Gal Shir is a Tel-Aviv multi-disciplinary artist. He is known for his inspirational drawing videos featuring a playful, colorful, and imaginative style. His artwork has gained loads of exposure on social media where he cultivates a lasting community of artists and fans. Enjoy our #DesignwithDot interview.
Meet Gal shir: a tel-aviv based artist and illustrator–helping people find their inner artist
Gal quit his job after years of working as a designer and illustrator for startups, mainly at Lemonade.com, in order to become an independent artist and to focus solely on his creative pursuits. His artwork has gained massive exposure on social media where he’s cultivating a lasting community of artists and fans.
Gal now helps others find their inner artist. Gal has written books and even launched a simple web app for character posing called Pose.
It’s such a pleasure to have you on the #DESIGNWITHDOT blog Gal!
1. Tell us how you got your growth to be exponential on Instagram? How many posts did you have to do when it all just started pouring in?
Yeah, so I don’t think it was really exponential. I think it was pretty linear actually, but it had peaks, like a week with a big growth-like when I got my first feature content, you get a lot of followers. I remember when I hit 100k with a page called ‘Design Milk’. They featured me and I had 10k in days. So it went from 100k to 110,000 in a day or two. It was pretty crazy–it was the biggest feature ever. But then after a certain level these features don’t do anything. Now when I get a feature from anyone, it doesn’t really do much with my scale. I’m really depending on the Instagram algorithm ‘Explore’ to give me the exposure to get more followers because that’s the only way for me to grow now.
2. Can you tell me a little bit about what your experience was like as an illustrator and how your business started – from the beginning to where you are today?
So I basically started as a designer and illustrator at companies–I worked first at Lemonade. After three years of Lemonade, I started to explore different stuff that I wanted to do with my life. And then I started to create content. I created animations and illustrations, mainly for Dribble. And then, long-form content for Instagram and YouTube – drawing videos. These actually developed an additional channel to my full-time job, as a designer in a start-up. Then I had to make a decision because I couldn’t do both. I needed to focus on one big project. And I decided to leave and be on my own, take it as a challenge. And actually, when I left Lemonade, I started to look for clients and to do some projects, getting in touch with different start-ups and entrepreneurs.
I had a lot of emails from people wanting me to work with them, but after a month or two of working for myself, I realized that my own channels, my Instagram, YouTube, and the content and the products I create, are much more scalable, and something that I enjoy. So I didn’t really need more clients and I stopped taking on more projects.
3. Did you know that you were going to become an independent entrepreneur like this? In the very beginning?
Yeah, I always had that passion for creating stuff and developing stuff on my own. And, you know, I made a website called ‘Color Art’, maybe you know, it’s Colorart.co — It’s a big color resource coral inspiration website. I launched it in product count, I think, five years ago. It really exploded and got me a lot of credibility and exposure. I also built other small side projects, I’ve always, always done side projects. So I knew that if I’m not going to be working as an employee, for a big start-up, I will be creating my products.
4. How much time are you spending on your full-time work? And then how much time are you spending on your side hustles?
Eight hours a day. Then I come home, and do seven or eight more – going through the night, just using all my free time, weekends, my nights to work on stuff. And it’s also a hobby, so that would have been what I was doing on the weekends anyway–creating.
I was thinking about followers. That’s what I wanted. I wanted an audience, I wanted exposure. But slowly, after you get some attention, you realize that there is a potential for you to monetize that attention.
5. When you intentionally signed up for Instagram in 2018, did you have the intention to sell products or already have products out? And did you have a strategy when you launched your Instagram?
So I didn’t have any business model. I didn’t create any product. I didn’t think about any monetization at all. I was busy just working at the start-up. Even if I wanted to work with Lemonade, I would be an independent creator, still having freelance projects. But then I realized that when you have an audience, you actually have a basement for business opportunities.
In the beginning, I didn’t really think about money. I was thinking about followers. That’s what I wanted. I wanted an audience, I wanted exposure. But slowly, after you get some attention, you realize that there is a potential for you to monetize that attention. And then you would have more resources to create more content.
6. What was it like to use and sell your first product on Instagram? And how many followers did you need to have to launch? Because your following grew completely organically in the beginning, right?
My ads suck. I only started with them this year. Sometimes I lose a lot of money because I’m still learning it. But yes, I used my organic reach to test my products and to distribute them. I started selling brushes for procreation/procreate at around 50,000 followers.
7. So you are basically doing like product-market fit with your own Instagram audience, which I think is amazing. For two years. Can you tell us some insights, what have you learned from doing these tests?
