How to Find Clients

How staying engaged helped me grow my Instagram

How staying engaged helped me grow my Instagram

I went on a mini hiatus during the holidays so that I could recharge and create content actually worth sharing. 

I did take some time on Twitter & Instagram to do one-on-ones with a few of you to find out what do you need help with the most as an artist and here's what I got:

  • Growing your audience
  • Behind-the-Scenes of selling art
  • Learning more skills. 

This is awesome because these are 3 things that I for one, as an art hustler, have experienced. 

Instagram has really been a game changer for me and I mean this, no lie. 

All I had to do is learn how to use it effectively!


Here's what has been working for me and hopefully this works for you too!


You ever just look at your Instagram feed and think,

“why do I only have X amount of followers? So-and-so has [insert crazy long number] of followers and I know my stuff is x10 better than that!”

I’m not ashamed to say that I’ve been there and occasionally am there.


So before you get to read about how to grow your Instagram following I’m going to need you to do something for me, but mainly for yourself:


Stop comparing yourself to others.


It’s so easy to want to be envious. It’s so easy to want to compare yourself to someone. If you are anything like me, you end up spending more time comparing yourself to someone else instead of learning new techniques from them.


Learning is the key.


Once you start looking at other artists as teachers instead of competitors you’ll be more open to trying new ideas!





  • Apps that add 10000+ fake Instagram followings that disappear later

  • Being annoying / being insincere

  • Time that I DON’T have

Here’s my accidental list of actions that helped my Instagram following grow from 250 followers to 850 followers over time. 



1 | Get to know your audience


Before I used to think that when things were going slow it meant that I needed to find something new. Find NEW followers, find NEW clients and so on.


Then I finally caught on to the concept of paying attention to the people who are around you RIGHT NOW! 

The people who currently follow you, are they the people that you were trying to attract to your art? Look through you current following and engage with them!

Be sincere! Look through their feed and like things that you actually like, comment on things that you enjoy. Take a few minutes to say thanks for following me on a post.


The little things matter the most. It shows that you appreciate their following.


While you are sifting through your audience, look at the other people that they follow. You’ll get a sense of what your audience likes to engage with the most.


To make this process even faster I used Iconosquare *briefly* I started using it about a month ago and it’s pretty useful for gauging what kind of content resonates with your audience the most, the best time of day to post and more!

Iconosquare has a 14 day free trial so feel free to try it out. I'm currently scoping out a few more tools similar to it but more budget-friendly AKA free. 

Main Point : Get to know your current audience so that you can post content that reaches them + others like them.



2 | Proactively seek out people who would find you dope!


I used to be passive on my Instagram and my social media period.. When I say “passive” I mean that I would post content and then wait. And wait. Waiting for someone to notice me. I was getting annoyed.


I just made some dope art and nobody’s saying nothing. Do you see that double negative I just used? I was pissed.


But then I stopped myself and did something more productive, like going on listening to a webinar with Caitlyn & Lauren Hooker on Instagram. I totally recommend listening / watching it by the way. but basically my take away from it was this:


No one will know you are out there if you don’t approach them.


Through the video I learned to pick one of my most used hashtags and pop them into Instagram and see who else is using it in the most recent posts. Seek out people who would like your stuff. You can find out if they like your stuff based on who THEY follow.


Now the main part of this is to remember, you’re not actually self-promoting. You're engaging with them. You’ll find posts that you like from them or posts that make you want to comment.


If they happen to have a website link in their bio check it out so that you’ll have something to talk about. Taking note of details like that shows that you actually care and are not in it just for the following.


Those people will come back to see who you are and will most likely do the same for you, which is engage. And that’s what you actually want, right? The amount of followers and likes, it’s just a numbers game. It doesn’t really MEAN anything unless you’re audience is actively engaging with you.


Engagement is just a buzzword that means that people value your content enough to take time out of their day to pay attention to you and what you have to say. Return the favor and engage with them back!


This can lead to anything like:

  • A new commission order

  • A brand deal

  • A fan

  • A supporter

  • A sponsor

  • A referral

  • A new freelance contract


Create your own opportunities, you don’t need permission to get the green light.

Main Point : Practice engaging with people who don’t follow you for about 20 minutes in a week or where ever you can fit it in.



