How to Find the right Hashtags For Your Audience on Instagram


I see this question come up a lot in the world of illustration. ‘How do I increase my following on Instagram?’ Now I by no means have the biggest account out there but I really enjoy using Instagram and feel like it connects me to like minded folk out there. At the time of writing I have nearly 2,500 followers and my account is just over 2 years old. It might not be huge but it definitely does help me to discover new customers and new clients have even told me that they found my work this way. 

You have to remember also that instagram doesn’t publicise the tricks of it’s algorithm, everything is just guess work and spotting trends that work for you and your account. This blog is based on my experience and observations over the last 2 years my account has been active. 

Is it all about follower numbers?

My illustration business is actually quite niche. It’s all SPOOKY after all! Not everyone is into that, and I can respect that. Instagram is a place where I can find the people who are really into that, like me! So I would argue that it’s less about follower numbers and more about engaging the right people. Finding your tribe. 

So how do you find your tribe?

This is where hashtags come in. I think it is the number one way to find new folk. You will have some people find you through recommendations. Others will find you offline or on different websites. For the folk on instagram though, outside of being tagged by other accounts or geographical interest, it’s hashtags that will make you visible.

Thing is, there aren’t magic hashtags that you use and then a thousand people see your work and love it and follow you and become your biggest fans. There’s also a lot to be said for curating your page. This means ensuring that when people land on it they are compelled to follow you. But that’s another story for another time. All we are looking at right now is driving traffic to your page. Although it goes without saying that you need to produce quality content that people want to click on (we will talk about this more another day I promise!)

There are some universal principles that I find in using hashtags though. Habits that mean your account reaches new people. Actions that result in steady growth. It’s not going to happen overnight though, but what does?

What do your audience care about?

I am betting that there is a hashtag for it. The first tip is research. Try typing in phrases into instagram search. Things that both describe what your post conveys and what your target audience is interested in. The first step is to see what sort of numbers come up for each tag. The number denotes the number of other posts using that same hashtag. Make a note of it, keep a record. Just make sure that the phrase is relevant to what you are doing (i.e. don’t be spammy, it won’t work)

Look at accounts who you admire, accounts that are similar to yours, accounts that have the same target audience as you. Look at their relevant hashtags, search the numbers and add them to your list. 

Group your hashtags

Sort them into different digital piles. A simple spreadsheet is fine for this. You want to group them based on the numbers. Low, medium and high. The numerics for these bandings are up to you. Think about the numbers involved, and your current follower number.

Now all you need to do is pick from these lists when you post. Instagram lets you post up to 30 hashtags in a post. However, I think instagram gives your post higher visibility if you don’t use them all. There are various theories on what number Instagram likes best, but I find 12 is a good number for my account. 

Using this info when it’s time to post

What comes next is a totally balancing act. It’s an art not a science. The balance is between using hashtags with lower numbers where you are more likely to come top of the pile in the search results with hashtags with higher numbers that will be seen by more people. Where you fall depends on the engagement with your post. The dream is to turn up in the top nine posts when anyone searches for that particular hashtag. Use a huge hashtag like #art or #illustration and it’s more likely that you will get buried under posts by bigger accounts. Use a more niche hashtag like #fairypainting and you are more likely to show up higher. 

I find that the trick is to use a mix of hashtag sizes. Take relevant tags from each of your spreadsheet bandings. Just make sure the tag is relevant to your post. Don’t use the same hashtags all the time, mix it up. Find new audiences by doing this. Get your art in front of more people. Voila. 

Reviewing your Technique

Make a note of which hashtags got a good reach and engagement for you. You can find this info on your business account’s stats page. Click on the hashtags you have used and see where you come up. It might help you to work out if you are using hashtags that are too small for your brand or hashtags that are too big. As I said, it’s a balancing act. Remember that some hashtags are more popular at different times of year, make time to update your spreadsheet every now and again. 

Top Tip

Make sure you actually know where your hashtag is going. You might think a phrase you typed means one thing, but click on it to make sure. Look at the posts there, does yours fit in? You don’t want to be posting what you think is a popular hashtag for your style of artwork but actually turns out to be a really popular sandwich in Paraguay. It’s a waste of a hashtag and has the potential to send you very off brand. Especially if it turns out that hashtag leads somewhere very dodgy indeed (unless that’s your target market off course!) 

