I assume that most artists are, by now, familiar with some of the articles going around on which time frames are best for posting content to social media and other similar helpful advice. But despite all effort to follow the advice, many artists who draw personal art of their original characters seem to be stuck with a one- or low two-digit amount of notes on their work. While posting at the right time and selecting the fitting social media channels are undeniably important, I’ve come to the conclusion that these factors are secondary when it comes to art focusing on original characters. In this article I’m going to present my theory on why, and look into ways how to generate visibility.
Why nobody reblogs your art
Super Mario, Batman or The Lion King—all heroes of our childhood are someone’s original characters that have gained enough popularity to come to life as graphic novels, games or animated movies. We grow up idolizing these characters and eventually come up with our own original creations and dreaming of them eventually becoming equally popular. We therefore post our art to gallery websites and social media for people to see and share, hoping to generate followers and maybe the occasional commission—and end up disappointed when our work doesn’t meet the recognition it deserves, some of us even to the point of questioning the quality of our art or losing all motivation to draw at all.
After all you’ve spent years practicing and improving your art skills and put your heart into writing your characters’ backstories, fine-tuning their design and building a world around them. Your stuff is top notch—so why the hell does nobody reblog your freakin’ art?
Because nobody cares about your original characters except you (yet).
Think of the trope of enthusiastic young parents posting nothing but baby photos for months on end. See, to them, their kid is the raddest thing since sliced bread, and naturally, they want to share their happiness with the world. But if you’re not very close to them, would you be genuinely interested in their photos? Most likely not. Some close friends and relatives of theirs certainly will, but you’d scroll right past. Why? Because you’re not emotionally involved. It doesn’t matter how good the photos are or how pretty the baby; the content is simply not relevant for you. Now replace the baby with your original character, and their appearance with the visual quality of your work: it works exactly the same way.
Why relatable content is key
The main reason we are using social media is for self-display. The entire concept of social media is based on our natural urge to express ourselves. (A convenient platform for companies to harvest personal data and use it for targeted advertising—but I digress.) Hence, people will only reblog things that are either relevant for self-expression or provide other personal gain. Sure, there’s always a few good Samaritans who reblog art with the main intention of helping a fellow artist gain visibility, but let us, for now, focus on the majority of social media users.
Examples for content relevant for self-expression:
- Comics or memes you relate to and/or which reflect your humor
- Images that fit a personal aesthetic (e. g. goth, rainbow, vaporwave etc.)
- Political content that reflects your views
- Content by or about your favorite band, game or movie that reflects your personal taste
Examples for content providing other personal gain:
- Raffles that require a reblog to enter
- Content created by idols that you reblog in hope of getting noticed
You know that cringy thing where companies copy popular memes, or awkwardly use teenage slang in their headlines? Or that one year every second company raffled off iPads in exchange for personal information because they were the new big thing? That list up there is exactly the reason they do this: they’re trying to make their content relevant or relatable for the audience, which greatly raises the chance of being shared and talked about—and therefore expands their reach.
What this means for your art
Contrary to some of the well-meant advice you might have received, it’s not about getting more practice. Rest assured that the visual quality of your artwork is secondary. I’ve seen a lot of art with questionable anatomy, inconsistent style or off-looking shading that still had a four- to five-digit amount of notes, simply because the depicted content resonated with the audience in some way.
So forget everything they told you about swimming against the tide: If you’re looking to expand your reach, step one is to let go and to go with the flow. Latch onto the latest hypes and broadly discussed topics: draw fan art of the new Marvel movie that just hit the theaters, draw little cartoons addressing current political issues, do a commission raffle—as long as it’s something the audience can use for self-expression or engage in for personal gain, you’re on the right track. This is the kind of stuff that’ll earn you visibility and reach. It does not mean to give up on your original characters—far from it! Keep world-building, refining, designing—and post them in between. Use your mainstream content as a catalyst for your personal art. The visibility generated by your relatable content raises the chance of your personal art to be seen, and in return, your original characters become a familiar and memorable sight to the audience, which might eventually result in them building up an emotional connection to them.
It might not work right away, and it might not work the next few times either, but try to not let that get you down. Keep going. Eventually you’ll create something that hits a nerve, and over time, you’ll have figured out what works best for you and your audience.
Yes, this probably kind of feels like self-betrayal. But as much as it clashes with your noble ambitions to go from zero to hero with nothing but your own original creations like our predecessors did in the ancient times before the internet, it’s an important step to gain a foothold in a social media landscape that has never been as immensely oversaturated with user-created content as it is today. Back in their time, only few had access to a way to display their work publically, and most of them only did because they knew somebody who knew somebody. So due to the sparse amount of publically available user-created content back in the day, almost anything that saw the light was automatically visible in some way. We need to come to terms with the fact that this no longer works in today’s society unless you have the necessary connections, and adapt our strategy accordingly.
The good news is that it has never been easier to display your work than it is today. However, the downside is that it’s equally easy to remain unseen among the vast quantities of user-created content people are flooded with every second and have the possibility to choose from on their eternal quest for self-expression.
The key is to give them something relatable, remain persistent, and keep trying—ideally while sticking to the known advice on timing, channels, tagging and interacting with your audience—and eventually your work will receive the visibility it deserves.