24 – Are You Doing It For The Likes?
Are you doing it for the likes?

In this episode, Laura and Nikki talk about whether or not you create, write or make art for the likes. It’s virtually impossible to get away from thinking about how your work is going to appear on Instagram, so when you make your work, are you making it for the Instagram public, for your potential customers or for yourself?

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Topics discussed

  • Pressure to produce art that people like and that will get the most engagement on Instagram (1:04)
  • What are you thinking about when you’re actually making the work? (2:22)
  • Your inner critic (3:14)
  • Time to explore vs pressure to create marketable work (3:40)
  • Finding your ideal balance  (5:20)
  • Nikki and Laura give examples of things they do for themselves, for their customers and for the likes (15:14)
  • Wisdom from Danielle Doby, author of I Am Her Tribe (18:21)

Laura

0:06
Hi, this is Laura.

Nikki

0:08
And this is Nikki with the Startist Society, inspiring you to stop getting in your own way and start building an art biz and life that you love.

Laura

0:17
We are artists who believe strongly in the power of community, accountability, following your intuition, taking small actionable steps and breaking down the barriers of fear and procrastination that keep you stuck.

Nikki

0:31
Follow along with us on our creative business journey as we encourage you on yours. Laura, what are we talking about today?

Laura

0:42
Well, Nikki, because we live in a social media world, today we’re talking about whether or not you create, write or make art for the likes.

Nikki

0:50
Right. So are you making your art for the Instagram public, for your potential customers or for yourself? And really, which is best?

Laura

0:57
Well, honestly, I think I create for all three at different times.

Nikki

1:02
I would totally agree with that.

Laura

1:04
I mean, I think there’s a pressure to produce artwork and things that people like. And when you’re thinking about writing a caption on Instagram, for example, you’re trying to think of how can I get engagement in this, you know, there’s a whole business hat that you put on when you’re creating for something like social media, and for the public. But at the same time, what’s interesting to me is that the posts that I make for myself, where I’m sort of talking to myself, or producing something that I need to hear are probably the ones that are the most successful.

Nikki

1:36
Okay, but you’re talking about when you’re actually making the post. But what about when you’re in your studio? When you’re drawing something? Am I thinking about what it’s going to look like on Instagram? Or am I thinking about who I’m going to sell it to? Or is it just something I want to make for myself? And do you do all of those? Do you try to do them all together? Or do you have different things you do at different times?

Laura

1:57
I think you have to know the reason behind why you’re planning to post what you want to post. I know some people are so meticulous about their feeds that they’re like, okay, today is my behind the scenes day. And tomorrow is the day I share a work in progress. And then I show the final product, and then I’m going to release this print. And so they’re going to share that whole process. And that’s more of catering to both the public and the potential customer, not necessarily for yourself at that point.

Nikki

2:22
Well, I totally agree with that as what you’re planning for your Instagram feed. But let’s step back before you’re even thinking about Instagram, when you’re in your studio, when you’re actually making the art, not when you’re sharing it. What are you thinking about then? And are you thinking about the likes when you’re making the art? Or does that come later?

Laura

2:39
To me that comes later. I’m not even thinking so far ahead about the social media aspect of it. When it comes to seeking approval, I’m my own worst critic. I just have to say the voice in my head is usually what I’m battling. And there are days when things flow beautifully, but more often than not, I’m sitting there going, oh my gosh, this looks horrible. The colors I chose look awful. What was I thinking? I’m not as concerned about public likes, or even whether or not I’ll put it on social media. Because when it’s bad, I don’t even put that on social, right?

Nikki

3:12
Totally.

Laura

3:14
But when I’m creating that inner critic comes into play, I have to thank her for sharing and try to show her the door. And when it comes to designing products for the customer, the one thing I might put into my creative process is considering color choices. So for example, if I’m creating a collection, and there’s a really popular color, like the Pantone color of the year, maybe I’ll play around with that in the creation process.

Nikki

3:40
Well, that’s interesting. I have never once in my entire life thought about using color because of what the trend is, or what my feed wants or any of that. But I do have pressure because right now I’m spending the majority of my time, like, maybe 85% of my time doing client work. My studio time right now is so precious that I do have that pressure in my head of, well, I don’t have time to just explore anything I want. I need to make something that I can share, that maybe I can apply to products that I could sell. And while I wish that wasn’t true, I wish I felt like I had more time to just explore whatever I want. Right now I feel the pressure to make something that I can sell. But I’m not thinking about what’s going to get the most likes, I’m thinking about what’s going to be appealing to customers, you know.

Laura

4:30
Right. Well, yeah, you have to put that business hat on to a degree and sometimes it stifles the creative flow when you start getting worried about you know, is somebody else gonna like this? And when I mentioned using specific trend colors before, that’s usually more in the surface design world, not in paintings or my own illustrations, because I love using all the colors. I use every color of the rainbow in my work and I don’t discriminate.

