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It's no secret that Instagram has paved the way for creators of all kinds to make their mark in the digital space, and this especially holds true in the art community. Over the last few years, artists have become some of the most sought-after creators for brands in need of a truly unique point of view. As a result of these collaborative opportunities, professional artists have quickly risen to prominence as influencers in their respective industries. However, working with artists in an influencer capacity varies depending on the nature of the collaboration and the expectations of the artist. With that said, today's article dives deeper into this unique territory and highlights a few examples of influential artists and how they work with brands.
The Art of Influence
From Tumblr to Instagram, social media has paved the way for artists to connect and share their work in an accessible way. As these platforms have become more deeply ingrained in a brand's marketing strategy, the role artist-influencers play has shifted beyond the platforms themselves. The avenues for working with artists run the gamut from online to offline opportunities including social media takeovers, sponsored content, and advertorials to in-store activations, murals, and events. But these examples only scratch the surface and depend heavily on the industry and size of the brand. This section will share a few examples of different kinds of influencer-artists and their varied experiences in working with brands:
Fashion illustrators have had a resurgence thanks to the rise of social media. We see them sitting front row at fashion week and collaborating on social media content for some of the world's most iconic luxury brands. Yet aside from recapturing a brand's collections each season, these creatives have pushed the boundaries of how the industry engages with artists in a digital age. Let's look at Angelica Hicks (@angelicahicks) for example. Angelica's cheeky voice and bold illustration style have caught the attention of the industry in a big way. The New York-based illustrator has amassed a following of over 60k followers on Instagram and has attracted brands like Gucci, which resulted in a product design collaboration, and Alice + Olivia, where Angelica illustrated the brand's set design for their SS18 show at NYFW. With many more projects under her belt, (like her book Tongue in Chic: The Fabulous Fashion World of Angelica Hicks) Angelica is the perfect example of an influential illustrator who has been able to maintain strict consistency with her social media POV which in turn has cultivated opportunities to work with brands across many different channels.
In the same space, renowned fashion illustrator Megan Hess' classic aesthetic in both her artwork and personal style have resulted in a global clientele — and a loyal Instagram following of over 300k people. When she's not doing in-store illustration events or branded illustrations/videos for clients, Megan is also creating offline opportunities to engage with her community through products. This includes her many fashion illustration books and children's book franchise "Claris: The Chicest Mouse in Paris," which now includes its own social media presence and product offering. Finally, the illustrator also takes on more "traditional" influencer projects via her work as on-air talent for branded videos or sharing snapshots of her outfits while traveling or participating in panels/business events. Megan's holistic approach to fashion, art, and entrepreneurship has afforded her with incredible opportunities to work across different categories and in various capacities as an artist and influencer (and when it makes sense, as both simultaneously).
In a visual landscape, there are a select few artists who have been able to marry writing and art to create pieces that tap into current culture. One of these creators is Adam J. Kurtz (or perhaps better known as @adamjk). With an Instagram following of over 200k, Adam is widely known for his graphic design work which features personable quotes and sayings that — quite literally — speak to you. He's been able to capitalize on his raw, honest point of view as an artist and take things one step further through publishing books and engaging in style and homewares product collaborations with brands like Strand Bookstore, Urban Outfitters, and Fishs Eddy. Adam's influence also spans offline as evidenced in his collaboration with the Brooklyn Public Library where he illustrated the institution's "bookmobiles" as well as participating in speaking engagements with brands and universities. This balance between online and offline has also allowed Adam to share his bright personality, which in many ways, mirrors his approachable and colorful work making him not on only an influencer for other brands but for his own work and personal mission. Similarly, Shantell Martin has cultivated a distinct aesthetic in that it has allowed her to maintain her identity as a fine artist first and foremost. Her influence comes in her ability to translate her point of view across industries and mediums. From clothing collaborations with brands like PUMA to experiential activations with 29Rooms, Shantell has partnered with like-minded brands to build upon her distinct drawing style (and signature black and white color palette) in new and exciting ways. As a result, Shantell has also been able to cultivate her influence in a way that does more than sell products. Through her collaborations with Jawbone and MIT Media Lab and residency at Autodesk, Shantell has bridged the gap between technology and art to push the boundaries of her work and the art world as a whole. Shantell proves that artists have the power to not only influence sales but impact the world for the better.
