connectivity, part two

Yes, eeeek. Every artist has heard that reaction before. After awhile, you learn to face it. Even dig it. In fact, I had a friend in design school who was never sure of his work until he showed it to his wife; if she hated it, then he knew it was good.

This is the second part of an essay about online connectivity. In the first part I talked about the 'usefulness' of blogging (and social media in general) -- in terms of creating a presence and cultivating relationships -- and its specific contribution to my life as a writer. Today I'll talk about these things from my perspective as a visual artist.

The web is a highly visual experience, full stop. Suddenly, just about any image you can think of is available. Flickr, a popular Yahoo image-hosting site, just uploaded its four billionth photo. That's four billion photos of birthday parties and wild flowers and vintage motorcycles and artsy girls in their twenties running around the forest at night wearing nothing but a deer mask.

But if the web is awash in pictures, why step into the sea with your own gaudy imagery? Why even try to compete with Deer Mask Girl? Because you can. Because that's what you *do*. You create things and then present them to the world. And the only thing that matters is that thing in front of you, and a computer screen is only so big, and all those billions of images are whole oceans of fish, while most human beings can only catch one fish at a time, and why can't that fish be yours?

Still, you need to put out the right lures.

One of the first ways I found for leading people to my site was Illustration Friday. Each Friday this site declares a theme -- for example, this week it's 'unbalanced' -- and then artists from all over the world enter a link to an illustration on that subject. There are no rules, no judges.

Especially as I was just starting out, this was a means for me to give some kind of order to the backlog/archive of images I had ready to post, instead of just throwing them up willy-nilly. So if the theme that week was, say ... the sea, I suddenly had a reason to post one of my pirate paintings . And it brought traffic to my site.

More importantly, I found other artists whose work I enjoyed. I found my generous friend Susan this way, who liked my work enough to give me a show in her gallery. I found Kristal with her ballooning figures drifting criminal against the universe. I found Sheri and I found Elizabeth and I found Jeannette, who could do a portrait in one drink and then keep adventuring all the way to Japan.

I found these people and many, many more. And all these people found me (and often linked to me on their sites).

{Sadly, I eventually moved on from Illustration Friday, not only because I felt I didn't need to reach so hard for connections anymore but also because it became ruined by popularity, by its endlessly flattening democracy, where all the bottom-enders gathered under their tacky tribe emblems of cutesy bees and smiling flowers and kitty kats with umbrellas. And then there were the censorship issues. An alternative site called Illustration Friday Night was fun for awhile, but it soon collapsed under a similar lack of standards. Oh well. These are the kind of social experiments that make the web run.}

Another avenue I explored was Etsy, which is like eBay but made specifically for artisans. I think Etsy holds tremendous possibilities -- it seems like loads of people have turned their craft into lucrative and even full-time employment -- but unless you have a unique (yet popular) product and can meet the steep time demands required for promoting your goods on a quasi-commercial level ... well, you'll never make more than a few scattered sales. I found it much more useful for trades, which was another great way to meet other artists.

And then I came to flickr, she of the four billion pictures. Flickr has two great things going for it: it's robust and it's free. By robust I mean that the architecture is simple (a flickr site is simply a collection of pictures with descriptions, nothing more) and the site is stable (easy to upload, no crashes). And what do you do on flickr, after you've posted your own pictures? You go looking at other people's pictures. You make comments. You add people to your contact list. They do the same. The connections continue.

I have two flickr accounts, one for my artwork in general and one specifically for my cigar-tin stories. The cigar-tin stories site doubles as a catalogue for customers and as inventory for me to keep track of what is still available.

I also have a cigar-tin stories group page on Facebook, started by my friend Susan. Right now it has 116 members ... all of whom see every new cigar-tin story that I create. And I see these people in return and -- not knowing who half of them are -- go investigate what they're about. And if they're artists, I look at their work. And leave comments. And the connections continue.

Does all of this help me sell my work? In a word: yes. I've sent paintings and cigar-tins all over Canada and the United States, to Italy, Scotland, Singapore ...

And more than that, it's fun. As an artist, it's nice to get an email from the girl in Brooklyn who's thrilled by her purchase. It's a small thrill to see a sale lead to a story about you in the local paper. And it's just nice to know that your work is out there, and being enjoyed by people. Because that's why you're doing it in the first place.

More connections.

There's so much more I could say here but you get the idea: if you do things, then things will happen.

Good luck to everyone in Robin's class!


  1. Thanks for the mention of me today. I find with all of these billions of spaces on the internet to connect with I find myself picking half a dozen to visit and leaving it at that. Not enough hours in the day I'm afraid. I do agree, it's a great thing. Cheers! :-)

  2. Is that the story we're peddling about IFN's close? It's not that I moved to Japan and stopped kicking the little old ladies' (aka Steve's fan base's) asses.


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