Flickr! Yes, it is a photo sharing site, similar to Picasa or Photobucket. You could upload your niece’s birthday party snapshots, pictures from your vacation, or holiday photos of your kids and easily share them with your family and friends so that everyone could see them and order prints if they wanted. But, for artists–or anyone who makes art, even as a hobby or a pastime–it’s really more than a photo sharing site. It’s a social network and a visual playground. It’s a place to test out your own work, to explore the work of others, to keep “favorite” lists of everything you see that you like best from other members, and a place to “friend” and connect with other users who eventually become an online community of comrades in creativity. What’s more is that Flickr can also become an important business tool when combined with your web site, Twitter feed, fan page and blog. I have come to think of it as the Facebook for arsty people and since I joined just a little over a year ago, I’ve been talking about it to anyone I know who makes stuff and who likes to look at stuff that people make. Best of all, the only thing you need to get your Flickr site going is any kind of digital camera and a (free) Yahoo account. You get 200 free uploads on Flickr and a pro account with unlimited storage is only $25 a year.
Once you have an account, your photostream is a running queue of the pictures you upload, with the most recent posted one first, and there are security settings so that you can decide how public or private you want your uploads. You can also organize your pictures into sets and then organize your sets in to galleries, both of which are aligned in the right sidebar. Organizing your pictures into sets and galleries helps people you direct to your photostream find what you want them to find. Many professional artists use Flickr as their alternate, or even primary, online portfolio because the uploading process is so easy with Flickr’s automatic interface between your smartphone and your computer’s photo application, like your iPhoto, which has a built in Flickr share button. You can create a profile for yourself and include as little or as much information about your self as you’d like–web site, blog, professional background, personal statement and so on.
But it’s the networking aspect that I really want to get to here today. So, one of the first things I did after joining Flickr was to start browsing other people’s work and “favoriting” the things I liked. It’s always amazing to me what beautiful, inspired and often breathtaking work is made by the makers in this world… I could get lost looking at Flickr art for the better part of the day. If you want to see the thumbnails of all the things on Flickr that I like, you can go to my Photostream and click on my Favorites tab. You can even click the “lightbox” button to create a nice slideshow. Favorites serve a few purposes; they allow you to bookmark artists and things you want to look at again, they create a collection of images that other users can check out when they realize similar tastes, and they offer up a little round of applause for the contributor when given. Whenever someone favorites one of my images, I feel like a just got a little pat on the back. It’s confidence building and it makes me feel good. But a favorite on my work always makes me check out that person’s work, so they are kind of like a friendly invitation to share that says, hey, I like what you do, maybe you’ll like what I do, too!
If you find someone whose work you really like, you can make them a contact, which is basically like a Facebook “friend.” Many of my Flickr contacts are people with whom I’ve cultivated an online friendship and these are now people whose blogs I read and comment on, people I go to with questions about materials or resources, and even people I have collaborated with professionally. After only a year, I look forward to seeing these people on Flickr, finding their comments on my posts and seeing their new work. The community of artists I belong to on Flickr is, without a doubt, one of the most encouraging, supportive and positive groups of creative people I have ever been a part of.
So, when you log into Flickr, you’ll see an activity feed that is not unlike the newsfeed on Facebook. It shows the commenting history of all your contacts and is a neat way to keep up with your community and see what images people are looking at and liking. Plus, there is always a new way that you can learn to say “hello” in another language!
Scroll down your homepage a little more and you will find a feed that shows thumbnails of all the new images your contacts have posted, as well as a feed from the groups you belong to. Once you get into the swing of Flickr, you will want to join groups that your work belongs in so that you can post relevant images in multiple places, which increases your exposure and enhances your networking experience. Some of the groups I belong to are: “We Teach Art!” “Animals In Your Art,” “Arty Kids,” and “Children’s Book Illustrators & Authors.” Many online art classes use the Flickr Groups as the public sharing space for their students to put the classwork, and you can even start your own group for whatever it is that interests you. At the very bottom of the homepage is the general feed for all of Flickr which receives thousands of uploads every minute of every day.
Also down there is the Interestingness feed and it is, well, interesting! And, Flickriver, an alternate Flickr viewer, provides users with a sharp looking, seamless way to continuously view beautiful contributions in an endless scroll. You can even edit your uploads in Picnik right from Flickr, which I think is awesome because I love the fast, easy photo editing of Picnik and use it all the time when I am feeling lazy about opening up Photoshop.
Because of Flickr, I started drawing, which has changed my entire way of being an artist and, really, my whole way of teaching art to others. Ironically, after years of doing collage and painting, it’s my kooky drawings that garner the most views on my Flickr site. Through the online community of Flickr, I have encountered generous and informative teaching artists like Jane LaFazio, Alisa Burke, Diana Trout and Carla Sonheim and, in some cases, started taking their online classes which put me off in new artistic directions I would have never found on my own. I, and many of the artists with whom I network, also post WIPs (Work In Progress), which are a fascinating look into how art happens and marvelous to see. There is a cross-pollination on this site that I think is so creatively invigorating.
I know that sharing is a tough topic for some artists and I’m sure some of you reading this might feel a little like “I’m not putting all my secrets out there for the world to see.” But, I’m pretty sure that there really isn’t anything new under the sun and I think that true creativity increases exponentially the more creative people share. I have also said that if somebody really wanted to be me, they better start soon because they are already 43 years behind. I don’t mind at all telling you what kind of glue I use, how I cut a million leaves, or showing you the steps I take to make a collage. I really don’t. Because, if you’re going to do it, you’re going to do it your own way.
So, last year I was at a school and I was telling an art teacher about Flickr. She not only taught art but had continued to make her own art although she was feeling a little isolated in her personal art by the time constraints of her day job. I gave her the basic explainer of what the site was about and began to open it up on my laptop. As soon as I said the words, and so you load pictures of your art onto your account, she had a look of horror on her face and said, “No way! I’m not gonna put all my ideas up there for anyone to take!” As I do in many instances where someone isn’t really “getting it,” I just kept on talking. I began showing her some of my favorite favorites and, all of the sudden, one of them caught her eye. It was a paper, quilty, collage kind of thing. Before she knew what she was saying, she exclaimed, “Wow! I do paper weaving but I never thought of doing them that way… what a good idea!” See? Give a little, get a lot.
TRY THIS WEEK: Join up on Flickr, creative people!