A guide to using Instagram for studio artists

Posted on Mar 31, 2014 | 28 Comments

“Who cares?”  This is the question I ask myself all the time. Who cares about the work I do or anybody does? How do we as a craft community share and grow as a field? How do we get others to care about the things we care about? As social media becomes increasingly omnipresent and critical to small businesses, these questions about the relationship between internal passion and external outreach become more pressing and relevant.

sparkler alphabet

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Over the course of the past two years, photography has inched back into my ceramics studio practice through the photo-based social media app, Instagram, where one posts their own images and view those of others from all over the world in real, or almost real, time. It can be a marketing tool for businesses, but more interestingly, an educational one because content can be rich and easily digestible.

The unique tactility of ceramic material and the many steps involved in the process make it easy to show with vivid clarity how beautiful many moments are in making anything out of clay. As a way to promote ceramics and my pots on Instagram, I try and pay particular attention to parts of the process that will never be seen in the final piece. The corkscrew of trimmed clay, the viscous splash of slip, the gear-like shadow of a scalloped plate edge as it rotates on the wheel.

Cup being slipped

The vacuum dunk!

I’ve often advocated for new ways to present pots by taking them out of their staid, uniform backgrounds and into the untidiness of real life. How do we as makers fashion visual stories for our work? How did we present them as the complex objects that they are and imagine the countless contexts that they can and will be put in as independent objects?  As a marketing experiment, I recently posted a single pot daily on Instagram to announce a new listing in my Etsy shop. The surprise was that it worked as a sales tactic, even when the pot wasn’t shot in any kind of straightforward way. In fact, some were hardly visible or were only shadows, but they ostensibly held up as beautiful images that led to people checking the listing. Pushing the idea of pots in real life one step further, in some images I also allowed myself the liberating shift from photographer to art director, something I’d only done in promotional postcards and videos. I used Photoshop liberally to support the concept in an image, not simply adjust exposure. The absurd became a way to garner laughs in an attempt to take the stuffiness out of product shots.

Clover kicking up UPS boxes

Our Chief Packaging Inspector, Clover, shows off her perfect box stacking skills, as she punts boxes into place, in advance of a run to the UPS store. photo: Michael Wilson

 

Like any tool, Instagram can be used poorly, or be a great resource to show technique, life style, objects, aesthetic, and engage about ideas. It’s perfect for those of us with dirty, clay-splattered hands, who have room in our pockets for a smart phone through which to engage the world and share pieces of our lives. I’ve developed a kind of Instagram guide by which I filter content and decide what to post, because it keeps me on track and hopefully the quality of images and content high. We all engage in social media for different reasons, so if you just had a baby or just fell in love, disregard the manifesto. This is geared toward the maker who’s marketing online, so adjust for your own interests and remember that there are exceptions to everything. Although these tenets may seem negative, they’re designed to fight mediocrity, make the experience more effective, and keep today’s identity-obsessed ego in check.