Nikki

4:58
You are definitely more of a color fanatic than I am.

Laura

5:02
Yeah, Rainbow Brite basically throws up on everything that I do. And I’m okay with that. Like, I’ve kind of come to terms with it. And I’ll try to sometimes limit my palette. If it’s something I might want to put on fabric, for example, then I might want to limit those colors to maybe eight or ten.

Nikki

5:20
Well, when I’m making something, I tend to think what does this design need, not how is it going to be produced. So I might make something that has a ridiculous number of colors. And then when I go to turn it into something that can be reproduced, I’ll go in and edit and narrow them down. So ideally, all three elements would work together in the perfect Venn diagram. And we would take what you want to do for yourself, what would appeal most to your customers, and what would get the most likes on Instagram, which actually should be the last thing you think about, in my opinion…

Laura

5:53
True.

Nikki

5:54
But you’d have the perfect Venn diagram where that sweet spot that would appeal to all of them.

Laura

5:59
That sweet spot, yep…

Nikki

6:00
That sweet spot. And if you found your perfect audience, then that would be the ideal. So for me, when I’m making something, I try to just think of what I want to make for myself. But because I have that pressure of not having all the time in the world to experiment and explore new ideas, I do want to make sure that what I’m making will appeal to my customer, and it’s going to look good on Instagram, know what I mean?

LAURA

6:02
Sure, but when you talk about your customer, and like, what your customer would like, Is it a broad customer? Or is it a very specific customer?

Nikki

6:32
Oh, gosh, don’t even get me started on that, because that’s a whole ‘nother podcast about finding your ideal customer.

Laura

6:39
Yeah

Nikki

6:39
Because, you know, we’ve talked, as we talked about before, we each have so many different things. We’re interested in doing that I’m sure there’s not just one perfect customer for us.

Laura

6:50
Yeah, true.

Nikki

6:51
So there’s hopefully a customer for my surface design products. There’s a customer for my fine art. And there’s a different customer for my design work. Those might be all the same customer, but more likely, it’s going to be different customers. So I’ve gotta think, okay, what’s most important to me, what do I want to create? I mean, ideally, I want to say, this is what I want to make, and the customer is going to be out there that it’s going to appeal to.

Laura

7:17
Right. I think that’s true. I think back in our interview that we had with Stacie Bloomfield, for example, she was talking about the moment when her art started transitioning from her sort of cutesy nursery animals to more inspirational artwork that she was really making to tell herself, this is what I need to hear today. And all of a sudden, she had great traction in her wholesale business with everybody wanting those pieces. And I can say that for myself, too. There have been times when I’ve just, like, where I’ve just done an illustration – I did one not too long ago that was sort of about the female body and being comfortable in your own skin. And when people were reacting to that, I got a lot of positive reaction because they felt the same way I did. And it’s important in a culture of body shaming that we grow up comfortable with the curves of our own bodies. And that’s just as girls in in the world, I say America, but it’s really the world. That that is an issue. And so I think when you start making art for yourself, if it’s touching you inside, and it’s a message that you need to hear, it’s bound to touch somebody else. And then that ideal customer is going to head your way because that is the message that they need. And that’s the message they want to hear.

Nikki

8:38
I agree 100%. With that I have a whole body of work, body…that’s all about…

Laura

8:46
Geek.

Nikki

8:47
I know. Anyway. So I have a whole body of work that’s about how I feel in my body and being representative of all different body types. And that’s the work that really connects most with somebody that really needs to hear or see that. In fact, my favorite thing I’ve ever heard is when somebody looks at something of mine and says, Wow, you’ve been peeking at me because that is my body, how did you know? And when I have a variety of all body types, then everybody can see themselves in something that I’ve drawn, as opposed to making really beautiful drawings of flowers and insects and plants and leaves, which I love to do…and they’re really great on products, and people like to buy those, but it’s not that deep personal connection that feels like what I’m really trying to make to express something of myself.

Laura

9:42
Yeah. And you can share those two worlds. I mean, you can have an area of your business that’s focused on sort of that side of your figure drawings and then have a side that is perhaps a little bit more commercial. Right?

Nikki

9:56
Right. And you have the same thing with the example that you just talked about, about the body. That’s not a huge part of the work I’ve seen of yours. Maybe not everything you put out there, but most of what you put out there is more illustrative. There’s a lot of florals and animals.

Laura

10:13
Yeah, there’s definitely some wimzy, I have to say.

Nikki

10:15
For sure. And do you feel like you’re doing that for you or for your potential customer? So like, of what you do what feels the most like I’m doing this for myself?