When it comes to the big picture, it's worth noting that many style influencers are also known for their work as creative consultants, and this extends to the artist community. Enter Art Directors. Influential art and creative directors are often sought after by brands looking to bring on creative partners for high-level strategy on projects. One notable example is Jessica Walsh. As a partner in the renowned design firm Sagmeister & Walsh, Jessica's penchant for color and creative vision has lent itself well to agency projects. This, in turn, is displayed on her Instagram feed @jessicavwalsh. While Jessica primarily features snapshots of her company's work along with personal work, she uses her platform and industry credibility to launch and share highlights from her own projects as well — an example being the 40 Days of Dating series Jessica co-created with fellow artist-influencer Timothy Goodman @timothygoodman. Additionally, Jessica has used her growing Instagram (now at over 400k followers) to influence her community to use design as a vehicle for social change. She's done this by launching Ladies, Wine & Design (@ladieswinedesign) to empower women designers, promoting and creating products that benefit organizations like the ACLU and Planned Parenthood, and much more. Jessica is another outstanding example of an artist who is aware of her reach and is using her platform to partner with like-minded companies as well as influence her followers to create art and change.
Hear from the Artists
Now that we've highlighted examples of a few different kinds of artists who are making waves in their industries, we sat down with a few creators in this space who kindly shared their thoughts of the rise of the artist-influencer and how they suggest brands should approaching partnerships with artists in this day and age.
John McLaughlin, Artist/Director
1. As an Artist and Director, what is your take on the growth of the artist-influencer space?
It's been very interesting to see the growth of this category, especially on Instagram. My explore page is constantly saturated with work from the artist-influencer space. This is great to see what others are doing but also will be curious to see how the types of work continue to evolve or if another platform specific to this space will gain traction.
2. You've worked a lot in fashion and music. Can you give us a few examples of the kinds of projects you've done that show the many ways artists can work with brands?
Working on NYFW stuff really opened up my eyes to all the projects I could be a great fit for and think more outside the box when it comes to collaborating with brands. I never saw 3D animation and video working for NYFW, but somehow it did — which led to other projects like contributing to the Beck music video, working on GIFs for Apple Music, and partnering with other directors like Jimmy Marble on TV commercials.
The possibilities seem endless when it comes to the ways artists can work with brands; however, it needs to be a good fit.
3. What do you think constitutes an artist's influence beyond follower count? Why are these intangible aspects important for brands to consider when partnering with influencer artists?
You want to look for influencers or artists that generally align with the brand's values and make sense. Basically what Glossier has done such a great job of — leveraging people who actually use the product and engage with it organically no matter the follower count. I think this is called micro-influencer now.
4. What do you think brands need to be aware of when approaching influential artists for branded or sponsored collaborations?
Do enough research to know exactly what that influencer-artist does. There are a lot of hybrids out there (like an illustrator/animator) but if you look at enough of their work on Instagram, their website, or another portfolio you can usually see what they specialize in. Also ask them first before fully engaging. Generally, it's important to know that even though it's just an Instagram post, several hours are spent on their craft. Things take a lot of effort and time on the artist's end and so they deserve proper compensation, not just credit.
Laura Supnik, Illustrator
1. Tell us more about when you started to be recognized as both an "influencer" artist and style influencer?
Both about four years ago! I post a mix of lifestyle photos as well as my artwork, so when I started gaining followers for both — I would begin to get recognition and requests to intertwine the two. For example, I'll get requests from companies to make artwork of their product and post it, in exchange for the product and pay, rather than just take photos of it like most influencers.