Otter and bird cup in sink

Friends who swim in the sink

THE INSTAGRAM GUIDE
1. The first question is always “what is the value?”  What does this post contribute? There are so many ways to answer this question, but if you don’t have an answer or don’t believe in it, no one else will either. Approach postings from the viewpoint of a total stranger who knows nothing about you now or your past. This emphasizes the need to post interesting content or a compelling picture. Assume that no one cares about the minutiae of your life. Ask “who cares?”, and your gut will tell you.
2. Post from the heart. Same goes for work and don’t anticipate the audience.
3. Share something interesting and educational. This might take a little extra energy in research time, but it’ll be worth it. And unless it’s completely self-explanatory, include a description or more information about what your relationship to the subject is.
4. If you don’t have anything to say, don’t say it at all. Waiting until the right image comes along is better than pushing through a crappy picture to meet a self-imposed deadline. This standard can fluctuate, which is ok, but if you have serious doubts, opt not to post.
5. Try to pace your images. No one is waiting for you to post. And don’t post more than five images a day (though in prolific periods, it’s necessary). 1-3 times a day is ideal.
6. No selfies. If you’re a super model, you’re allowed to post two self-portraits a year, but the rest of us should limit it to one annually (if at all). Unless you’re under twenty-six (supposedly the age of American adulthood), too many selfies comes across as narcissistic. Sometimes it’s nice to see the face behind the postings, but what really counts is substance.
7. Don’t journal unless the image either has a timeless quality or its immediacy is relevant and helpful. Unless it’s breaking news that people might care about or you’re participating in a larger event, the image should hold its own a year from now, not just for the next ten minutes. No one cares about your lunch unless you’re a professional chef or you’re eating bugs.
8. Take time to make your image beautiful. Don’t post grainy, unclear images unless they’re good grainy, unclear images. Personally, I don’t care about iPhone-only shots, I just care about good quality images that don’t have foggy or refracted starbursts from a greasy iPhone lens.
9. Pick the quintessential image. Instead of posting a dozen (or even three) different angles of the same thing, choose the shot that says it all. Keep this tenet in mind when you take the picture in the first place.
10. Pictures should be able to stand alone as beautiful compositions. The exception to this is straight documentation, in which case, say something interesting in the caption.
11. See your Instagram gallery as a whole work of art. Think about the grid and how choosing and sticking with one filter unifies the entire gallery. Think about segues and the flow between pictures left to right and even top to bottom.
12. Post lifestyle pictures when they help others get a better sense of how your world contributes to your art and how they’re intertwined.
13. Post pictures of things that inspire and why. Our aesthetics are much more than the mediums in which we make. Start to make connections between things both for yourself and your audience.
14. Limit family and pet pictures. It’s great to see the friends and family, but we don’t need to see them all the time unless they’re directly relevant to your work. Exceptions include funny pictures and cute ones too (I know, so subjective). There can’t be enough laughter in one day.
15. Let people into your creative decision-making. Sometimes it’s really interesting to crowd source ideas and let people in at that vulnerable stage when you’re trying to make a decision. Of course you don’t have to take their advice.
16. Show moments in the process that you love. Sharing your love of making is the best thing in the world and will translate.
17. Moments of natural wonder never get old. Lens flares are in this year, but might not be next year, so get your perfect angle into the sunset now. Personally, I love seeing pictures of summer from the southern hemisphere during January in the northern hemisphere.
18. Be a part of the community and not a snob.  The fantastic thing about Instagram is that it’s more of a meritocracy than Facebook. Content matters more than who you know. Having someone from half way around the planet let you into their world is a privilege. Yes, you’ll want to curate who you follow to some degree in order to not miss those feeds you love the best, but follow for the sake of their photos alone.
19. Like other people’s pictures liberally. Likes are free and are a great way to support your community. All upside and no downside.
20. Embrace the randomness of Instagram. You never know what you’ll see at any given moment. This allows you to follow a hash tag from anywhere and anyone. It’s the much-needed modern version of flipping through an encyclopedia in the good old analog days.  #heyandhavefun

Please note that this was originally published in the 2014 NCECA Journal and has been modified slightly.

28 Comments

  1. Simone Allwood
    March 31, 2014

    Great rules for Instagram. Love your work

    Reply
  2. Melissa Pritchard
    March 31, 2014

    Fantastic article/post! Well-written and conceived. I see these tenets reflected in your excellent body of Instagram work. I also like what you about being mindful of the grid, and of how the images look as parts of a whole. I am only feeling bad about any selfies I’ve ever put out there, as last time I checked I was 26 twice over and never a super model. Nice work, Ayumi.

    Reply
    • ayumihorie
      ayumihorie
      March 31, 2014

      Hey thanks Melissa. That’s a tricky one about selfies and one you don’t have to worry about because you’re a super duper model and my favorite dance partner!

      Reply
  3. Helen Carter
    March 31, 2014

    Thank you for this! It helps me imagine using Instagram in a way I’d feel good about. I’m perched on the edge of abandoning facebook and looking around for a place where I can engage in a sincere manner.

    Reply
    • ayumihorie
      ayumihorie
      April 1, 2014

      Helen, you can have Instagram auto post to Facebook and also tweet for you. I really love the people on Instagram and hope you have fun.

      Reply
  4. Celia stirey
    April 1, 2014

    I need a bracket to attach my phone to my head so my hands are free when i’m trying to document process. And maybe figure out how to bite the volume toggle on the earbuds to snap the photos? It’s just so awkward.

    Reply
  5. Cory
    April 1, 2014

    yay ayumie! This is great, I just had a dinner conversation about your instagram prowess! This is great advice.
    Follow me @waxnwane :)

    Reply
  6. Young mi Kim
    April 1, 2014

    Very good tips! I’ve recently come out of my 10year old cave & joined the Facebook… I am totally loving it!
    I’ll try the Instagram next. Thanks for all your great tips!

    Reply
  7. Kristy
    April 1, 2014

    There’s so many things about this post that I agree with. Your thoughts about letting people into the creative process is spot on. In my case I’m in between undergraduate and starting grad school, and having eyes other than my own, to see my work has been very helpful at times. It’s one of the reasons I post pictures of my work.
    I also think the statement about the selfie’s are just as good. There are times where I’ve seen so many of a person that I just continue to scroll right through them. There are some that have a message or purpose behind them, but when there’s too many pictures being posted I tend to ignore the message as soon as I see the face because I’ve seen the face too much.

    Reply
    • ayumihorie
      ayumihorie
      April 1, 2014

      Yeah, I agree. I think the one exception to selfies is if someone else took the picture and it’s informative in some way. Maybe it’s a technique that’s getting shown or some interesting background, but that point it doesn’t become a selfie, it becomes a portrait.