3 | Automate some of your posts


Like anyone these days, I have a slight addiction to social media and it’s a problem. I say that with a hint of sarcasm and a whole lot of guilt. Social media takes too much time away from more important things I could be doing for my business and myself.


So I said let’s make a change.


Buffer is an app that let’s you schedule your posts across several social media for free (and for a low monthly cost you can add more like Pinterest!). I learned the basics from here!


It’s pretty easy to use and the best thing is that is also has an analytics side that can track things like, likes / comments. It highlights “Top Posts” for content that did extraordinarily well compared to your previous ones. 


If you have lots of photos of artwork or content ready to post but don’t have time to come up with the description / hashtag and the-whole-nine , just pick a day and schedule your posts for the whole week. BAM. Done. 


Buffer will notify your phone when the time comes to post and will copy + paste the description you came up with earlier so you literally just have to post it.


AND if you like the post and maybe want to post it on Twitter or Facebook, you can just re-buffer it for that social media it’s done.


I don’t schedule ALL of my posts but if I have a bundle of content photos prepared then I will schedule most of those out. Since I work full-time as a designer I need to use my time wisely. And by wisely I mean not watching endless Youtube videos and Netflix.

But wait how will I know the best time to post?!

I'm totally assuming that you would have this question. 


There is a nice infographic that shows the best times to post to Instagram ova here


I'm showing Elle and Company a lot of love in this post because it really helped me out when I was starting to knuckle down and get serious about my own Instagram strategy. And blogging period. 


Main Point: Schedule some or all of your Instagram posts to free up your time so that you can focus on something else for your business / life.

Which brings me to my last point...



4 | Don’t stress about people that unsubscribe / unfollow.


No matter what you do, there will always be people who love or hate what you do. The key is to remember is that part about “there will always be people who love what you do”.


If you think I made that little quote up all by myself, you are sadly mistaken. 

It's generously borrowed from one of my favorite music artists, Logic ( The Incredible True Story, Track "The Incredible True Story (near the end of the song). Good vibe music. Ahem. 

But yes, 

Those are the people you want to attract.


The people who unsubscribe weren’t the ones that shared the same interests so it’s fine. We aren’t trying to be people-pleasers here. We are simply creators with something to say. And whoever is still listening they are the real ones and are down for the cause.


Main Point: If people unsubscribe from your following, your message wasn't for them. Carry on :)




For me, I did have one accidental step that added 500+ people overnight (literally) and it was participating in an Instagram challenge! Now I say 'accidental' because my intention wasn't to gain new followers. I just wanted to have fun and create.


The one I did in July was TheStyleChallenge by @beautifulness87


Little did I know there was an entire audience of artists and folks who just like pretty things that were following the challenge and they were actively LOOKING for more content like it. The results?

  • I ended up taking custom orders as well as gaining an audience that was engaged with my content.

  • I gained new clients for branding and illustration.

  • I networked with other dope artists that I would have never found otherwise.


Plus the challenge inspired me to experiment with different kinds of drawing styles.


Even though this worked for me it may not work for everyone. Other factors that contributed to this working out totally awesome included :

  • Posting consistently once a day

  • Answering comments and following back other artists that followed me *NOTE: I followed them because I liked their creations and not for the follow4follow method*

  • Explicitly stating in my post descriptions the cost + service for buying art

  • Tagging/reaching out to accounts that were reposting the style challenge art

  • Answering most of the questions that started to flood my DM

  • Making sure to communicate with the people who purchased the art

  • Getting the art done within a timely manner


So try committing to an art challenge on Instagram and do your best. Use the hashtag that goes with the art challenge and engage with the people who stumble across your page from the challenge.


And if things seem to be going well it's up to you if you'd like to monetize it in the future. 


With that said,


I hope that I’ve inspired you or in the very least, helped you stress a little less about your Instagram following! Happy art-ting




Let me know in the comments below!

Trenita Finney is a Pittsburgh-based creative entrepreneur, artist and the Founder of Trenita Made it! She is most recognized for her vibrant watercolor works of women of color and photo-realistic portraits of inspirational musicians. As the creator of Trenita Made it! she promotes wellness + career development for artists + women of color through her youtube, podcast, Instagram, Pinterest and lifestyle illustrations + products.

