For many artists, the most challenging and intimidating aspects of running a creative business are marketing and promotion. The fact is, most of us are uncomfortable with the act of talking about ourselves from a sales perspective, and this is only reinforced by the vast amount of intrusive advertising that exists in the world. Something that I hear time and time again at Escape from Illustration Island is that nobody wants to be that typical annoying spammer who sends out unwanted email blasts or shouts from the rooftops about how great they are. The good news is that it doesn't have to be that way.
Promoting yourself doesn't have to mean talking about yourself. There are so many other ways to get your name out there and market your brand. This is something that is too often overlooked by creative professionals. The best part is that the alternative methods that I'm referring to not only serve to draw more attention to your work, but also allow you to interact with the larger illustration community and feel the rewards of giving back to your fellow artists. Let's look a few simple ways to promote yourself without talking about yourself.
Participate in the Community
The online art community is growing at an incredible rate, and that means more and more artists are coming together to share ideas and inspiration every day through social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, as well as various forums and blogs.
Find a group that you can relate to and begin listening and responding to what people have to say. Answer questions that people have and ask some of your own. By joining the conversations taking place all over the web, you can build relationships, grow your audience, and make people care about what you have to say.
Participate in communities like Illustration Mundo, which have numerous resources and forums. When you interact with the outside world in a positive way, chances are people will want to learn more about you by visiting your website and taking a look at your latest projects.
Share and Collaborate
One of the best parts of the growing online art community is an increasing willingness of artists to share tutorials, advice, and other resources with their fellow creators. Try to be a resource to others and help in any way you can.
By giving back to other artists, you will present yourself as an expert in your field and keep people coming back for more. You will also generate good will and inspire others to return the favor when you need it most. Or, you might consider starting a collaborative website where others can show their work based on a certain theme.
BloodSweatVector is an example of a blog that helps promote vector artist's illustration work, and has grown into a collective which also does gallery shows together. There are quite a few art collectives online, like Intrinsic Nature and Slashthree, which you could participate in or start one of your own.
Another great way of getting your message in front of an audience outside of your normal circle is to write a guest post for a blog within your niche, or to guest illustrate a post, or illustrate a free wallpaper giveaway for a popular blog like Abduzeedo or our own Psdtuts+. This very article for Creative Sessions allows me to share my ideas with artists that I might not have otherwise had access to.
Promote Someone Else
Another approach to increasing your visibility online is to promote one of your fellow artists by conducting an interview, reviewing their work in a post on your blog, or simply passing on a link to their portfolio through popular tools like Twitter. Chances are, they will publicly thank you for your help, and do the same for you in the future. In addition, you will further establish yourself as a potential resource for artists and build relationships with others in the industry. It's a great way to network.
Andy Sowards is an active blogger that has built a strong following by predominately promoting other peoples work on his blog and on Twitter. He regularly posts some great resources on web development and graphic design. This is a model you could apply to promoting illustration work, and in so doing build your own reputation.
Host an Event or Help a Cause
One of the best ways to get people excited about your work is to make a splash in some way. For example, try running a giveaway where you award a lucky winner a print of your Illustration work or a discount on commissioned work. You could also help a worthy cause by either getting heavily involved with helping a charity or organization.
Look at the Remnan Project where artist's like Ben the Illustrator and art blogs like ThunderChunky have pulled together to raise funds for UNICEF's Haiti Earthquake Children's Appeal by selling artwork exclusively on the Remnan Project site with proceeds going to that charity.
There are an infinite number of creative ways to participate in assisting others while gaining exposure. Keep in mind, you can align altruistic motives with the practical need to promote your work, and it's a lot more fun than cold calls.
Run an Illustration Blog
My Illustration blog and podcast, Escape from Illustration Island (EFII), has not only helped me to connect with the Illustration community and share resources and ideas with my fellow artist, but it has also helped me to promote my work. I rarely talk about my own Illustrations on the site, but by acting as a resource and providing value, people naturally want to know more about me, which eventually leads them to my portfolio website.
While this is never the intention of EFII, it is a nice side effect that has helps me to build relationships with industry professionals on a daily basis. In addition, it continues to open up new opportunities, such as my new eBook, 15 Steps to Freelance Illustration, and my sponsorship of this year's ICON6 Illustration conference, where I'll be recording tons of audio and video content for EFII while expanding my network of connections.
Infusing Promotion with Creativity
As artists, it's important to remember that we can infuse every facet of our business with some element of creativity, and promotion is no exception. If you are uncomfortable with the idea of selling yourself, try to come up with some unique ways to get people to pay attention to someone else's cause, which will have the side benefit of promoting yourself as an involved member of the illustration community. That way, you can build relationships that could benefit you in the future and raise awareness of your work indirectly, all while being passionately involved. This might not have happened if you spent all your time talking about yourself directly.