      Reply
  8. Marie
    April 1, 2014

    Thank you I really needed a push to start posting to instagram.

    Reply
  9. Dan Schmitt
    April 1, 2014

    Great Instagram Guide for artists! I teach an Artist Survival Skills course and this will be a great resource to share with my students. I already use you and your site often as a successful example of innovative marketing of art and craft. Thanks again for posting!

    Reply
  10. Beth
    April 1, 2014

    Great timing! Thanks for the tips! I just found my account again last night and have decided to start to use it for marketing purposes. I’ve used fb in the past for this same thing, but know I need to continue to move forward and expand my avenues!

    Reply
  11. Brett Beasley
    April 1, 2014

    I thought instagram was limited to pictures from a phone, assuming the borders and clarity where from some app. Thanks for informing me otherwise. I’ve only recently started using Instagram and FB. One of my first postings I asked what do you, my friends, want to see from me, Erin Curry stated, “I’m interested in knowing what you see that I don’t—poetics, interesting articles, books, things put together in a weird way, etc.” Seeing the our shared experiences through different viewpoints has been the most engaging way to interact with one another. Thanks for being avant-garde blending technology and craft!

    Reply
  12. Jane Hollinger
    April 1, 2014

    Excellent article Ayumi! Thanks for writing it AND taking excellent photos- much appreciated. While these social, internet based platforms are very important to artists and small businesses, no denying it-It is critical to not get caught up in manic posting . Take care and time with your words and photos, and take the time to really find your voice – not what is “in” at the moment ( I greatly dislike the word “trending”) That’s when you will really start to connect with other people and with customers. Quality over quantity and have fun!

    Reply
  13. Nicole Pink
    April 2, 2014

    I guess I’m a narcissist… but I’m not selling valuable artwork via instagram.

    Reply
  14. Dinah Steveni
    April 2, 2014

    Super essay. Must go and cull those pet pix…going to take your premise a step further
    : bricks and mortar galleries not quite dead.

    Reply
  15. evie
    April 2, 2014

    so helpful, such a great way to combine these two artistic skills, along with the so many other skills needed to pull it off so well. going to look for you on instagram…

    Reply
  16. Phill Schmidt
    April 3, 2014

    Great advice to pros and beginners alike.

    Additionally, just like in pottery, you can’t be afraid to just get in and do it either. Fear is probably more of a hindrance to many artists, and sometimes too many rules and regulations are more crippling than helpful.

    After the first 10,000, your photos/pots will start to get better. Your ‘grams won’t be great at first, but try to adhere to some rules like above and just keep at it. You’ll get there.

    Reply
  17. barbara donovan
    April 4, 2014

    I don’t really love Facebook, but my customers are more on FB than on Instagram at this time. I like IG, but i’m finding it more for seeing what other artists and friends are up to rather than marketing at the moment, and I was recently wondering if it would ever be useful to me that way.

    I follow some artists on both FB and Ig, and many post the same thing on each site with it usually being the Ig photos then posting to FB (and maybe Tumblr). Time is always an issue and of course things can overlap, but do you think effort should be made to post different content on both? If the same content is on all, it doesn’t give anyone a reason to follow both, or maybe that doesn’t matter?

    Reply
  18. LeeAnn Janissen
    April 7, 2014

    Thanks for this post! I saw your demo at NCECA and I really relate to your views about objects, our relationships to them, and how this influences ceramics practice.

    I am a bit older than you (came of age BEFORE personal computers EEK!) I think people of my generation really struggle with the boundaries between public and private. Social media blurs this line in a way that younger people find natural, but people of my age either don’t really comprehend, or feel uncomfortable about it.

    I like the idea of instagram being an extension of my ceramics practice and a way to more fully articulate, for myself largely, my aesthetic and the motivation for doing this work. If others also want to see, I think I’m OK with that. I’m trying!

    Reply
  19. Some Great Resources for Ceramic Artists | emily nickel • ceramic artist
    April 9, 2014

    […] second resource I’d like to share is Ayumi Horie’s Guide to Using Instagram for Studio Artists. I love both Ayumi’s pots and her photos so her instagram feed is a great way to see lots of […]

    Reply
  20. Alix Davis
    April 11, 2014

    Thank you for a great article full of constructive ideas and encouragement.

    Reply
  21. Audra
    March 15, 2015

    Great points regarding instagram. LoL at the “selfie” info – I’ve never been a fan of the selfie. And my gorgeous (mayaswellbemodels) sisters nag me about posting more pics of me and my kids, so I do. Then I delete them. It’s just not my thing. I want to see work, and what inspires someone’s work, and creative pictures, and process pictures. Pictures that are out of the ordinary. And exceptional. I’m going to work on making my pictures better, time to dust off the real camera. Thanks for the inspiration.

    Reply

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