Trenita has launched The Syllestial Collection VOL.1, an illustration book showcasing a collection of three years worth of illustrations during college. Trenita and her artwork have been featured in Raw Artist Pittsburgh, Redfish Bowl Art Festival, The Pittsburgh Comicon, Steel City Comicon and Layer Cake Festival. Follow on Instagram for the latest art creations.


The 5 types of DIY art galleries you can throw without going broke.

The 5 types of DIY art galleries you can throw without going broke.

I remember walking downtown (in Pittsburgh so dahn-tawhn) and literally thinking, why is it so hard for artists to get their work shown in a gallery? Let alone pay for the exhibition fees, and the time you need to prep or paint each piece to make a solid collection. And then you have to see if you are even accepted by the location. So. Much. Stuff.


And I don’t know about you but when too many things are going on at the same time, I literally can not.


Then I find this awesome visual artist Shantell Martin. Her style is so unique and captured me immediately. I watched a few of her speaking videos and something she said really hit me.


Create your own opportunities. Set up your own gallery instead of waiting for someone to give you one.

It hit me so hard that I had to email her to say thank you for inspiring me.


Then I find another artist Eunice Kindred who made an entire video on her journey to showcasing her art in her first solo exhibition. Literally inspiration over 9000 y’all. Naturally I emailed her too.


These artists were out here making moves and creating their own opportunities as best as they could and it was working.


Since then I started making my own opportunities and basically became proactive in my art and putting it out there myself. Instead of worry about high-class galleries I’m more focused on vibing with my underground art community in Pittsburgh.


By the way I don’t know how much you know about Pittsburgh but we are a very artsy city and the steel mills aren’t a thing anymore here. Just so you know. Come visit some time!


So now in the present day, we have you the budding freelance artist just trying to make it in the art game. If you’re just starting out but have the urge to showcase your work and have a small budget then this post is just for you.




I mean, they’re already killing me with the $20 paint brushes and the artist grade watercolors…

A’ight I feel you so how do we pull this off?

Welp, I’m glad you asked!

You can host your own gallery by using the resources & connections you already have. Sure you can look for whole new locations, and whole new people and whole new things but don’t count out what you have right now.


And don’t let money turn you away from something that can truly be amazing for your art career and just life in general. That my friend is called a poverty mindset which can get in the way of you investing for your future.


So with all that said, what exactly IS your budget? How much money can you set aside to make this thing happen? I’ll help you figure it out by supplying you with this nifty expense worksheet that you can print or download.


I’ve put in some general tabs but feel free to make it your own. Once you have an idea of what certain costs are it will be easier to plan your budget and create ways to cut-down costs.



What do I need to put it together?

Throwing a gallery is a lot like throwing a party. So here’s my personal list of things that I like to make sure I have when I want to throw a gallery:


  • Music

  • Food/Snacks

  • People

  • Lighting

  • Contact info

  • Incentive for coming

  • BONUS : If you want to make money from this make sure you have a PAYPAL or SQUARE reader for your mobile device. You can even take payments without the internet connection. It will charge the payment once it is connected to wifi again.


How do I book a venue for my gallery?

Generally, if you see a place that you think suits your art, just ask for the manager in charge. Explain what you would like to do there and mention a benefit that they would get from having you showcase there. Make sure you have your business cards and a sample of your art so that people can contact you.


How should my gallery look & feel?

You set the mood to however you need it to feel for your art. Add elements that enhance your artwork like fake floral plants, LED lights, maybe a color theme. The gallery should be one big story and everything including the people compliment your night (or day).


You can tie in any surrounding holidays, pop culture, politic issues or simply a common ground that people can relate to.


When you define what your goal is for your gallery or the take-away message it will be easier to know how the overall look & feel should be.


Not every gallery is in a “fancy” downtown exhibit. Unless you want to do that, oh you fancy huh? But in all realness, you can host a gallery literally anywhere that allows it , so make it your own. Here are those 5 places that are pretty affordable for gallery space:

1| open up your space



Literally the place right under your nose! You’re probably thinking why did I not do this sooner! Or you’re giving me major side eye like, girl my living space is not gallery rea-ty.


Think about it: If the purpose of your gallery is to show your latest collection to your friends, family and maybe a few +1 invites then why not just host it at your place?