Happy tagging! Enjoy my instagram here 🙂 

New Stockist: October 31st

Earlier in the year I joined the ranks at October 31st. As the name suggests, the store is a haven of Halloween. Run by true Halloween enthusiast and aficionado and the chap behind SpookyWil this online retailer does a grand old job of bridging the gap between the UK and the US with regards to a good quality Halloween store.

I had covered in my annual goals review that I wanted to focus my stockists a little more in 2020. October 31st was clearly somewhere I felt that my work would belong.

Spooky is for life, not just for Halloween

October 31st is a shop for folks who have their Halloween’s more than on just one night a year. You’ll find that there are actually plenty of us in the UK. All of whom know the feeling far too well of falling in love with a spooky find online just to encounter an eye watering shipping cost at the checkout screen. October 31st is UK based and gives you your Halloween fix all year long for the price of domestic postage.

With plenty of finds from across the pond and adorable original designs too (the ‘To Boo List’ planner is firmly on my shopping list!) it’s also a great place to discover pieces by a variety of spooky artists. I could not be in better company.

Halloween is where the Heart is

We might all get excited for when TK Maxx get’s it’s Halloween stock in each year but October 31st is the only shop in the UK that really takes the holiday to heart. What more could you ask for? Even as I type this I have a podcast of scary stories on in the background and am wearing my Creepy Co x Beistle vintage Halloween cat tee. October 31st is great creepy company to keep. It’s the perfect place to treat yourself to something spooky, whether it’s Halloween, half-o-ween or anytime before or after ?

Go find yourself a Halloween treat now at October31st.co.uk

Cows About Cambridge


Despite the big reveal being delayed I am dedicating this week’s blog to the Cows About Cambridge trail. Within it I’ll also get to reveal my final design (oooh!) .

The Trail

This is the 5th and 6th sculpture I have done for my fourth Wild in Art trail. For this trail I have painting a full sized cow sculpture and a mini moo too. As with the other trails the cows will be auctioned off to raise money for charity. In this case the charity Break.

The Design

With each new sculpture I do I learn a little more too. From the best types of paint and how to varnish right down to the joy of bringing your own tea bags and slippers to the painting space. Soon I will do a blog piece specifically on my painting tips, but that will be another day!

My design is called ‘Around the City’ and is the first sculpture I designed and submitted following my first experience having actually painted one. It meant I went for bolder, bigger shapes, fewer more consistent colours and after the struggle on my ‘Our Island’ Gorilla, no yellow!

The design focuses on a map of the city surrounded by a cow filled green belt. The map is filled with famous landmarks from the city such as the Bridge of Sighs and Botanical Gardens. However, it also features homes of the residents of the city. Through this the design accentuates that a city is the sum of the people within in it. Their homes are therefore elevated to the status of ‘landmarks’ in this way. The theme of ‘community’ is prevalent in many of my Wild in Art designs.

I also painted a mini moo based on the winning design submitted by service users of Mind in collaboration with Thames Link.

The Sponsor

Excitingly because of my sponsor I have known for a while where my cow sculpture is being based. Thames Link are the headline sponsor of the Cows About Cambridge trail and picked my design along with one by artist Emily Kaye. They even got exclusive pick of the bunch before the Sculpture Selection event even happened. Being a rail company and having Cambridge Train station feature so prominently on my designs we were a match made in heaven. It also meant that this would be where my sculpture would be placed for the duration of the trail. ‘Around the City’ will welcome visitors to the city in the station.

I will keep an eye on social media to see where the rest of the herd ends up, but remember to tag me in your pictures if you get them!

New Collaboration: Post Snail Press

I recently joined the first batch of artist to feature on Post Snail Press. A new project from Fernandes Makes and Loaf & Bear in a response to Covid 19. The project offers a creative new way to keep in touch with friends and family during lockdown and beyond. Visitors to the Post Snail Press website can purchase postcards designed by 35 different artists. Not only that but you can purchase stamps, envelopes and pens too. The whole shebang you need to send some TLC in the post.  

The aim of the project is to:

Spread joy, humour, hope and positivity

Encourage people to stay connected using the postal service

Help a community of artists support each other and raise funds for charity

The project supports artists, many of whom have income streams completely decimated by the lockdown. The postcard project supports artists financially with each sale of their design. Plus, every sale raises money for charity too. The current cohort of designs are raising funds for the Samaritans with every order. Their chosen charity links in with their aim to keep connected and support other, even through something as simple as a note on the back of a postcard.

My Design 

My design was a second iteration of an illustration I created in response to Covid-19. I made it when lockdown was announced. That the country was being put into lockdown wasn’t a surprise but it didn’t make it any less surreal. Or less unfamiliar.

