In life before COVID-19, I’d be spending my summer happily juggling local arts festivals and artist studio visits with the dual goal of sharing artists stories and diving deep into their processes. With things being what they are this year, technology steps in where face-to-face experiences can not. Social media has long been a double-edged sword for many artists and performers. A necessary evil, an opportunity to claim your own brand narrative, and everything in between. But these days, when “meet-the-artist” opportunities are few and far between, many artists are leaning into Instagram with a new sense of honesty and intimacy. In many cases, they are not merely sharing work, but taking us through the entire creative process. And its fascinating to watch. And like many of us, artists need to connect with their audiences each other. This increase in screen presence has resulted in streams of rich conversations across the either that might not otherwise be there. So for this, strange, but wonderful phenomenon, I am grateful. Below you’ll find a list of five local artists who make Instagram, and our town, a better place to be.
Designer/illustrator Brooke Armstrong is as passionate as she is profilic. Her feed is full of jaw-dropping designs that testify to her talent and her commitment to social justice. Portrait of the artist as social critic meets expert visual communicator, this is a feed that will inspire you to think, to create, and to engage. Some particularly powerful examples include Armstrong’s recent entry into CUDO’s “Drop the Charges” poster campaign and a new take on the Guerilla Girls “We Sell White Bread” poster from 1980s. Armstrong feed shows her engaging with the challenges of our times, with artists who’ve come before her, and in doing so, showing us all that strong visual communnication is indeed a superpower.
Made in Urbana (formerly the Nifty Nook) is a brick and mortar makers space that functions as both a studio and a gallery. Led (both in person and on Instagram) by the talented Judi Lee, Made in Urbana’s feed is full of behind-the-scenes videos, clever and very gramworthy product shots. I definitely need to get my hands on one of these contactless keys, and I know I’m not alone. However, what I find most compelling about this feed is that watching it over time gives you insight into the life of a maker space; its ups, its downs, and its nimble adaptation to the pandemic crisis. You can watch how the purchase of their new 3D printer impacted their product line and how they continually ask their followers for feedback. If you’ll forgive the marketing jargon, this is brand building and customer engagement at its best.
I hope you’ve checked out Apolonia’s recent interview with graphic design professor/artist Stacey Robinson by now, but just in case, I wanted to be sure you add Robinson to your feed. His brand of Afrofuturistic art is bold and inspiring and exactly what we need right now. I’ve really enjoyed the color studies (pictured above and below) he’s shared. Ever the educator, Robinson, reminds artists and art fans of the importance of taking your time, of playing with options, and valuing that play, focusing on the process as well as the result. This is a lesson we all need to relearn as adults, as an humans struggling through a challenging world.
Following University of Illinois Art + Design professor and painter Patrick Earl Hammie on Instragram is following him through his journey as an artist. At the onset of the pandemic, Hammie found himself separated from his studio, a circumstance which inspired his journey into digital creation. From the day his Wacom arrived, we’ve followed along this transition of tools and process and watched as a new kind of work emerged. It’s been fascinating to watch and has inspired me to consider how learning to work in a new way rewires our brains and changes our perspectives. As with Robinson’s, color studies, these two studies (desert above, nimbus below) remind us to appreciate the journey.
This trans and queer owned and operated letterpress collaborative is a shining example of how artists can lead the way to change. With their clear mission of “resisting erasure through print culture,” Meanwhile… Letterpress has been a favorite Insta spot for this print fan and ally. ML makes a practice of supporting social justice with postcard campaigns. In the card shown below, proceeds from sales during the month of June went to Trans Life Line and Black Trans organizations. Follow this talented team, order postcards when you can and help them fight for what’s right.