So maybe you don’t like your place. But your friend’s place is fire and would be a perfect fit for your art style. Let’s roll with that.


Obviously, talk it over with your friend first and get permission to borrow their place. Mind your manners.


Make it into a BYOB gallery/party, make your Spotify playlist and order catering for the night. If you have a back door that people can enter through it will help keep traffic in the room and not the rest of your house.


Set the mood you want your art to have for the night and make it into a experience. Add a takeaway for your event so that your gallery-goers have a memorable night. This could be anything from an look book of all the pieces that will be displayed or a free print of an art piece.


2| A mom & pop shop


You know your mom’s friend that owns a hair salon or your co-worker who owns that brewery/bar? Talk to those people and let them know that you’re looking for space!


Even if someone doesn’t immediately pop into mind, someone you know, knows a person with a shop that they can introduce you to.


You can test the waters and make a post on Facebook (or what you kids use these days)and let everyone know you’re looking for a venue space. Be ready for the comments or DM’s you get and give them an idea of what you’re looking to do.




A community center is a nice space because it’s a location people will know and they’re big usually. You may need to have racks, easels, or grid panels to hang your art on if they don’t allow you to hang art directly on the wall.


Ask how much it is to rent the space per hour and add it into your expense sheet so that you stay on budget or if any adjustments need to be made. Check into what they’re guidelines are for music and live entertainment as well.


4| a hole in the wall


You know those hidden gem cafes that have brunch and mimosas in the city? They're perfect if you want your show to have more of a urban and close knit feel.

This can work really well depending on what part of the city you use. Especially if it’s a creative hub. Yes, the stereotype of creatives and working people loving coffee is a real thing. Use it to your advantage.

You’ll have the people that you invited + the people who are regulars. It’s a nice opportunity for you to network, collab or sell your art.




If you’re currently IN college right now or an alumni then this should work pretty well for you. Talk to administration or check their website on who to speak with and ask if there is available space where you can use room or hall.


Make sure to pick the right time of the year for college students if they are your audience. You can pick a day to visit the campus to get an idea of the how traffic flows on campus. Some campuses do holiday shop sales as well so this would be another opportunity to get yourself affordable space.


Q: What would your gallery look like?

Let me know in the comments below


Trenita Finney is a Pittsburgh-based creative entrepreneur, artist and the Founder of Trenita Made it! She is most recognized for her vibrant watercolor works of women of color and photo-realistic portraits of inspirational musicians. As the creator of Trenita Made it! she promotes wellness + career development for artists + women of color through her youtube, podcast, Instagram, Pinterest and lifestyle illustrations + products.

Trenita has launched The Syllestial Collection VOL.1, an illustration book showcasing a collection of three years worth of illustrations during college. Trenita and her artwork have been featured in Raw Artist Pittsburgh, Redfish Bowl Art Festival, The Pittsburgh Comicon, Steel City Comicon and Layer Cake Festival. Follow on Instagram for the latest art creations.

How to Find Clients

9 things you can do to jumpstart your freelance art side-hustle.

9 things you can do to jumpstart your freelance art side-hustle.

No lie, these things were the hardest to learn when I started freelance art-ing on the side. And just between you and me art-ing is so NOT a word and yet here it is.


It’s easy to start something but maintaining and staying motivated to see it through is like a whole other thing. How do we take my unconventional love of saving the world through art and turn it into a mini business that I can (1) earn income from (2) not sell my soul (3) be taken seriously.


Well, my budding artist friend we’re going to go over 9 things that you can do to jumpstart your art side-hustle and keep it going.


So what do I need to do to get this “idea” going?


I’ve had this idea for literally the longest but it’s like information overload with the internet. There are so many resources and think-pieces on what to do and what not to do as an aspiring freelance artist. I spent more time googling endlessly than actually taking action.


If I could go back in time and tell my 16 yr old self what to focus on it would be these 9 things:



I want to make art for people and get paid to do it. Super easy to say that until you realize that people see other uses for your artistic awesomeness:


“Wait, I draw portraits in a couple of mediums but people seem to like when I draw anime more.”


“I usually draw watercolor landscapes but this woman wants to pay me to draw her family in gouache”


So what do you do? You enjoy drawing X but so-and-so wants to pay for Y. Ask yourself what are you happiest creating and then actively target those types of people who would buy it.