2. Your Instagram feed paints a pretty even picture of your life in NYC and your work as an artist. Do you make a conscious effort to not sway too heavily in one direction, and how do you think posting both kinds of content opens you up to more opportunities to work with brands?
I went to school for fashion business, so have always had a heavy interest in the industry. Therefore, my Instagram is a reflection of myself! I'm an artist, but I also love fashion. For me, I love showing off more than just my art to my followers because personally when I'm looking at someone else's profile, it allows me to connect better to an artist when I see parts of their personal life being shown. So yes, I like to keep a good mix between the two consciously, and I think it shows brands that I have the versatility in my posts to mix both the lifestyle and art, which is something that not a lot of people have.
3. We loved working with you earlier this year on our STLK NYFW event! As an artist, it seems like you do a lot of these kinds of events. Why do you think it's important to foster your social presence as an artist for more offline opportunities like live-drawing or in-store events?
I had such a great time at that event! I absolutely love working live events. That being said, most of my clients find me through social media, which is really cool. If I do live illustrating for one company — that company posts about it on social media, and I also post about it on social media, gaining both the company and I new connections and followers. It's important for my internet presence to be constantly updated, to show people what I'm up to, and show potential clients what I'm able to do.
4. What do you look for in brand partners when taking on sponsored collaborations and what advice would you have for brands looking to engage with influential artists?
I look for brands where I would actually buy their products even if they hadn't reached out to me for promotion.
I think it's important when working with companies to be authentic and show off something that you're genuinely interested in! Advice for brands would be for them to be aware that if they're having an artist promote a product, to keep in mind that they're making art for you in addition to the post itself — it's extra work and time, so they deserve more!
Justin Teodoro, Illustrator
1. Your work has transcended beyond just traditional fashion illustration as you've started to take a stand politically. Why is this important to you and why do you think influential artists like yourself must take a position on political or cultural conversations?I've always tried to make sure my work is true to who I am as I think it's important for any creative to be authentic in their point of view.
So when I have done work with a more political stance, it was really just my honest reaction to what is going on. It's impossible to not have some sort of reaction when you watch and read the news today, so I had really no other agenda than to use my own voice — my art — to respond to our current climate. It's important to remember everyone has a voice that is valid and when you put that out there, people will hear it. In divisive times like today, the arts should take on new social issues to resonate and engage with people to make us think and feel and question. I'm never one to say what I think other artists should or shouldn't do, but for myself I've seen the big or small impacts my artwork has with those who see it, and if I can put something out there that brings something to my audience, I think that is part of my role as an artist today.
2. How would you say influencer marketing has impacted the artist community the most especially in NYC?To be able to build an audience and engage with people all over the world through social media has really pushed artists forward to have our art seen and voices heard.
That's a pretty incredible tool to have that can attract brands to want to work with you.
3. In your opinion, what do you think constitutes an artist's influence beyond follower count? Why are these intangible aspects important for brands to consider when partnering with influencer artists?
It's the artist's work and how it reaches and engages with people. Having the numbers and likes can be great, but when someone reaches out to say how much your work has touched and affected them, I think those are moments that mean more. When an artist has their clear point of view, people respond to that authenticity and when that is in the work that is what ultimately makes it successful.
4. What do you look for in brand partners when taking on sponsored collaborations or campaign work and what advice would you have for brands looking to engage with influential artists?
I think as an artist you should trust your instinct when looking at projects and take on the work that is not only attractive but can, in the long run, fit into your "brand." I look to see if the project or work excites me and if the client make sense for me to work with. I think brands do generally understand the nuances of working with artists, but I think it's important for both sides to remember that there should be a general understanding of what the brand wants and what the artist gives. There is always going to be a give and take in any collaboration, but when brands are clear on their direction and open to let the artist have that freedom to create, then I think those are the most successful partnerships.