Let me start out by saying WE ARE IN AN EXPERIMENT TOGETHER.
I’m a prolific and modestly successful obscure artist. At the time of this writing, 251 people have a passing awareness of me on Twitter, 252 on Facebook, and 5 on Patreon. I think most of them overlap, so let’s call that 252 fans total. Weed out the bots and people who have abandoned the platforms and let’s call it 200.
I have been active as an artist online since 1995. This should tell you that I am not an authority on building a fanbase. You’re not here to listen to my expert advice, you’re here to observe me succeed or fail, and try some of the same things if you’re interested.
Ready to start experimenting? Let’s go!
EXPERIMENT 0: WAIT. WHY DO WE WANT TO BUILD A FANBASE?
You and me have to understand, getting a certain number of followers won’t automatically do us any good. It might even twist our art, killing our creativity by making us act unnaturally. Fighting to stay in everyone’s consciousness all the time can mean turning out subpar work or work we genuinely don’t care about, burning all of our time on fanart or social media, or courting notoriety and completely abandoning our moral compass since “any publicity is good publicity.”
I don’t know about you, but I want exactly none of that.
No, the reason I want to experiment with growing my fanbase is the true reason, the noble reason, the ONLY reason.
I’m bored and I want attention.
If you feel the same way, we’re going to get along great.
EXPERIMENT 1: POST EVERYTHING
Nope, you’re not getting out of it! This is what we’re doing if I have to drag you kicking and screaming. I don’t care if “a portfolio is your best ten works,” this is the age of social media, baby! All those other egotistical narcissistic jerks are talking about themselves all day. Why should we let them have all the fun?
Good. You and me, we’re going to be the best narcissistic jerks ever.
I have no idea if this will get us followers or not, and frankly I don’t care. (See above.) What I do care about is that we’re in the middle of a pandemic and I would rather that you and I leave big, messy chunks of our awesomeness all over the internet where it can stand forever as an epitaph to how amazingly I drew my husband’s butt. Or whatever it is you do. (I’m sure it’s equally as amazing as my husband’s butt.)
For this reason let’s remember to tag the stupid things too, but not go too crazy because the algorithms change approximately every eleven minutes. My name ain’t Sisyphus and I doubt yours is, either.
EXPERIMENT 2: POST YOURSELF MAKING IT
Let’s also take some video footage of it. Why the heck shouldn’t we have a youtube? It’s free. And you can put anything you want on there. Put your dog on there! Who cares?? I’m partial to stop motion, maybe I’ll just stop motion something for giggles. Or record myself using a spirograph.
EXPERIMENT 3: TELL OTHER PEOPLE HOW TO MAKE IT
Yeah I know. Magician giving away the show, blah blah blah. I don’t care anymore. I’m almost forty. If the only reason I have an artistic “edge” is because those other people haven’t learned my amazing technique, guess what. I’m not that special.
Plus, this is more stuff for us to leave the world after we’re dead (or tired of making art forever, which COULD HAPPEN despite my rosy sentiments above).
EXPERIMENT 4: DON’T BE A FAKE FRIEND, EVEN IF YOU THINK YOU SHOULD
So here’s some unpopular advice. Don’t attempt to build a personal rapport with the shadowy masses of the internet. We don’t really know when our next fan is going to be our next stalker. They might even become a bitter rival or a disgruntled ex-fan about to orchestrate our mass public flogging because they are bored and want attention. (Like me but without the flogging.)
There’s also a more important reason we shouldn’t constantly foster a faux-intimate relationship with actual strangers: It hurts THEM!
Picture this: you’re a beloved instagram model or youtuber who constantly lets millions of people in on your personal life. (Or at least, the life you choose to show them.) They know all about your childhood, your favorite food, and they’ve cried when you were sad and laughed when you were happy. Then they skip up to your booth at a convention and start talking about your huge role in their life.
Well guess what? This is the point at which you potentially destroy that person’s ego. You are not going to be able to fake away that blank cornered look in your eyes when a human you have never met before comes up and starts talking about your intimate bond.
Maybe you do your very best to keep touch with all your fans. There will be a point when you will eventually give up and start saying that you “read every email even if you can’t respond.” Congratulations, now you’re lying to people.
The point is, while millions can avidly consume your personality, you are not going to be able to have a very real and true sense of who each of them is as a person. They only have a handful of heroes to pay attention to, you have hundreds or thousands or millions of fans.
Instead, we should let them interact with our art.
