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Influencer Spotlight: Catching Up with Sarah Palmer

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The 360i Influencer Marketing team partners with talented, innovative individuals – truly artists – whose work would stand out even if the Internet didn’t exist.

Sarah Palmer is one of those people. She’s an artist first, and Internet phenomenon by hard work and practice – but also because of good timing. Her square-cropped images get thousands of likes from her loyal coalition of fans more than half a million strong that is waiting for the next masterpiece to scroll through their feed.

We first partnered with Sarah as part of 360i client Clinique’s ‘#StartBetter’ campaign, and we recently sat down with Sarah for our “Influencer Spotlight Series” to talk everything from inspiration to her thoughts on Instagram and her world as an artist, crafter and maker.

360i: How did you gain so many followers on Instagram? Did you intend to use your channel as a career?

SP: I was put on Instagram’s “Suggested User List” after I had been using the app for about a year. Following that, I noticed a large jump in followers anytime I was mentioned in an article about “Instagrammers,” or when a client would put my work up on their channels. I truthfully never intended to use my channel as a career, but I consider myself extremely lucky and thankful that it is! I can’t really imagine a better job than getting to make things and share them with an audience that wants to see them.

360i: How long have you been a photographer? And how did you get your start?

SP: I think I was six years old when I got my first camera, and I got really interested in photography when I first got to high school. My parents set up a darkroom in their garage, and I would stay up all night developing film and making prints. I went on to study photography in college and now have a BFA in Photography & Media from CalArts in Valencia, CA.

360i: What made you recognize the opportunity you had on Instagram?

SP: I don’t think I realized what a great opportunity I had until I was first approached by a brand to work on a campaign based on my Instagram images. I was mostly just having fun and sharing the crafty things I was making on my days off and hadn’t really thought about any part of my audience being potential clients until that time. Being able to publish an image and have thousands of people see it instantly is a privilege not many people get, so I try not to waste it.

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360i: What kind of content do your fans react best to? What’s the secret to keeping them constantly engaged?

SP: They react best to my images depicting things I’ve made and images with lots of color. I also love to play with type and illustrate phrases, which seem to get passed on a lot. People are a lot more likely to share one of my images if I’ve illustrated an uplifting or silly phrase, and they’ll tag their friends to share it. I don’t really have a secret to keeping everyone engaged, though. Sometimes the images that I think are my best work get hardly any attention, and sometimes the ones I think might not even be good enough to post get tons of attention. I just try to stay true to myself and what I feel like making. If I tried to focus on making every single follower like every single image I post, I’d probably drive myself crazy!

360i: What’s your favorite kind of brand collaboration? Or what do you prefer to work on?

SP: I love when a brand is receptive to my ideas for what I think would work best on Instagram and wants me to execute their concept in my style. The Clinique ‘#StartBetter’ campaign is a great example of that. I was able to make three separate images creatively illustrating phrases from Clinique’s Start Better Manifesto. My audience loved it, I loved making it, and I was really excited to share it.

360i: What’s your favorite part about being an influencer in this space?

SP: Getting to work with such outstanding people! My fellow Tinker Mobile photographers are all so talented, and the brands and agencies I have worked with so far have all been really great.

360i: You obviously really thrive on Instagram. What are some of your other favorite social platforms or apps?

SP: I’ve been a big fan of Flickr since it first started. Aside from Instagram, it’s the platform I’ve used the most consistently over the years. I’m a huge visual communicator, so while I do use apps like Twitter and Tumblr from time to time, I’m much more invested in apps that are purely photo-sharing.

360i: Are there any Influencers you look to for inspiration or just admire – whether it’s the content they create or how they’ve built their careers?

SP: Right away Paul Octavious and Brock Davis come to mind. They are both incredibly talented and creative people, and I’m constantly in awe of the work they are making – both for themselves and for clients. They’re also both really good at taking jobs that fit their styles, which means the work they make for their clients feels very genuine. I’m often just as excited to see their new client work as I am their personal work.

360i: You always say that you’re not just a photographer. You’re a maker, and that’s evident in many of your Instagram photos. How did you begin “making” scenes, shots or projects?

SP: I’ve been a maker my whole life. My parents are both really crafty and encouraged me to learn everything from pottery to welding at a fairly young age. I didn’t actually start documenting most of my crafts until after I graduated from college and got more into sharing things online. Around that same time, I started doing freelance work writing craft tutorials for a newsletter and realized that people are really interested in seeing the way things are made.

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360i: What inspired you to “make” scenes instead of just photograph something that’s already there?
SP: I was heavily influenced by Andy Goldsworthy as a kid and into adulthood, so I’ve always loved to arrange things and leave them for others to discover (or to possibly fade away.) Art school helped a lot with that as well, as I spent a lot of time thinking about the difference between “making” a photo and “taking” a photo. I still love “taking” pretty photos, but I think constructing scenes is where I really thrive.

360i: Have you ever “made” something as an installation in real life (not as a photography series)?
SP: Oh yes, many! One of my favorites was from my time at CalArts – I had an installation/performance piece in which I sat at a desk in a gallery transcribing a .JPG image to binary code using the 0’s and 1’s on an old manual typewriter. It was meant to be an impossible work-in-progress, and it was! Nowadays I stick to more feasible things like alphabet cookies and chalk drawings in public.

Follow Sarah on Instagram and Tumblr to keep up with her latest.