It’s no secret that surviving and thriving as an artist is a difficult task. Financial challenges are a constant weight on your shoulders. And one of the main things that harm their ability to make enough money to pay the bills is some people’s attitude that artists should draw for free, for a huge discount, or in exchange for exposure (yuck!) just because they love what they do.

Artist St_Ailish went viral on Twitter after she shared an example of how not to talk to an artist. Or, well, pretty much any other human being. The thread blew up with 130.9k likes and turned Ailish’s cozy following of just 87 into a fandom of 6.8k people, shocking the artist quite a bit.

In an exclusive interview with Bored Panda, Ailish opened up about the stress and pressure that comes with accidental major exposure online, the assumptions and hasty judgments that social media users make, the financial struggles of artists everywhere, as well as the artist’s personal relationship to drawing.

“I want every person to know that I don’t want people to associate me with that post. It feels wrong and it’s not what I want to be known online for. I’d rather prefer people to know me as just another artist who loves her cats a lot,” she spoke candidly about what happened. Read on for our in-depth interview.

More info: Twitter

St_Ailish started an important discussion about how there are too many people asking artists to work for exposure or for free

Image credits: St_Ailish

Here are a couple of examples of Ailish’s art

Getting so much attention so quickly was overwhelming and exhausting

Ailish’s thread brought out a whole mess of different reactions: from outright support and discussions about working for exposure to criticism for how she handled things and disbelief whether the screenshots were genuine.

The artist openly spoke with Bored Panda about how she had completely no expectations going in and made the thread for “laughs and giggles” for her then-87 followers.

“But when I saw how much attention it suddenly got, I was frankly a bit intimidated. It wasn’t until 2 days after the post completely exploded though. My friends were joking about the post getting 10k likes, I went to sleep and when I woke up, I was greeted with more than 20k likes and over the course of the day, it reached ridiculous amounts of traction,” she said.

While she found it funny at first, she got scared and overwhelmed when she saw her post spreading to other social media platforms.

“Of course, I was happy to see my follower count skyrocketing, but at the same time, it felt incredibly undeserved. I still can’t grasp really what happened, it all seems so surreal to me. It felt like everyone was watching every step I did afterward. I’m simply not used to so much attention online, but it’s really fun to interact with people I’ve never interacted with before.”

She continued: “A little bit of attention is what everyone desires really, but once I was there, it was way more attention than I could’ve ever dreamed of. I’m still doing the same things I did before, just with more people watching me.”

The artist got a lot of support from the people around her, especially those who had a big online presence and helped her out.

Everyone wants to be popular… until they’re in the spotlight

Going viral isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be, even with all the popularity. On the one hand, everyone’s looking at you. On the other hand… everyone’s Looking. At. You. And internet users are a crafty bunch who love digging up old posts and making rash assumptions.

“Another thing that’s really important to me is that I don’t want people online to assume things. I’ve seen people getting accused of things they never did which harmed their reputation and it was never my intention to harm people online.”

She told Bored Panda that she didn’t know the real identity of the person whom she featured in the thread because they’d messaged her on a completely new account, saying they didn’t want her to recognize them.

“Until this day, I still don’t know who they are and, honestly, I don’t really care either. They didn’t harm me in any way and even if I had their name, I wouldn’t ever release it, simply because I don’t want people to hunt after someone who didn’t properly harm anyone.”

Protecting your sources like that even when Twitter’s out for their blood for what they said is the first step to being a journalist and a decent human being. 2020’s been enough of a challenge without anyone else getting canceled and harassed over what they did online.

For Ailish, art is all about expressing herself and polishing her skills

Moving on to bigger and brighter things, let’s talk about art. Ailish revealed that being able to freely express herself drives her passion. She first picked up drawing just 5 years ago, but it was never with a specific goal in mind.

“I really just wanted to draw and express myself. I’m incredibly bad with words and it shows everywhere in my life. From people misunderstanding me because I wasn’t precise enough to me actually using wrong words. It doesn’t really happen with art. People can interpret what they want and it’s never really factually wrong. That’s what I like about art,” she told Bored Panda.

One of her favorite things to do is to look back at her older drawings and see how much she has improved since then. I think the sense of progress is something a lot of artists can relate to. There’s barely anything better for bringing you happiness than getting better at a skill. And it creates a loop where you motivate yourself by looking at how much you’ve improved over time.

Some people ask artists to work for exposure because they don’t consider their profession to be a “real” job

Unfortunately, far from everything is as wholesome in the Land of Art. Exploitation is rife in the industry.

“I never understood why people think art should be free, it’s a skill people learn over a long time and never really finish [perfecting]. Whenever I draw something, it’s not just about the time I’m putting in now but also the time I’ve spent drawing before. My art today is the result of me drawing for years and that goes for every single artist.”

According to Ailish, some people might want artists to draw for free because they don’t take them seriously and don’t consider art to be a ‘real job’ like other professions.

“Everybody can draw really, all you need is to pick up a pen and that’s it. People draw when they’re kids. So possibly what people think would be, ‘Why would I pay someone for something even little children do,’” the artist shared her interpretation of what pro-exposure people might think. And while everyone can be an artist (I’m a huge supporter of anyone who wants to get into drawing), it doesn’t mean that everyone’s a visual virtuoso from the get-go.

Art is about growing as a person, not being perfect

Ailish explained that she’s very realistic about making mistakes. “No matter what hobby you’re picking up, you will make mistakes and you have to accept that. Aspiring artists, especially, feel so unmotivated after seeing other people’s work, but it’s important to keep in mind that those people have been doing art for over a decade and even they still make ‘mistakes’ they don’t like.”

Perfection in art, according to Ailish, is impossible and that’s, well, all right. It’s all about learning and growing as a person.

“Every single thing I’ve sketched so far taught me something even if it isn’t obvious. All the sketches I’ve done and didn’t like are still a part of the journey and contributed to my art skills today and I still seek to improve! I’m sometimes frustrated with my art and that’s okay. It’s just important to remember to keep going and not stay still.” Wholesome? Wholesome.

[PS—the link featured in the artist’s bio with the dancing ditto is a lot of fun and totally made my day.]

Here’s how some Twitter users reacted to Ailish’s viral thread

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