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The Unapologetic Artist ~ Q & A with Carolyn Mara

Tell us a bit about you and your artistic background.

Creativity has always been a big part of my life. From when I was young, my parents encouraged me to express myself through art and theater and by any means I enjoyed.  I got my first SLR film camera as a gift from my mother when I was 14 and took classes in high school.  I ended up minoring in art with an emphasis in photography in college and then went to grad school at the school of visual arts in NYC to receive an MFA in photo, video and related media.  Although I was classically trained in art photography and learned how to do a project from concept to completion, it took life getting messy and turning to creativity to truly bring my inner artist to life.

How long have you been on Instagram? Tell us your Insta story.

I joined Instagram in 2011 but didn’t start to actively post until over a year later.  I had a blog for four years with two friends pre-Instagram where we posted one iPhone picture a day and didn’t miss a day- it was my creative outlet.  Eventually we made the switch and Instagram became my place to post.  Back then it was about just giving myself a daily dose of creative exercise and keeping family and friends apart of my life since none of them lived close to me.

I found out about Instagram’s weekend hashtag project at the end of 2014 and started to participate and 2015 was when things really started to change for me.  I was chosen for my first win in the summer of 2015 and got a few more in the next few months and in January 2016 I had a solo feature and article written on their blog.  A few weeks after that I was chosen as an Instagram “suggested user” and was offered as a suggestion for two weeks to all accounts joining Instagram.  The combination of all those things had me growing very quickly in a short amount of time.  The quality of the followers wasn’t great but I got quantity.  It wasn’t until 2017 that my growth became steady and have gone from 60K to almost 90K in the last year.  Now my focus is on creating consistent content that both my followers enjoy and I feel good making, while hopefully inspiring others to create as well!

What might you have done differently if you knew then what you know now?

I am not sure what I would have done differently if, for example, I knew the algorithm was coming.  Probably stress, ha!  There was a time that less great content was out there and having been a part of it for so long I think that I didn’t push myself enough in the early years to grow.  I lost valuable time for growth not really caring.  I wish that I had started to focus on consistency, having a balanced feed and building relationships sooner, but at the same time I was happily teaching then and Instagram was just my daily dose of creative exercise it wasn’t the gallery that it has become today.

How much time do you spend coming up with and creating content?

This completely depends, but on average maybe 20 to 30 minutes for an image like a matching on the mattress or yoga mat from set up to final edit. And some of the other stuff much less.  I often lay in bed at night and think about what type of shot I want to make the next day based on what I feel like my feed needs.  And if something happens and I am having a rough day or feeling the need to express myself that is when I create the most spontaneously.  I love creating these sorts of self portraits when I need a bit of me time and going through the process usually soothes me and changes my mood.

Having recurring themes also saves me a lot of time and keeps my feed consistent. I’m talking more about the importance of recurring themes in your feed this week in the forum at The Social Gathering!

Share with us a favorite post of yours and the story behind it.

This image was from January of 2015 and was one of my first times participating in the WHP.  I wrote “This year I want to break free from things holding me down, one by one, and end a lighter and more free artist… and human.”

The theme each early January is resolutions and I this particular year I sat around thinking about all the resolutions that I plan to make and once I came up with the wording for this one I started to figure out how to visually represent it.

I blew up a bunch of surgical gloves and taped them to myself to represent all the things that were holding me down.

How supportive are your family and friends of your photography goals and visions?

My family and friends are very supportive of my photography and have always been.  I have been a self portrait artist and generally an oversharer since before I met my husband so he knows that this is who I am.  My grad school video installation was a piece of art intended to make the view uncomfortable by sharing intimate moments of my day to day life, like waxing my own bikini.  In a world that eventually became about over sharing I was at the forefront of that.

Also art for me is and will always be my voice when I am not able to verbally share.  I believe wholeheartedly that expressing myself artistically makes me a calmer, happier and more fulfilled human and those close to me need to respect that.  It is who I am and I just won’t apologize for it.

You’ve been featured by Instagram and are an advocate of participating in the weekend hashtag project. Can you share any insight into how this works and some tips for creating a compelling entry?

Yes, I believe participating in the weekend hashtag project is wonderful for so many reasons.  First of all it is a way to force you to conceptualize and create something on a weekly basis, and I have always believe that this kind of creative exercise is good for us.  The more you create the easier it becomes, much like the more you run the further you can get or the more you lift weights they heavier you can handle.  And secondly, I had a great experience growing my following from features received from the weekend hashtag project, not to mention how nice it is to be recognized for all your hard creative work!

For those of you who don’t know, the weekend hashtag project is announced every Friday afternoon by Instagram.  They post an image with the theme and a short description to help inspire you.  Some recent examples are #WHPwindows, #WHPmoveit #WHPtwinning.  You have until Sunday night to take, post and tag images that fit into the theme, and only images posted over the weekend are eligible to win.  Instagram selects six of their favorite images and features them on their feed the following week.

What in your experience has been the most effective way to grow your following?

Creating good content that people are excited to see!  That is at the heart of growing your Instagram, but I do think that the things that brought me to the next level were focusing on the overall look of my feed, staying consistent with repetitive series and focusing on interacting with my followers and building more relationships.

What has been your biggest challenge?

My biggest challenge is probably myself and my own obsessions.  If I post something that I personally love and think looks good in my feed then no matter how bad it does I don’t care.  Truly.  But if I rush and create something that is not my best and post it, or if it looks bad with the image next to it, it eats at me.  Sounds crazy but the obsessive compulsive person within just can’t handle it.  I admittedly have lost sleep over how something looks in my feed.

What is next for you?

I am working hard creating a new class that will be released this summer.  When life gets tough most people retreat, picking up their camera is the last thing on their mind.  Why would you want to remember these moments of pain?  But what if you shifted your perspective?  What if you created to release the pain?  Whether your marriage is in turmoil, you are dealing with infertility, sickness or death, your self worth has seen better days or you just want to shed the negative and focus on creating for you for a while, turning to art as an outlet for the pain can help set you free.  This class is about finding your creativity in the midst of the messy parts of life!
Also I have just launched a newsletter that goes out once a month sharing ways to stay creative!  If you sign up now you get a free downloadable PDF with 3 steps to finding your artistic voice! To sign up click HERE!

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