Illustrators and Social Media

Recently SCBWI ran a survey of illustrator members on using social media. John Shelley takes a look at the results.

The way illustrators promote their work is in a constant state of evolution, with social media nowadays having a vital role for a lot of us, many illustrators regard a strong social media presence as at least as important as having a website.

Illustrators post their work on social media for a variety of reasons: to sell merchandise, to find commissioned work, sometimes as a means to experiment and join in social art exercises, and sometimes just simply to share with others. Whichever the case, everyone likes a lot of followers!

But which sites are most effective?

Unlike images in a gallery page updated every few months, social media is a dynamic medium changing constantly, the beast that must be fed! But fed what - and how often?

Altogether 61 illustrators responded to the survey. We started by asking which they opted for from a list of nine popular social media platforms used by illustrators. As the questionnaire was specifically about sharing artwork, chat platforms like Snapchat and video platforms like Vimeo & YouTube were not specifically covered.

The most popular platforms amongst our respondents were Instagram  (77.05%) and Twitter (75.41%). Facebook artist pages came in third with 67.21% of polled illustrators (21 illustrators) using them, though as Facebook Groups and personal pages also figured quite strongly, overall Facebook gets a lot of love. No real surprises there perhaps, but it was quite eye-opening how little some other platforms are used - only a quarter of those polled regularly use Blogs, which I suspect is a decrease over recent years, Linked-In, Tumblr, Behance and Pinterest had low results, and lowest of all was Google+ with just one user!

We asked which platform has attracted the most "likes" and followers, and by far Instagram stood highest, with over 40% of respondents citing it as their biggest heart-attracting platform, double that of Twitter. Let's not forget these are different types of platform though. Many illustrators multi-post the same image to two to three platforms at once (one respondent to more than four!), though several expressed concern about appearing to 'spam' their followers.
I don't tend to post at the same time, as I have the same people on some of the platforms and I don't want to spam them.
It's annoying to receive the same post/image on several platforms at the same time. It would be much more effective to schedule the same post to show up at different times on different platforms. Higher chance of more people noticing and you don't annoy the ones who already follow you. 

How often do illustrators post artwork to social media?  

For most of our members it's once a week or very occasionally, though just over a quarter of those polled share more regularly every few days, and three respondents post images daily. Joining in online sketching challenges is a popular activity, with  #ColourCollective, #Inktober, #IllustrationFriday and #animalalphabets receiving multiple mentions.

Are artists concerned about their work being stolen or their copyright infringed? 

Many of us take a variety of measures to limit this, most commonly by only posting low resolution images, some add copyright notices to pages/captions, a few of us sign artwork or add digital watermarks.
Well, food for thought! You know the old saying: there are lies, damned lies and statistics! On the one hand the most popular platforms attract the most attention from the public, and perhaps the industry, but do they represent the best way to sell your work? Surely the more artists that use a site, the harder it is to make your lone voice heard amongst the crowd? Is social media an echo chamber of artists patting each other on the back rather than reaching the key commissioners/buyers? Is the challenge not more about quality of follower than quantity?

So we ended by asking how effective social media is in actually finding work or art sales. It's not easy to ask a client or customer how they come across our work, sometimes a combination of factors are at work so it's a difficult thing to quantify. But it's great to see that for some members time spent on social media has paid off! Here's a few successes:

I was approached by my current agency... through what they had seen on social media (where they were directed to my website). Although I cannot say which platforms in particular, they are likely to have been Twitter or instagram.
I was once given a commission from an agency who said they found me on Twitter.
I have had several commissions from Facebook and more networking opportunities that eventually led to commissions. 
Two commissions for B/W work I can specifically trace to social media (Facebook & Twitter)
Getting an agent 

Click here to see the full results of the survey. Many thanks to all those who participated!


John Shelley is the Illustration Features Editor of Words & Pictures. He's illustrated over 50 books for children, many published in Japan where he lived for many years, and the USA. His latest picture book is Magic for Sale, with words by Carrie Clickard (Holiday House, USA). Find him on social media (Facebook/Twitter/Instagram) @StudioNIB  Official Website: 

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this, John. At the recent Picture Book retreat, freelance art director Zoe Tucker said she uses Instagram almost exclusively now as a way of discovering illustrators.


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