Gone are the days of the enigmatic artist.
If said artist wants a chance at selling their work, that is.
Whether the human race enjoys it or not, we live in a world heavily influenced by dopamine draining social media interaction. Where once readers browsed magazines and admired the elegant advertisements, they now sift through pop-ups and browse through profiles and pages dedicated to the sale of merchandise.
The pandemic further propelled this change. Musicians caught on quickly and moved to online platforms, but for the visual arts, there’s been a developmental delay. In Cheyenne and the surrounding region, it’s far less common to see a local artist consistently posting about their work, offering behind-the-scenes content on their creative process or updating followers on their upcoming shows.
It’s not unprecedented, but it certainly isn’t common. When artists do find a groove, there’s a noticeable impact to their community presence.
Bria Hammock, who works as the creative director for Madden Media, a local marketing firm, has displayed her art all around the state. After she graduated from college with a degree in marketing, she essentially took a 10-year hiatus from painting.
It would be hard to tell based off the quality of her work, but Hammock just picked up painting around four years ago. Because of her social media presence, Hammock is ahead of the curve in marketing herself, which has led to a far-reaching regional presence.
“Marketing and social media is such a fast-changing world, it’s challenging as an artist,” Hammock said. “I think I definitely have the leg up somewhat because I do it for my day job, as well, and I kind of have some of those insights.
“It’s funny, because you have to keep sharp as an artist, but also keep sharp on how to communicate that art to other people.”
In concept, getting on social media and maintaining a following sounds like an easy enough task to approach. For those with no idea of where to start, it’s a vast and confusing network to navigate.
This isn’t a problem exclusive to artists; it’s difficult, no matter the profession. Creating a page that people want to return to, especially as an artist, is essentially the same as building a brand and marketing a business.
Even with a background in marking, it’s difficult to come to terms with turning yourself into a business, which is what most artists are doing when trying to sell their work. Kevin Phillips, whose rise on TikTok was covered previously in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, talked extensively about the process of having to open up and appeal to followers on a personal level.
Hammock underwent the same process on Instagram and Facebook.
“It was and continues to be uncomfortable for me to put myself out there on social media,” she said. “I haven’t really found a way to be more comfortable with that, but the feedback I get from a lot of people that follow me and engage with my content really illustrates that they like seeing the behind-the-scenes process.”
A marketing plan
Perhaps the biggest hurdle is the difficulty of coming to understand how to manipulate social media and appeal to thousands of people browsing through thousands of accounts and posts.
Hammock attributes some of her success to understanding how to lay out a marketing plan. She knows the steps for making sure someone at least looks at a product she’s selling.
Most artists, however, are still at square one.
That may be beginning to slowly change, due in part to Cheyenne resident Melissa Neylon. In February, she started Arts Etcetera, with the goal of helping local artists market their work and reach a new online customer base.
Formerly the manager at the Wyoming State Museum gift shop, Neylon was filling the displays with local artists’ works, curating and learning how to present displays that would sell. At times, she would work with local artists, galleries and friends to help them curate their displays.
When her mother-in-law fell ill last year, Neylon left the job in order to take care of her. The situation limited her to the house, so frequent in-person consultation was no longer sustainable.
Necessity is the mother of invention, so she took to the internet to set up a Facebook page. That is where she worked with artists on sharing their side of the story, providing extra personality – and exposure – for them in the process.
“I really didn’t know until about a year and a half ago that this world really existed,” Neylon said. “It’s growing tremendously on social media. I got involved and started helping a lot of these artisans behind the scenes, and made friends and met up with them in person and things like that.
“They talked me into doing this ‘You’ve Got Mel’ show.”
“You’ve Got Mel” is livestreamed on Facebook every Tuesday. In each episode, she sits with an artist from somewhere in the country to discuss the background of their work. The goal is not only entertainment value, but to help them market their product and generate business.
In the short time that she’s been curating the page and interviewing artists, there’s already a core community that returns for each show. Recently, Tara Pappas, a Laramie artist, took Neylon’s advice to start a livestream where Pappas walked viewers through different techniques she uses in her artwork.
Story behind the artwork
There’s no one focus to her business, and if Neylon doesn’t know how to help someone, she’ll admit it. More often than not, she’s rebuilding social media platforms, setting up websites, helping artists apply to shows and teaching them how to interact with a fast-growing social media fanbase.
Sometimes she’s coaching artists on an often neglected aspect of their work – the background of the piece. Time and again, audiences have shown more positive reaction to a piece when they emphasize the story behind it, be it a personal narrative or a glimpse into the creative process.
For example, if glasswork or a tapestry was made from recycled material, artists should explain their motivation in creating the piece or any unique facts relevant to the creation of the artwork.
“You need the story, and social media gives people the story in that connection,” Neylon said. “When you’re trying to buy from a website – face it, that’s where people are purchasing items now, online – the artists need to take advantage of that also.
“You can start a website, and if you don’t know how to direct traffic to it or to share your story, the website is just going to sit there.”
Over the winter, local artisan Dave Rowswell was at an impasse. The blistering cold discouraged window shoppers in downtown Cheyenne. As a result, sales dipped at Rawhide Jewelry.
Since working with Neylon, online sales for Rawhide Jewelry have significantly increased. The improvement didn’t come without persevering through trial and error.
Since he started selling his handcrafted jewelry, his main mode of business has been in-person sales, though online business has been a goal for some time. For the past several months, he and his wife, Georgia Rowswell, have traveled to rodeos around the country, thinking that the line of jewelry would better sell to a large Western audience.
This isn’t always the case. On one occasion, Dave Rowswell said that it had hardly been worth traveling to Texas for one vendor spot. Online business and social media has never been Rawhide’s strong suit, but next winter, it will be critical.
Having an online presence expands his customer base. It’s simple – there will inevitably be a larger interest in his artwork when he begins marketing to people outside of Cheyenne.
“When I post something on Facebook – I have probably about 500 followers – Facebook might send that out to 100 of them,” Rowswell said. “They might send it out to 20 of them. I don’t know what their algorithm is; you never know where it’s going to end up.
“As an artist, I don’t think I have the time to figure that out, but she does. Melissa is educating herself on how to present people like me.”