I have repeatedly visited this idea of spirit communication as a completely uncreepy thing. This idea that ghosts like to chat, and use psychics and ouija boards like phones. Ouija boards are a recurring prop in horror films. In my illustrations, there’s only ever a soft and cute spook on the other end. Always up for a chin wag. I felt that this fit in with the sentiment of the project well. You can find on my design you find a cute spook who values a good wholesome catch up. I drew it to encourage people to stay in touch with each other, and with me!

I hope that it gets sent to people who value a good wholesome catch up too. 

The postcards can all be bought directly from the Post Snail Press website. You can choose postcards individually or in lucky dip multipacks. Each postcard is A6 sized making it function as a great mini print too.

https://www.postsnailpress.com

Window Painting at Pieminister, Sheffield


At the end of February I was approached by Pieminister to paint the windows of their Sheffield branch. This was for their March Pie Week campaign. There was a lot about this to get excited about. Firstly, I really really REALLY wanted to try window painting. I put some feelers out just before Halloween 2019. Hopeful I could try it, I made some mock ups. I didn’t get any commissions that Halloween though but I wasn’t deterred.

Secondly, Pieminister found me. This is always a great boost. It means that I am doing something right to get noticed. It’s not uncommon to get lots of unsolicited approaches that are unfavourable termed (read: unpaid and exploitative) so to be approached by a client with a great national profile for a paid gig is always good.

Hang on, did you say Pie Week?

I did indeed! The project was part of their national Pie Week where customers got the chance to win prizes with their orders. As part of their promotional strategy for this they commissioned artists local to their branch locations to create temporary window paintings.

The Process

Firstly I had to ensure that my design captured what they were after. This included using the correct fonts and colours of their Pie Week campaign. After approval I went about sourcing some Posca Pens in the right shades. I cannot recommend Posca’s enough. I haven’t found an imitation brand that comes anywhere close to the quality and performance of these pens. They are pretty pricey but they are worth every penny.

Half of the skill in translating a design onto a large canvas is in scaling it up. There are a variety of ways in which artists do this, but personally I rely on using masking tape to mark crucial points of the design on the painting surface, which I can stand back from and eye up the balance of the piece and adjust these points if necessary. This is by no means a method that will suit everyone’s style but it works for me. It also works on glass which rules out the option of sketching on the surface first. 

Check, check and check again

I find it really important whilst window painting to go outside the window regularly and look at the piece. Remember, not only are you scaling your work up, you are painting it backwards on the inside of the window for the benefit of viewers outside. This is especially taxing when writing text. By constantly reviewing your design from the viewers stand point you are able to remedy anything you aren’t happy with throughout. 

Please sir, can I have some more?

I absolutely loved completing this commission. I stood alongside talented artists completing their own pieces on other restaurant windows across the country. I look forward to completing more window paintings in future. If you have a business or know of one that you think could benefit from some temporary window art, drop me a message on my online form and let’s chat! 

Annual Goals Review


I am surprisingly buzzing as I write this. For context, I have known for a few weeks I should look at my goals. Earlier this year I announced over a whopping 3 blog posts my goals for this year. I had big ideas, big dreams. 2020 was going to be brilliant. I don’t want to ruin the ending if you haven’t seen the movie but 2020 didn’t quite work out that way. 

So I approached this review wholeheartedly expecting to be crossing off my goals, but not in a good way. Looking at what could be salvaged. Trying to work out when the world might be active again. When can business resume? Can I just write the whole year off? Better not to put it off any longer. Let’s face the damage head on. 

And do you know what? I am smashing it! Not at ALL in the way I imagined when I wrote these goals, but I am! Just for a reap, here are the goals I set myself for the year. 

-Shakeup My Stockists

-Secure more painting commissions in 2020

-Be spookier

-Make more, increase handmade offerings

-Work Less, Live More

-Collaborate

-Improve branding

-Learn more digital skills

Where I have viewed lockdown as a barrier to activity, it has also in new ways allowed for more. When I wrote these goals I was desperate for time. I had to schedule goal to force myself to make time for things left behind. In the wake of market days, mural painting, events. Balancing two jobs and a social life. Sculpting and learning new skills just weren’t getting a look in andI made goals specifically for them. 

Flip the world on it’s head and you have now. I have a whole shelf of drying sculpts and three quarters of a bag of clay remaining. Whilst I envisioned perhaps spending times learning vector art, I have been working with a client to produce some animations. I have learnt a lot about animating and am excited to learn more too. Whilst you could argue that ‘work less live more’ should have more dates with friends in it, I am relaxing. I am reading. Taking time off. I am reset regenerated and refuelled. 