It was November 2018 and I had 200,000 followers when I started creating brushes. And the process? So I basically look and follow what other people do. I added my experience in marketing and you know, understanding what the needs of the audience are. I always like to create a policy that I will use myself. I use texture brushes when I draw, and then analyze why I was creating my own texture brushes.
8. So you basically were like, hey, I can try and sell my own brushes, and you just launched it right to your audience. Like there was you just took action and you did it. You weren’t planning any business strategy?
Yeah, it’s just brushed– a simple landing page. I upload an Instagram story and a YouTube video telling the story of how I created brushes. One button thing. It started selling on day one.
One thing is a web app that I’m working on, probably you’ve seen ‘Pose’ on my website. It went very well. And I think it helps a lot of people. And I have a lot of ideas for other apps to help people.
9. So for the artists trying to find their own voice, what was your strategy in building up to the 200k and then launching products you could sell?
It’s a good question. I think if I knew how I did it, I would repeat it and grow to a million. But it’s hard with content, you really can’t tell how something’s going to influence something. You create something, and you’re like, ‘Oh, my God, this is going to get me like 10,000 likes in a day’, and you think it’s going to break the internet. And then no one gives a fuck. Nothing–just like that it goes to waste. And sometimes the most simple drawings explode on Twitter.
So you really can’t tell. But I did notice. And I wrote about this in my book: When I see other creators create content, I also noticed the same thing. As long as there is any kind of value in it, it has more potential to work and value shouldn’t be something flat. It shouldn’t be static. If something looks good, professional, colorful–that’s not enough. Value has more to do if something touches something in people, if it educates them in some way if it gives them inspiration.
So for my content, I realized that the things I drawdon’t matter. How talented I am–it doesn’t really matter. What matters is if I am able to spark in someone else’s: the idea that they can do this themselves.
10. As an artist, what are the most important three things that you share in your book, things that you would tell an artist that’s just starting out, not yet at 10,000 followers?
Mainly my book is about things you need to keep in mind when you’re struggling with what to create, and how to create content that fits your right audience. For artists, it’s more about finding the style, how to be confident in what you do, and how to find inspiration, and how to be unique– how to stand out on Instagram, because everyone is doing digital art now. And also, there’s a lot of technical tips in this book. Technical tips about time management, about Instagram, about how to engage with your audience, what to say, what to ask. Yeah, it’s very easy. A DIY book.
11. What is the biggest mistake you see on Instagram that artists are making?
The main mistake is that they are thinking about themselves, and not about the followers. But I think if you create content you need to manage to look at it, not from your eyes, but from the viewer’s side, the viewer’s eyes. I had a hard time, detaching my criticism on my art because for years I studied art. And I know this landscape illustration, for example, is very, very boring. But once I thought about it from somebody who’s not an artist– this is what works. It’s simple. It’s colorful enough, it gives inspiration. It’s on the edge of innovative and complicated, but also achievable. When it’s too extreme, the audience doesn’t want it. They want what is achievable.
12. What are your future plans, within 2021?
Yeah, so I’m not really into planning stuff. That’s my lifestyle. I don’t have a roadmap with all the things I want to do. I do have a list of ideas. But I am planning on starting and making progress with some projects this year. One thing is a web app that I’m working on, probably you’ve seen ‘Pose’ on my website. It went very well. And I think it helps a lot of people. And I have a lot of ideas for other apps to help people.
And one of them is something I’m starting to work on now, something which is going to help artists turn their artwork into a presentable 3d presentation. And so this is my main project right now, which probably will be ready soon or like by the end of the year. And then I have another book, probably about colors: color theory, choosing colors for your work, how to work with colors, for web design, for illustrations for marketing, you know, whatever. Everything about colors.
13. So what keeps you up at night? What are some things that you’re worried about that keep you up? You know, a fear, or anxiety that plagues you. Do you have any of those?
Yeah. Of course, I have a lot actually! So I think the main one, which is also probably something that everyone that works for himself has, is the fear of the times that you wake up in the morning and you’re not excited about what you’re about to do. You know, I’m drawing since like age four, but and now I’m finding myself waking up in the morning and no, I don’t feel like drawing. It doesn’t excite me anymore, and it happens a lot. And it makes sense when you’re turning your hobby into a career into a profession. It’s not always exciting to do it. Because suddenly like it becomes more like a routine rather than something you do for yourself.
And so I’m really afraid of the days and of the might be years maybe that I just won’t feel like doing the same stuff as I do now. But I do believe that I will find different ways to overcome it like to maybe it won’t be drawings, but it could be video editing, maybe it would be music, maybe it would be something which is not specifically what I did for the past year. That’s what I want to believe that it would still be willing to create stuff and to be creative in some sort of way. But maybe not, maybe I will just become a farmer one day.