Chromatic watercolor illustrator and modern calligrapher Darra Sargent @deardarlingdesignstudio offers advice on how to establish an instantly recognizable artistic style in the latest Bee Paper blog.
By Darra Sargent
We all want to stand out. We all strive to be our own person, our own artist, our own creative. As an artist, there’s no greater feeling than having someone scroll through their feed and immediately know it’s your art they are staring at, before they even see your username. We all want to feel like our work is ours and ours alone. In order to feel that way, we must innovate. As artists, it’s so important to be creative: to constantly evolve new ideas in an effort to produce something that’s never been seen before. We live in a world where art is more easily accessible than ever before through the internet and social media. This increased accessibility makes it increasingly difficult for an individual artist to stand out in the greater collective. There are so many artists on Instagram alone. We scroll through our feeds and have masses of inspiration constantly being thrown at us.
When I first started posting on Instagram, I witnessed 50 different accounts that posted the same styles of work. They would all post galaxy paintings one month and then florals the next. It was hard to see the separation within the ideas, let alone the communities. When I would see a group of people try a similar idea, such as galaxies, I would think, “Man, that’s really cool! I want to paint galaxies!” Sometimes I would see that galaxy paintings were trendy and think, “If I paint a galaxy, maybe I will reach more accounts.” I was excited to finally be a part of an artistic community and wanted to do what all of the cool kids were doing. I thought to be successful on social media, I had to make the things that I thought people wanted to see… Boy, was I wrong.
When I tried to assimilate into creating the types of art I thought people wanted, I blended into the sea of trendy Instagram artists, and my account wasn’t growing. I wasn’t reaching new people and I definitely wasn’t reaching paying clients. Why would they hire me when there’s 100 other painters making the same things? I also wasn’t making art that fed my soul. I was making art for the purpose of getting likes, instead of making things that show who I am and that reaches people that can relate to me.
During rough times in my life, art has always been my safe place. It brings me into a state of relaxation as I stroke the ethereal plane. So, I started creating from the soul. I started using my art as a therapy for me, instead of using it to get likes from other people. I posted these therapy pieces on Instagram and my whole outlook on Instagram changed. I started meeting other women who related to me, who understood what I was saying, and shared the same interests. I started being true to myself and my followers loved getting to know the real me.
I’m going to give you my top 3 tips for making your work stand out while someone is scrolling through their feed.
1. Find Your Niche
It is so important to figure out what you’re passionate about. What’s the underlying theme for all of your work? It can be color palette, subject matter, medium, line work, brush strokes, vibe, whatever. For me, I knew that subject matter and medium would not be my theme. I am all over the place as an artist and I love having the freedom to be able to use whatever medium I feel like that day. Sometimes, I love painting people. Other days, I want to do calligraphy. I knew that, in order for me to be free to create, I can’t place those restrictions on myself.
There have been so many times when I have tried to make my feed appear “cohesive” (I hate that term) by sticking to a color palette. You know what I’m talking about. Having a cohesiveInstagram feed means every post features the same colors or colors that “go together”. I couldn’t do it, no matter how hard I tried. I love all colors! I started to realize that this could be my thing! Why not include the rainbow palette, which graces literally all of my personal possessions, into my work? I felt like a colossal weight was lifted off of my shoulders. I now feel free to use any and all of the colors I want, paint whatever subjects I want, and use whatever mediums I want, all at the same time in the art that I post on Instagram.
When you find something that you’re that passionate about, and use it in every piece, your work will be instantly recognizable. Your followers will think, “I know that’s Darra because she always paints in rainbow colors and always has a lot of texture in her work,” or “I know that’s Sally because she always paints watercolor animals.” Once you figure out what really makes your art yours, the work will follow.
2. Be Yourself
I know this sounds obvious, but there are so many people online who are not true to who they are. They want to come across as perfect to their followers. They want everyone to want to be them, so they only show themselves in posts as #livingmybestlife.
All too often, showing only the good parts on social media disconnects a person from their followers. If each artist took the time to be more expansive about their life, it could help followers understand their work better. Ever since I’ve started opening up about my life in my Instagram captions, I’ve been able to show more of who I am to my followers. This helps them get to know me on a personal level, and helps them recognize my work, because they know me in a deeper way.
I talk about things that are bothering me, I talk about the struggles that I’ve dealt with, and political issues that I’m passionate about. I create Instagram Stories that show how I make my art, my life as a mother and my relationship. I post photos of my life, my family and my home in my art feed. A year ago, I would have said, “Do not do that!”, but when fighting against ever-evolving changes to the Instagram algorithm, you have to build a deeper connection to gain followers and keep the ones you already have.
I feel like letting my followers, not only see what I look like, but to see what my son looks like, what my fiancé looks like, what me being a mother looks like, what me being in love looks like, etc. helps my followers see me as a real person. A person that is dedicated and passionate about their work. A person that deserves a “like”, share, or a DM. It has, not only helped my account grow, but it’s also helped me make so many amazing friends.
3. Don’t Be Afraid to Grow
My word for the year is grow. I want to push myself to really hone the skills I have and to learn some new ones. Your followers want to see new things! Have you ever noticed that when you post something that you’ve never done before, that it gets more engagement? It’s because people love new and shiny things. Your followers want fresh content. They want to see you change, grow and improve your skills. They are committed and along for the ride with you.
Don’t be afraid to learn new things. Learn how to paint new subjects, practice with a new medium. Post behind-the-scenes sneak peeks in your Instagram Story of you playing with these things. Post a work-in-progress (#wip) on your feed. When you finally post that final piece, your followers will recognize it and recall how they saw you go through the creation process!
This goes back to letting your followers know who you are. Let them know that you’re human, and just like them, that you’re still learning. Let them know that you’re not perfect or better than anyone. This will make you much more approachable, which will make someone more comfortable to send you a DM about making a custom piece for them.
I hope that I gave you some insight on how I’ve been able to develop my style! Not only my artistic style, but my social media style. To prepare for this blog, I asked my followers in my Instagram Story what makes my work recognizable to them. Every single one of them said “color palette” somewhere in their responses. Some said “RAINBOWS” and others said “color” and “texture” (which makes me really happy because I’m always trying to get textures in my work!). The responses tell me that I’m doing something right. Not only is my work recognizable on Instagram, but it’s recognizable for the reasons that I want it to be.
If you’re struggling with finding your thing, or need help with this topic, seriously, feel free to send me a DM on Instagram for advice! I would be happy to look over your feed and let you know what stands out to me! My handle is @deardarlingdesignstudio, don’t be shy!