That’s FOUR goals reached already!

I have had time to look at my branding and revamped my etsy shop as well as working on a more consistent social media feed. That consistency, that branding, it IS spookier!

My sales and followers are increasing well. I have shaken up my stockists and will resume business when lockdown is done. I have a new stockists already signed up for a stock drop off. Excitingly I have another interested in meeting up when we can. I am happy with where this is too. I even have a wholesale order to post.

What about commission opportunities though?

I thought these would be hardest hit, and they are. However, I have secured some absolutely cracking opportunities whilst in lockdown. A large sculpture painting commission, a new repeat client and a really exciting couple of collaborations are on my horizon. Even more brilliantly, these collaborations will be benefiting charities and supporting other artists too.

That’s it! That’s all the goals. Honestly I am in disbelief. It is not how I pictured it happening when I wrote these goals. Nothing is how anyone planned anything this year. The end result is there though. Things might still be tough but they could be a whole lot tougher. I have some great support around me from customers and clients. I might be self employed, but I can’t do it all by myself. When this is done I’ll make new goals and we can see where the new normal takes us. 

Spooky Book Recommendations

I never wanted my blog to be all work no play. Thing is, work is ramping up so much that there seems to be little space in a weekly blog for anything else! I want to share fun things with you. Advice from my experiences with you. Good news to be shared with you. So I am trialling sharing my blog twice weekly.

This means I can sneak in a spooky book recommendations blog today. Especially since we could all do with some new recommendations on what to read since we’ve got so much time on our hands. Here are my top reads from lockdown.

The Invited, Jeniffer McMahon

Hands down, 5/5 my favourite book in quarantine. ‘The Invited’ prooves itself to be a truly inventive haunted house story. It tells the tale of a couple procuring some land in Vermont that has a violent history, but will now become the building site for the couple’s dream home. Unbeknownst to them at the time, a haunted house yet to be built. It’s a tale of mystery, obsession and the paranormal. It’s a tale of the strength of connections between women that span a century. Perfectly crafted and compelling, I absolutely recommend.

My Best Friend’s Exorcism, Grady Hendrix

The ultimate 80s buddy movie featuring sleepovers, high school dramas and one hell of a demonic possession. Super nostalgic for a decade I only experienced in my pampers, this book was a hoot. Just how strong can a bond between two teenage girls be, and what tests can it withstand? This book played out like what I would imagine a collab movie between John Hughes and John Landis might look like. Grapevine says it’s coming to a screen near you soon.

The Essex Witch Museum Series, Syd Moore

I have just ordered my second book in the series. I started in the middle and I enjoyed enough to find more. It’s not the greatest piece of literature you will ever read but it’s a fun romp. Take a classic whodunnit, add Bridget Jones and sprinkle in some witchcraft lore and you have an Essex Witch Museum Mystery. Easy and enjoyable read.

Something Wicked This Way Comes, Ray Bradbury

In complete opposition to our last recommendation is this floral and poetic offering. A bit of a marmite author, I am team Bradbury after reading this. Whimsical and childlike yet downright scary at parts. This tale follows Will & Jim, two teenage boys and their curiosity towards a sinister carnival that rolls into their sleepy town. A supernatural adventure and a bittersweet read.

Haunting of Hill House, Shirley Jackson 

This has been on my to read list since the hugely popular Netflix series. I absolutely loved it and was surprised to find the book had little in common. What remained was the true unease of the oppressive house. I particularly enjoyed the construction of our protagonist Eleanor. The journey of her mind’s reaction to such a home. Haunting and memorable, another haunted house for the ages.  

Free Colouring Page Downloads


Two Brand New Colouring Pages to Download 

With the UK still in the midst of lockdown I thought it would be nice to share some colouring pages for you all to print off and enjoy. 

You can download them from this webpage, but please remember that they are only for personal use to give you a little fun something to do during lockdown.

Haunt Your Own House

Sadly reports seem to suggest that some folk are increasingly breaking lockdown restrictions. So why not pop them in your front room window when you’ve finished? Let people know that you support staying at home.

Download, Colour, Share!

Let friends know that they can come to my website and download the pages too. Plus, remember to let me see your finished pieces! You can tag me on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @thisissianellis and I will share the wonderful creations I am sent. I can’t wait to see what you guys come up with 🙂