EXPERIMENT 5: LET PEOPLE INTERACT WITH YOUR ART
I assume I plowed that into your head hard enough by writing that three times, and with a picture. So! How do we let our fans interact with our creations more than with our boring personal selves?
WELL WE SURE AS HECK DON’T ABANDON THEM AT OUR PORTFOLIO.
We need those lovely, spare, curated portfolio pages for our potential bosses, not our fans. Clients and business and gallery owners are the ones who need to see, at a glance, if they get a good feeling from our body of work or not. It only takes those 10 perfect pieces for them to know 1) if we fit their brand or 2) if we’re technically skilled enough to perform their requests.
That’s all they need, a small portfolio gallery and a way to contact us.
Our fans on the other hand (if we ever get any) want to have some fun! And since we can’t (or in my case, won’t) sit there all day on Twitter, they need to be able to have fun with our art. Which is honestly a better conversationalist than I’ll ever be, anyway.
LET’S OFFER THEM A PAGE WHERE THEY CAN DO STUFF WITHOUT US.
What do people like to do? Well a lot of people enjoy shopping. They also like to talk to each other. Supposedly people these days like social media more than they like porn. Or maybe they just use it more. Either way, they like shopping and they like gabbing. They also like snooping. (See Experiment 4.) And they love free stuff!
So where can they do fun things like that?
We’re going to make what I call an interactive website. Interactive websites let people buy stuff, watch videos, or talk to each other. In short, they let them do more than just stare at our portfolio. YouTube, Instagram, Reddit, Redbubble, Teepublic, society6, Twitter, Facebook, Patreon, ko-fi and others are all websites where people can do something other than just stare and then leave. Even the gentleman in the picture above had the option of licking my canvases or punting them down the avenue if he really wanted to. My online gallery, alas, offers no such suspense. Will he or won’t he? (He didn’t.)
I’m personally going to use my patreon as my interactive website. People can get free stuff or progress shots and previews (see: snooping) and talk with each other in the comments. They can talk with me, too, and since every comment nest is under a piece of my ART, guess what: we’re talking about the ART and not what I had for supper. See? Eh?
I can also share all my videos and updates there, and let them buy stuff or tip me if they want. To me, this seems like the perfect combination of all the fun pursuits they may wish to indulge in, but your interactive choice may be different. Whatever it is, go for it.
LET’S MAKE OUR FANS THEIR OWN LITTLE ARCADE.
Now they have options! Some might like the static portfolio, and some might prefer the interactive page. But if our fans are happy and entertained, that’s less time they’re spending hounding us to draw fan art or telling us who we should be dating.
EXPERIMENT 6: JUST MAKE WHAT YOU WANT (UNLESS PEOPLE PAY YOU I GUESS)
Now we’re going to go make what we want. Just what we want. We’re not going to hop onto the next art challenge to get views. We’re not going to spend all day every day on Twitter art shares and submitting to deviantART collections. We’re not going to carefully analyze which tags are the best right now. Nor will we figure out the best time of day to post. And we’re not going to sit around and gauge what the hottest fan art will be this year. We’re not even going to commit to posting every day or every week.
BUT WHY NOT?! THAT’S LITERALLY ALL THE STUFF YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO DO! HAVE YOU LOST YOUR MIND???
I mean, probably. But we ain’t gonna do it (at least, I’m not) …because I did it and exactly none of it worked. Since 1995. Ha ha, none of it has worked for twenty-five years.
OH MY SWEET LORD NONE OF IT HAS WORKED FOR TWENTY-FIVE YEARS, FOR REAL THOUGH.
So uh, yeah, screw that. I might as well have fun instead. Plus, when I just post what I like, I just get clients who ask for me to make more of the same. The only time I’ve been asked to make stuff I didn’t already want to make was when I courted a client and managed to sweet talk them into hiring me. All the clients who just want what I already make, found me.
…because of what I already make.
Making money is good, so anytime a client asks us to make stuff we’re not passionate about but that we know we can do well, by all means let’s take the money and make them happy! It’s not like there’s anything wrong with helping other people, jeesh. I never angsted about stocking cans at the grocery.
But for our fans, if we ever get any, all they should be seeing is what we do care about and want to make. Otherwise they’re just following some made-up persona. And I think we already covered why that’s a shabby thing to do to another person (and to ourselves).
SO YEAH, ARE WE READY TO DO THIS? LET’S GET FAMOUS FOR BEING OURSELVES.
Remember to comment copiously below with your own successes or failures from following my unproven, inexpert advice. And remember, none of our numbers truly matter.
See you on the other side, buddy.