Art, social media, business, and being very online

Been thinking about my relationship to art and social media, especially after reading these articles (1, 2) and also thinking about the kind of work I personally like to make. I really love making things that are very detailed, that take time to look at, kind of like an “I Spy” game, and with vintage illustration inspiration! However, they definitely don’t always perform well on Twitter due to the crop quality and just being framed by multiple other works in a very chaotic fashion.

It’s tough because I do like being connected to my friends and what they are doing, and kind of being plugged into a stream of highly-contextual things happening, because it can, indeed, be extremely absurd and amusing. Where else would I as a person be able to experience the extravaganza of Reigen Arataka vs. Sans Tumblr Sexyman poll coinciding with the Queen of England dying fanart? The absurdity and extremely fleeting, already dated low stakes memecity of it all (watch as I reread this article in a few months and cringe) amuses me in a highly specific temporal way. Of course, just as one cannot live on bread alone, one cannot sustain on memes, or drama, as an viable artistic stream of nutrition. It’s certainly a trait of mine that I get heavily, intensely emotionally invested in highly particular fictional things to the point of creation in very vulnerable and sometimes embarrassing ways, and it’s this kind of embarrassing intensity that has historically allowed myself to get into states of creativity and motivation unparalleled in any other angle of my personal or professional life.

When it comes to making art, I realize a lot that I end up making things, like most people, out of a desire for connection. I like finding people who like similar stuff, and who think in similar but different angles to me. I also like making things in order to impose my own delusions or headcanons onto people in order to make them see things from my perspective as well. In my time in the Hetalia fandom, especially while working on the drawings for my Zine “Draw a Circle” my favorite activity was making work that people would look at and be impressed and intrigued by only for them to be surprised that it was, in the end, fanart for a rather doofy series. I love making wild connections and making them look cool and aesthetic on paper or more often, the digital canvas. Still, while memetic cleverness and “committing to the bit” can be fun, I don’t think it’s what I always want to aim for in my work.

It’s a bit daunting, especially since I feel I first became more “popular” (big air quotes) online because of my angel comics, and later my comics exploring various Biblical and Christian themes. Which I’m very glad for the attention–there are worse things one can become popular online for. But I think it definitely set up a kind of emotional expectation and relationship to my audience that I’m still not exactly sure how to parse. I think because my blog became a lot more about marketing, and because I ended up doing a lot more Actual Work, in terms of doing illustration commissions, selling zines and merchandise, and having to continually advertise to make sure I could continue getting work. It was an exciting experience and I’m always eternally grateful for people who like my work, and who have been willing to pay for it over the years. But it’s definitely still hard to figure out how to be emotionally and spiritually, not to mention economically, sustainable about it all. If I tie my artistic “brand” and worth to funky angels and a kind of Christianity, what kind of room does that leave me to explore my relationship to art, and relationship to faith in that matter? The last thing I want to do is box myself in. And because of the way algorithms work nowadays and the dwindling aspect of Tumblr, it’s not like even making properly “branded” work to post on social media is getting me any more business or traffic anyway. In 2021, I felt fairly lucky–it was the year I made the most money in a year from doing art on my own, from doing lots of private commissions and store sales, and it all came out to about $8600–not including expenses or taxes. Needless to say, I have a non-art related job.

Earlier this year I talked to an old colleague of my dad who had just retired from his job of being a company in-house illustrator. He’d had what I would consider a pretty stable job given the circumstances, and even then he didn’t really have much to say regarding building a career out of it these days, aside from “don’t.” Perhaps it’s just my pessimism clouding my memory of the conversation, but I still think about it these days. What’s the point of spending so much time and pouring so much energy making stuff I don’t even care that much about, if it’s not going to even pay me well? At least when I make zines, which I’ve always made for myself, I had the pleasure of putting them together and into the world, and I always was able to make interesting emotional connections with the people who read them, bought them, and commented on them. It’s totally feasible that I still have too much of a Fine Artist Mindset to really be “successful” as an artist to properly market and monetize my stories in work on a way that’s consistent, but at least despite my frustrations with where I am career-wise, I can be happy and proud of the things I have made and the people I have met through my works.

Once again, I don’t say this to denigrate the many clients I have worked with, or the work I have done for them–One of the reasons I do enjoy commission work is that that I love the challenge of it, and the trust people have in me and my style when they give me their designs or ideas to translate through my hand and vision. Commissioned work has given me structure and consistency in creating that I struggle with maintaining on my own, and I would not have grown nearly as much as an artist without it. I appreciate how many of my clients have been those who have followed me for quite a long while before deciding to work with me–almost just as much as the money, I’m humbled and happy that people have watched me and my art for so long as to have such a relationship with it.

I guess my challenge is finding out how to have that kind of structure in my art when it comes to my own work as well. I approximate it sometimes when I’ve made work out of hyperfixation, which is how many of my fandom zines were initially created, but I struggle a lot with putting forth things of my own, I feel. Maybe because it feels a little emotionally vulnerable, and also maybe because I’m not always sure how things will do “well” given algorithms and attention. I’ve noted that lately a lot of the work I make for my “main,” aka for Tomatobird, as I’m known for here, is work that does focus a lot on aesthetic elegance and beauty and strangeness, but not necessarily a lot of emotional resonance. I like beautiful frames and distant, theatrical humans, if they appear at all. I don’t know if that’s a strength or a weakness, or a neutral element, but it definitely is something I’ve noticed in my work. It’s interesting when I do see people in comments or tags talking about what they read into my work emotionally, since I’m not always sure what gets connected to or not, and my “main” work is not nearly as character-focused as it has been before. I suppose this is also a frustration I have with my relationship with people who do watch my art–I feel like it used to be easier for me to connect to and talk to people, but I also feel like over the years I’ve become more withdrawn as well, which on one hand feels “safer” but also I do miss sometimes engaging in more casual conversations and seeing what people see through their interpretations. I’m lucky, and not too starved for friendship–I’m glad to say I know many lovely people, and am in various lovely groupchats–but I do wonder if becoming more personally “marketed” in my approach to Tumblr, etc, has affected how I think of and relate to art, audience, etc. Much to think about, and I don’t think I have quite a resolution for now.

NoIn any case, this is just the long train of thought I had for now after reading the articles above and also thinking about myself and my work. At the moment I’m kind of under the weather and “resting” and thus am even more prone to, as the second article reiterates, falling down social media rabbit holes due to not really being able to draw right now. I suppose I could shamelessly plug my most recent comic, “Voids and Visions” which I made to sort of also explore personal artist fears and frustrations tangentially related to this sort of thing, so I’ll do that. Also I suppose, on top of trying to get this gosh darn website to finally work, I feel a lot more motivated to try and invest more time into it now that I definitely feel like my more detailed works look just plain ugly cropped on the social medias. I may, after all these years, still not really understand what I truly want out of art commercially enough to make a marketable portfolio that will appeal to clients, but I do feel like I have strong feelings about making work and controlling the contexts through which it is seen. That’s part of the curse of being someone who makes comics, I suppose, the desire to want to be picky about everything, and then complaining about all the work. Is it all worth it? Who knows. But hopefully, it can be like making a zine. Very annoying and flawed, but something of mine.

Published by maiden theory

I'm just a Bird whose intentions are good

One thought on “Art, social media, business, and being very online

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: