In this series, Instagram Icon, Entrepreneur speaks with the individuals behind popular Instagram accounts to find out the secrets of their success.
Rachel Ryle was working a day job as a marketing director for a toy company four years ago when she decided to bring her hobby of illustration to life.
She’d always loved to draw, though she’d never considered herself an artist. But when Instagram added video compatibility in summer 2013, she began wondering how she might apply her creative talents to the medium. She busted out her colored pencils and turned illustrations of a watering can and a flower into an animated video.
At the time, Ryle says, she didn’t even know that what she was making was animation, per se. Her friends urged her to pursue the art form further. In the week following her first animated post, she worked on more pieces every night when she got home from work.
“I think oftentimes, artists need affirmation from other people to feel confident,” Ryle tells Entrepreneur. “Instagram actually is what gave that to me.”
Although success wasn’t immediate for her, she quit her day job within seven weeks of posting that first video to the platform, thanks to the encouragement of friends. Today, Ryle has 1.1 million Instagram followers (@rachelryle) and lends her animated illustrations to brands and even movie studios.
“In life, I feel like it’s really important to be opportunistic,” Ryle says. “In that moment, I felt that if I didn’t jump and trust that this was going to be something, I would miss the opportunities that then followed.”
Her optimistic attitude comes through in her videos, which often revolve around themes of thankfulness, love, celebration and exploration. She says she hopes her positive messages and continued creation will inspire her followers and fellow creators to put their own works out into the world.
Entrepreneur spoke with Ryle while she was vacationing in Los Angeles, traveling and collecting inspiration for new animations prior to a move from Boulder, Colo., to New York City. There, she says, she’ll chase her artist dreams and focus on creating even more.
1. How did you get your start with Instagram?
When Instagram added video, I saw that people weren’t being as mindful of the content they were creating with it right off the bat, and I felt like it deserved the same type of creativity and time and dedication that the photographs were taking on Instagram. But I didn’t have the intent of animating when I started.
Seven weeks after I made my first animation, I had received so much attention for what I was creating and affirmation from people excited about what I was doing, that that’s when I decided to quit my day job, call myself an animator and turn it into my full-time career.
As a marketing director for a toy company, I had been building a lot of understanding and skills within social media. And I had learned to market products. But it’s an entirely different animal when you realize that you have something that is worth marketing and you have an artistic talent or something to share. And that’s when I applied all of those skills to myself as the product.
2. What other platforms do you use and what percentage of the time do you spend on them vs. Instagram?
Honestly, Instagram is still my main focus, so I create content for that purpose. Luckily, I feel like a lot of other social platforms have seen the value of how Instagram is doing it. They’ve actually adapted their content streams to cater to it and to fit the square, because that’s where they know people are creating the content. So when I share on Facebook or Twitter or Musical.ly, the square formatting fits nicely.
As for YouTube, I’m excited to re-strategize how to not just repurpose my content on there, but be more strategic about new content that I can create that will be better fitting for that video channel. I’m going to be creating content that is more focused on art tutorials, as well as show a little bit more of who I am and my personality — the artist behind the creations. My Instagram and other channels have been so focused on just the art, so I want to express myself in a new and more personal way.
3. What makes Instagram a better platform than other social media?
I’ve always thought that Instagram is such a beautiful platform that really caters to featuring and supporting people’s creativity. Any Joe Schmo can take a photograph, and because of the tools that Instagram provides, an average photograph can turn into an Ansel Adams or something really beautiful. Instagram was really one of the first apps I experienced that really focused on supporting the creative minds of people.
People go on Instagram to get inspired and to see art and see photography and see the world through other people’s eyes in a beautiful way. And I appreciate that. I want the app to do well, so that’s why I dedicate the majority of my time to the app — so that I can be a community member within the masses of that effort.
4. How much of your time do you devote to Instagram?
On average, one animation that is probably 30 seconds long at most will take me four or five days of concepting and illustrating and filming and editing. There’s one animation of mine in particular, my most viewed animation, it’s about coffee. It’s called, “You Say Gibraltar, I Say Cortado.” That one, because of the detail — I built the set and I took a lot more time, I would say it took more like a week and a half to get it together.
And certainly, this isn’t full time. I think as an artist, you need time to create and break away and reset and give your mind a break from the tedious nature of what you’re doing. So oftentimes, when I say it takes these days to create, it’s that I’m also being mindful of giving myself creative breathing room so that it doesn’t become unenjoyable to create. But I can still enjoy what I’m doing.
I honestly think those are the most valuable periods, because it’s days when I am ideating and getting inspiration from either just walking around or mindlessly being online, but something will spark my interest that will eventually and inevitably turn into my next animation. I turn towards travel a lot for inspiration, because it allows me to see new things and experience new things that spark that imagination.
5. How do you promote your account? What’s your number-one way to gain followers?
I view each animation of mine as a new advertisement of my capabilities as an artist. My hope, every single time that I create a new animation, is that it reaches someone new out in the world. That doesn’t mean that I’m desperately wanting a new follower, but that what I’m taking a week to create will reach someone that I didn’t know was going to reach and hopefully inspire them. That inspiration is the ultimate advertisement of what my account is about.
6. How do you engage with others on the platform?
I wish with all of my heart that I had the capability to do more engaging. I think that it’s really important, especially in the first hour to two after I post my animation. Typically, I’m up until like 3 a.m. filming and editing the night before, I go bed for three hours and then I post at 6 a.m. so that New York commuters can see it at 8 a.m. their time. Even in my tired state, I really want to be there, because it’s fresh and people are really excited about the new animation. It allows me, in the moment, to be there with them. I try my best, but sometimes it’s hard to keep up with it.
One of Instagram’s latest features of being able to like comments — give people a heart back and let them know that I read their comment — has been really helpful. It’s just another way of me saying “thank you” for their time that they’ve taken to comment about my pieces. And outside of my work, I definitely scroll through the people I follow and even people I don’t follow and like their stuff and comment, just because it’s the affirmation that we all need to inspire us to keep creating.
7. How often do you post?
I’m in such a transition with this move. I really hope and intend for New York to be more of a place of creation, getting inspiration and really being more mindful of scheduling out time to create more content. Over the last couple of months, or longer, I’ve been preoccupied with the transition of moving. So if you’re asking if my strategy is something like, “once a week,” ideally I want to be able to post more, but it is just such a time-intensive thing, and my mind needs to be present for it.
8. What’s your content strategy?
Ultimately, I hope that the time I’m taking to create something is going to bring joy and inspire other people to create and to explore their own creativity and take time to make something. Because had I not been inspired myself, I would have missed out on this entire fun ride that I’m on.
9. How has your content strategy evolved as Instagram has added features?
I love the Stories feature. The process of moving — and my life outside of creating the limited art that I have been able to create — has been a grind. Right now, I’m traveling, and I absolutely love the ability to show where I am, what I’m seeing and what I’m getting inspiration from. I’ve been in L.A. for 24 hours, and my Stories are exploding, because I want to remember these moments. I want to remember the graffiti that I saw on that one wall. We all put so much time and attention and care into the final pieces we post, but I think that Stories are a beautiful way for the community of Instagram to be able to show what they’re seeing in life and experiencing and inspired by in a more personal, candid way.
10. What’s your best storytelling trick?
Just because of what I do, I feel like the specialty that I have is the transitions that visually help tell the story within my animations and allow it to flow. It’s like magic — creating moments of magic. You have a limited amount of time to tell a story in a video on Instagram. I limit mine pretty much to 30 seconds. So in 30 seconds, how much can you pack in here but have there be a flow to it that leaves the watcher expecting, “what’s going to happen next?” There’s this series of events that then end up in the final message of the animation. I create visual page-turns that let people know that the story is evolving.
11. How do you set yourself apart from others on the platform?
Oftentimes, it comes down to the time that I spend on the small details of my artwork. There are a lot of times that I could take the short road and maybe not draw the butter being cut or sliced, but have the butter already be on the toast. But instead of taking shortcuts, I spend extra time getting those small details in there, and people notice it.
12. How do you leverage your Instagram and to what extent do you monetize it?
I look to work with brands that have similar goals as me — to bring joy to their audience or to inspire them. There are a lot of great brands out there doing really cool campaigns — campaigns about kindness, giving thanks, gratitude and loving people. And I think that’s such a beautiful thing. They see my art in line with what their mission is. I have taken those opportunities to work with brands who I feel the art helps tell their story and vice versa.
While I do take a number of opportunities creating animations on Instagram and for Instagram accounts, I’m really happy and excited that my art is starting to live on different platforms and in different ways. I have a whole collection of iOS iMessage stickers. The fact that people are starting to recognize my art and it can live in different places is really exciting for me as an artist, to see it grow in that way.
A good example is KIND. I worked with them and they ran a photo contest. It was a back-to-school campaign, and the five people who won got their photograph illustrated by me. Then, it was printed on a lunch box for their kid’s back-to-school adventure. It was really cool for me to be able to be involved in something that, in the end, we created a really fun, cute little product together that was special to the person who took the original photograph.
I’ve done movie trailer work for different movies, but a lot of that lives on Instagram as well. I did a movie trailer for Kubo and the Two Strings last year. And then, prior to that, I did a movie trailer for Kingsman: The Secret Service.
13. What advice do you have for other Instagram influencers or people who want to build brands?
The number-one thing is to get busy making and creating. Oftentimes, especially with artists, we wait and we wait and we wait for the right opportunity. We don’t think it’s perfect enough or we don’t think it’s ready to share.
If you go back on my channel and see my first animation, it’s complete rubbish, and still, at that point, people were encouraging me. I wanted to push myself to continue to grow.
Ultimately, creativity is like any other muscle. The more you use it, the stronger it will become, and the stronger it gets, the more people notice it. That will help you to find what it is you really want to make in life.
14. What’s a misconception many people have about Instagram?
That it’s just a photo app. The people who are creating, taking photos and capturing their lives and their art on Instagram are actually putting a lot of time and thought and attention and care into what they’re doing. Essentially, you’re getting these windows into souls of people. And so, I don’t know if anyone thinks it’s just another photo app, but I would get a cup of coffee with that person and beg to differ, and I’d explain the importance of engaging with the app and engaging with the people who are creating on it. Because the more we can encourage each other, the more great content is going to be created in this world.
Writer: Lydia Belanger