get Personal

Before I go, I want to address the issue of non art photos in a positive way. There is nothing wrong with letting your audience in on your private life. Chances are if you’re talking to your audience and answering their questions, they are starting to get a sense of who you are as a person and not just as an artist. When that happens they may actually BE interested in your cat, your kids, and what you had for dinner, though, they’re probably still not interested in your feet. Showing photos of the things that are important to you, that impact and influence your life, can help build a deeper relationship with your audience. BUT your art gallery is not the place to do it. You don’t want to be that guy who’s constantly showing people he barley knows his vacation photos! No one likes that guy.

If you want to show your audience your personal life, the place to do it is a personal account. That way if they like your art and want to know more about you they can. But it’s a choice they get to make! If you have an art account and a personal account and someone chooses to follow you on both, then you’ve already gone a long way past “just looking” and are one step closer to “looking to buy”.

So take a quick look at your account and see what you think. Does it really show your art off to its best advantage or do you find your eyes wandering to that damned creepy cat? Make the changes you think you should make, after all, you never get a second chance to make a first impression.

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  1. Hello! I’ve had Instagram for almost over three years now and I really wish I knew all this stuff you send out! I read everything religiously! Thank you for the help and with all your advice I hope I can get my account running to it’s full potential! I was wondering if you can help me on the thought of old art. Like I said I’ve been on Instagram for over three years now. I have a cluster of an art gallery, my art is ranging over the years. I was told that it’s good to show progress, but how much is too much? Or even if this statement is true? Can you help me out?
    Sincerely _timewolf_

    • Hi Alison, I’m glad you like the posts! Thank you for the kind words!

      The answer to your question is, it all depends on what you want your instagram to DO. Older art is perfect if your goal is to show your audiance your personal journey towards making the art you make now. Like you said, it’s a great way for them to see your progress. On an older account that’s been around for a while there are always going to be lots of posts, and that’s good because it shows you’re always working! I would however recomend that you look back over your older posts and make sure they are the best examples of your journey. If there are some photos that you think could be removed, then go ahead and remove them, what matters most is what you’re posting now 🙂

  2. Christopher, randomly stumbled into your writings this morning and getting a lot out of your posts! I appreciate your thoughts about maintaining curatorial discipline on our Instagram feeds. Some questions;

    1) Where would source images reflecting things that inspire my art go…the Fine Art account or the Personal account?

    2) For an account that is already up and running that is mostly art-centric, would you shift the curating going forward to the close-up, WIP strategy and focus on the art along the lines of your blog post OR go back and delete/purge posts that would have been more appropriate on a Personal account?

    3) Any posts forthcoming about when, where and how to hashtag to get more eyeballs on the art, and ultimately to the website/shop?

    Appreciate any thoughts. Brad

    • Christopher, Disregard question 3…just saw your BADASS post!

      • Hi Brad, happy to have you here. Let’s see if I can do justice to your questions.
        Regarding question one. I personally use Pinterest to show the art that has the greatest influence on my work. I like that platform for that purpose since Pinterest is all about curation of pretty things, and showing my influences there minimizes visual confusion since each influence gets its own board. I use each of the social media accounts for very specific purposes and unlike most, I don’t link the accounts. They each play a different roll. For me, Instagram is all about exposure and engagement and about getting people to my sales site. And anything that doesn’t directly relate to those goals doesn’t go on my account.

        Which leads right into question two. I’m cautious about giving a hard fast rule here, but most often I recommend the delete/purge of any non art centric posts. Especially if those posts have the effect of drawing the viewer’s attention away from the art. However, there are lots of artists who mix their art and personal photos with little or no adverse effect. I guess it really depends on your personality. My artistic “voice” and the voice I use here are very different, and both are different than my day to day persona, so for me, mixing personal and art photos, well….. they just don’t mix. I would recommend looking over your account with a very critical eye or better yet asking someone you only know very casually to look at your account and tell you what it’s about. I find that’s the best way to gauge the impact of your posts. I looked your account over carefully and your work is beautiful, but for me at least, posting the skyscapes and sky paintings side by side cause confusion, at least at a glance. It’s a testament to your skill as a painter but when viewing your account as a whole it makes it difficult to tell which works are paintings and which are not.

  3. This one is great, I need to get working on this Instagram stuff!

  4. Good stuff, man.
    After reading this, I created an Instagram page just for my art, and stared posting only finished, saleable artwork (I’ll continue to use the personal IG page for w.i.p., step-by-steps, and pictures of my cat’s feet.)
    I was amazed at the he difference it made to clean out all the chaff, leaving a solid body of work. I’ve only posted a few images (more all the time) and the perception of the quality of my art has skyrocketed – at least to me, I’m sure it looks better to viewers as well.

    One question –
    I saw an artist who posted in groups of 3 images that go together in a row, and it looks awesome. I was thinking of doing that as well.
    Does Instagram display 3 images per row on all devices, or will it be different, say, on my Samsung than on someone’s iPad? Would I be spending time getting it to look great, to find out it only looks that way on my phone…?

    • Hi Mikey, happy to hear you now have an art-specific Instagram. That can make a world of difference if you do it right. As for displaying an image large across multiple posts, you’re right, it is super awesome, and it works the same on all devices including mobile and tablet. There are several apps out there that will do the job, but I haven’t tried any of them yet. If you find one you like, please post it up here 🙂

      • Hey Christopher!
        Thanks for the great advice. I’m getting a lot out of your posts.

        I set up two new accounts: one for my art in general, and one specificalky for my celebrity caricatures, since that is a very specific subect and audience. Im o on ly posting finished art, with an occasional preview of work-in-progress of my bigger projects.
        I’m saving general wip, sketches, pictures of my guitar, etc. for my personal account. Still, no pictures of my feet. LoL

        On both art accounts I’m posting images in groups of 3. That accomplishes a couple things:
        1. It looks great to see each row relate to itself, with images that go together. This creates a more organized and professional look.
        2. It shows that I work in series. The gallery owner I’ve been working with keeps telling me, “work in series. Do one that’s good; make five more that go together… think about the overall display in the gallery.” Its good advice. The same advice seems to work well for Instagram, too.
        To see the gallery, look up @mikeyzart and @caricaturesbymikey on Instagram. Id b iterested to hear your feedback.

      • Hi Mikey, this sounds like a great technique. I’ll have to try it myself and let you know how it goes. Awesome idea, thanks for sharing! I took a look at both of your accounts, and you’re right, they look awesome in threes like that. It really lends a professional look to the overall account. Overall, any feedback I would have to give would be super positive. I do have a question for you though – are you using Instagram to drive traffic to a sales site? If you are, then I think a “work in progress” strategy would benefit you significantly. Your work is very high quality and you’ve got good follower counts for as new as your accounts are.

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