I took on those projects because I actually love drawing faces and making gifts which is a win-win. I’ll tell you what isn’t a win for anyone though: taking on art projects where you half-heartedly agree because you know you can do it.


Just because I know I can draw portraits of animals doesn’t mean that I actually enjoy doing them. Fact: I enjoy drawing tigers & dogs personally. Drawing to appease your audience can lead to some serious burnout projects and you don’t want to go down that path my friend.


Let’s Try it: You can use this worksheet I made for you to jot down what you enjoy doing the most and we’ll use this for our next thing…



Warning: Mindset shift - There will be people who love & hate what you’re doing, so why not just focus on the ones that DO love what you’re doing?


If you like drawing anime original characters or detailed floral watercolor paintings then do that. Then make a plan to attract the people who like those services. But how do you do this, you’re probably asking me.


By making an ideal person for your custom artwork. The more detailed you get the better so that you’ll be more intentional in the way that you attract this ideal person in real life.


If anyone has ever designed an original character before, it’s a lot like that. And if you’re more of a UX or graphic designer-y person then it’s a lot like making persona. Small world!


Here are some guided questions to help you get a basic understanding of who you are trying to attract:

Age group:








What are her hobbies?


What are her interests?


What issues would affect her in the world?


What does she like to get art for?


Where does she like to hang out in her city?


Where problems does she run into getting art from other artists?


Which social media does she use the most?


Let’s try it! Copy and paste these questions in your favorite typing area and save them for later. By the way, it would be neat to draw out your ideal client as a visual so you know who you’re focusing on and filter out the rest. Just saying.



Whoa, a portfolio? Yes.

I’m telling you to get a portfolio and with the helpfulness of the internet it’s not difficult to do either. With Wordpress and Squarespace folks are out here with whole online boutiques now without being held back from lack of coding skills.


Your portfolio is your proof that you can actually do the thing that you said you can do. It tells people what your abilities are and it also tells them what you don’t do. Which is why it’s so important that if you’re going to show your work at all, show your best work. And to add to that, make sure it’s something you enjoy doing.


If you don’t actually enjoy drawing digital oc’s for people then don’t include that in your portfolio because guess what, that’s what someone is going to end up commissioning you for.


A’ight so I know what and why a portfolio would help me but HOW do I make one and WHERE do I make one? Is what I think you’re asking me in your head. Luckily I have a whole post that goes in-depth into some of the portfolios I’ve used in the past for you.


And here is a mini list of places that you can start building on:

Instagram - example

Pinterest - example

DeviantArt Core Membership - example - example

Squarespace - example




They’ve been there since the beginning and they already have a connection with you. By telling them what you do and showing them you're serious ( the services & portfolio being your main proof) you’ll be setting yourself up for referrals.


When you’re first starting out referrals are awesome and can really help you get your feet wet. Once you start picking up momentum you’ll need to explore other forms of advertising. But for now, this will do just fine!


So now you told your auntie, your cousin, your dad and they know a friend that might want to use your services. You text them your website and email but oh, they accidentally deleted it. Or you send a message on Facebook with your contact info but oh, they forget to forward it to your friend.


It’s not that they aren’t helping you, maybe you just need to make it easier for them to share your information. Here are a few ways to make your contact info super shareable.


  • Sending an email to your friends & family with a link to your portfolio, best way to contact you, what you are offering and why.

  • Making a facebook post with a link to your website, your story and what you are offering and asking people to share it with anyone that might be interested.

  • Making business cards with the best information to contact you and keeping a few on hand for those chance encounters




After a while it gets hard to keep bugging your uncle to see if he needs more wall art for his man cave. Get out there and explore.


Is there a section of your city that’s known for being an art hang out? Is there an live-painting event coming up at a bar or an art festival?

Show up.

Meeting people in these one-on-one encounters can be so helpful when you’re starting out doing freelance art. Just introduce yourself as a freelance artist, your day job isn’t important to note. Keep connected with the new people you meet on social media.


The same goes for online communities! Find a Facebook group, a Twitter chat, or a Instagram community or a forum. Stay connected, ask questions or help answer someone else. The thing about spending money is that we don’t spend money on things we don’t know or trust. Build up your trust with your audience and the abundance of funds will soon come.



