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Instagram? But you said…!

Late last month, I attended the Calgary Tattoo Show to support my friends at Electric Grizzly Tattoo, the shop I frequent here in Canmore.

I spend most of my working life alone, which can be unhealthy at times, so to have somewhere I can go to hang out with other working artists, commiserate on the bullshit inherent in this business of self-promotion, to decompress and share a few laughs, it’s a wonderful thing. Shonna still jokingly refers to it as my artist support group.

Add to that the constant flow of inspiration watching these people work, these past two years getting to know these artists has been all positive. One of the side benefits from hanging out at the shop is that I get to meet many of their clients as well. These folks are from all walks of life, with diverse backgrounds, from different places, who’ve had myriad experiences, with unique perspectives.

More than a few of them have become my clients, since my work is hanging in the shop as well.

The group discussions in that place have not only been enjoyable, but enlightening. Just recently, one client on one table used to work for CN Rail while another on the next table currently does oil pipeline maintenance. In the midst of a political maelstrom of promises, disinformation and the online outrage of the election, that was one of the most informative (and civil) discussions I’ve had about media spin and partisan politics vs. the reality of natural resource safety, economics and transportation.

It gave me a new perspective and further reinforced that the world isn’t black and white, and the truth in most things is only revealed in the subtle shades of grey.

I’ve met more open-minded and tolerant people at Electric Grizzly Tattoo than I have almost anywhere else in my life. Organized religion and the political party faithful could learn a lot from tattoo culture.

Back to the tattoo show…

I had considered getting a booth at this show to sell my work, with the encouragement of my friends in the business, but I’m glad it didn’t work out. With the pressure of the election, getting cartoons drawn and sent, what it would have involved with stock ordering, prep and prints, the expense of it all, it was too much. I still went to check it out to decide if I might do it next year.

It was a good plan. While I enjoyed the experience, it really wasn’t the right place to sell my stuff, despite all of the talented artists in attendance. It just wasn’t my audience and it was a much smaller show than the Calgary Expo.

One side benefit, however, is that I got to hang out with an incredibly talented landscape photographer I’ve met through the shop. Wes isn’t a photographer for a living, but his landscape photos are some of the best I’ve seen. Wes heads out to the mountains and takes road trips on a whim, regardless of weather, and captures incredibly beautiful scenes.

They’re surreal, moving, ethereal…basically just choose an adjective that says, “this guy’s work is unique.”

While standing in front of a stage for a good half hour, waiting for one of the many contest events at the show, Wes and I caught up. I showed him my latest stuff and he showed me his latest work and I realized how much I missed seeing it.

I left social media quite some time ago because it felt like I was spending more time promoting my paintings than creating them, without having much to show for the time invested. I got sucked into the culture that says you have to be constantly posting CONTENT, even when you have nothing to post, just so that the people who follow you will see you pop up in their feed every day, because the all-seeing, all-knowing algorithm says so.

The likes were never enough, the shares were never enough, and it just made me miserable. When you see some kid posting his lunch every day and he gets a million followers, you kind of wonder if you’re even in Kansas anymore.

I also dislike being on my phone.

But in my hiatus, I’ve realized a couple of things. One, the likes and shares will NEVER be enough. If I get 10,000, I’ll soon be shooting for 20,000, then 100,000, then…well, you get the idea.

The second thing I learned, which is more of a reminder, is that there is no rulebook for being an artist for a living, or for life in general. You just do your best, try to be a decent person, make your choices and see what happens. And you can change your mind.

While I’m confident that I’ve closed the book on Facebook and Twitter, I’ve been mulling over the idea of giving Instagram another shot because of something I didn’t anticipate when I left it in February.

Basically, I miss seeing the work of many artists I admire and that’s how they choose to share it. I’m missing out on seeing work that inspires me. As for my own posts, I’m simply going to share stuff when I have stuff to share, just like on this blog or in my newsletter. I won’t be creating content just to have stuff to post, nor will I be paying to promote anything, because that requires a business account and a Facebook profile in order to pay for it. I might post a painting, then nothing else for two weeks until the next one.

This will mean less people will see my posts, I’ll get fewer likes and shares, but honestly, that kind of thing rarely generated any revenue for me in the first place. When I left Instagram the first time, only a handful of those followers signed up for my newsletter as a result, which speaks volumes about how invested many of those nameless, faceless followers were really interested in seeing what came next.

Everybody talks a good game online.

An art career is constantly changing and when the wind shifts, you adjust your sails and try to hold course, waiting for it to inevitably shift again. Sometimes you seek safe harbour from the storm for a while, other times you stand on the deck shaking your fist, hands tied to the helm, daring the tempest to sink you.

Why do I like nautical metaphors so much? I don’t even sail!

If I find in six months that my first instincts about leaving Instagram were correct, well then I’ll burn that bridge when I get to it.

I remain, as always, a work in progress.

Cheers,
Patrick
@LaMontagneArt
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Checking Out of Social Media

I’ll be leaving Instagram in about a week.

You might disagree with this choice, but I’m used to that. People told me I was foolish to quit Facebook and Twitter over a year ago. That decision had no effect on my business, but paid off big for my mental health.

So-called online marketing experts will say it’s best to be authentic.

Well, this is about as authentic as I get.

Instagram is not a creative space, it is a vehicle for delivery or denial of dopamine hits, and like any addictive substance, what once made you feel good, you eventually use to keep from feeling bad.

Building an Instagram following today revolves around frequent posting of content. Stories, videos, images, ads, all in an attempt to manipulate the algorithm into offering your stuff to an audience that will show or deny approval by tapping their finger on a little heart.

It doesn’t matter if that content is new or relevant, as long as it’s frequent.