Laura

10:26
Well, I mean, I try to infuse myself in everything that I do, even when it’s not deeply personal or vulnerable work, I try to pick subjects that bring me joy. And it does usually involve the use of color like the Rainbow Brite vomit.

Nikki

10:43
Okay, Rainbow Brite Vomit should be the subtitle of this episode.

Laura

10:50
But I generally enjoy the process of laying down color and marks and seeing the result in a way that, you know, sort of only my hand can draw things. And I will say that sometimes I create for myself, but not necessarily in a way that I love yet. It’s usually when I’m pushing myself to learn. So for example, my 100 day project, which I’ve fallen off the bandwagon a little bit. It’s all about hand lettering. And that’s not something that I would go, oh, wow, lettering brings me joy. And I love looking at other people’s hand lettering. And I have such respect for people who do it well. And I know that in the licensing world, you basically need that in your tool belt, you need to be able to hand letter, so it’s an area I need to grow in, I’m sort of forcing myself to step out of my comfort zone and learn it to get better at it. And so that’s an art that I’m creating for myself.

Nikki

11:46
And it’s also something that you’re doing for potential customers, because you’re hoping to get licensed specifically with greeting cards. And you know that lettering is a big part of that.

Laura

11:56
Absolutely. And I’m not, I’m not doing it for the likes, because I’m not great at it yet.

Nikki

12:01
Yet. Yet.

Laura

12:03
Yet. Yet. You know, it’s getting better at something and practicing. And some of its being vulnerable, because I’m sharing stuff on social media that is far from perfect, but I’m just gonna share it anyways. So it doesn’t bring me joy yet. But I think once I get a little better at it, and it comes more naturally to me that I’ll have more joy in that process.

Nikki

12:22
Whereas I know that I probably should get good at doing lettering for the licensing that I want to do but I really don’t like it. So I kind of just been like, Well, fuck that.

Laura

12:34
That’s one way to go.

Nikki

12:36
Yes, that’s one opinion. And I’m not sure it’s the smartest thing I could do. But knowing that I have limited time to make art, that’s not where I’m going to focus. Hmm, you wouldn’t know that by looking at my bookshelves because at one point, maybe two years ago, I decided I needed to learn lettering for the same reason. But I decided that I was going to do it for the 100 Day Project a couple years ago. So I bought, you know, 87 books on hand lettering, which I should really just send to you.

Laura

13:06
No, because I already own them.

Nikki

13:08
Oh right, you do. I’m sure you do. Yeah, I should probably give them to someone. But I’ve decided you know what, there’s a limited amount of time I have to do the things that I really want to do. And that’s not one of the things that really excites me. So that’s fine.

Laura

13:24
Well, yeah, it’s good to know that right?

Nikki

13:26
Yeah.

Laura

13:26
I still feel there’s potential for me to love lettering, it’s sort of that whole Ira Glass quote about your taste level, which we’ve shared before in the podcast. And the things that you want to produce just don’t match your skill level yet. So I feel like when it comes to hand lettering, that’s where I’m at. And I just need to push past that gap. And then I’ll get to a place where like, this is awesome. But right now, it’s sort of like this is crappy.

Nikki

13:53
But it helps you get your message out when there’s actually words to it.

Laura

13:56
It does. And it goes really well with illustration. It’s a natural partnership. But I have a long way to go. I do think that doing these projects like the 30 day or the 100 day or whatever, and committing to that project, even if you’re not going to do it every single calendar day, which I’m definitely not right now, is helpful. But I’m committing to finishing the 100 days eventually.

Nikki

14:19
So it will take 300 days to do 100 of them.

Laura

14:23
Possibly. I will do 100 of them. And I will learn along the way and close that gap.

Nikki

14:29
Right. So although I’m not interested in doing lettering, because I’d rather spend my time drawing bodies and bugs and flowers. I do actually like using words in my art. So I found other ways of doing that that produce some of the same feeling. So I have a series of drawings where I drew in actual books. And then I also have this 100 year old dictionary that I’ll pull words and definitions out of. So there’s other ways to get that without drawing 100 days of hand lettering. All right, but let me pull us back to what we started with, which is, do you do it for the likes? Do you do it for your customers? Or do you do it for yourself? Let’s see if we can come up with an example of each of the three that we do in our art.

Laura

15:13
Okay.

Nikki

15:14
So what I do for myself is really more of the mixed media, collage and encaustic… kind of combining all different things where I’m not thinking of the final result, I’m getting feelings out or just kind of sinking into what’s really inside and not worrying about the final product. That’s what I love the most what feels closest to me, and it’s what I allow myself the least amount of time to do.

Laura

15:40
Sadly.

Nikki

15:41
I know. And really, I think it’s probably what the most important thing I should be doing is,

Laura

15:45
Mm hmm. Yeah, you definitely should be doing the thing that you love the most and investing or giving yourself more time to do it.