Ugh, money.

Some say it’s the root of all evil but now I’m changing my mindset to think of it as more of a tool to help me get to the next goal.


In spirit of that, let’s figure out how we should price our services. Back in the day, which was not so long ago, I was charging minimum wage per hour which in my state is $7.25. Why?


It was the only price I knew as a high schooler. And I wanted to be “affordable” but the problem with that I was calculating affordability basis on my own income and not the income of who I was trying to attract.


By under pricing my work I was actually devaluing my ability and it led to all sorts of artwork-drama like, not being taken seriously or people refusing to pay for artwork after the work was done.


After I built up my portfolio of the kind of work I was proud of I started charging a higher fee. This time the costs included things like costs of supplies, time spent on the project, my years of experience and attracting people with the income to spend on custom artwork.


When you start creating prices for yourself, you can get a quick look at what other people are charging for something similar for reference but ultimately go with your instincts. Even today I still try to gauge my prices at affordability but I also keep in mind the work that was put into it.



It’s frustrating sometimes when you could across that one person on Instagram that is DMing you, talking about your prices are too high or you should do it for free. Like, why are people not taking the work I put into my art seriously?


They could just be someone that wants free are but sometimes they just don’t know how much work you actually DO put into the art. How do we fix that?


Start showing behind-the-scenes of your artwork. Show the time and the effort you put into each piece. This helps explain to the audience why your portraits cost $125 + shipping each.


It adds value to the experience that they will be paying you for, and trust, and excitement once they decided you are the one they want to work with.



It’s like a blessing and a curse sometimes.

The key is how you use social media to your advantage!

When I first started getting serious about this whole freelance art-ing thing, I hopped on so many social media accounts and tried to be super engaging on ALL OF THEM.

It. Was. A. Mess.


Instead of being this super engaging artist, I ended up becoming like a robot.

“Oh, nice picture”

“Hey check out my stuff”

“Oh wow, awesome”


All of these meaningless comments and follow backs got me a little attention. I was suppose to be building  an  engaging audience.


With some help from amazing bloggers of the interwebs I learned how to focus my energies on just 1-2 social media accounts. To do this I went through all of my accounts and wrote down which ones do I communicate the most on, which ones do I have actual conversations on, which ones has a strong following. I got narrowed down to Twitter and Instagram.


Ever since then, many of my email subscribers, recent clients and even some of you reading probably found me through one of those connections.


You don’t have to be everywhere all the time, take time to focus on where your energy naturally works and keep building at it.



Now, when I say free, I don’t mean start telling people that they can get free commissions off of you for exposure. Nuh.

What I’m saying is intentionally make a free item to use as a sample or as a thank you. This could be anything from a free postcard to free information about a topic that you’re an expert in (like being an artist).


I tend to do things like this when I’m (a) experimenting with a new style and want to see what people think of it (b) have merchandise that didn’t pass inspection or have a some kind of defect or ( c ) just to say thank you for being here because I love you guys.


Remember it’s your choice to offer these freebie items not the audience. It helps get your artwork to travel like word-of-mouth so don’t be surprised when you get a message from someone saying


“I saw the free postcard you gave to my cousin and I have a wedding coming up, how much do you charge for a wedding portrait”


Okay so mybe it’s not that specific, but hey maybe it is. You never know. These are my words o’ wisdom to my past 16 year old self about starting freelance art-ing.


Q: What advice would you give to your 16 yr old self about freelance art-ing and what would you have done differently?

Let me know in the comments below

Trenita Finney is a Pittsburgh-based creative entrepreneur, artist and the Founder of Trenita Made it! She is most recognized for her vibrant watercolor works of women of color and photo-realistic portraits of inspirational musicians. As the creator of Trenita Made it! she promotes wellness + career development for artists + women of color through her youtube, podcast, Instagram, Pinterest and lifestyle illustrations + products.

Trenita has launched The Syllestial Collection VOL.1, an illustration book showcasing a collection of three years worth of illustrations during college. Trenita and her artwork have been featured in Raw Artist Pittsburgh, Redfish Bowl Art Festival, The Pittsburgh Comicon, Steel City Comicon and Layer Cake Festival. Follow on Instagram for the latest art creations.