To feed that beast, or get noticed by an art aggregator or influencer, I end up creating things simply so that I have something to post, which means the more detailed pieces that take many hours to complete suffer from inattention and take longer to finish.

Or I have to come up with clever gimmicks or pictures or make up stories that take me away from the work that pays the bills, in a vain attempt to fool myself that it’s advancing my business, when there is no supporting evidence.

Then I waste more time checking to see if anybody has liked or commented, and am always disappointed in the results, no matter what they are. After which I spend more time scrolling through the feed until I realize that the half hour I’ve just wasted on nothing could have been time spent drawing, painting, writing, bookkeeping, or on admin stuff. These are things that actually DO impact the success of my business.

I’ve gone back and forth on this for weeks, read countless articles on both sides of the argument, taken into account the bias inherent in each, while trying to filter my fear of missing out. I’ve explored the extremes of what-if worst case scenarios, the conjuring of which I am a pro.

I tried switching to a business page, to pay to promote my posts, but the only way you can do that is to go through Facebook, which meant I would have to go back on Facebook not only with a personal profile, but with another business page.

That’s like going back to an abusive relationship after a clean break.

Is it possible that the owners of Instagram will have a re-awakening, change their direction and suddenly make the platform better for everybody again? Or is it more likely that its best days are in the past and it has become infected by the same toxic decay plaguing Facebook?

Granted, I could be making a huge mistake, but it’s a risk I’m willing to take.

People said that quitting my job many years ago to become a full-time artist was a mistake, too, and that worked out pretty well for me.

My income comes from a few different sources. There are daily editorial cartoons I email directly to my newspaper clients across Canada, print sales of my whimsical wildlife paintings at venues and shows, and licensing of the animal art where they end up in retail stores or on other sites. I don’t need to manipulate the data to convince myself that these sources produce revenue. The proof is in my bank account.

With Instagram, I have to tell myself it’s worth my time, even though I don’t believe it.

I posted a close version of this on instagram to give people a chance to see it before I pulled the plug. I still run into folks who think I blocked them on Facebook, even though I’ve had no presence on that platform for well over a year. They just missed the announcement.

It might seem like a ploy to get people to follow my newsletter and site. That would be accurate.

The only reason I was on social media was to direct traffic to my business. I’m a commercial artist. This is how I pay my bills. One of the things people forget about social media is that if you aren’t paying for a product, then you are the product. Instagram does not deliver me any value and it’s not paying me for my time, the ultimate non-renewable resource.

I have this website in which I’m invested, regular blog posts, a newsletter and I’m easy to find online. I plan to start recording more time-lapse videos on my YouTube channel, without being restricted to the one minute allowed by Instagram. All of that produces sustainable and searchable content that doesn’t disappear into an attention span black hole.

Cheers,
Patrick

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Saturday Morning Email

My friend Kristina in California sent me a short email last week, asking me if I thought the work on my book might be responsible for the creative block I talked about in my latest newsletter. While it took me almost a week to respond, I realized when I did that I wanted to post it on the blog. I was going to edit it, but thought it was more honest to just post it verbatim.

“Hola! Sorry, I was remiss in responding to this. A little discombobulated as of late.

I honestly don’t know what the issue is this summer. I’ve been giving it a lot of thought and can’t quite put my finger on it. It’s almost like I’m on cruise control or stuck in traffic. Still moving, but feeling like I’m not. The funny thing is that financially, I’m having a great year. Usually there’s been a little growth each year, nothing exponential but creeping progress. 5-7%, that sort of thing, which in business is apparently pretty good. 2015 over 2014, however, there was a small drop for the first time. About 2% down. This year, however, I’m up 15% so far! Now it’s not all about money, of course, but you’d think that would feel like progress, but it doesn’t.

This social media experiment is very interesting. Clearly an addiction, and deleting the apps from my phone and iPad was the right move. It has become a knee jerk reaction to be checking it all the time. I was at the bank yesterday over the noon hour, so a bit of a line, and I would normally be checking the social media feeds. Yesterday, however, I was reading a book on my phone. I’ve been complaining for quite a while now, that I no longer have time to read. Obviously, that’s a choice I made. I also feel less keyed up this week than I normally do and I think that’s a benefit of not feeding the social media monkey. We had a cool thunderstorm here the other day, a real boomer with lightning and a great sky. That doesn’t happen here often as the mountains create unstable systems. Storms don’t gather steam until they roll out onto the foothills headed for Calgary. I was going to record it to get some stills and then thought, “what am I going to do with it?”

The whole reason I’d do that was to share it on social media. Instead, we just watched it. The constant sharing of everything has become insidious. And it sucks up a LOT of time. I get into a conversation and before I know it an hour has passed and that painting time I covet so much has gone away.

Then there’s the other side of it. I miss seeing what my friends are up to and talking to them. I’ve let the assholes control my habits. To avoid the politics, nasty comments and hate speech, I’ve limited my own interaction with friends and family. To promote my own work, I need to post stuff on my pages, but social media isn’t supposed to be one sided. It’s supposed to be give and take, back and forth, otherwise, it’s just one person talking in the conversation. So where’s the line? Where’s the balance? How do I use it effectively to promote my business without sucking up all of my time and still interact with my followers so they don’t feel it’s so one sided on my part?

I’m painting this morning, but actually thinking about Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Behance, worried that I’m doing it all wrong. In reality, however, ask 100 people how to do it right, and you’ll get 100 different answers. It feels like we’re all being conned.

So this hiatus is giving me plenty of food for thought. I’ve toyed with the idea of just posting less and not worrying about the likes and shares. Or starting up another personal profile and simply not accepting friend requests from toxic people and ignoring the more controversial posts.

But honestly, it feels like I’m a drug addict saying, “well, maybe just a little heroin.”

Funny, this response to you just became a blog post. ;)”

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