I’ve been on Instagram for a long time, with a private account to share family photos with friends. Last year, I decided to start up a second account, @FlyingTrilobite, to share my art in process, and the sort of things I normally share on my blog. I’m using Instagram in a different way, and loving it for different reasons.
Here are my five tips for science artists on Instagram.
1. Go hashtag crazy. Wait, come back…! Hashtags are not #evil #annoying #things on Instagram, they are essential. The search function on Instagram only allows two types of entry: usernames, and hashtags. So go ahead and label your illustration with the dominant colour, the mood, the species name, the media you used to make the image and throw in general terms like #science and #sciart.
(Links don’t work on Instagram, except for one in your bio. I have a simple enough URL I sometimes throw it in there anyway.)
In my work at INVIVO, I once shared images from a work event on the @INVIVOcom Instagram and put one image up with no hashtags, then a similar photo a few minutes later with the hashtags #agencylife and #digitalhealth. The views on the latter were massively higher.
2. Re-hashtag later. Let’s say you’ve got a nice paleo illustration of a dinosaur, or a medical illustration of inflamed bronchioles. You posted it with the relevant hashtags (#paleoart or #medicalillustration) and got some likes and a couple of comments. Months later, new evidence points to the dinosaur’s feather colour, or there’s a new asthma treatment getting buzz. Go back to your old pic and make a comment with some new hashtags, maybe #dinosaurfeather or the treatment’s name. Your image will get bumped back up to the top of the hashtag search results and bring in some new eyeballs.
3. Don’t share directly to Twitter. People are a lot more likely to stop and read a tweet with a compelling image. Since Facebook bought Instagram, Twitter and Instagram are no longer holding hands. Instagram photos sent directly to your Twitter stream only appear as links. Since each Instagram photo you monkey with will be saved to your smartphone or tablet’s camera roll, simply tweet and attach the photo after you have posted it on Instagram.
4. Follow scientists as well as artists. One of the easiest mistakes I see fellow artists and illustrators make online is to follow only other artists. This used to happen way back in the early blogroll days too. But just as important as connecting and watching your peers, is connecting and learning from scientists. Who knows, maybe one day you will end up with a commission or better still, a collaboration with someone on their research. Or their book. Or a presentation or scientific paper or press release. If you are a science illustrator, connect with them scientists.
5. Breathe new life into old pieces with filters. I don’t treat my art Instagram like a portfolio as much as I do a playground. I already have a portfolio that’s easy to find (glendonmellow.com) so I tend to re-share some of my artwork with new filters or tools like tilt shift and vignette . I also use apps like Halftone, Phonto, Circular, Fragment, Manga Camera and VSCOcam to mess with them before I throw them into Instagram. Why not? Noodling around can be inspiring and they may reach a new audience.
If you are an artist starting out and worried about people stealing your work, sharing with filters could – I think – potentially be used as a way of distancing what you share from the originals. Toaster and Walden as copyright safeguards? Filters are far more difficult to remove than they are to apply, so you end up with the original art in your back pocket.
Those are my tips. What are yours?