Nikki

15:51
Absolutely. So the work I’m doing most for myself, and I’m not going to say that I don’t have enough time for it. It’s that I don’t allow myself to take the time for it.

Laura

16:01
You’re, you’re basically not giving yourself permission for it because you feel like you need to be doing other things that are probably more commercially viable.

Nikki

16:09
Exactly, exactly. So then what I do for potential customers is I think about how can I put this on a product? How can I make something… how can I make this into something that’s easily sellable, that may or may not be something I feel truly connected to and love, but sometimes it is. And then when I think about what I’m doing for the likes, a lot of times it’s just me being self-deprecating. It’s me trying to be funny.

Laura

16:34
Well, you are funny, Nikki.

Nikki

16:36
Well, thank you. I guess I’d rather have you laugh with me than at me.

Laura

16:41
So where does this podcast fall in the mix?

Nikki

16:43
Well, ideally, the podcast covers all three of these ideas, right?

Laura

16:48
The perfect Venn diagram.

Nikki

16:50
Exactly. Okay. So Laura, tell me examples of what you do for each of the three. so

Laura

16:56
Okay, so for myself, it’s usually experimenting and playing with no expectation of the exact result. So there’s no pressure to perform similar to what you were describing.

Nikki

17:06
And do you have performance anxiety?

Laura

17:08
Well, someday I’ll tell you the story about how I froze on the piano during a concerto competition in front of an audience.

Nikki

17:14
Oh, yikes.

Laura

17:16
But when it comes to creating it for my customer, I definitely know that whimsical style is more popular with my students in the crafting and digital stamping world. So I tend to keep their feedback in mind when I’m designing a digital product. And then for licensing, I’m still sort of figuring out my signature style, but I’m creating more patterns and illustration that are in certain marketable categories. So like Christmas, or florals versus what I might do if left to my own devices.

Nikki

17:44
Okay, and so then what do you do for the likes?

Laura

17:48
For the likes, so that’s where I try to take really pretty pics for Instagram. And I probably waste 30 minutes setting up props to just be at the right angle. And I recently even created my own photo backdrops and like spent a whole day doing that, just to make things look good for the ‘gram. So you want to keep up appearances of like making things as as beautiful as you can. And that’s probably that’s probably where I go for the likes is trying to do that.

Nikki

18:17
Alright, so what are our key takeaways from this conversation?

Laura

18:21
Well, I think we create in all these different ways and for different reasons, but I love this quote I saw from Danielle Doby today, who, by the way, is the author of one of the best poetry books ever called I Am Her Tribe. She said, “What is left, when there’s nothing more to prove? What does this have to do with anything, but everything? What a thought of freedom to step into.”

Laura

18:46
And, you know, the way I interpret this quote is that we so often get caught up in trying to make things that others will like or purchase, you know, etcetera, that we get out of alignment with our own authentic voice. And when we realize that we have nothing to prove, we end up creating artwork that completely resonates with others. And then we get all the likes, sales and everything else that we’re craving when we get in that alignment.

Nikki

19:13
I love that quote. And I completely agree with the concept of not feeling the pressure to prove anything. But we’re also in the business of trying to make a living with what we create.

Laura

19:25
Right.

Nikki

19:27
So I think there’s always going to be some degree of feeling like you have something to prove. I think the trick is to find that, that beautiful center of the Venn diagram, where what you create for yourself proves it for you.

Laura

19:40
Beautifully said Nikki, beautifully said. So we’d love to hear your thoughts on today’s topic. If you’d like to share with us what you do for yourselves, for your customers and for the likes, and how you think they can be integrated together, tag us on Instagram @startistsociety or share with us in our Startist Society Facebook group.

Nikki

20:01
If you’ve enjoyed today’s episode, please be sure to follow Startist Society and leave us a five star rating and a review.

Laura

20:09
Speaking of, we want to give a shout out to this five star review from Susan J Mecca in the US. “A great addition to my podcast listening. I love the easy relationship between Laura and Nikki. It’s like listening to two good friends talk about their lives as artists. Wait, it is two good friends talking about their lives as artists. And that is what makes the podcast so approachable and fun to listen to. I love that Laura and Nikki are bringing their own experiences to the process of being an artist. We are all in this process together and learning from each other is a time honored form of wisdom sharing. I look forward to future episodes.”

Nikki

20:43
Thank you very much, Susan. If you’d like us to shout you out on the podcast, leave us a review and then go to startistsociety.com/reviews and share it with us. You never know when you might hear your name on the podcast.

Laura

20:56
To learn more about the podcast and read today’s show notes, go to startistsociety.com/likes.

Nikki

21:05
Thanks for listening. We’ll see you next week.

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